American minister and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., waves to the crowd of more than 200,000 people gathered on the Mall during the March on Washington after delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, Washington, D.C. 1963, August 28.
Map: The city of Birmongham, Alabama.
Faith Ringgold. God Bless America. One of a series of 20 paintings called The American Peopledone between 1963 and 1967 that focused on racial conflict and discrimination. 1964. 31" × 19”.
What factors contributed to changes in African-American self-definition in the 1960s? By 1963, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., had decided that Birmingham, Alabama, would be the focal point of the burgeoning civil rights movement. What message to the movement did King provide in his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people marching in Washington, D.C. heard Martin Luther King deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, shortly after the folk-rock trio Peter, Paul, and Mary sang Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” One of the most important factors contributing to the success of the civil rights movement was the growing sense of ethnic identity among the African-American population. How did French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre contribute to this newfound sense of self? How did it find expression in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man ? How did Romare Bearden celebrate the diversity of black experience? What contributed to the growing militancy of the civil rights movement, as reflected, for instance, in the poetry and drama of Amiri Baraka?
Wilfredo Lam. The Siren of the Niger . Signed LR in oil. 1950. 51" × 38-1/8”.
Jeff Wall. After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, “The Preface.” Edition of 2. 1999-2000. 75-1/4" × 106-1/4" × 10-1/4”.
Romare Bearden. The Dove . 1964. 13-3/8" × 18-3/4”.
How did artists respond to the Vietnam War? As American involvement in the war in Vietnam escalated throughout the 1960s, artists and writers responded in a number of ways. What tack did Kurt Vonnegut take in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five ? Artworks like Claes Oldenburg’s Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks were conceived as antiwar protests, but more direct protests were taken up by the Art Workers’ Coalition. What steps did they take? How did the artists’ relationship with museums and galleries motivate both Conceptual Art and Land Art? But it was rock music that most reflected the spirit of rebellion and protest that characterized the antiwar movement. Musicians called for peace at festivals such as Woodstock and wrote songs reflecting the events of the day.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Running Fence . Sonoma and Marin Counties, California. 1972-76.
Bonnie MacLean. Six Days of Sound . 1967, December 26-31.
John Paul Filo. Kent State—Girl Screaming over Dead Body . Published as the cover of Newsweek on May 18, 1970. 1970, May 4.
How did “high” culture and “popular” culture coexist in the musical world? The ascendancy of rock and roll in popular culture underscores the ongoing intrusion of “low” or popular forms into the world of “high” culture that had begun with nationalist music movements in the nineteenth century. But minimalist musicians such Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti put off both classical and popular audiences. What characterizes Ligeti’s music? On what techniques did American minimalist composers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass rely? How does Glass’s Gesamtkunstwerk , Einstein on the Beach , differ from Wagner’s conception of the form? How does Laurie Anderson’s United States transform the Gesamtkunstwerk in a popular idiom?
Robert Wilson. Einstein on the Beach . Performed by the Lucinda Childs Company. 1976.
Laurie Anderson. Laurie Anderson performing “O Superman,” from United States, II. 1983.
How did the feminist movement find expression in the arts? In 1963, in her book The Feminine Mystique , Betty Friedan attacked the patriarchal construction of the idea of “woman.” What was the primary object of her attack? Women artists and writers were equally engaged in asserting their place in an art world from which their work was, if not completely excluded, then demeaned as second rate. Poets Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Adrienne Rich wrote overtly feminist tracts directed against the social institutions that relegated women to second-place status in American society. Painters Eva Hesse and Judy Chicago fought to find a place in an art world that almost totally excluded women from exhibition and even gallery representation. However, the primary focus of artists like Eleanor Antin and Cindy Sherman was the social construction of female identity. How did each approach the issue?
Judy Chicago. Pasadena Lifesavers, Yellow No. 4 . Series of 15. 1969-70.
Judy Chicago. The Dinner Party . 1979. 48' × 48' × 48' installed.
Eleanor Antin. My Kingdom Is the Right Size , from The King of Solana Beach (one of 11 photographs and two text panels comprising the whole). 1974. 6" × 9”.
Cindy Sherman. Untitled Film Still #35 (from the series of 69 shot between 1977 and 1980). 1979. 10" × 8”.
Richard Prince. Untitled (Cowboy) . Edition of two. 1989. 50" × 70”.
How did male self-definition come into question? Following the lead of feminists, artists like Richard Prince explored the ways in which male identity is socially constructed. What in particular did Prince focus on? How did the growing gay rights movement challenge male stereotypes?
Andy Warhol. Lance Loud, from America . 1985.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Continuity & Change: The Global Village: The Umbrellas, Japan – USA. 1984-91.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Continuity & Change: The Global Village: The Umbrellas, Japan – USA. 1984-91.
Black IdentityWhat factors contributed to changes in African-American self-definition in the 1960s?• Sartre’s “Black Orpheus” — The growing sense of ethnic identityamong African-American’s was influenced by Sartre’s “Black Orpheus”and the emphasis of existentialism on the inevitability of humansuffering and the necessity for the individual to act responsibly in theface of that predicament.• Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man — This novel was instrumental inintroducing existentialist attitudes to an American audience. The mostvital realization of the novel’s narrator is that he must assert hisblackness instead of hiding from it.
• Asserting Blackness in Art and Literature — The collages ofRomare Bearden depict the black experience. The poet and playwrightAmiri Baraka demonstrates a sense of a single black American identity,one containing the diversity of black culture within it. The violent Wattsriots in Los Angeles reflected the growing militancy of the African-American community.• Discussion Question: In what way did black artists articulate blackidentity?
The Vietnam War: Rebellion and the ArtsHow did artists respond to the Vietnam War?• Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five — Antiwar sentiment wasreflected in the arts in works primarily about earlier wars, World War IIand Korea, as if it were impossible to deal directly with events inSoutheast Asia. The fatalism of Slaughterhouse-Five mirrors the senseof pointlessness and arbitrariness that so many felt in the face of theVietnam War.• Artists Against the War — Claes Oldenburg’s Lipstick (Ascending)on Caterpillar Tracks targeted the university administration of Yale.The Art Worker’s Coalition was an antiwar organization. Theyprofessed the view that museums embodied the establishment politicsthat had led to the war.
• Conceptual Art — A strategy designed to undermine the artestablishment emerged—making art that was objectless, art that wasconceived as either uncollectible or unbuyable, either intangible,temporary, or existing beyond the reach of the museum that was felt tobe supporting the war. Heubler’s “January 5-31, 1969” was anexhibition that consisted of its catalog but no objects.• Land Art — One of the most famous of works designed specifically toescape the gallery system, a site specific work, is Smithson’s SpiralJetty. Heizer’s Double Negative draws attention to the differencebetween the relative brevity of human time and the vastness ofgeological time. The temporary installations of Christo and Jeanne-Claude evoke time’s passing and the fragility of human experience.
• The Music of Youth and Rebellion — Given the involvement ofAmerican youth in the antiwar movement, it was natural that rock androll helped to fuel the fires of their increasingly passionate expressionsof dismay at American foreign policy. Rock was the musical idiom of ayouthful counterculture that embraced sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.Posters such as Six Days of Sound by Bonnie MacLean becameemblems of the era. The Woodstock Festival has become legendary.• Discussion Question: Describe some of the significant imagery ofRosenquist’s F-111 and how this imagery fueled controversy.
High and Low: The Example of MusicHow did “high” culture and “popular” culture coexist in the musicalworld?• Gyorgy Ligerti and Minimalist Music — Minimalist music wasinspired by advances in electronic recording and productioninnovations. Composers transformed the simple elements with whichthey began into dense, rich compositions. Ligerti developed a rich, butmuch more minimal, brand of polyphone—which he called“micropolyphony.”• The Theatrical and the New Gesamtkunstwerk — The musicfor Wilson’s play Einstein on the Beach was composed by Philip Glass.The “doubling” introduced in this work is another facet of postmodernexperience. Laurie Anderson most fully realized the Gesamtkunstwerkideal with her multimedia piece, United States.• Discussion Question: Explain Brecht’s critique of the Gesamtkunstwerkand its influence.
The Birth of the Feminist EraHow did the feminist movement find expression in the arts?• The Theoretical Framework: Betty Friedan and NOW —Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique rejects modern American society’sconstruction of women. She founded the National organization forWomen, the primary purpose of which was to advance women’s rightsand gender4 equity in the workplace.• Feminist Poetry — The work of both Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plathexplored the difficulties that women faced in determining an identityoutside the patriarchal construction of “woman.”• Feminist Art — Many women artists were insistent that their work beapproached in formal, not feminine terms—that is in the same termsthat the work of men was addressed. Judy Chicago’s collaborativework, The Dinner Party, announced the growing power of the women’smovement. Eleanor Antin consistently explored the construction offemale identity in contemporary American society. Cindy Sherman castherself in a variety of roles, all vaguely recognizable as stereotypicalfemale characters in Hollywood and foreign movies, television shows,and advertising.
• Discussion Question: Discuss feminist themes in art.
Questions of Male IdentityHow did male self-definition come into question?• It stands to reason that if female identity is not essential but sociallyconstructed, the same should hold true for men.• Richard Prince was one of the first artists to address this theme asseen in his advertisements of cowboys, specifically the Marlboro Man.• If Prince’s cowboys represent the macho side of American maleidentity, the gay rights movement would play a dramatic role inchallenging such American attitudes about the nature of masculinity.