Spring 2014: American Art and the Armory Show

6 Jan

George Bellows. Stag at Sharkey’s, 1909. Cleveland Museum of Art.

One of my favorite courses of all time, I took American Art and the Armory Show in the spring of my sophomore year. In honor of the 100-year anniversary of the Armory Show, Swarthmore offered this class for the first time, and it was a fantastic class. It is partly responsible for my interest in early 20th century American art, and particularly that of the Ashcan school as well as those American painters who captured urban life in the early 1900’s of the United States. For this class I wrote my longest paper ever, a 20-page paper on the boxing paintings of George Bellows. The link is here: Final Paper

While you will know this is you read the paper, what I argued is that the common argument that there is homoeroticism as an undertone in Bellows’ boxing paintings is actually grasping at straws. There is no evidence of homosexuality in Bellows’ life, nor an interest in homosexual subjects. To show how the homoerotic argument is exaggerated, I compare Bellows’ paintings to those of John Sloan and Charles Demuth, who I believe are truly voyeuristic and/or homoerotic painters. These qualities in them are backed up by interviews, diary entries, and the actual content of their artwork, whereas for Bellows, none of these supporting materials exist.

Looking back on the paper and my argument, I could see the counterargument perhaps being that it does nothing for my argument to compare Bellows to Sloan and Demuth. They are three totally different artists, and just because there is more research for Sloan and Demuth on the topics of voyeurism/homoeroticism, that does not at all affect the validity of suggesting homoeroticism in Bellows. While I agree with this statement, I believe that this is not the purpose that the comparisons I make serve in my paper. Instead, what the comparisons do is make a comment about research and using research to suggest attributes about an artist or his/her work. I came across the homoerotic argument for Bellows’ many times, and it seemed to be widely accepted, yet only for the reason that it could be plausible. It was never based on biographical or historical hard evidence. I used the research on Sloan and Demuth as well as visual analysis of their artworks to show that if Bellows were homoerotic/voyeuristic, there are things one could look for to cement that supposition. The juxtaposition of Bellows and Sloan and Demuth highlights the lack of support for the surprisingly common idea of Bellow’s homoeroticism.

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2 Responses to “Spring 2014: American Art and the Armory Show”

  1. cbmcgeary January 6, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    I agree with you about comparing the three. I’ve always enjoyed observing the strength of brush strokes to “image” the fight.Clyde McGeary  

  2. Jo-Ann Wincze French January 6, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    Zoe, this is an incredible paper with incredible research. Beautifully written ! A+ for sure!

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