Academic journal article Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)

Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Culture

Academic journal article Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)

Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Culture

Article excerpt

Seeing High & Low: Representing Social Conflict in American Culture Patricia Johnston, Ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

The title of this book of very well-written and provocative essays suggests that the authors are undertaking a very broad view of a field that is increasingly called visual culture rather than art history. And, if the material covers a broad array of media and creative manifestations, that is appropriate. However, as argued in the essays in the recent special issue of this journal, there needs to be more than methodological variation among a group of essays to justify the use of the broader term.

Most of these essays cause us to look at works of fine art (including photography and decorative arts) rather than more traditionally defined areas of popular-or "low" culture, and lead us to varied and interesting interpretations of those individual works of art. Whether expanding the canon, as in the essay "'Ain't I a Woman?' Anne Whitney, Edmonia Lewis, and the Iconography of Emancipation," or causing us to look at the work of well-known artists (or their specific works) from another perspective, as with "The Invisibility of Race in Modernist Representation: Marsden Hartley's North Atlantic Folk," the essays are all engaging and thought-provoking. …

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