Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, 1910 - 1940


Painting the Musical City: Jazz and Cultural Identity in American Art, 1910 - 1940


Document Type



Focusing on the work of John Marin, Joseph Stella, Arthur Dove, Stuart Davis, and Aaron Douglas, the author describes music as a cultural marker for American modernist painters who adopted the themes of the musical city, jazz, and the jazz musician to represent the urban scene. She explains how each artist took advantage to varying degrees of avant-garde music, fledgling audio technologies, and an emerging popular culture - moving easily between concert hall and nightclub - to experience and interpret urban dissonance and jazz improvisation. Painting the Musical City explores the complicated relationship between African American culture and modernism, showing how white painters such as Dove and Davis evoked the dynamism of African American music but "painted out" its black practitioners. Aaron Douglas, in contrast, represented jazz and the jazz musician as the embodiment of both racial and national identity in his painting Aspects of Negro Life: Song of the Towers, which juxtaposes the figure of a black saxophonist with the Statue of Liberty. By considering painters and composers together, by examining canonical modernists in relation to African American artists, and by showing how their images have resonated during the latter half of the century, Cassidy provides an enhanced reading of modernism, introducing themes of racial identity into the discussion of a distinctively American art.

Publication Date



Smithsonian Institution Press


Washington, D.C.


Music in Art, 20th Century Art, Jazz - History & Criticism


American Popular Culture | Music | Other Arts and Humanities