High Art = Pop Culture [model abstract]

GreekSlave_NGAHyman, Linda. “The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers: High Art as Popular Culture.” Art Journal 35.3 (Spring 1976): 216-223.

Abstracted by Noah Duell

Hiram Powers’ The Greek Slave is the most preeminent example of antebellum neoclassical sculpture. Whereas other scholars have noted the aesthetic qualities of the statue, Linda Hyman researched many poems and other literary works in order to find out why the work was such a phenomenon in the antebellum United States. Hyman posits that many men of the era were drawn to its beauty, aroused by its state of submission, and subdued by the fantasies elicited by what they saw as an erotic sex symbol. Looking through a 1840s and 50s Victorian Christian lens, the erotic gaze was permitted and defended by much of the male audience. This, permission, Hyman noted, is the difference between covert and overt culture, where the viewers “overtly” look upon it as art, but in reality have ulterior “covert” motives. Women were also attracted to it, yet in an empathetic rather than sexual way. They identified with the statue, most notably in a Freudian narcissistic manner, Hyman notes. Based upon several poems, the chains that subdued the subject were as tight, emotionally, as those that held Victorian women down. In the same way the statue was being commodified as a submissive femininity, so too were the women who looked upon it. In the highly tense political environment, the statue served as a rallying icon and a call to arms for the Abolitionist movement in the northern United States. As Hyman references, the artwork itself brought upon fiery anti-slavery rhetoric, with which came vociferous opposition in the Southern United States. Those who were pro-slavery deemed the Abolitionist’s protests as pure hypocrisy, that they made complaints only in response to the statue’s Caucasian Christianity. The broad appeal of Hiram Power’s The Greek Slave is evident in the numerous ways it was interpreted. Using the literary works and the words of a congressman, a literary critic, and everyone in between, Hyman exhibits several appeals the statue possessed and the connotations of the work as it relates to factions within antebellum American society.

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3 thoughts on “High Art = Pop Culture [model abstract]”

  1. How did the statue become an icon for the abolitionist movement?
    The article states that there was broad appeal for the statue, but what about other works of the time? Why was this one so universal and why was it used in place of others?
    This article states that men and women were attracted to the statue for many reasons and that this was found through researching writings, but would those that were not elite enough to be literate feel the same? Were they mentioned somewhere in the writings researched?
    According to the article, the statue was very popular in the antebellum period, but what about other periods like post-civil war?

  2. You did a wonderful job describing the importance of “The Greek Slave” and its role in Antebellum American society. Your detailed analysis of men and women’s individualized perceptions of the sculpture were both interesting and insightful to views held by people of that time. The sculpture’s “gaze” serving as a subtle sex symbol really captures the feelings of men at the time, and the chains around the slave’s legs capture similar feelings for Antebellum women. So your article argues that “The Greek Slave” sparked some excitement within the Abolitionist movement, but why so? You touch on how it served as a “call to arms” in the Northern USA, but I think it remains a little unclear why exactly this particular sculpture was so important to that movement. What about the sculpture specifically represented what abolitionists longed to achieve and get across to those disagreeing with them?

  3. “The Greek Slave: High Art as Popular Culture” claims that “The Greek Slave” has many different interpretations based on popular culture during different time periods but does it mention how it is interpreted post antebellum and/or today? Does the article use other works of art to show different interpretations across different eras and cultures?

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