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Painting Gender, Constructing Theory: The Alfred Stieglitz Circle and American Formalist Aesthetics Paperback – Bargain Price, August 23, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (August 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262523361
  • ASIN: B00740KXBU
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,603,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This is perhaps the breakthrough gender studies book in the arena of American art history. While initially off-putting and puzzling, with its amorphous critique of early theoretical formalism, Brennan's text coalesces into a powerful study. Topics include special gender-based investigations of the aesthetics of intimacy, humorous and playfully intended sexuality, and the "sexually unsettled" aspects of paintings. The artists discussed include Stieglitz himself, Arthur Dove, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, and Thomas Hart Benton, as well as several critics. Whether one agrees with her conclusions, Brennan (formerly art history, Brown Univ. and the Coll. of the Holy Cross) speaks with authority, and the reader will find insights throughout the text. The volume requires close reading and draws on the most recent publications on a given artist. Highly recommended for general upper-division and graduate-level libraries as well as appropriate special collections. Mary Bruce, Cutler Memorial P.L., VT
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Brennan's book clearly contributes to both gender studies and the field of American modernism." Margaret Sundell Bookforum

"Painting Gender, Constructing Theory unearths the American underpinnings of that old monolith, formalism, and finds the erotic aesthetic of Alfred Stieglitz.  Brennan shows how, through subtle, visual, and epistolary modes of influence, the charismatic photographer left a lasting imprint on the language of 20th-century art criticism. She delivers more than a well crafted thesis; her reader assimilates something of the very resonances between body and intellect, intimacy and spiritualism, that must have excited Steiglitz and his circle."--Susan Elizabeth Ryan, Louisiana State University

"Brennan brilliantly demonstrates how Stieglitz's house critics promoted a public image of his artists as revealing a modern eroticized and gendered identity in the abstract forms of their paintings. Her research is groundbreaking, in her reading of this school of criticism as an edifice that was socially constructed and permeated by discourses on sex and the psyche. This book establishes a vivid picture of Stieglitz and his friends as they successfully naturalized their own sexual and artistic ideologies, in the process of interpreting abstract forms as intrinsically shaped by gendered, erotic energies. Brennan's research should become essential reading for scholars of American modernism."--Kathleen A. Pyne, Department of Art, Art History, and Design, University of Notre Dame

"Marcia Brennan has convincingly placed Alfred Stieglitz at the very center of a 40-year debate about erotic energy and aesthetic purity in American modernist abstraction. She shows Stieglitz to have brought sex to the fore both in painting by his following of artists and in the extremely gendered discourse about it. She convincingly demonstrates how the photographer's influence extends as far as Clement Greenberg, who had to construct his position by imagining it in opposition to that of Stieglitz."--Jay Bochner, Université de Montréal

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By disco75 on August 30, 2014
Format: Paperback
Although this reworked dissertation attempts many things, it essentially is an account of the squabbling between art schools of the early 20th century US. The book compares the Stieglitz camp vs Dada and the Regionalist camps. It details but does not re-assess the arguments between each camp, or more specifically, between the journalist mouthpieces associated with each (eg Matta, Paul Rosenfeld, Thomas Craven). It details, but does not re-assess, the works of the core Stieglitz artists (Stieglitz, Dove, O'Keeffe, Marin) and two peripheral artists (Demuth and Hartley) without conjecture about why the elect and the fringe were assigned the roles they had. Off and on, threaded through this, is an assertion that each camp was gendering its artworks as masculine or feminine.

There are additional ideas amidst this core of the slim book. A good but underdeveloped portion is how early 20th century American art was reacting against Puritan repressions of sex. Another good idea appending the main core is an examination of how Clement Greenberg positioned himself in relation to Regionalism and Stieglitz modernism in becoming a PR writer for Pollock and other midcentury modernists. Several other ideas jockey less successfully with the main thesis.

The drawbacks of the book mainly involve its academicism. It is conceived with the over-inclusiveness of a doctoral dissertation and suffers the same too-many-cooks-on-the-committee that my own dissertation suffered. Some ideas, and some language, seem pasted into an under-edited manuscript. More off-putting is the college art history jargon. It stuffs too many ideas into a single sentence and masks its concepts with needlessly trendy phrases such as "discourses," "generative," "corporeal transparency.
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More About the Author

Marcia Brennan is Professor of Art History and Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She received her Ph.D. in the History of Art and Architecture from Brown University. Her research engages modern and contemporary art history and museum studies; gender theory; mysticism and comparative religion; and the emerging field of the medical humanities. She is the author of numerous books, including Curating Consciousness: Mysticism and the Modern Museum (MIT Press, 2010); Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson (Rice University Press, 2009); Modernism's Masculine Subjects: Matisse, The New York School, and Post-Painterly Abstraction (MIT Press, 2004); Painting Gender, Constructing Theory: The Alfred Stieglitz Circle and American Formalist Aesthetics (MIT Press, 2001, 2002); and she is the lead author of the Menil Collection's twentieth-anniversary exhibition catalogue, A Modern Patronage: De Menil Gifts to American and European Museums (Yale, 2007). Recently, she is the recipient of grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Office of Research, Rice University, and Rice's Humanities Research Center. In both 2009 and 2010 she was awarded the George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching. In addition to her work at Rice University, Marcia Brennan serves as an Artist In Residence in the Department of Palliative Medicine at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. This work represents the subject of two book projects.