Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History and Visual Culture



First Advisor

Kelly Scheffer

Second Advisor

Trenton Olsen

Third Advisor

Khristin Landry


This thesis examines the ways in which the African American painter Norman Lewis (1909-1979) and Canadian American Jewish painter Philip Guston (1913-1980) deviated from the dogma of Abstract Expressionism and presaged Postmodernism. The modernist Abstract Expressionist movement placed value on the heroic nature of the painter, the denial of the social and political milieu outside of the work of art, and the formalist quality of the work above all. This paper argues that both Guston and Lewis, in their penchant for experimentation and stylistic fluidity, were prevented from attaining the level of commercial success and popularity of their much better known Abstract Expressionist colleagues, such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Further, I will argue that the nature of Lewis’s and Guston’s artistic innovations, such as the retention of an aspect of figuration and/or narrative, the interest in the viewing audience, the multiplicity of interpretations, the interest in hybridity and willingness to fuse “high” and “low” art, all represented the end of Modernism. Lewis and Guston were indeed the avant-garde, ushering in the Postmodernist era.


Copyright 2022, Joette James.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.