“And Thomas Cole founded which American art movement?”
My art teacher, quirky like they all are, was fond of lecturing his students on art history while we practiced watercolor techniques and applied the perfect pressure for shading. (The answer is the Hudson River School, if it was nagging you.) Considering my lifelong interest in art—paintings, graphic design, multimedia, you name it—my first instinct when assessing race and culture is to view it through the lens of art. My knowledge of art has always been (in my opinion) somewhat expansive. In addition to the somewhat unwanted art knowledge thrust upon me by teachers, I am a New Jersey suburbanite who frequents New York City art museums and galleries for field trips or something to do on a rainy Saturday. (You could add street art to my filing cabinet of artistic knowledge after that Banksy Netflix documentary I watched over break). I always liked to think I had a solid foundation of classic works, as well as my finger on the pulse of the modern art world.
It wasn’t until last semester that I faced a typical college revelation, and realized my seemingly expansive approach to the art world was a lot narrower than I thought. My art history knowledge as an American was overwhelmingly white. A landscape of our purple mountain majesties, or a watercolor rendering of the Boston Tea Party. As discussed in class, not only did the Anglo-Saxons dominate American thought and government, but creativity, as well. So much for “freedom” …where were the artistic voices of the ethnic, non-European, non-white society?
In Spanish class, I was assigned the topic of “Los murales chicanos” for my final presentation. After exploring the art movement, I recognized how the latino communities in America expressed their concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams through public murals that mimed traditional chicano art styles. This led me to the question, how else do ethnic identities speak through art in America?
One quick Google search (because where else do you find all the answers?) led me to The Art Genome Project. Ryan Wong, a participant in the project, noted, “in the art world, there is a deep resistance to acknowledging race and racial construction as a reality.” This project promotes art that pushes against institutions and art history; in other words, it challenges tradition and encourages the perspectives of diverse races. The Art Genome Project funds artists who strive to represent the underrepresented ethno-American populace in the art world. Creations are up to the artists’ interpretations—intertwining their culture’s history into America, making statements on modern movements such as Black Lives Matter, or even creating museums that cater to ethnically diverse works. By mixing race and color into the American art discourse, we may be one step closer to true American freedom.