Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Degree Name

MFA (Master of Fine Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Laurel Farrin

First Committee Member

Robert Bork

Second Committee Member

John Dilg

Third Committee Member

Susan White


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), the virtue of reserve as present in Michelangelo Merisis 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.


Contemplation, Ethical Criticism, Painting, Reserve, Seduction, Theory


x, 207 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 201-207).


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Copyright 2014 Brian Prugh

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