Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2015

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Art History & Archaeology

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



This dissertation examines painting, photography, and film to assert that Soviet montage theory and aesthetics made a critical impact on muralism and the development of modern arts in the 1930s United States. It thereby revises the current scholarly assessment that montage at this time was specifically a European category operating on European terrain. It begins by exploring the significant role that montage played in the Film and Photo League and at the Museum of Modern Art, establishing a substantial institutional framework for montage in the country. This project then theorizes the cross-fertilization of media that took place during this period, arguing that some muralists adapted filmic and photographic montage techniques for their painted murals in order to modernize and popularize American muralism, and to activate viewers through a more dynamic visualization of history. It considers a series of case studies, murals by Ben Shahn, Stuart Davis, and others, to assert that montage became central to a predominantly leftist faith in the capacity for cultural and political renewal. In examining murals whose montage aesthetics straddle the divide between realism and abstraction, this study also works to reverse assumptions that have prevented our understanding of how socially conscious public art advanced American modernism.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Angela Miller

Committee Members

John Klein, Lutz Koepnick, Elizabeth Childs, William Wallace


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