Monthly Mentor

Chapin Schnick (September)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. This month’s mentor is Chapin Schnick, who has 10 years of art teaching experience and more than 20 years experience in nonprofit volunteer service. In addition to a master’s degree in art education from the Maryland Institute College of Art and a bachelor’s degrees in art education and ceramics, with a minor in art history, from Purdue University, Schnick is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in nonprofit management at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). She lives in Martinsville, Indiana and works at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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« Global Understanding Amidst Flag Waving | Main | Visual Arts Education, Liberty, and Protection »

July 09, 2018

Liberty and Visual Culture

From Dr. Patty Bode

In this second blog post for the month of July, I continue reflecting on the semiotics and symbolism of the United States flag and the Statue of Liberty within the context of our mission statement, which asserts that NAEA “advances visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” The grand narratives that are embodied by the Statue of Liberty hold implications for both fulfilling human potential and global understanding within the public imagination, and will be the focus of this post.

Lady Liberty’s identity crisis. As this blog post goes live, the United States immigration policies are in direct conflict with the narratives of fulfilling human potential and global understanding as children and their parents are traumatically separated at the US border. This conflict is illustrated in the abundance of political cartoons and social media memes that point to the dissonance of the national identity of United States as embodied in Lady Liberty’s image. See how the policy change separated migrant children from their parents in this analysis by the New York Times.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.01 AMCartoon credit: Signe Wilkinson. Philly.com. Washington Post Writers Group. 2018

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.11 AMCartoon credit: Nick Anderson Washington Post Writers Group. 2018

As of this week, the court ordered deadline has passed for the US government to reunite all children under the age of 5 with their parents, with many families still waiting. This and many other recent events around US immigration policy have invoked the Statue of Liberty in image and text both nationally and internationally.

Social, cultural, historical context. Most students in US schools learn about the legacy of “Lady Liberty” as explained by the Library of Congress:  “A gift of friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States, the 151-foot-tall statue was created to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and officially titled Liberty Enlightening the World, the Statue of Liberty has symbolized freedom and democracy to the nation and to the world for well over a century.” President Grover Cleveland commemorated the statue in 1886.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.33 AMStatue of Liberty, New York Harbor. Detroit Photographic Co., 1905. Photocrom Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Sociopolitical context. Works of art, public monuments, and objects of material culture are produced and understood within a sociopolitical context. From its inception, the narrative power of the Statue of Liberty has been embedded with the symbolism of freedom and democracy and how those ideals are rooted in The Age Enlightenment. The enduring potency of its visual and material culture is intertwined with the assertion of social values in the United States. In many ways, the image of the Statue of Liberty has become synonymous with what the United States hopes to be. When there is tension between USA ideals and actions, the image of Lady Liberty moves to the foreground in our national visual culture.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.52.44 AMMelania Trump, the first lady, departed Joint Base Andrews on Thursday after traveling to Texas. Her jacket reads, “I really don’t care. Do U?”
Credit: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.01 AMIllustration by Justin Teodoro widely circulated on social media after First Lady Melania Trump’s visit to detained immigrant children.

Connecting critically. Teaching about the historical and contemporary context of the Statue of Liberty can guide students to more critical understandings and sincere meaning-making amidst the plethora of visual reference to it in contemporary art, political cartoons, daily news and the seemingly endless promotion of commercial products such as posters, calendars, baseball caps, t-shirts, bath towels, salt and pepper shakers and more. The National Core Arts Standards call for students to: “relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.” Providing students to engage with both the historical underpinnings and contemporary expressions can open possibilities for students’ own interpretations.

Contemporary installations. Artist, Danh Vo’s installation, We the People provides an example of the engaging historical significance within contemporary social fabric. It is explained on publicartfund.org:  

We The People (2010-2014) is a 1:1 replica of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, recreated by artist Danh Vo (b. 1975) in about 250 individual pieces. Vo’s segmented version is faithful to the original, using the same fabrication techniques and copper material. However, he never intends to assemble all of the pieces of the statue. Instead We The People invites us to experience this world famous icon on a human scale, and to reflect on the meaning of liberty from multiple perspectives.

Vo’s work places various replicated pieces of the Statue of Liberty as installations in a range of museum sites and public spaces. The connections or disconnections are left to the viewer to interpret or conceptually piece together. The publicartfund.org provides an education guide for families and teachers, and many other details to engage in the work.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.28 AMDan Vo. We the People. Presented by Public Art Fund. City Hall Park & Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York, NY. May 16 – December 5, 2014

Responding to text and image. Text matters. Emma Lazarus’s 1883 poem “The New Colossus” is inextricably bound with the image of the Statue of Liberty, and it is often invoked in public comment and debate. In The Atlantic (January 2018), an article titled, “The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty” by Walt Hunter, assistant professor of world literature at Clemson University provides a cogent argument for re-reading and responding to both text and image. The National Core Arts Standards names the process of responding as: “Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.” Reading and discussing texts can provide pathways to perceiving, analyzing and interpreting the cultural significance of the statue and its relationship to the poem in the public discourse.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.40 AMThe 1903 bronze plaque located in the Statue of Liberty's museum.
Accessed from National Park Service at:
https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm

 Younger children and connecting. Younger students may be able to engage in the process of connecting as defined by the standards: “Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context” through children’s literature that provides some sociohistorical understandings. The book, Her Right Foot, by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris provides children with insights into some of the artistic decisions and symbolic choices of the origins of the statue. By studying and discussing this text juxtaposed with current political cartoons, young students may develop their own riffs on the statue, or possibly design a new, contemporary figure to express our social ideals.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.53.52 AM
Continuing the dialogue.
Unfortunately, it is not a new phenomenon to witness disconnections between our “golden door” - Emma Lazarus’s ending of the sonnet emblazoned on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty - and the actions of the US government. Many artists have called attention to the incongruities between declarations of rights and exclusionary societal actions. For example, Faith Ringgold’s vibrant work with story quilts is well known among art teachers, and her most famous work published in Tar Beach is widely used in art rooms. Art lessons garner children’s attention to its captivating visual narrative, as well as the accompanying text that calls out racial injustice. Yet, in many schools, the study of Ringgold’s work stops there, and the vast body of her work is ignored. Ringgold’s activism for women and people of color in the art world throughout her prolific career has been well documented  and deserves to be included to guide students in full understanding of the sociopolitical context of her accomplishments (see resources from the National Museum of Women in the Arts).

These two pieces by Faith Ringgold could be investigated as a follow-up to a study of Tar Beach. Using the inquiry-based methods I discussed in the previous blog post, art teachers may guide students in a dialogue about what they notice and what they wonder, with special attention to methods that juxtapose familiar symbols in unfamiliar contexts.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 11.54.03 AMFaith Ringgold. American People Series #18: The Flag Is Bleeding,
Oil on canvas, 72 x 96 in.
Faith Ringgold. We came to America, 1997. Acrylic on canvas,
painted and pieced border, 74.5” x 70.5 in.

Role of art educators. Given the national climate around immigration rights, especially after the 2016 presidential election, the subsequent presidential executive orders in January 2017*, and the events around refugee rights and family separation of 2018, art teachers and school leaders are witnessing the effects of the anti-immigrant tone and policies on many students and families. I have written elsewhere about how in times such as these, school leadership can make a difference in guiding teachers, supporting families, and setting a tone of active affirmation and support despite society’s messages of discrimination and exclusion (in Nieto & Bode, 2018 see Chapter 3 section titled "Multicultural Teaching Story: Immigration Rights and Family Stories," pp. 57-61). To help fulfill human potential and lead toward global understanding, art educators are especially well positioned to teach students about the significance of current events, provide avenues of analysis of visual culture and set the stage for amplification of student voice through creating art. If not we, then who?

- PB

*See https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/ for Executive Order on January 25, 2017: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements. See also Executive Order on January 27, 2017: Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.

References:

Almukhtar, S., Griggs, T., & Yourish, K. (2018, June 20). How Trump’s policy change separated migrant children from their parents.  The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/06/20/us/border-children-separation.html

Eggers, D.  & Harris, S. (2017). Her right foot. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Hunter, W. (2018, January/February).The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty. The Atlantic, X (x).  Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/01/the-story-behind-the-poem-on-the-statue-of-liberty/550553/

Library of Congress. (2018). Today in History -June 19 – Statue of Liberty. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/june-19/

National Core Arts Standards. (2018). Dance, Media Arts, Music, Theatre And Visual Arts.  Retrieved from http://www.nationalartsstandards.org/

Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2018). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education (7th ed.) New York: Pearson.

Public Art Fund. (2014). Danh Vo. "We the People." Retrieved from https://www.publicartfund.org/view/exhibitions/6042_danh_vo_we_the_people

Ringgold, F. (1991). Tar Beach. New York: Random House.

I am grateful to the crowd sourcing of imagery and conceptual feedback via Facebook. Special thanks to Sarah Clendenin, Amanda Davis and Jorge Lucero.

 

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