Sunday, September 10, 2023

Color, Gender, and Art

I cannot remember ever taking a subject directly from television but that is my first source for today. I am someone who needs routine so every weekday morning I watch the financial channel while doing my mat exercises and every Saturday I watch a bit of Michael Smerconish. He is a radio host columnist and has his television show where he does interviews revolving around many issues with an emphasis on politics.Saturday, September 2 the subject was a sculpture by Wesley Wofford of Harriet Tubman (1822-1913).* Here is the sculpture in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall.

Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland and determined to be free. Her safe haven was Philadelphia and from there she made many clandestine trips into Maryland to free family, friends and others. She has a fascinating history that has identified her to posterity as a heroine of Abolitionism. Her first biography was written already in 1868 just 3 years after the end of the Civil War. My purpose in writing, however, is not to tell you the story of Harriet Tubman and if you are interested you can find more here:

The issue I am interested in is the sculpture of this famous Black woman and the artist who happens to be White. An anonymous individual commissioned Wofford in 2017 to create a sculpture of Tubman with the proviso that it could not be duplicated. When Wofford decided to show pictures of the piece online there was such an enthusiastic response that he decided to make an artist’s proof and take it on a tour of about 20 cities, starting in Montgomery, Alabama. It came to Tubman’s adopted home and remained in Philadelphia from January to March, 2022 in time to celebrate Tubman’s 200th Birthday. Millions of people expressed such a positive reaction to the sculpture that the city wanted to buy it but that was against the artist’s contract so the city decided to commission another, different sculpture of Tubman from Wofford.

Now here is the rub: Before this contract was consummated, a number of local artists and community members objected saying there should have been a public process giving other artists the right to submit other proposals and that a Black artist should be creating a sculpture of a Black hero. Of the 50 submissions 5 have been picked as finalists and a decision will be made next month. Wofford decided not to participate. Here are the 5 finalist submissions.

Artist and educator Leopold Segedin (b.1927) in a treatise on his own website called “Outtakes from Making It: Race, Gender and Ethnicity in the Art world” posed the questions “Who is qualified to teach about such issues? Can a white professor teach about Black art? Can a Black Professor teach about Andy Warhol? Can either teach about Latino or Chinese art?”

In that same article Segadin quotes, one of my favorites, Black artist, Jacob Lawrence, “Black art is art that has particular form that is recognized as being ‘Black’ – regardless of content”. From my personal perspective I find that books by women have a different tone or perspective than those by men, but neither is either good or bad, just different.

In the original version of the movie “Annie” the character was White and in the most recent version she was Black creating a backlash by some because they wished everything to remain as they wished to remember it. It is always so difficult for people to accept that things change yet, as Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher (circa 540-480 BCE), said, “Change is the only constant in life.”

NPR reported in 2020 that, “Art by women and men is valued differently. Fine art by women, on average, is valued much less than men's pieces, and are routinely left out of major museums.” The assumption that men are the artists and women are the models has been supported by the preponderance of nudes with female subjects depicted by male artists.

We react to art emotionally and aesthetically. Artists see the world through their eyes, and we see the result through ours both aesthetically and emotionally. Unless the subject is intended to reflect personal experience, why does it matter the gender or race of the person who created it.


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