ABSTRACT

In 1860 the Cosmopolitan Art Journal reported a peculiar contradiction for genre painting in the United States: Genre painters, in this country, are an impossibility, if people consider exposition of stereotyped local life and manners as necessary material for this class of artists. Although commentary on the supposed penchant for spatial mobility in the United States was commonplace, nineteenth-century critics rarely agreed on its origins or meaning. Mobility became a source of “vaunted exceptionalism” to be sure, but its supposed excesses were also used as a rationale to control and restrict segments of the population. It was not unusual for commentators to blame the mobility of people from socially disempowered groups or of political enemies for spreading ideas that they believed to be problematic or even potentially deadly. Floyd’s claims remind people that mobility must never be assumed to be fully liberating, universal, or equal.