The notion of Representation in American Art


The notion of Representation is a central one in American Art. Not only does the term Representation evoke the early revolutionary era principles that formed against the English ‘taxation without representation,’ but it also applies quite literally to the ability of art to represent America, Americans, and any other groups or individuals that fall within that broad category. In a country that originated based on the dream of democracy, representation is at the core of ‘Americanness’ as well as its artworks. As we have seen many times in American history during this course, art has played a direct, powerful role in shaping, supporting or subverting an ‘American agenda.’ Art does not simply mirror the world from the sidelines but it is instead a central, powerful force of creating history, telling that story in new ways, and even changing its course.  For this assignment, choose an artwork that plays an active role in this complex notion of Representation. It can be art that represents an uncommon, minority, or otherwise overlooked group/event, or it can be art that helps to represent or define an identity for a majority or dominant group/event. How does the theme of representation apply to this artwork? What impact has this artwork had/not had on representation a certain group/event in America and American history? What agenda has it contributed/excluded/supported/subverted by way of its representation tactics? Basically, how did this artwork contribute to, or subvert, the course of American History and Art History? First, provide a formal visual analysis of the artwork you have chosen (subject matter, composition, technique, style, etc).  What are we looking at when we see this artwork?  Next, place the chosen artwork in historic context, addressing the influence the historic context had on the artwork and/or vice versa. Name at least one way the theme of representation arises when examining this artwork and identify how it applies. How does this artwork fit into, or resist, the overall story of that context that we have already learned in this class?

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