Wosk, Julie. Breaking Frame: Technology and the Visual Arts in the Nineteenth Century. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 1992.
Breaking Frame focuses on the broad social anxiety and excitement attendant upon industrialization as these feelings were expressed in the visual arts. In the early 19th century painters began to include the railway in their landscapes, but generally in a distant and non-threatening fashion. Newspaper artists and engravers, by contrast, saw humor and horror in technology, and fore-fronted technophiles as pre-occupied fools, almost non-humans. Americans, Wosk notes, tended to be more enthusiastic and less satiric that the French or English in their public response to technology.
Wosk uses both paintings and newspapers to explore the dwarfing of humans by machines (reminiscent of Chinese landscapes) so prevalent in mid-century illustrations. She also chronicles the dismay of artists and writers responding to the new decorative arts made possible by electroplating, cast-iron sand-casting, die cutting, and other means of mechanically copying artisans' work. Sheffield plate, ornamented stoves and artifacts ornamented with grape leaves, flowers, animals and classical figures were subjected to scorn by cultural critics. As it became possible for the average person to afford more luxuries, some writers (American Horace Greeley) celebrated the good influence to be had through public exposure to the arts, while others (British John Ruskin) feared the swallowing up of good taste in bad. To the contemporary eye the cast-iron artwork made by the Coalbrookdale Factory offers scope for both responses: some of the pieces included by Wosk are florid excrescences, but other items are lovely in their simplicity.
Wosk describes how classical references in machine design gradually gave way to an emphasis on the marriage of form and function (Greek ideas, not Greek things). For instance, as the nineteenth century opened, steam engines were cast as a Greek columns to dignify and make "safe" their dangerous strength. As the century moved on, engineers saw less need for ornamented engines, preferring the spare, simple lines that demonstrated and depended upon the power of good design alone. Wosk closes with a review of a puckish post-modernist plaza, embodying the classical and modernist styles, and moving beyond them to a new integrative, playful style very different from the eclectic but fundamentally serious style of the Victorian era. Finally, Wosk suggests that Americans and English saw themselves as powerful countries, moving forward, using immense machines to do so, fearing and admiring themselves as they went.