Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Carl Shull


The purpose of this thesis is to discuss how external sociological factors inevitably have a profound effect on current art.

Much great art has been created against the flow of what is critically "popular" or "fashionable," but as these external factors become more prominent so the art work produced inevitably suffers.

The exhibition of Frank Stella's black and aluminum paintings at the turn of the 60's, in my own opinion, provided something of a landmark in the history of art. These works, in all their stark, flat, geometric nakedness denied both "form" and "content." They bare no illusions, no mythology, and no trace of the artist's hand. Stella often remarked that there was nothing more to "see" in his paintings than what the viewer saw upon gazing at the works in the first instance.

In comparison to other work being produced at the time, Stella's works would seem to have been created in an artistic "vacuum."

In order to establish this landmark, the first part of this thesis compares Stella's ideals with those of Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt. Their work individually and collectively has often been pigeonholed with Stella's. The primary difference between the works of Newman, Rothko and Reinhardt and apparently similar products of Stella, is that while the former contain a skeleton history of Cubism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Neo-Plasticism, Stella either ignored or abandoned such precedents.

In this light the black and aluminum paintings and similar works by Stella's peers (Post-Object artists) must be considered to be "high art." They are examples of a pure art uncontaminated by external (sociological) elements. These works stand quite simply as statements about the activity of painting.

Part two discusses various social constraints upon art making; - biography, in the form of the artist's 'curriculum vitae,' the changing function of the art gallery; with the inflow of installation pieces creating more of a social venue than a temple; the political and social "environment" in which the work is created, and fourthly - how trivial social phenomena condition artistic output.

This leads in turn to a brief investigation into how sociological influences often quosh the artist's willingness to strive more ambitiously, and how his output is often determined by "fashion."

To qualify this idea, examples are traced through art history where great paintings have been seen to stand outside of fashion and proven much more than purely perishable chronicles of their ethos.

In the conclusion the thesis proposes a mandate stating that only by stepping outside of external influences can the quality of the past be restored.