Domesticating the Invisible examines how postwar notions of form developed in response to newly perceived environmental threats, in turn inspiring artists to model plastic composition on natural systems often invisible to the human eye. Melissa S. Ragain focuses on the history of art education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to understand how an environmental approach to form inspired new art programs at Harvard and MIT. As they embraced scientistic theories of composition, these institutions also cultivated young artists as environmental agents who could influence urban design and contribute to an ecologically sensitive public sphere. Ragain combines institutional and intellectual histories to map how the emergency of environmental crisis altered foundational modernist assumptions about form, transforming questions about aesthetic judgment into questions about an ethical relationship to the environment.
Domesticating the Invisible Form and Environmental Anxiety in Postwar America
About the Book
Reviews"Melissa Ragain has produced a brilliantly disruptive work of intellectual history on the problematic of visibility in postwar America. An aesthetics of the invisible, giving form to unseen toxicities or fields of energy, emerged as a critical means of comprehending the environment. Ragain deftly connects the dots between a wide range of historical sources and artistic precedents, showing how cultural production responded to the urgencies of a historical moment."––Kirsten Swenson, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
"Melissa Ragain’s beautifully illustrated book explores how concepts of the environment moved to the foreground of artists' thinking after World War II. Drawing on an impressive array of evidence, Ragain documents how a new aesthetic sensibility developed in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts. This excellent book connects art pedagogy and the science of design and perception with the era's increasingly influential environmental movement."—Patrick McCray, author of Making Art Work: How Cold War Engineers and Artists Forged a New Creative Culture
Table of Contents
1. Visual Field Theory: Nature and Composition in Twentieth-Century Boston
2. Reality’s Invisible: Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard
3. The Arts of Environment: The Center for Advanced Visual Studies, MIT
4. Eco-Art and Rudolf Arnheim’s Cellular Metaphor
5. Jack Burnham and the "Disposable Transient Environment"
List of Illustrations