Major Department

Art History


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2017

Honors Major Advisor

Christopher Roy

Thesis Mentor

Craig Adcock


This thesis is focused on Alexis Rockman’s large-scale oil painting Manifest Destiny (2004) as a case study for the role and functionality of artistic depictions of environmental catastrophe in an age of ecological crisis and activism. Many read Rockman’s paintings as works of artistic activism, advocating for the prevention of a catastrophic future, and that is in part the artist’s intention. However, Rockman himself has expressed conflicted feelings about his dual role as artist and activist, suggesting that he may not be the right person to bring an environmental message to a broader audience and acknowledging that as an artist his primary goal is to create something visually interesting. This raises questions about art’s role in an age of environmental crisis. A work may on the surface present a message, but if we are attracted to images of that which should frighten us – destruction of earth’s climate and destruction of ourselves – does such an image really succeed in conveying its message, the function suggested by its surface information, or does it exploit the hidden beauty in disaster? Does the aestheticization of an issue ultimately discourage action toward a solution? Can a researched, didactic work of art like Manifest Destiny effect change? Using that painting as a case study, this text addresses these questions, and in doing so considers Rockman’s title, medium, and painting style as well as comparisons of his work to film, museum displays, literature, and the history of painting.


Contemporary American Art, Ecocriticism, Visual Studies, Manifest Destiny

Total Pages

43 pages


Copyright © 2017 Amy Folkedahl Meehleder