The Body

Sarah Burns: Corruptible Flesh - Art & Necrophilia in Chicago

Terra Foundation Lecture on American Art

Recorded on November 7, 2010.

The gothic, or dark side of American life has its most familiar chroniclers in writers Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allen. But who were the Poes of American art? Many art historians have considered the gothic the territory of misfits and oddballs who rejected the bright landscapes and bucolic scenes of everyday life depicted by mainstream artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Art historian Sarah Burns offers as counterpoint her view that the gothic tradition was a pervasive and potent visual language, deployed to express darker elements of history and the human psyche. Widely recognized as one of the leading and most influential scholars in American art history today, Burns is Ruth N. Halls Professor of History of Art at Indiana University, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1979. Her books include Pastoral Inventions: Rural Life in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture, Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America, and Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America.

Image: H. J. Ward, Feb 1936 issue of Spicy Mysteries

This annual lecture recognizes a generous multiyear grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Terra Foundation is dedicated to fostering the exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts in the United States for national and international audiences.

Speakers and Performers

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Fine Arts at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is the author of four book including Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America, and American Art to 1900: A Documentary History, co-authored with John Davis. In 2008-9, Burns held the Terra Foundation for American Art Fellowship in Art History at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

CHF Suggests      Related links and resources for further study

Good Reads

Painting the Dark Side Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America
Read an excerpt from Sarah Burns’s book Painting the Dark Side Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America
American Art to 1900: A Documentary History
Read chapter one from Sarah Burn’s American Art to 1900: A Documentary History