Saturday, May 6, 2017

Alexis L. Boylan's "Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man"

Alexis L. Boylan is an Associate Professor of Art History with a joint appointment in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Program at the University of Connecticut.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man, and reported the following:
I’ll start by saying this is a lot of pressure to put on one page. I worried for my page 99—could it take the scrutiny?

As it turns out, a major point of my book is summed up there:
Race, ethnicity, productivity, and potential could all be seen—it was repeatedly argued—if the viewer could properly read the body. Yet, Ashcan paintings disable these associations and logics of sight by painting obscurity and bodies that attempted to deny the possibility of categorization, beyond the categorization of white manhood.
Basically, I start the book with a question: why do Ashcan artists paint so many images of men in New York City not doing anything? They paint men mostly standing around, not working, not looking good, not saving the day. It struck me as odd that a group of white male artists would break with the conventions of the period (turn-of-the-twentieth-century) and paint white men as being supremely average and unspectacular. If other kinds of visual media (photography, movies, and illustrations, for example) were being used to code bodies in terms of race and gender, why make these painted white men so forgettable and interchangeable?

My answer, as noted on page 99, is that Ashcan artists tried to create a white male body that would stand outside of regimes of sight. The power of whiteness and maleness is the power not to be anything, not to represent anything but the authority of whiteness and maleness. In other words, while visual arts are coding and quantifying other bodies, Ashcan white men get to be nothing, which is a pretty diabolical power. Also, on page 99 I mention Blue Morning, by George Bellows which is on the cover of the book and might be my favorite Ashcan painting.

All-in-all page 99 did right for the team.
Learn more about Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man.

My Book, The Movie: Ashcan Art, Whiteness, and the Unspectacular Man.

--Marshal Zeringue