Art, advertising and modernism: the transfiguration of the artist in the age of capitalism

Eve-Anne O'Regan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation analyses advertising as a “species of social communication” and “narrative” (Wick, 1988) that has been entwined with avant-garde art in a complex relationship of cultural construction and patterns of representation. Drawing on theories of the political economy of commodity culture, a new approach to understanding the development of early avant-garde art is presented that locates advertising as agency for avant-garde practice.

In particular, this dissertation examines the use of advertising’s most authoritative mode of cultural communication, branding, as the driving agent of avant-gardism in its crucial formative decades in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Gustave Courbet, I argue, was the herald of a new course for art in the era of capitalism. He pioneered defining patterns of avant-garde practice through leveraging the press for self-promotion and building a unique brand identity for himself and his art. His aesthetic strategies are investigated in the context of developments in advertising and mass culture at the time.

The dissertation concludes with an investigation of Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies- Bergère, which is discussed in the context of Impressionism’s affair with mass culture. At least three decades before conventional art histories locate Cubism as the seminal art movement to transform the modes of commercial representation (text and image) and the complex meanings encapsulated in them, Manet’s last major work shows him to have had an intense critical engagement with advertising in the broadest sense of its reach, indeed command, over social and philosophical discourse.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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