Showtime! The influence of theatrical spectacle on four American modernists 

  • Emma Acker

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This dissertation addresses the interrelationships between the visual and performing arts in the work of Alexander Calder, Walt Kuhn, Everett Shinn, and Florine Stettheimer, artists whose careers in early twentieth-century America spanned a period of rapid artistic and cultural evolution. The fluid exchanges between the realms of fine art and entertainment evident in their respective artistic practices parallel the wider climate of interdisciplinarity, and the blurring of boundaries between “high” and “low” culture, apparent in the era’s visual and performing arts.

These artistic tendencies reflect the seismic societal shifts of the time in the United States. In a period of increased immigration and changing gender norms, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse audiences together consumed spectacular entertainments that reflected the heterogeneity and dynamism of modern life. Translating into permanent artworks the fleeting sensations engendered by such performances, and the lively interactions between entertainers and audiences that they fostered, these artists revealed in their work the porousness of the era’s artistic and social categorizations and hierarchies. While drawing from European precedents, both the visual arts of the period–including the work of Calder, Kuhn, Shinn, and Stettheimer–and popular entertainments such as the circus and vaudeville were praised as symbols of American dynamism and originality. Such nationalist proclamations reflected a moment when the United States emerged as a preeminent world power and sought to distinguish its cultural contributions from those of Europe.

The case studies provided by these artists illuminate different facets of an overarching portrait of the era’s interdisciplinary artistic experimentation and social change. The dissertation makes an important contribution to the field of American art history by considering these developments through the lens of theater history, deploying cross-disciplinary methodologies to address the fertile interactions during this period between the visual and performing arts, and how they shaped the course of American modernism.
Date of Award12 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorWilliam Welsh Rough (Supervisor)


  • American modernism
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Spectacle
  • Vaudeville
  • Everett Shinn
  • Walt Kuhn
  • Alexander Calder
  • Florine Stettheimer
  • Popular entertainment
  • Circus

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 3 April 2029

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