Skip to Main Content

Pop without Pretense: Mass Media and the Art of James Castle

Diana Greenwald, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow, departments of American and British paintings and American and modern prints and drawings, National Gallery of Art. Self-taught artist James Castle (1899–1977) lived in remote rural Idaho until moving to the outskirts of Boise in his thirties. Not only was he isolated geographically, he was also born deaf. For Castle—like many “outsider” artists—past scholarship used biography and his marginalized social status to interpret his work. On December 3, 2018, as part of the Works in Progress series at the National Gallery of Art, Diana Greenwald argues that the progressive integration of visual culture—nationally and globally—is key to understanding this artist’s work. Greenwald considers Castle through the same art historical lens applied to mainstream artists of the period who were similarly engaged with mass-circulated visual culture. Classifying Castle as a pop artist, although one without the pretense to distinguish “high” from “low” visual sources, moves away from the myth-making rhetoric that pervades discussion about outsider artists and makes an important contribution to the literature.