Picturing America

Thanks to today’s Guardian, I learned about the US project, Picturing America.  Schools can apply for it and in return they receive 40 pictures of American arts/crafts for the school.  Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association, it is spearheaded by John Updike. 

So the thought of Updike determining the national treasures sent off alarm bells.  I went and looked at the announcement and then the official site.  And then I tried to find some critical commentary other than the “great opportunity” boilerplate stuff.  There is none.  None?!?  The NY Times doesn’t even mention it.  Somewhere around 25,000 schools have the kit; NY City alone has about 1,700.  And no critical comment?  And I really searched, using both popular and university search engines.

It is not that it is really bad.  In fact, there’s enough there to mildly irritate the anti-PC people.  But the representation of women?  One women painter and one women photographer.  So suppose they allotted  2 places for women, 2 for blacks, 2 for native americans and 2 for Hispanics.  That would leave…. .  Well, I’m so sick of counting conference participants that I didn’t do the sums, but 2 out of 40 for over 50% of the human race.  OK, maybe so women have been typically as excluded from art as from philosophy, but still.  Not even a little Georgia O’Keefe? 

Too late?  Then why the 1963 Dibenkorn?

And then the pictures are taken to illustrate great American themes.  Forget “as American as motherhood and apple pie.”  Domesticity in any form isn’t one of them.  Nor religion in fact.  Of course, not wealth.  Well, have a look.

And let us know what you think.  I am particularly concerned that for many children it carries the messages I got as a child.  Which is that the production of American art is seriously disconnected from ordinary folk.  You know, the non-elitists, and particularly the mothers and sisters and daughters.


Here’s the announcement and here’s The website.

 And finally I broke down and did count.  Out of the list of 40 named artists, it is really true that only 2 are women.  Looks like a philosophy conference!


Maybe there are some nuggets of wisdom

in this article arguing that women just don’t want to do engineering and so-called “hard science”. But somehow I doubt it when the evidence draws on the “fact” that philosophy has tons of women in it, and when the list of the 5 countries offering women the most financial security and the most family-friendly policies includes the US (nothing says “family friendly” and “financially secure” like a lack of guaranteed health coverage, maternity leave, and childcare). Wow, that’s some nifty science for ya. And some spectacular journalistic fact-checking. (Thanks, Heg!)