Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Art History


Christine Sprengler


Following Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories (2012), this thesis studies the wishy-washy as an aesthetic category. Consisting of three art world and visual culture case studies, this thesis reveals the surprising strength that lies behind the wishy-washy’s weak veneer. The first case study draws out the subtle power in Victorian flower painting by analyzing the work and reception of the successful (though largely unstudied) painters Annie and Martha Mutrie. Subsequently, case studies of Maurizio Cattelan’s roaming artwork Charlie (2003) and the Andrew Bujalski’s mumblecore film Funny Ha Ha (2002) bring the discussion into the twenty-first century, when such phenomena as “openness,” mumbled dialogue, wishy-washy personalities and filmic devices secure an artwork’s place as a commodity in the global art market and as a way for young people to navigate their financial reality, respectively. The wishy-washy proves to be hard to describe, yet unmistakable: a half-hearted, flakey, neither here nor there quality that powerfully refuses to commit and covertly gets under our skin.