The Seeing America Project
1960-now: learning resources
Making an icon, JFK and the power of media
Gary Winogrand, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, 1960 (printed c. 1980), gelatin silver print, 45.88 x 30.8 cm (Minneapolis Institute of Art, © The Estate of Gary Winogrand).
- Television played a key role in the 1960 presidential campaign. After his nomination at the Democratic National Convention, John F. Kennedy appeared next to his Republican opponent Richard Nixon in the first presidential debate ever broadcast to a national audience. Many historians believe that the appearance and demeanor of the candidates as seen on TV had a direct impact on the election.
- Kennedy’s nomination represented a new direction for the Democratic party. While the establishment worried that his youth and his Irish-Catholic background would be liabilities in the general election, the 1960 Democratic Convention marked a shift toward a new generation of leaders and a more open nomination process.
- As a street photographer, Garry Winogrand used split-second timing to capture images that are both spontaneous and simultaneously dense with meaning. Here, Kennedy’s gesture recalls famous leaders of the past, while his appearance on the TV screen alludes to his status as a modern celebrity. Other details of the photograph took on symbolic significance following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, reminding us that works of art are open to continued interpretation and renewed meaning.
More to think about
Kennedy’s presidency coincided with the rise of television and its role in mediating our interactions with and connection to politicians. How do you think the emergence of social media has affected that relationship and the public’s direct access to our political leaders?
Homage to JFK, Rauschenberg's Retroactive I
Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, 1963, oil and silkscreen-ink print on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art) © Robert Rauschenberg
- The figure of John F. Kennedy evokes the dramatic technological, social, and political changes of the 1960s. Elected to the presidency in 1960, Kennedy’s youthful vitality signaled hope and ambition for a new era of progress, epitomized by the U.S. space program. The devastating impact of his assassination in 1963 left the nation in mourning. It was the onset of the violence and unrest that would characterize much of the decade.
- Silkscreening provides an efficient method of duplicating images, and allowed Rauschenberg to incorporate photography taken from popular media directly into his artworks. Rauschenberg’s use of this technique challenged the idea that fine art should demonstrate an artist’s technical skill and focused attention on the power and multiplicity of images in mid-twentieth century America.
- Robert Rauschenberg’s use of recognizable imagery from popular culture signals a shift away from the Abstract Expressionist art of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock and reconnected fine art with the actual world.
- While Rauschenberg wanted to show what was “outside my window,” the clustering of seemingly unrelated images incorporated in the painting remains more suggestive and open to interpretation than a straightforward illustration of the world.
Learn more about Robert Rauschenberg by watching a documentary, a short video, or exploring his archive
Watch or read a transcript of the 1962 speech where Kennedy promises that the United States will land humans on the moon
More to think about
We value a painting by Leonardo da Vinci in part because of his craftsmanship—he could really paint! Does this still apply to art made today? What is the role of craftsmanship in the era of Instagram filters and Etsy?
The Long History of Stone Mountain, Georgia
Confederate Memorial, Stone Mountain, Georgia (sculptors: Gutzon Borglum, Augustus Lukeman, Julian Harris, Walter Hancock, and Roy Faulkner), completed in 1970
- The relief sculpture of confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Jefferson Davis at Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, is a potent symbol of white supremacy which has continued to define southern United States culture since before the Civil War. White supremacy also characterized the spirit of manifest destiny that obscured Native presence and history in North America.
- Under the leadership of Helen Plane, the United Daughters of the Confederacy originally commissioned a relief sculpture and memorial park on the site in 1915. Their effort to memorialize fallen husbands, sons, and fathers were part of a larger movement at the time to promote the myth of the “lost cause” of the Civil War and bolster the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan.
- The sculpture took 55 years to complete, and multiple sculptors worked on it, each with their own designs. The commissioners and artists involved at each stage evoked visual models of power, honor, grandeur, and permanence — borrowed from both ancient Greece and Rome and American landscape painting.
- Still today, the site reflects an ongoing conversation in Georgia and across the United States about the history, legacy, and symbolism of the Confederacy and Civil War.
Timothy Pratt and Rick Rojas, “Giant Confederate Monument will Remain at Revamped Stone Mountain”, New York Times, May 25, 2021
The Confederate Flag: The Use of a Symbol (June16, 2021 panel discussion at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City)
Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism and Violence (2011, Southern Poverty Law Center)
Learn more about the Mississippian Culture from this neck ornament, or gorget
Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide (2016, Atlanta History Center)
Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy (2019, Southern Poverty Law Center)
What will happen to Stone Mountain, America’s Largest Confederate Memorial? (August 22, 2017 Smithsonian Magazine)
Atlanta’s Stone Mountain: A Multicultural History (2011, Paul Stephen Hudson and Lora Pond Mirza)
More to think about
In the summer of 2021, the commission that oversees Stone Mountain park voted to remove Confederate Flags from the site and do a better job of contextualizing its history and symbolism. Without researching what actions have been taken, how do you think Stone Mountain could be better contextualized? What voices and histories should be included, and in what format/s?
Research project ideas
For a more in-depth project, research and consider these specific elements in answering the discussion questions above, presenting replies in a written or oral presentation to the class:
- The causes and results of the U.S. Civil War
- The display of the Confederate flag
- Segregation and civil rights
- Indian removal
- Visual symbolism of power and permanence
Faith Ringgold, Ben
Faith Ringgold, Ben, c. 1978, soft sculpture/mixed media, 99.1 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm (Toledo Museum of Art, ©Faith Ringgold)
- In the late 1970s, social, political, and economic crises dramatically impacted many Americans. Economic stagnation coupled with oil shortages affected the economy, the Watergate scandal and Vietnam War eroded public trust, while activists in the Civil Rights and feminist movements struggled for equality.
- Faith Ringgold’s Ben captures the turbulent atmosphere of the late 1970s. Through his dress and accessories, Ringgold includes a constellation of references and associations that connect this figure to the central controversies of the day. At the same time, she gives the figure a sense of humanity and empathy that connects with the viewer.
- Using techniques and materials that were often dismissed as “women’s work,” Faith Ringgold uses the scale of Ben to establish it as a work of art. Larger than a doll, smaller than a human, it elevates its medium to the realm of high art and makes a feminist statement.
More to think about
How do Faith Ringgold’s Ben (1978) and Duane Hanson’s Executive (1971) each reflect the political and social climate of the 1970s? How might the figures offer different perspectives on the period? Consider questions that you might ask each man if you were to meet them on the street. Which do you think you’d be more interested in talking to?
An unflinching memorial to Civil Rights martyrs, Thornton Dial’s Blood and Meat
Thornton Dial, Blood and Meat: Survival For The World, 1992, rope, carpet, copper wire, metal, canvas scraps, enamel, and splash zone compound on canvas on wood, 165.1 x 241.3 x 27.9 cm (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, ©Thornton Dial), a Seeing America video
- Under discriminatory Jim Crow laws, freed slaves had few options in the post-Civil War, agrarian South. Many became sharecroppers, entering into agreements that were little more than forced labor. Sharecroppers were at the mercy of the landlord’s recordkeeping, which left them frequently in heavy debt and subject to arrest if they attempted to leave their leased land. Sharecropping remained a widespread practice until the Great Depression of the 1930s.
- Thornton Dial combines multiple levels of meaning in this painted assemblage, which references the dangerous path taken by Civil Rights activists. The use of unraveled rope carpets evokes his childhood poverty, but also images of bondage and lynching. The tiger and the faces that are hidden throughout the work reference Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Robert Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy, Emmett Till, and others. His goal is to confront the viewer with this history and remind us that these issues still need to be addressed in today’s world.
Learn more about Thornton Dial and watch a documentary about him
More to think about
In the video, the speakers describe Dial’s painting as “visceral.” What does this word mean and how do you see it applying to this work of art? Consider the visual and emotional impact of the Dial’s imagery, materials, and even the title Blood and Meat: Survival for the World. Why might Dial—and other artists recounting African-American history in the U.S.—want to evoke ideas of the visceral in their work?
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
MASS Design Group, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, 2018 (Equal Justice Initiative), Montgomery, Alabama
NOTE TO EDUCATORS: The contents of this essay, video, and learning resource may be triggering for some learners. In this context, it is essential not to force a conversation and you may just want to ask students what stands out to them about the memorial and what they want to talk about as a class or in small groups. Rather than discussion, students may also prefer to engage with writing or some kind of individualized and possibly private, creative response to the memorial. It is extremely important to be alert and sensitive to student needs and reactions when treating such sensitive content.
- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was created to serve as a public space of remembrance and reconciliation for the history of racial terror lynchings in the United States from 1877 to 1950. These public acts of murder were intended to induce fear and submissiveness among Black Americans through a continued form of subjugation in the years after the U.S. Civil War and the passage of legal emancipation.
- Through gardens, text panels, sculptures, and an immersive experience that abstractly replays the act of lynching with a series of hanging and supine rectangles of inscribed corten steel, the 6-acre memorial invites remembrance and reflection in an environment of peace.
- The memorial was created by the Equal Justice Initiative, which seeks to address the denial of human rights to vulnerable populations and racial and economic injustice as manifested in mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and poverty. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is specifically part of EJI’s Community Remembrance Project, which “collaborates with communities to memorialize documented victims of racial violence and foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice today.”
- The history of racial terror lynching as a widespread, entrenched perpetuation of white supremacy in the United States–and the resistance enacted against it by the Black community–has not been taught effectively, if at all, in schools. The legacy of lynching lives on today in police killings of Black people, voter suppression, and other political tactics of repression. A memorial such as this one is an essential tool for addressing the unresolved trauma of this history and for achieving justice.
Julie Buckner Armstrong, Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011).
Fritzhugh Brundage, Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South (Durham, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.)
Curriculum: Teaching the Legacy of Lynching in the United States from the Equal Justice Initiative
More to think about
Consider the design of memorials to tragic, difficult, or unjust historical events, such as war memorials, 9/11 memorials, or Holocaust memorials. These sites can elicit strong emotions. Think of one you have visited and how its design affected you. How did that experience, and learning about the design of the memorial for peace and justice, inform your thinking about the goals and approach to designing memorials?
Kehinde Wiley, Rumors of War
Kehinde Wiley, Rumors of War, 2019, patinated bronze with stone pedestal, overall: 27’4 7/8” x 25’5 7/8” x 15’9” 5/8” (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) © Kehinde Wiley
- Kehinde Wiley created this equestrian sculpture in direct response to the Confederate memorials situated along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. He specifically repeated the pose and composition of the J.E.B. Stuart memorial, also an equestrian sculpture, replacing the uniformed Confederate general with the figure of a young Black man in contemporary clothing.
- This is not Wiley’s first artwork featuring a Black male rider on horseback. Beginning in 2005, Wiley produced a series of paintings of this subject, also called Rumors of War. Like the bronze sculpture in Richmond, the large-scale canvases in the series recreate historic equestrian portraits of powerful leaders, supplanting the main figures with young African American men as a means of reclaiming Black representation and offering a vision of hope and empowerment. The title, Rumors of War, refers to a biblical passage from the New Testament book of Matthew, which speaks to the promise of rebirth for the downtrodden in the face of oppression.
- Reflecting on his own emotional reaction to Richmond’s Confederate monuments, as a Black man, Wiley intended for his sculpture to serve as a counter-narrative to the white supremacist ideals perpetuated by the city’s monuments, which had been in place since the decades following the U.S. Civil War (all, however, were removed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, less than a year after Rumors of War was installed in Richmond).
Learn more about this sculpture at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Learn more about this sculpture and its brief, initial display in Times Square before being installed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Learn more about the Confederate memorials on Monument Avenue and specifically about the first memorial to be erected in 1890, to General Robert E. Lee.
Read more about the legacy of Confederate art and how it continues to affect understanding of the U.S. Civil War today.
Read more about Kehinde Wiley and the role of copying in his work.
More to think about
Nine smaller scale versions of Wiley’s sculpture were made after he completed the original for Richmond in 2019. (Read about one of the smaller versions that is on long-term loan to a non-for-profit serving predominantly Black individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Saint Louis, Missouri). Although Wiley made the original sculpture in direct response to the Confederate monuments in Richmond, Virginia, the placement of the copies of the sculpture in other locations can also have a powerful impact on local audiences who may not immediately associate it with a response to the white supremacist legacy of United States Confederacy. Where else can you envision versions of Rumors of War? Why did you select that location and how might the meaning and resonance of the sculpture expand for audiences in that place?
Shan Goshorn, Sealed Fate: Treaty of New Echota Protest Basket
Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee), Sealed Fate: Treaty of New Echota Protest Basket, 2010, Arches watercolor paper and computer printer ink (Epson Ultrachrome inks), 55.9 cm x 33 cm, 27.9 cm high (Gilcrease Museum)
- Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee) produced baskets that innovatively blend traditional Cherokee techniques with storytelling and diverse materials to engage viewers with difficult history and topics. As an activist artist, Goshorn used the familiar form of baskets to teach about the trauma and impact of topics such as Indian removal, representation, and marginalization. Through her work, she also contributed to the longstanding history of female basket weaving, and the broader resilience and adaptability of the Cherokee people.
- Sealed Fate specifically addresses the history of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which precipitated the displacement of sixteen thousand Cherokee citizens from their homelands east of the Mississippi River to what was known as Indian Territory in Oklahoma. During this journey west, known as the Trail of Tears, one quarter of the relocated Cherokee people died. Goshorn created Sealed Fate from splints, or thin strips of material, made from reproductions of the treaty and the resulting protest documents submitted by over thirteen thousand Cherokee citizens.
Explore the resources related to the 2021 exhibition, Weaving History into Art: The Enduring Legacy of Shan Goshorn (Gilcrease Museum).
Learn more about Shan Goshorn’s baskets and her work as an activist.
Read about Shan Goshorn’s baskets that address the lasting impact of Indian Boarding Schools (from American Indian, the magazine of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian).
Analyze the petition against the Treaty of New Echota (DocsTeach, National Archives).
Read the Treaty of New Echota (Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian).
More to Think About
Goshorn uses archival documents as the building blocks of this and other baskets. For Sealed Fate, the documents bear the handwriting of both government officials and Cherokee citizens who were engaged in a struggle for power and sovereignty. Look closely at the handwriting on the two different documents (the treaty and the protest letter) and how Goshorn has embedded them into the structure of the basket. What do you notice about the writing? What new questions and ideas does the handwriting—and its use in the basket’s design—pose for you about this part of history? Can you think of other instances where the visible hand of the artist or of a participant in a historical event impacts your perception and understanding of the situation?