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Butler Palmer, Carolyn W. (2006) I WON'T PLAY PRIMITIVE TO YOUR MODERN:THE ART OF DAVID NEEL (KWAGIUTL), 1985-2000. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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I Won't Play Primitive to Your Modern: The Art of David Neel (Kwagiutl), 1985-2000 examines the production and reception of one artist's work as it crosses discursive arenas. This dissertation theorizes that, at times, Neel draws upon his schooling in photojournalism and his training as a carver to challenge Eurocentric assumptions tied to two ideals: that looking is disinterested, and that justice is blind. At other times, Neel uses the same skills to provoke an experience of viewing that yields political or spiritual transcendence. I Won't Play Primitive to Your Modern, then, investigates overlaps and gaps between different conventions and experiences of looking in a study connected to questions of epistemology, metaphysics, and phenomenology. My research examines Neel's art in conjunction with his own mobility through Mexican, African-American, Asian and Euro-American communities, as well as indigenous North America. My interpretation is predicated on evidence derived from oral histories, fieldwork, and archival research. I also apply strategies of visual analysis informed by an interdisciplinary array of theories about looking forwarded by scholars such as Barbara Stafford, Susan Sontag, Christopher Pinney, James Clifford, Roland Barthes, W.J.T. Mitchell, Robert Davidson (Haida), Nancy Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache), and Charlotte Townsend-Gault. My analysis of Neel's artistic production and reception also draws upon theories of embodiment that include Transformation, the Kinship I, and The Four Sacred Directions as well as ideals of objectivity embedded in the disciplines of art history and law. This study concludes that Neel's use of photography's reproductive capabilities, his references to the importance of copying in the aesthetic of carving, his knowledge of media outlets, and his life of migration have enabled him to slip himself and his images into multiple discursive communities that espouse distinct aesthetic sensibilities and political agendas. The import of Neel's project lies in his capacity to engage his viewers with, and thus reveal, political and aesthetic differences that provoke debate about group identity, about his own identity and about the meaning of his art.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Butler Palmer, Carolyn
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduKSA
Committee CoChairSmith, Terence Etes2@pitt.eduTES2
Committee MemberRyan, Allan
Committee MemberLinduff, KatherynLinduff@pitt.eduLINDUFF
Date: 20 September 2006
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 21 April 2006
Approval Date: 20 September 2006
Submission Date: 11 August 2006
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: art history; Charlie James; concerned photography; David Neel; Ellen Neel; family photography; Henri Cartier-Bresson; indigeneity; intercultural communication; Modernism; Mungo Martin; Native American art; Northwest Coast art; Pablo Picasso; photography 20th century; political aesthetics; visual culture; W. Eugene Smith
Other ID:, etd-08112006-134550
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:59
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:48


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