American Art and the Political Imagination

This conference originated from a single question: In what ways have art and visual culture contributed to the formulation of the American political imagination? Since its beginnings, the nation’s fractious political identity has been developed and perpetuated throughout its visual economy, playing out on picture planes, splashed across mural panels, and made matter in sculptures and monuments. As such, visual and material culture are a critical locus through which the nation’s political constituents — its voters, parties, politicians, and dissenters — imagine, perform, and organise themselves. It is through the creation, manipulation, dissemination, and destruction of images and objects that these constituents have formed their political identities, asserted assent and dissent, and articulated their desire to end political regimes or their yearning to revisit them.

This conference invites speakers to share recent research on the political valences of American visual and material culture. Their papers cover painting, photography, illustration, monuments, design, art writing, and digital interventions; their topics span a wide variety of subjects, including the production of stable national political identities via imaginings of the American past in 1930s material culture; the writing of politics into and out of art criticism, from the antebellum era to the postmodern; and the role of the media — from television to Snapchat — in producing political power. Broadly, this conference seeks to foreground the political as a key framework for art historical analysis, and to explore what emerges when we resituate images, objects, and artists within explicitly political contexts.

Organised by Louis Shadwick (The Courtauld) and Madeleine Harrison (The Courtauld). 

This event is kindly supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art. 

2:00pm, 18 Mar 2022

Friday 18th March and Saturday 19th March 2022, final timings to be confirmed

£15 General Admission, concessions available

Lecture Theatre 1, Vernon Square
Oil painting depicting part of the Statue of Liberty, by Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell, Working on the Statue of Liberty, 1946, Oil on canvas, 54.61 cm × 43.02 cm.
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