Appel's book views mid-20th century jazz through a modernist lens and finds it a worthy part of that "great tradition" in the arts. Lewis believes that this approach, while valid in its intent, overlooks the unique features of jazz that make it most compelling as art. He argues that European modernists and African-American jazz musicians had different understandings of apparently similar themes, such as a primitive African "utopia", or of techniques such as collage.
Seeing Jazz refers to both visualizations of jazz and to understanding it: to get hip and then hipper, to say “yes, I see.” Modernist painters, sculptors, photographers, poets, novelists, and essayists have plied their own materials to evoke their experience of jazz in visual or verbal terms. This book illustrates how the music has made its cross-disciplinary mark.
The authors state that "this collection aims to address a gap in the literature on art and music, a gap that appears to be the result of a racial blind spot and/or listening bias" because "it seemed that every book on art and music we consulted had plenty to say about Klee, Kandinsky, and Schoenberg, but hardly anything at all on jazz,blues, and African American visual artists." Their Introduction surveys the main artists and theorists in this art/music nexus and the issues they confront.