MFA Thesis / by Brian Prugh

A generally accepted self-portrait of Caravaggio, from his The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, c. 1599-1600, located in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.

A generally accepted self-portrait of Caravaggio, from his The Martyrdom of St. Matthew, c. 1599-1600, located in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome.

The thesis is composed of two major parts: part one includes a statement, images and a reflection on a body of work entitled "The Ocean Is What I Meant By." These works are constructed of layers of cut tulle mounted in painted wooden frames, in which words cut out of the fabric interact to create abstract pictorial spaces.

The second part of the thesis examines of the historical role of theory in the conceptualization and production of art. I argue that theory has historically occupied itself with art in categories properly connected to action, considering the end, virtues and vices associated with works of art. I consider the end of contemplation as it is advanced by Paulinus of Nola and evidenced in a sixth-century Roman mosaic, the vice of seduction as identified by Bernard of Clairvaux (against Abbot Suger of St.-Dénis), and the virtue of reserve as present in Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's canvases containing self-portraits. With these concepts in view, I proceed to consider the paintings of John Sloan in ethical categories--the categories most appropriate to considerations of action. I conclude by examining a disagreement between Robert Storr and Benjamin Buchloh over the interpretation of Gerhard Richter's "October 18, 1977," suggesting that the role of theory in art is returning to the more time-worn categories I associate with early Western writing about art.

The thesis can be accessed through the University of Iowa Libraries at http://ir.uiowa.edu/etd/4726/.