Date of Award

Spring 5-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art History and Visual Culture

First Advisor

Prof. Kelly Scheffer

Second Advisor

Dr, Melissa Elmes

Third Advisor

Prof. Laura Shea


This paper explores the stain technique of Helen Frankenthaler through a reconsideration of its novelty and innovation. Recent scholarship has assessed the technique and its critical acceptance through a primarily feminist lens, focused on either assessment of the gendered language utilized by critics or application of a uniquely feminist approach in determining its meaning. The singular focus applied in recent criticism is consistent with past approaches that have typically isolated a particular methodology – formalistic, technical, comparative, or historical – to the exclusion of broader consideration of other methodologies. Moreover, prior critical efforts frequently limited analytical consideration to her groundbreaking work Mountains and Sea and the extent of Jackson Pollock’s influence on it. Yet Frankenthaler’s oeuvre is rich with formal and technical nuances that create a denser and more complex art than these approaches individually expose. Through consideration of a multiplicity of critical methodologies, this paper will reveal the complexity of Frankenthaler’s work broadly and the uniqueness of her approach specifically in Mountains and Sea when considered on its own as well as in comparison to the work of other artists. The paper will suggest a different reading of the stain that recognizes the implicit calm yet intense power of water and liquid as a metaphor for the intensity of the artist as a woman painter undeterred in her professional aspirations to create a place for herself in a man’s world.