Subject Area

Art History/Criticism/Conservation


This thesis argues for a reconsideration of the role sound plays in the work of the American artist Dan Graham. Graham regularly used his work as a means of drawing viewer’s attention to the seemingly infinite multiplicity of the subjective experience which shapes their encounter with the visual art object. I argue Graham’s engagement with music and his involvement in the multidisciplinary art scene of Downtown New York City in the 1970s and 80s shaped and encouraged his interest in this greater sensorial environment in which a work of art is encountered. Through performance, video, and architecture, Graham has attempted to foreground the environmental context of an artwork, and through a study of his work in disparate media, I argue it is his use of sound which most forcefully demonstrates his interest in destabilizing the definition of art. Through a variety of interpretations related in one way or another to sound I examine the relationship between the visual and audible in the work of Graham and his contemporaries, the relationship between sight and sound in enabling and structuring perception, sound as excess designed to point the viewer towards something not immediately apparent in an image, and the role sound plays in uniting the other senses.

Questions with which I grapple include: Since everything is encountered within, and surrounded by, something else, where does the work of art end? Can there be any aspect of the space in which an artwork is encountered that is irrelevant to that encounter? Through a focus on Graham’s engagement with music as well as several key artworks, this thesis works to emphasize the influence of encounters with sound and music on contemporary art practices and the intellectual concerns of practicing artists, while expanding our understanding of what shapes our experience and evaluation of a work of so-called visual art.

Degree Date

Spring 5-2019

Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Anna Lovatt

Second Advisor

Beatriz Balanta

Third Advisor

Roberto Conduru

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License