Resisting Canonicity: Translating Tradition, Community, and Voice in the Work of Three American Artists Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Porter, Trista
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of American Studies
  • My dissertation addresses the problems of canon formation within the reception of contemporary art. Placing in conversation the pottery of Chris Luther, the textile art of Dominie Nash, and the mixed media sculptures of the artist known only as the Philadelphia Wireman, I consider how each artist’s work has confronted the reductive effects of canon formation. Their reception reveals the ways in which canons respond to and reinforce marginalizing qualities of alterity, especially through assumptions or expectations about an artist’s background or medium. The notion of the expected and its relationship to the reception of artists and alterity within and surrounding art historical canons in particular illuminates what I identify as three primary processes of category making: flattening, centering, and haunting. I investigate these along with the multitude of other ways in which artists present themselves to the public, as well as how people have written about and perceived their work. Each chapter explores a related set of questions concerning the artist, their practice, how their work has been received, and how each resists canonical thinking. I consider the unique challenges and ideas presented by their work, and the ways in which they introduce new possibilities for interpretation and illuminate common themes across medium and genre. I begin with the pottery of Chris Luther to explore the question of tradition. I consider how his Bridge Bowl in particular bridges the multitude of influences on his practice and ultimately illuminates the breadth and depth of Seagrove, North Carolina’s long and growing global pottery tradition. I connect these ideas of tradition to those of community by discussing the role of artistic, ideological, and aesthetic networks within Dominie Nash’s textile art practice. Within both artists’ practices, there is a negotiation between creativity and conventional ideas of tradition and community that is somewhat fluid. I finally turn to the question of voice as another important exploratory tool—one in need of greater focus and expansion. I investigate the contested and conflicted reception of the unknown Philadelphia Wireman, which represents a particularly fraught example of the problematic impulses and effects of canon formation.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Herman, Bernard
  • Marr, Timothy
  • Whalen, Catherine
  • Holland, Sharon
  • Hinson, Glenn
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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