Picturing America: A Ladder for Booker T. Washington

Submitted by lmcshane on Mon, 08/31/2009 - 21:14.

Martin Puryear's a Ladder for Booker T. Washington.  This figures into the "poor," skilled immigrant labor that built St. Procop's in the Clark Fulton neighborhood. This figures into our celebration of Labor Day, a world made by hand, and all things beyond the realm of human understanding.    See Picturing America.

I LOVE Martin Puryear


I cannot begin to say how impressed I am to see someone here who knows of Martin Puryear.  I don't know from where Puryear draws his rudimentary yet clairvoyant introspection, but every piece that he creates leaves me breathless.

Love it! Love it! Love it!

Have you seen Puryear's page(s) @ Donald Young Gallery?

And btw, Happy pre-Labor Day!


Great AMERICAN Artists

  Eternity--through the National Endowment for the Humanities, libraries and schools across the country have been awarded the opportunity to view and discuss how ART tells the story of America--Picturing America. 

To me, art is the ability to do something well and to tell a story that endures. 

Picturing America: A brilliant idea,...BUT...


Thanks for the link to Picturing America. 

What a brilliant concept to use high-end reproductions of some the finest American art to educate our public school children.  If only we could apply the same kind of thinking to healthcare in this country.

Public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public military, public TV, but no public healthcare.  What the FU*K?

Still, though I was pleased to see all the fine examples of art, particularly the Winslow Homer piece, as I was once a docent at a museum that did a magnanimous restrospective of his work, I also liked seeing the Audubon, Wyeth and Hart Benton and others.



I couldn't help but notice that although Jacob Lawrence, Martin Puryear and Romare Bearden are included within, not a single black woman, Asian, Hispanic or Latino was included.  And even though Mary Casset (who ranks right up there with Monet) was included, as was a Dorthea Lang, by an large it is more than obvious that the ethnic make-up of the brand named artists in the Picturing America educational exhibition, are white men.

Imagine my surprise!  Not!

Women make up 50% of the population and combined, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Latinos make up more than a third.  White men make up about 25% of the population, yet like in almost every other instance in America, white reap the vast majority of the benefits.

The Declaration of Independence says "All Men Are Created Equal."  True that, but what about the totally unequal, corrupt, playing field?

The world in which we live is anything but equal.

But does this, in my opinion, strip the presentation of all its merit?  No, it most certainly does not.  These are all great artists; end of story.  Nonetheless, what Picturing America does do is to accurately reflect the subtle yet pervasive racist-sexist xenophobia, which continues to stench and stain our supposed post-racial, multi-cultural Obamination.


Just like REALNEO

  The panel of artists reflecting America is not perfect--but at the very least, I feel the effort at union is worthwhile and shows appreciation for why ART is so important in America.

Here's the educator's entry for Martin Puryear.



A proper meal

Kudos to the organizers of Picturing America.  After all, I suppose if one is starving to death, a half-eaten sandwich that a xenophobic sexist dropped on the floor, is better than no sandwich at all.  But you know, I'm not starving to death, so I don't have to eat food off the floor that some white supremacist already took a couple bites out of.

Our children are starving for history, culture, wellness and wisdom.  Tokens and crumbs are all fine and dandy, but I think it's time we give them a proper meal.

Don't you?


Puryear, Booker T Washington

I saw this work in a pamphlet brought home to me by a close friend who was riveted by the work when she saw it in NYC. I followed up by learning more online about Puryear. Art 21 is a good resource.

From an interview at Art 21 on The Ladder for Booker T. Washington:

PURYEAR: I mentioned about the perspective being really what the work is about. And the idea of Booker T. Washington, the resonance with his life, and his struggle...the whole notion that his idea of progress for the race was a long slow progression of, as he said, "Putting your buckets down where you are and working with what you've got." And the antithesis was W.B. DuBois who was a much more radical thinker and who had a much more pro-active way of thinking about racial struggle for equality. And Booker T. Washington was someone who made enormous contacts with people in power and had enormous influence, but he was what you would call a gradualist. And so, it really is a question of the view from where you start and the end—the goal. This is something I don't really want to elaborate on too much because I think it's in the work. The whole notion of where you start and where you want to get to and how far away it really is. And if it's possible to get there given the circumstances that you're operating within.

The joining of that idea of Booker T. Washington and his notion of progress and the form of that piece—that came after the fact. But when I thought about a title for it, it just seemed absolutely fitting.

It reminds me of something someone said to me long ago - "start where you are". And this, from my recently found favorite author, Wendell Berry, "Love your neighbors - not the ones you pick out, but the ones you have."

I agree with you, Max. Racism is alive and thriving in America. And let's not forget homophobia, sexism, bigotry, elitism... there are more, but I'm too tired to think of them right now.


  And when educators have very little to work with the Picturing America collection of visual aides is a godsend...I don't disagree with either of you that we have a long, long way to go in this country to help everyone climb the ladder.   And, then again...maybe the top of the ladder is not such a great place to be.


Picturing America is an asset, but complacency is not an option

Thanks Susan and lmcshane for your insight and comments.  And just so I'm clear on this, I think Picturing America is a good idea.  Certainly, if nothing else, it would appear that the intention is quite noble.  And yet, because I am a black man, because I am a gay man, because I am an artist and because I grew up in a neiborhood that was however culturally rich, nonetheless extremely economically anemic (very poor) the injustices of America never stray far from my mind.

Speaking of which, have either of you read this article or seen this documentary; where both (in their own way) confront the issue of isms and the arts.  AND did either of you know that in the long history of American Journalism, not one black art critic has ever written for any of the major newspapers; including the NY Times, The LA Times, The Boston Sun, The Atlanta Journal, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronical, The Miami Herald, et all?

Yeah right, it's all just a big coincidence. 

Whoops America, better watch out for all those banana peels, 'cause ya just keep slippin'.  Can't quite seem to get your shit together on this race thing!

Earlier this summer I got hired as a contributing writer by a rather fabulous, international arts journal.  After submitting my work to about 50 different magazines, getting the door slammed in my face, Artworks Magazine hired me right away.  My first article comes out next month. 

The pay sucks, but I'm grateful to have the platform.  And it doesn't hurt that the person that hired me is an Emmy Award winner.  In any case, would you believe that for a magazine that interviews the creme de la creme of the the art world (all disciplines) including people like Sheppard Fariey and Matt Damon, I am their only black writer.  Fortunately they do have several women writers, but still, it's goddamn ridiculous...and you know they are not the only publication doing this!

This is not an imaginary problem, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Hence if we are truly sincere, we can not, we must not, allow ourselves to be slack on these issues.  For with the toxic, cancerious rot of ism ever present, encroaching and threatening to engulf, it behooves us all, no matter what the circumstance, to stamp this evil out, out, out!!!

Yesterday in Common Dreams there was a very poignant article, which spoke to the issues surrounding the ongoing economic cisis.  The piece ran with the subheading of "The economic crisis is built on the country’s long history of racial discrimination."

I want to move past this.  Believe me, I really do.  Because all this talk about the isms is a fucking drag.  But until this elephant in the room gets its fat ass of my chest, I'll never be able to enjoy this experimental party we call America.



  It is the dead weight dragging us down...

Picturing America: Free Speech