Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Brianne Cohen

Second Advisor

Kirk Ambrose

Third Advisor

Denice Walker


Despite being one of the most prevalent forms of entertainment in the twentieth century, commercial animation has long been excluded from serious art historical discourse, only considered within the disciplines of film studies or visual studies. As a drawn-medium, reliant on a team of artists for completion, I argue animation warrants discussion within the discipline of art history, particularly to address modernism within the vernacular consumer in the early twentieth century. This thesis operates as a proponent for animation's inclusion in art history, as well as a historiography of the fraught relationship between animation and the art world. Animation's origins in lowbrow, vaudeville theaters and its early relationship to "craft" initially disadvantaged serious discussions on its artistic merit, regardless of the parallels between traditionally accepted art historical areas of study, which are outlined in this thesis. Because of its commercial success in the first decades of the twentieth century, art historians and museums alike were drawn to the medium of animation. However, despite a number of art historical writings and museum exhibitions featuring animation in the 1930s and 1940s, this remained a superficial relationship that did not truly advocate for inclusion within the canon. Cultural shifts within and outside of the discipline in the post-World War II period further marginalized animation as a worthy artistic medium, and the relationship that started in the 1930s and 40s crumbled by the 1970s. With the resurgence of animation in the 1990s, animation's inclusion into the art historical canon needs to be renegotiated, as it offers insight into the vernacular reception of art in the contemporary period.