Hyman, 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.
Chong, Sylvia Shin Huy. “Restaging the War: ‘The Deer Hunter’ and the Primal Scene of Violence.” Cinema Journal 44.2 (2005): 89-106.
Abstracted by Liam Douglass
Chong argues, contrary to critical reception of The Deer Hunter, the political meaning of the film’s violence reveals itself in the style of the scenes rather than historical accuracy. She proposes the metaphors of the hunt and the game to represent how The Deer Hunter describes the Vietnam War. Referencing the 1841 novel The Deerslayer by Fenimore Cooper, Chong describes the hunt as a “double cannibalization”(95) in which the hunter becomes one with his prey at the time of the kill. The hunt metaphor arises during the Russian roulette where Vietcong are represented as subhuman while the Americans subconsciously strive to be more like them through display of masculinity in the game of death. The game metaphor applies directly to the game of Russian roulette, which symbolizes the randomness of death and violence in the Vietnam War. To further pursue Cimino’s meaning behind the relationship between the American soldiers and their VC captors, Chong applies the concept of the primal scene from Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. She cites similarities between the primal scene and the Americans’ first experience with Russian roulette, mainly the inability for either party to interject in their witnessing of a trauma which they do not fully understand. This paralysis extends to the audience who is exposed to gratuitous violence for the first time in the film. Nick’s suicide represents the fulfilment of his primal fantasy to become like the VC who forced him to play Russian roulette. This transformation is the revelation of Cimino’s message: those Americans who had entered the war to eradicate the VC became like them as evidenced in similarities between the style of the Russian roulette scenes and the positioning of victim and executioner in the Saigon Execution photograph. This American loss of innocence corporealizes itself in the nation’s effort to rid itself of the “oriental obscene” through the deportation of Nguyen Ngoc Loan, the executioner photographed in Saigon Execution. [321 words]
Green, David. “Veins of Resemblance: Photography and Eugenics.” Oxford Art Journal 7.2 (1985): 3-16.
Abstracted by Victoria Byler
Green argues against the supposed objectivity of photographs. For much of their existence, photographs have been regarded as accurate recreations of reality; however Green exposes that photographs cannot be objective because “photographic representations are not constructed first and then used, but as representations they are always constructed in use” (4). Green substantiates that “knowledge cannot be regarded as autonomous or transcendent of the context in which it is used because in itself it is the product of, and intended to serve, manipulative and predictive interests”(4). He supports this claim through the conjunction of photography and the study of the formative stages of eugenics. Eugenics is the study of the sociocultural importance of characteristics passed down through generations to isolate the best traits and use them to perpetuate the human race, closely related to the concept of Social Darwinism. Green references the eugenic studies of Havelock Ellis and expounds upon the work of Francis Galton and his methods of composite photography, the practice of retaking photographs to reduce multiple images into a one generic image, to highlight the underlying implications of photography (11). Galton’s work analyzes people’s physical traits to find common features in different races, social classes, or most frequently- criminals to support the movement “not for a new social order but for the reconstitution of the old order at a higher level of efficiency” (15). Galton developed techniques to emphasize common traits, disseminated information about eugenics to doctors to gain support, and created a data collection system by recruiting amateur photographers to take pictures of family and friends to enlarge his image database. The image Composite portrait of a criminal type exemplifies the type of image Galton produced in an attempt to explain the various economic and social shifts during the late 1800s. Photography aided the eugenics movement because in this period of time, photography was used as irrefutable documentation. Overall, photographs are always created for a specific reason; they never display ideas objectively. Therefore they subjectively recreate the situation the photographer attempts to capture based on their underlying social, political, or didactic functions. [344 words]
Cheung, Floyd. “Anxious and Ambivalent Representations: Nineteenth-Century Images of Chinese American Men,” The Journal of American Culture 30:3 (2007): 293-309.
Abstracted by Mary Horn
Cheung’s essay evaluates the ways in which Chinese American men were depicted by American sources, including 19th century political cartoons, an 1880 novel, and an 1879 farce. Through the examination of these images, and the realization that the depictions vary, Cheung claims that the 19th century idea of Euro-American masculinity was “ambivalent” (293). While working class men generally depicted Chinese men as threatening, capitalists portrayed them as docile and emasculated. These portrayals give insight into the desires and fears of both groups as they faced the issues plaguing 19th century America: class conflict, an international labor market, and an unstable masculine identity. Cheung analyzes three political cartoons from Harper’s Weekly and Wasp magazine. One shows a white “working man” punching a Chinese American man, another shows “feminine” Chinese males courting American women, and the last shows a Chinese man outworking white males in a factory. While the first two cartoons emasculate Chinese men, threatening aspects are also present, such as the furious Chinese face in the background of the first cartoon or the stealing away of American women in the second. These depictions reveal a Euro-American workingman’s threatened masculinity concerning his ability to maintain the role of breadwinner and possess American women. Cheung argues that American males often used Chinese men as scapegoats instead of confronting the real issues: low wages and a flooded labor market. Dooner’s novel, The Last Days of the Republic, illustrates the fear Euro-Americans felt concerning a fantasized Chinese invasion. This idea is shown in Dooner’s illustration “The War of the Races,” where Chinese forces defeat American soldiers, taking their women and land. Cheung argues that national anxieties about an evolving labor market led to scapegoat racism such as this. In The Chinese Must Go, Chinese men are demonized, “forcing” white men to cross-dress in their attempts to make ends meet among a flooded labor market. Cheung believes this cross-dressing reveals that a Chinese presence created an unstable Euro-American masculine identity. Cheung ends his essay by briefly addressing the dominance of China in contemporary times, and warning against the use of stereotyping to alleviate cultural anxiety. [350 words]
Reinhard, Leslie. “British and Indian Identities in a Picture by Benjamin West,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 31.3 (Spring 1998): 283-305.
Abstracted By Spencer Manners
Reinhardt challenges the notion that Benjamin West’s 18th century portrait of Mohawk chief Karonghyontye, also referred to as Captain David Hill, and Guy Johnson is a representation of “eurocentric preconceptions,” (286). At first glance of the image, it seems as though West may have used European stereotyping because Hill is depicted as the typical “noble savage” in traditional warpaint and traditional Indian dress, while Johnson is portrayed in English clothing, (283). Instead, Reinhardt suggests that the image reveals a symbolic documentation of a diplomatic alliance between the Mohawks and Great Britain. She strikes down the idea that West is trying to portray Hill as a “noble savage” by pointing out that West did adequate research to “emblematically” depict Hillas a representative of the Mohawk nation, (298). Reinhardt researches the types of clothing that Native Americans were wearing at the time, and reveals that most Native Americans wore clothing that resembled European fashion, contrary to the traditional Mohawk fashion that Hill is wearing in West’s portrayal. Native Americans at the time wore loose cloth shirts in combination with Native American jewelry. However, in the portrait, Hill is topless with silver brooches and jewelry that resemble traditional Mohawk fashion. Reinhardt argues that this representation was meant to show the two worlds of the figures in the image coming together. The author accurately identifies the subjects in the image and then — using this knowledge — reinterprets the painting to push back on the idea that it depicts stereotypical European conceptions. The author further supports her claim by including Hill’s own statement indicating his satisfaction with the way he was depicted in the portrait, and asking Daniel Claus to have copy of the portrait sent to him. In the author’s conclusion, she asserts that West had painted the portrait with intentions of creating “authentic representations” of the two sitters by exaggerating the differences between them through West’s understanding of their lives and “political mission,” (298). Reinhardt’s reinterpretation of West’s painting indicates that there are other images of Native Americans that have representative meanings, therefore further research must be done on these types of images. (350 Words)
Edwards, Janis L., and Carol K. Winkler. “Representative Form and the Visual Ideograph: The Iwo Jima Image in Editorial Cartoons.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83 (1997): 289-310.
Abstracted by Michael Sorensen
Edwards and Winkler investigate the parodied uses of Joe Rosenthal’s 1945 photograph of six U.S. servicemen raising an American flag during the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima in editorial cartoons. The authors consider methods of visual analysis like metaphor, genre, and icon in examining the Iwo Jima image in parodies – but find them insufficient because the editorial abstractions only vaguely refer to the original image and do not analogize, represent too wide a variety of abstractions, and deviate away from the photograph’s original composition. Instead, Edwards and Winkler contest that their concepts of “representative form” and “visual ideography” better explain the functions of these cartoons. Representative form describes how the Iwo Jima image transcends immediate connotations to a more elusive, abstract meaning in the cartoons. The authors also extend McGee’s idea of ideography from its function as a means of analyzing texts to a method of examining images. Edwards and Winkler develop their claim by using a variety of newspaper political cartoons in conjunction with McGee’s four components of ideography. First, McGee says ideographs must be a common term in political discourse. The Iwo Jima image is used in cartoons about electoral competitions to standardize discourse for elite and non-elite audiences. Second, an ideograph must represent a collective action to a goal. In a visual context, the Iwo Jima image already represents collective action, but Edwards and Winkler show the abstracted modifications to that goal with comics that imply ideas like patriotism and equality. Third, McGee maintains that ideographs authorize power and make behavior acceptable. In a cartoon about the Gulf War, for example, the image functions as a comparison for determining the tolerability of the conflict. Finally, McGee affirms that the previously mentioned judgments are culture-bound. In the article there is a cartoon of a group of Marines looking up a recruit’s skirt; in an editorial context, culture-bound analysis seeks to determine how society accepts or rejects certain implications. In their conclusion, Edwards and Winkler suppose that there is value in applying rhetoric used for examining text to crafting a more fluid means of analysis for images. [350 words]
Llewellyn, Susan. “A Tale of Two Portraits: Motivations Behind Self-Fashioning in Seventeenth- Century Boston Portraiture.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2, no. 39 (2011): 8-28.
Abstracted by Joyce Ingari
Llewellyn challenges and extends the common notion (embraced by many art historians of 17th century portraiture) that looking towards “society-level” factors is the best way to explain differences in the styles and compositions of portraiture. Despite the “society level” similarities in the profession, location, and wealth of both John Freake and Samuel Shrimpton, two wealthy English merchants living in Boston, their portraits remain distinctly separate, indicating personal lives and political ideologies as a third variable. Llewellyn begins by evaluating the portraits separately, noting the “self positioning”, or each man’s manner of dress, pose etc. She describes Freake’s portrait as displaying the expensive yet refined look of a confident man with wealth and family prestige (aiming for a less realistic and more stylized appearance).She relates this image to a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, where the Renaissance style and poses almost exactly mirror one another. Llewellyn points out that both the Queen and Freake were Puritans who valued integrity and moral honesty, exemplified by the shadowless Renaissance style which emphasized light as an equivalent to truth. She contrasts this with Shrimpton’s realistic portrayal, gaudy dress and small over-the-shoulder reference to his life’s work as a merchant, implying that he considered himself above his trade.Whereas Freake chose the pure, understated Renaissance style, Shrimpton instead chose the Baroque style to capture more realistic features like his eye bags and double chin (choosing to hide nothing), while also sporting lavish, rich fabrics and expensive accessories. Llewellyn makes a point of noting the historical likelihood that both men would have been aware of both the Renaissance and Baroque and thus consciously decided on one style over the other. She then references the portrait of King Charles II which, like Shrimpton’s, displays lavish silks and accessories while also portraying him realistically in the Baroque style. Llewellyn states that both Shrimpton and the King were political outcasts, Shrimpton because of his lack of noble blood and the King because of his treacherous father. She describes their portraits as devices used to show the world that they attained wealth and prosperity, despite their beginnings: something neither the queen nor Freake needed to prove. By using a personal lens rather than societal when viewing these portraits, Llewellyn is able to more fully understand the vast differences in the portraits of two seemingly similar men.