Lubin, David M. 1950–

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Lubin, David M. 1950–

PERSONAL: Born November 24, 1950, in Columbus, OH; son of Samuel (a businessman) and Louise (a writer; maiden name, Stone) Lubin; married Elizabeth Warner (a writer), May 7, 1977; children: Molly, Gus. Education: Attended Principia College, 1968–70, and University of Southern California, 1971–72; Ohio State University, B.A., 1973; Yale University, M.A., 1980, Ph.D., 1983.

ADDRESSES: Home—Fairfield, ME. Office—Department of Arts History, Wake Forest University, 101 Scales Fine Art Center, 1834 Wake Forest Rd., Winston-Salem, NC 27106. Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt & Brandt, 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: UNESCO, Paris, France, administrative assistant, 1974–75; Colby College, Waterville, ME, assistant professor of art and American studies, 1983–99; Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, C. Weber Professor of Art, 1999–.

MEMBER: American Studies Association, College Art Association of America, Society for Cinema Studies.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow of American Council of Learned Societies and Andrew W. Mellon fellow, Standard Humanities Center, both 1986–87; Charles C. Eldredge Prize, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2004, for outstanding scholarship in American art.


Act of Portrayal: Eakins, Sargent, James, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1985.

Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1994.

Titanic, BFI Publishing (London, England), 1999.

Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including Rolling Stone.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A study of modern visual culture in Europe and the United States from 1830s to the present.

SIDELIGHTS: Art historian David M. Lubin addresses areas in his books where art and culture meet, and how art influences social issues and the basic fabric of American culture. Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America contains six essays by Lubin, each dedicated to a single artist or particular work of art, that are "sustained inquiries into the relationship between visual images and the personal, social and historical issues that have shaped experience within our particular culture," commented reviewer Angela Miller in Art in America. "Lubin's approach is unusual," Miller further observed. "Historically grounded, theoretically informed and often wonderfully intelligent, it is also speculative, allusive and open-ended in its readings." He discusses artists such as George Caleb Bingham, whose painting Emigration of Daniel Boone represents early settlers' willing, even eager, entry into the wilderness to discover the riches there. Lubin suggests that the painting expresses Bingham's ambivalence toward slavery. Though slaves were important to Boone's expedition, they are absent from the painting. However, critics such as Art Bulletin contributor Eric M. Rosenberg indicated that it is "just as likely that they are assumed to be in the background unavailable to the eye trained on that part of the wilderness experience reserved for dominance, patriarchy," and other subjects informing the painting. Lubin interprets the realistic trompe l'oeil paintings of William Harnett as "a fascinating explication of commodity fetishism and male identity formation in late 19th-century New York," Rosenberg also noted. By including consideration of a female artist and an African-American artist, "Lubin lays claim to a new inclusiveness, bringing the contemporary concerns of multiculturalism to his reading of the past while also providing historical evidence for his insistence upon the multivocal nature of American culture," Miller stated. "This is a challenging and provocative text," Rosenberg concluded. "It should not and cannot be ignored. It must, however, be read critically, subjected to the same barrage of questions to which it in turn subjects its material. Lubin wouldn't have it any other way; he says as much and we can only take him at his word, a word that is often fascinating but as frequently deserves argument."

With Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images, which Winterthur Portfolio contributor James C. Curtis called "a masterpiece of material culture scholarship," Lubin analyzes images from one of the twentieth century's signal events: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He "examines some of the twentieth century's most unforgettable images and through them fashions a fascinating and fresh appraisal of modern American culture," Curtis remarked. Lubin "provides a series of provocative essays about how perceptions of the Kennedys have become part of our national memory," noted Library Journal reviewers Karl Helicher and Michael A. Genovese. John and Jacqueline Kennedy "became such dominant personalities because the public associated them with enduring themes of classical and popular culture," Helicher and Genovese commented. For example, both the Kennedys and the most popular television show of the day, The Beverly Hillbillies, tended to take an amused, even satirical approach to the foibles of the rich. Kennedy himself cultivated a masculine, macho image, polished by his fondness for James Bond novels. The comparison of Kennedy's era to the fabled land of Camelot was easily accepted by an American public shocked and grief-stricken by the president's violent death. Through it all, the popular perception was enhanced by visual images that supported the message that the Kennedys wanted to get across in photographs and portraits. "At once stodgy and delirious, unexpectedly brilliant and brilliantly spurious, appropriately world historical and facetiously ahistoric, Shooting Kennedy is a book that, Lubin suggests, advances its own conspiracy theory" by looking at and considering previously unnoticed connections between the visual representation of the Kennedy legend and the reality of his life and death, commented reviewer J. Hoberman in Artforum International. "The daring of Lubin's approach is as instructive as his often startling results" and conclusions, wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Curtis concluded that "gathered together, intertwined and animated by a lyrical narrative, these [visual] manifestations of material culture help us understand the media-made world we live in."

Lubin once told CA: "My writing is concerned not only with specific works of art and literature but also with the historical, philosophic, and social issues that these works embody. In Act of Portrayal I applied a formal, compositional analysis to three works of American portraiture ('character depiction') from the 1880's and discovered how each of these works concerns itself with matters such as the tension between masculine and feminine characteristics, the connections between verbal and visual types of expression, and the underlying conflicts between traditional authority (social, familial, artistic) and the desire to be free of that authority.

"Two of the works I studied are paintings (Thomas Eakins's 'The Agnew Clinic' and John Singer Sargent's 'The Boit Children'), while one is a novel (The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James), but in each instance, the portrait is more than simply a portrait. It is also a portrait about portraiture, or, in other words, about the ways in which we look at each other and make 'portraits' of one another. Thus Act of Portrayal deals not only with art and society of a century ago but also with that of today, inasmuch as it devotes considerable attention to how our perception of people in the real world is related to our perception of characters in fiction and painting, and is determined by many of the same social forces.

"While the Virginia Quarterly was impressed by the book's procedure, the American Art Journal found Act of Portrayal 'quite a nasty, irresponsible piece of work—and an X-rated one at that.' Indeed, Act of Portrayal has raised controversy by its insistent analysis of three classic works of American art and literature in terms of sexual politics, psychoanalysis, class conflict, and deconstruction."



Art Bulletin, September, 1995, Eric M. Rosenberg, review of Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America, p. 507.

Artforum International, January, 2004, J. Hoberman, "President's Day," review of Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images, p. 29.

Art in America, February, 1995, Angela Miller, review of Picturing a Nation, p. 31.

Library Journal, November 1, 2003, Karl Helicher and Michael A. Genovese, "Forty Years from Dallas," review of Shooting Kennedy, p. 96

Publishers Weekly, October 27, 2003, review of Shooting Kennedy, p. 57.

Winterthur Portfolio, spring, 2004, James C. Curtis, review of Shooting Kennedy, p. 97.


Wake Forest University Department of Art History Web site, (October 5, 2005), biography of David Lubin.