Picturing America Review: National Endowment for the Humanities 2010 – 2011

Great art speaks powerfully, inspires fresh thinking, and connects us to our past. This year we studied art that reflected America’s story.  The various artists’ stories were also an insight into our American culture and history.

The themes that we studied throughout this year concentrated on leadership, freedom, equality, democracy, courage, landscapes, creativity and ingenuity.

Democratic rule of and by the people, no less than any other forms of government, calls for great leaders.  In war and peace American has been blessed with  leaders who have risen to the challenges of our nation’s most defining moments. American leadership is not marked by nobility or riches, but by individuals, many of humble beginnings willing to make sacrifices for their country.

An exhaustive catalog of American leaders is impossible, but Picturing America incorporated images of a select few.  Photographs, paintings and sculptures each capture and convey crucial details from the stories of these great Americans and provide an opportunity and to learn more about the people and events that shaped our country.

Our nation was brought into existence  by the Declaration of Independence. We are bound together not by common ties of blood, race or religion, but by commitment to freedom and equality expressed in those founding documents. When Abraham Lincoln called for  a ” new birth of freedom”, he recognized that the Declaration was a pledge that in part remained to be fulfilled.

From the first stirrings of the War for Independence through the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, the pursuit of freedom and equality has been the central aspect of our nation’s history.  American’s whether standing alone or marching together, are united by their devotion to these principals. Many of the pictures we studied call to mind the great sacrifices this devotion has inspired and the hope of greater equality yet to come.

The democratic impulse has shaped the American experiment in government since the first European immigrants voted with their feet and set out for a new land filled with promise. Democratic forms of government have shaped the American character, creating an independent, fair-minded people who share a great respect for the opinions of their fellow citizens.

Yet democracy is not simply inherited; it also must be learned and preserved. The successful continuation of a democratic government depends upon the wisdom of its citizens.  This class presents an opportunity to reflect on the responsibility all Americans have to contribute to a more perfect union. These images capture the classical roots of the idea of democracy, the democratic process itself, and a few of the many wise citizens who have passed on to us a democratic republic.

America has always rewarded those with courage to risk all for the prospect of building something new.  At their very best, courageous Americans have transcended self-interest and pursued the common good.

In America, both citizens and soldiers have been called upon to defend their country and preserve through its trials.  Our people have endured hardship and boldly sought to solve problems, knowing that success and advancement, though never easy, were available to all. Many images we have studied reflect how the courage of both leaders and citizens have shaped the American spirit.

From the arrival of the first settlers on this continent, the natural beauty of America and the lure of the frontier have occupied a unique place in our collective imaginations. James Madison considered the expansiveness of the continent to be a necessary ingredient of liberty. This natural beauty also has  proved an irresistible subject for American artists, who have sought to explore the land’s effect on our national character  and to document the intersection between the untamed American wilderness and the advance of American technology and civilization.

Many of the works that have been featured this year in class showcase the vast landscape framed within the borders of our nation. From idyllic plains and majestic mountains to bustling cities, we see the beauty and variety of the country’s landscapes as depicted in the paintings, photographs and even stained-glass.

Americans are a creative and resourceful people. Our exuberance and ingenuity have frequently found expression in everyday objects that serve both a practical purpose and please the senses.  These objects capture American’s talents for solving problems, and convey our forward-looking  optimism as well as regard for the past.

Unique and highly skilled craftsmanship is a hallmark of American artists, from soaring skyscrapers and massive bridges, to beautiful silver teapots  and intricate pottery and quilts.  These works helped pave the way for future innovations and highlight the triumph of the American creative spirit.

May 17, 2011 PowerPoint Picturing America Review 2010 – 2011

Have a great summer break.  I encourage you to continue to write your comments to this post.       Blessings to you, -Mrs. S

“Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Matthew 6:33

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