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The Life of Pictures: Charles Dana Gibson, John Sloan, and the Making of the Middle-Class Imagination, 1883-1913

Schwartz, Joshua Simon

The Life of Pictures follows Charles Dana Gibson and John Sloan, two illustrators and artists, alongside millions of other Americans who used illustrated media to situate themselves within a radically and rapidly modernizing culture at the turn of the 20th century. This was a time when new popular and commercial media forms like magazine illustration and advertisements were displacing older markers of cultural authority – and ordinary people looked to these new forms to reimagine who they were and what they could be. In this context, The Life of Pictures argues that Sloan and Gibson, together with thousands of other illustrators, helped to define a popular visual culture that was embraced by the rising new middle class – one which projected different “modern” ways of claiming social place, navigating relationships across genders, and more broadly, interacting with the world.

The illustrators’ images implied a more mutable, aspirational, and hidden class order wherein middle-class people could be less concerned with policing their class’s cultural boundaries, acting to simultaneously normalize, valorize, generalize, and obscure the fundamental social and economic uncertainty that middle-class Americans experienced. By drawing from diaries and biographies as well as scrapbooks and personal albums from across the nation, The Life of Pictures examines the relationship between a cultural change, the people who shaped it, and the people who lived it.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
History
Thesis Advisors
Blackmar, Elizabeth S.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 16, 2021