Consumerism, Gender and Ways of Seeing. New York in Works of the Ashcan School

Bachelor Thesis, 2011

41 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Turn-of-the-Century New York: Setting the course for an “Age of Amusement”

3. New Ways of Seeing and the Gendering of Consumption
3.1. The Department Store
3.2. Popular Entertainment
3.3. Visual Activity

4. The Representation of New York Consumerism in Works of the Ashcan School
4.1. Representations of Consumerist Display
4.1.1. Everett Shinn’s Window Shopping (1903)
4.1.2. John Sloan’s Hairdresser’s Window (1907)
4.1.3. John Sloan, The Show Case (1905)
4.2. Popular Entertainment
4.2.1. Everett Shinn’s Theater Box (1906)
4.2.2. John Sloan, Fun, One Cent (1905)
4.2.3. John Sloan, Movies, Five Cents (1907)
4.3. The Culture of Looking
4.3.1. John Sloan, Sunday Afternoon in Union Square (1912)

5. Conclusion

6. Works cited

7. List of Illustrations

8. Appendix

1. Introduction

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the city of New York underwent a tremendous change that is regarded as a complete “transformation of American culture” (Zurier 2). An abundance of scholarly works have been devoted to those developments that were of a geographic, economic or social nature. An equally great focus has been on the rise of a new kind of consumer culture which, according to Tottis, rang in an “age of Amusement” which included the advent of the department store, popular entertainment and advertisement (55). Recent scholars, among them Rebecca Zurier, have concentrated on the role of public display within this consumer culture. People were not only there “to buy, but merely to ‘see’ the things” they desired to purchase (Bowlby, “Looking” 1). The display and constant “visuality” of the outer look of the city on the one hand and the mutual gazing of city people on the other hand caused the need for a “new skill of urban viewing” people had yet to learn (Manthorne 86). Thus, new ways of seeing developed. Especially women were very much affected by these changes. For one, consumerism is claimed to be gendered. In addition, the perpetual state of being watched is claimed to have resulted in a more and more “ever self-critical” way women observed themselves in. Their social role was “increasingly defined in terms of consumption” (Ewen 177) and their ability to charm others (179).

Within this context of a heavily pictorial and visual consumer culture, scholars have examined the works of the Ashcan School, a group of artists known for their ‘common’ city depictions. Up to the present, Katherine Manthorne, Rebecca Zurier, Laurel Weintraub and Janice M. Coco were among the few scholars who did not concentrate on the Ashcan artists’ usually discussed portrayal of poor living conditions, toil and tenements. Instead, they began to analyze the consumerist scenes of the Ashcan School’s oeuvre. Although there is said to be “an abundance of leisure scenes” among the Ashcan works, those scenes seem to be for the most part neglected, as they are scarcely and rarely analyzed (Tottis 24). The above mentioned scholars did contemplate the issues of public display, its effects on New York’s citizen and they also scraped the surface of the gender issue within consumerism.

My bachelor thesis is intended to extent this study in order to provide a coherent picture of how consumerism, gender and new ways of seeing play together in a number of Ashcan works. Accordingly, the question the first part of this bachelor thesis is going to focus on is in how far the social, geographic and economic changes in turn-of-the-century New York made way for a new sort of consumerism that heavily depended on display and public spectacle. What constituted the foundation for such a new order? The increased pictorial image-richness at the time did not only change the outer look of the city, but also left an imprint in peoples’ perception of others, and also very importantly, of themselves. Therefore, the next chapter will deal with two prominent forms of popular entertainment which shaped new ways of seeing: the department store and the theater. It is also going to be analyzed in how far they were interrelated. The next subchapter will deal with visual activity including heightened visuality in the city as well as visuality with regard to New York’s citizens’ way of looking and of being looked at. The last and most extensive part of this bachelor thesis will deal with the representation of these consumerist times in works of the Ashcan School. The portrayals of Everett Shinn and John Sloan have been chosen for their depicted content of entertainment, shopping and urban viewing. Within the study of their works, it will be analyzed in how far, or if at all, these artworks can be seen as representing historical developments at the time. If an accurate reproduction of actual consumerist activity is proven, the artists’ intention behind depicting those scenes is questioned. In which way were leisure pastimes depicted and which connotations were given to them? Is there a tendency towards embracing this new social order or are these artists rather leaning towards a critique of consumerist activity? Furthermore, the strong emphasis on women in these images will be taken into consideration.

2. Turn-of-the-Century New York: Setting the course for an “Age of Amusement”

Turn-of-the-century New York was subject to “an extraordinary set of conditions” (Leeds 55) which turned the “metropolis” into the “consumer center of the country” (Fairman 206). Those conditions which included demographical, labor market and production changes led to an immense growth in size and productivity and induced a new kind of self-perception in New York’s citizens. These developments were able to lay the foundation for the emergence of a consumer and entertainment culture whose extent was unheard of at the time. Its focus on visual spectacle, excitement and self-fulfillment turned the beginning of the twentieth century into an era of amusement and pleasure-seeking.

One of the conditions that enabled the city to turn into this spectacular metropolis was its growth in size and population, “overspreading old spaces, annexed regions and metropolitan areas” (Trachtenberg 116). It was the influx of immigrants and the rise of urbanization that drove people to the city after the Civil War which caused nearby boroughs to be annexed and increased the size of New York not only in the number of citizens but also in terms of space (Zurier 2). David M. Henken argues that this “massive demographic increase signaled the emergence of New York as a recognizably modern city, a place in which daily encounters among strangers represented the norm” (29). New York became very crowded, there was little living space and privacy boundaries were challenged. Because private space became a privilege within the limits of Manhattan Island, the “ideal of physical separation between home and work, public and private life” propagated by the bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century could no longer be upheld (Zurier 49). On top of that, immigrants questioned existing bourgeoisie manners and rules which led to the loosening of former norms and a newfound freedom of expression and presenting oneself.

A second factor setting the course towards the consumer oriented city that turn-of-the-century New York is still known for today was the employment of new production processes. Fowles notes that the emergence of the “continuous-process production machinery” allowed for the production of an abundance of inexpensive goods available to people of all incomes in comparison to a few items aimed at the affluent (32). Thanks to advances in transportation, communication, production and distribution, the system of “corporate business” was created (Trachtenberg 116). The new production process can also be attributed to the transformation from an agricultural economy dependent on handmade items to one of machine produced and store bought commodities, creating a “pulsating, all-embracing system for the allocation of products and money” (Fowles 33). More and more low-skilled laborers came into the city, among them many immigrants. They constituted a large part of the audience of “cheap entertainments” (Zurier 51). New forms of industries including “fashion, publishing, advertising, and entertainment” were established and further expanded the ever growing range of commercialized activity (49). This caused the emergence of a “new middle class with more time and disposable income for leisure pastimes” (Tottis, 23). New York evolved into the center for publishers and retailers establishing markets for highly demanded commodities, entertainments and also for fine arts. Previous notions of Puritan saving and hard work, as well as the Protestant work ethic were discarded as Americans perceived themselves as consumers no longer in “a world of scarcity but in one of abundance.” The consequences of the new task of spending also included the appearance of leisure time which one had to learn to put to use (Susman 111).

As more and more labor seekers came into the city, leaving their rural environment, they had to undergo a significant social change following their move. Whereas farm work could be “isolating”, leisure hours were usually spent in the community of others (33). People in rural areas were well-committed to local institutions and events. The move to an urban setting, however, changed their preferences and confronted them with the “anonymity of the city” (Lears qtd. in Fowles 33). What seems like a paradox at first, considering the density of population in the city in comparison to rural areas, makes sense when recognizing the over-abundance of being confronted with those large masses of people. No community or amicability with neighbors developed since laboring closely with large groups of people during the day made people cherish lone and quiet leisure times.

Added to the heightened contact with fellow citizens were new forms of entertainment and retail business. New York became “the point of origin for a remarkable range of products, ideas and people” that was promoted by a growing publishing industry producing mass-circulation magazines and informing citizens of innovations and trends (Schweitzer 5). These circumstances challenged all senses of prevailing New Yorker citizens: New technologies and the mass of people changed the face of the city. Ben Singer employs the term “hyperstimulus” to describe the “barrage of impressions, shocks, and jolts” citizens faced due to the constant state of commotion, noise, traffic and advertisements (73).

Furthermore, the sheer size, pace and potential dangers including crime and corruption puzzled and mystified the citizens, adding a level of ‘spectacle’ to city life. Out of this mystery a new desire for order, reform, and “control of urban reality” shaped to fit an “evolving urban ideal” of security, elegance and comfort evolved (Trachtenberg 104). It manifested itself in coordinated ensembles of “parks, squares, avenues, and monuments” projecting “a new sense of urban order” (Zurier 53).

What seems to have developed during that time then was an ever growing city full of people with different kinds of backgrounds yearning for a sense of order and safety in this fast paced and anonymous world. This newly composed society was still “unstable” with “customs […] yet to be established”. Yet they were confronted with new opportunities and freedom regarding their increased leisure time that could be filled with exiting and self-fulfilling activities. Those mass consumerist activities were propagated and realized through “appeals to sight” (Zurier 53).

3. New Ways of Seeing and the Gendering of Consumption

Now that the conditions for a consumerist society including the size of the city, the number of inhabitants, the production possibilities and time and money to spend had been set up, popular entertainments and pastime activities such as the department store and the theater were able to establish themselves in a new world of spectacle. Those activities were propagated in advertisements and the press and changed the face of the city. The following section will illustrate in how far these particular activities of spectacle brought forth new ways of seeing that were to change peoples’ self-perception and cause the rise of the public persona. Furthermore, it will be argued that consumption was indeed gendered which is to say that means aimed at expanding and intensifying consumerism were tailored to the dreams and desires of mostly women.

3.1. The Department Store

In turn-of-the-century New York, the rise of the department store provided an outlet for consumption and its success relied heavily on display. A great variety of goods was thoughtfully arranged on several floors, evoking desires and persuading people of its purchase. But also a variety of spectacular events such as concerts, lectures, fashion shows or celebrity appearances were offered to attract consumers (Whitaker 131). Those department stores brought along huge show windows that communicated order and security, “making the clean, smooth sidewalks into a woman’s world” (Barth 111), or, as Tottis calls them, “showrooms” (61). Initially, they also caused twentieth century New Yorker citizens to be “disoriented by the images and goods displayed behind the glass, even by the glass itself.” The surprise lay not in the windows’ function of displaying commodities but in the way they were presented by visual means of “color, glass, and light to create an extensive public environment of desire.” This way, “an aesthetic” was used to “serve business needs” (Leach 40). Display windows also “framed and theatricalized commodities,” providing them with a “quality of fantastic specialness” (Fairman 207). Bowlby accentuates the theatrical quality of the window by pointing out its opportunity to pass for a painting, being framed and set behind exhibiting glass. Furthermore, it could also function as a stage due to its “three-dimensional space” highlighted by special lighting effects. Like the theater, the window “comes into its own at night” (“Carried Away” 59). Those display windows initiated a whole new freedom of being allowed to look: Whereas looking into windows was considered to be “indiscreet and vulgar” in mid-nineteenth century, people were now even invited and encouraged to look (Leach 61). Thereby a “ritualized form of looking” that demanded passersby to actively engage with goods they were confronted with was created (Fairman 206). The display window was seen as a “`silent salesman´ whose visual qualities would take the place of, or prepare the way for, the verbal qualities of the personnel within” (Bowlby “Carried Away” 56).

Using glass windows as a means of display and a division between people and goods is seen as significant in that it ”helped to demarcate more clearly the affluent from the poorer buying public” as open-air shopping was common in rural areas or working class districts. Yet, the use of glass had more meaning to it as it turned the person looking into the store into a “compulsive viewer” who was being made a subject to both the desire and enticement with the presented commodity and also the cruelty of being able to see it amplified and revealed but not being able to touch it unless it is purchased (Leach 63). The idea of being able to look but not enabled to touch the goods created “a form of anonymous visual communication” allowing New York citizens often isolated from others to “coexist in public” (Zurier 51). Bowlby sees the ambiguous quality of the display windows as presenting “something illusional and composed” in an aesthetic way on the one hand while simply showing “the thing itself” on the other. Whereas the beauty of the windows’ composition initiates desire in the passersby itself, it is even more intensified by the “immediacy”, the possibility to purchase it then and there, unlike advertisements alluding to goods by displaying their image (“Carried Away” 60).

The advent of mannequins intensified merchants’ opportunities to present their goods. Especially women were confronted with an even more distinct standard of fashion. The glass windows, serving as mirrors, led them to interact with the presented fashions and to identify themselves with them. The “associative power” of display was employed to signal “glamor, […], escape, adventure, and leisure activities” (Leach 66). The appearance of the department store increased “the illusion of shared luxury among shoppers” (Barth 130).

As merchants’ advertising was more and more focused on women, the department stores made a “feminine public possible” and turned women into a “distinct attribute of the downtown section of the modern city” (Barth 121). For women at the time, the new activity of shopping became a relief from “the drudgery of domestic routine”. Shopping did not entail the simple purchase of necessities but a pleasurable activity women met in groups for. Seeing and being seen while shopping in company was of great importance (Barth 129). Shopping made exotic, non-essential goods accessible for everyone as they were no longer “the prerogative of the aristocracy” (Bowlby, “Looking” 1). The fact that women now enjoyed the freedom of being able to spend the family income without a male chaperon was a relief and is also relevant in that it resulted in a “new visibility of women” (Fairman 224).

3.2. Popular Entertainment

Parallel to the immense development of the department store, various forms of entertainment evolved in turn-of-the-century New York. Times Square became the focal point where the performing arts, spectatorship and commerce ran together as it “provided the largest, brightest stage for the presentation and sale of commercial culture in the United States” (Taylor, “Times Square” 36), or, as Rebecca Zurier puts it: “visual spectacle was everywhere” (63). In this particular argument, the focus will be on popular entertainment which usually refers to cheap amusements generally avoided by the genteel society. It is said to have “constructed an urban public sphere, where a rowdy style of consumption and the forms consumed gave expression to a version of working-class identity” (Traube 138). Popular entertainment is titled by Deborah Fairman as an “institution almost entirely devoted to looking” (209). The audience watched the performers; the performers responded to the audience’s reaction; people in the audience watched one another.

The face of theater was changed with the surfacing of one of the most known popular entertainments, the vaudeville theater. Characterized as being shaped by modern city air and embodying an “independent spirit,” the vaudeville theater constituted its audience of the middle and working class but also of women (Barth 207). Just like a department store visit, attending a vaudeville show meant an “integration into the heart of the modern city” (Barth 213). Due to the theaters being situated next to enticing shopping palaces, they unmistakably became an institution living on display and spectatorship (Bart 207). This spectatorship, however, did not simply consist of distanced observation but rather encouraged “the intimate exchange between performer and audience … in an increasingly depersonalized ‘society of spectacle’” (Yount 102). Vaudeville consisted of a variety of different show acts running continuously throughout the day and the evening for little money. It turned the previously exclusive theater into a mass commodity.

The theater’s quality of being a mass-consumed platform for spectatorship itself was used in turn to fuel the mass-consumption market in that theater managers often cooperated with department stores, offering gifts on entering the theater and presenting new clothes and accessories on the actors that could later be purchased in stores. Driven by statistical evidence claiming that “women made 85 percent of all consumer purchases”, theater and department store managers tried to “choreograph female movement between their respective establishments.” Consumption was thus gendered in that it was aimed at women (Schweitzer 53). It was also gendered in that the effort of “`producers’ to sell to ‘consumers’ would … take the form of a masculine appeal to women.” Women were turned into willing consumers who eagerly accepted goods they were presented with. They were “addressed as “yielding objects to the powerful male subject forming, and informing them of their desires” (Bowlby, “Looking” 20). The way of exposing commodities transformed “the stage into a glorious site of consumer spectacle” and was primarily aimed at those female buyers who had discovered shopping as the new fulfilling pastime activity (Schweitzer 4). Because department stores usually displayed clothes on headless dummies, the presentation of clothes by actors turned fashion models, demonstrating the way those dresses were worn and moved in, was a “novelty” (Schweitzer 142). Through observation, women got lessons in fashion which was now also available to the working middle class. On top of that, the curiosity about fashion was not the only outcome of this new form of dress representation- there was also the recognition of the “emergence of the modern female body” which was “self-aware and sexually desiring” and opened doors towards women’s confidence and freedom. By acquiring stage fashion, women were able to fantasize about alternate lives and make “personal statements about themselves as modern women“ (Schweitzer 163). Much like the department store, it conjured an “illusion of shared luxury” (Yount 104).

In order to advertise their products, fashion and beauty manufacturers as well as department store managers skillfully used the upcoming practice of titling certain actors as stars in their favor. They recognized theatergoers’ “imaginary relationship with stage stars” and encouraged “the development of strong emotional bonds” by publishing accounts of their offstage life (Schweitzer 139). By exposing all the details of their lives, they invited theatergoers to look closely and cross privacy borders, turning them into spectators. While male performers evoked female theatergoers’ “desire for love and romance”, female performers are said to have made an even “greater impression” due to the fact that women identified themselves with and yearned to be like the stars and the lifestyle they embodied (Schweitzer 139). Actresses, then, used photography as the “tool” to keep their images of fashion leaders in circulation. They were no longer portrayed “in character” but “as themselves,” thereby attempting to convey reality accessibility to their followers emulating their looks (Schweitzer 122).

The same technique was applied with regard to the movies, another form of popular entertainment: “In 1910, the idea of the movie star was born … A screen player was to be marketed for her admirers as a personality, an image and, to an increasingly sinister extent, an object” (Susman 283). Again, those actresses were presented to female moviegoers as “idealized mirror images.” The spectatorship of their looks, then, was always directed towards the consumption thereof (Schweitzer 84). Aside from copying performers’ looks, popular entertainment also served the audience as a means of learning manners that enabled them to “demonstrate their identity as city people.” Through signs asking for specific behavior, floormen and printed requests, a distinct way of conduct was demonstrated and absorbed by the audience (Barth 213).

Movie theaters were also a technology of “perception, reproduction, and representation; a new cultural commodity of mass production and consumption; a new space of social congregation within the public sphere” (Abel 183). Especially the cheaper nickelodeons are said to have attracted two kinds of audiences: one was made up of immigrants and a working class clientele while the other attracted group consisting of women. These women were either mothers with their children or “foot-sore shoppers” from the big department stores (201).

3.3. Visual Activity

Rebecca Zurier describes the city as “a place of intense visual activity” meaning, among other factors, the image-richness of New York City in form of “a commercialized visual environment [that] assaults the eye” (47). In the world of “abundance-leisure-consumer-pleasure-orientation” more attention was devoted to the fulfillment of individual needs and desires and “the new service industry of advertising would make every effort to use them in creating a market for a whole new set of products” (Susman 112). The extent to which advertising changed after the late 1880s can be observed when looking at the development of newspapers. Prior to the time in question, newspapers printed small-scale and “visually unappealing […] with scant illustrations and display” (Leach 42). It was after mass-produced goods came about that the steep climb uphill for advertising began. Newly employed advertising agents quickly recognized the persuading power of display and visual advertising carefully chosen with regard to aesthetic standards. Advertising, then, was supposed to “appeal to the imagination and induce buying through artistic cuts” and should be full of “living, speaking things” (Leach 43). The metropolitan press recognized that the changing life-style of turn-of-the-century New York including the act of shopping put women in charge of spending the family income so they began to “systematically court women.” A mixture of articles about fashion, beauty and etiquette was meant to serve both traditional and conservative as well as modern roles of women. This way, the female domain was “expanded” (Barth 81)

Parallel to the newspapers, the “outdoor advertising industry” which encompassed posters, signboards, billboards and electrical lit images grew steadily, turning the city into one giant picture book. All surfaces available were used to display desirable consumer goods or services. Especially electrical advertising appealed to peoples’ lust for spectacle being a medium of “life, of light, of compulsory attraction” (Leach 47). Barth sees it as an outlet of creating a “utopia” for people who dreamt of “making spectacles of themselves” (109). Since the arrival of electrical advertising in New York, bright flashing lights have been linked to consumer districts of cities.

What was essential for the success of advertising and rested on its visual quality was its omnipresence. The density of advertising in the city of New York made it impossible not to focus on it and thereby also reached the vision of the uninterested. Fogg Mead is quoted saying that those advertisements were an “unavoidable presence” creeping into “the reader’s consciousness” and forcing themselves upon their attention (Mead qtd. in Leach 48). This quality of advertising is in line with Singer’s argumentation of an ever present and overwhelming “hyperstimulus” (Newman 94). The ever present abundance of advertisements left New York citizens “constantly assaulted with new objects vying for attention.” This condition of their perpetual power struggle resulted in a “new skill of urban viewing” people had yet to learn (Manthorne 86). They had to get used to the presence of advertisements in the streets and their new pictorial look. They also had to learn how to distinguish relevant ads from redundant ones in a very short time. The function of advertisement certainly was, and still is, the provision of ideal pictures that evoke consumers’ desire to purchase the propagated goods. Again, there is the creation of an illusionary luxury. It is therefore described as a “pervasive place-building process” in which consumers construct their environment through the products they buy (Sack 643).

Zurier’s “intense visual activity” also refers to “a condition of perpetual activity” (47), a state of constant seeing and being seen. People defined their identities according to “a new concept: ‘the public’” (Taylor, “Gotham” 35). As New York City became more and more visual, citizens did not only see the metropolis but also attempted to “read each other” by distinguishing themselves through easily readable status symbols such as clothes and housing arrangements (Zurier 52). It was “through the items they bought on the market rather than through inherited or workplace identities” that people defined themselves and set themselves apart from others (Taylor “Times Square”, 36). Therefore, public places became “settings for a complex set of visual interactions among people sharing the space” (Zurier 76).

The self-image of New York consumers also underwent a change regarding their own identity which was triggered by their redefined environment. Sylvia L. Yount explains the consumer cultures’ ability to encourage communication among the contrasting groups of people in New York claiming that the heterogeneous society “increased […] impersonal, anonymous relations and forced urbanites to seek new sources of community” (88). She makes clear how the market place in its various forms of popular entertainment and retail business responded to this desire by providing them with an outlet for social interaction and a “common identity”. This spectacular world of “artifice” and make believe “defined social reality” and produced the conception of “social life as role and performance” (88). Warren Susman observes that “personality was distinguished from character.” He refers to Henry Laurent who explains that character can either be good or bad, whereas personality is “famous or infamous” (277). The construct of the personality grew to be a paradox- while one was supposed to distinguish oneself from others in the crowd, to positively stick out and express “individuality”, one also was asked to be well-mannered, educated and likeable, even charming. (278) Relating to the fact that this personality was to be developed during the newly discovered leisure time, the new culture of personality intended the people to behave as a “performer”- this included knowing which books to read, which plays to watch, which parties to attend to, all the while employing proper manners and conversation skills. The pleasure of fulfilling those requirements of the new personality concept, Susman concludes, lay in “making oneself pleasing to others” (281). The paradox nature of the personality often added stress on the individuals who struggled to conform to the new concept of the public. The turn of the century brought forth an “interest in personality, individual idiosyncrasies, personal needs and interests [and the] vision of self-sacrifice began to yield to that of self-realization” (Susman 276). Nevertheless, keeping up with all the trends that were supposed to enable this self-realization could become a burden as well.

The impact of the visual consumer culture was especially high on the women who struggled to fulfill the internalized ideal image of women displayed in advertisements. They have been seen as “prostitutes in their active, commodified self-display” (Fairman 231) that was aimed at attracting the attention of men. According to Ewen, advertisements are to blame for causing “women to look at themselves as things to be created competitively against other women” (181).

4. The Representation of New York Consumerism in Works of the Ashcan School

At the turn of the century, a group of artists appeared that was a novelty with regard to the subject matter they portrayed. These artists were called the Ashcan School and they depicted common life in New York City, thereby initiating a “distinctly national American art” (Homer 61). Breaking away from the conventional understanding of art at the time which encompassed “Impressionist or Tonalist idylls that transformed urban scenes into tranquil landscapes,” the Ashcan artists aimed at reproducing city scenes exactly as they observed them on the street (Zurier 2). Although the presented motif, the employed style and the medium differed greatly among the artists, they all shared the attitude of the group’s leading figure, Robert Henri, which included portraying the “creed of life” (Brown 129). This encompassed searching one’s surroundings, finding the spectacle in it, plunging into the experience and reproducing it as authentically and as truthfully as possible. Many of the artists of the group had newspaper backgrounds which are often credited as enabling them to “record their immediate surroundings and capture the dramatic moment” (Leeds 25).

While the Ashcan artists portrayed a variety of topics, it is their portrayal of New York consumer culture and new ways of seeing that are of interest within this context. Their work reveals “a complex insight in the ubiquitous presence of the spectator in a metropolis rapidly being transformed by a market economy,” so that the act of looking took on an important role in their depictions (Freeman 221). To take up the Ashcan artists’ theme of the “reciprocal version of urban visuality,” works of art by Everett Shinn and John Sloan will be closely analyzed (Zurier 80). Shinn was chosen because he was greatly interested in the enticing quality of the theater and fascinated by the relationship between the artificial performance and reality. He exhibited his work for “the audience’s visual interest” and turned Henri’s “cult of ‘soaking it’” as a true urban activity into “’watching it’” (Zurier 180). John Sloan’s paintings and etchings are also relevant for this topic in that he was the one who produced most representation of popular culture at the time, among them shopping, popular entertainment and the culture of looking. He dedicated much work to the topic of spectatorship for he was fascinated by it. Moreover, he realized that the act of seeing in the city “required expertise” and called for “connoisseurs of urban vision” (Manthorne 81). On top of that, he had a strong focus on women and can be seen as exploring their role in the rising consumer culture.


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Consumerism, Gender and Ways of Seeing. New York in Works of the Ashcan School
University of Göttingen  (Philosophische Fakultät)
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ashcan school, new york city, art, consumerism, gender, john sloan, everett shin
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Amelie Meyer (Author), 2011, Consumerism, Gender and Ways of Seeing. New York in Works of the Ashcan School, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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