The Origin of the American Work of Art

USC Humanities Associates Series, “American Cultures”

As a way of rethinking an out-of-date question about the Americaness of American art, this talk focuses on the "korl woman," a statue "hewn and hacked" out of refuse by an iron puddler in Rebecca Harding Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills" (1861). 

As a way of rethinking an out-of-date question about the Americaness of American art, this talk focuses on the "korl woman," a statue "hewn and hacked" out of refuse by an iron puddler in Rebecca Harding Davis's "Life in the Iron Mills" (1861).  Contending that Davis situates the figure in relation to the neoclassical sculpture produced by Americans abroad (Hiram Powers, Harriet Hosmer, Horatio Greenough, etc.), the argument shows how the figure (and the story all told) participates in antebellum debates about art, aesthetics, and cultural nationalism.  The point is not (or not just) that the korl woman provides a critique of the sculptural imagination, but that Davis deploys that imagination to infuse her realism with another dimension.

Bill Brown is the Karla Scherer Distinguished Professor in American Culture at the University of Chicago, holding appointments in English, Visual Arts, History of Culture, and the College. He serves as the Director of the Object Cultures Project (within the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory), and he has been a Co-Editor of Critical Inquiry since 1993.  His publications include The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economies of Play (1996); A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature (Chicago 2001); Reading the West (1997), an anthology of dime novels; and Things (Chicago, 2001/04), a collection of essays from a wide range of scholars, introduced by an essay, “Thing Theory,” that sought to establish some conceptual coordinates for the critical engagement with the object world.  His more recent publications will be incorporated into Other Things (Chicago 2014).    

Sponsored by Professor John Carlos Rowe in his USC Humanities Associates Series, “American Cultures”

  • Department of Classics
  • University of Southern California
  • THH 256
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0352