Wyeth went to live among Native Americans as a young man; he became well-known for painting them with more grace and dignity than almost any other popular artist of his day; and his family treated the few African Americans they encountered in rural Pennsylvania with friendship and respect.
Rather than concoct absurd political theories about Wyeth from “the absence of people of color” in the books he illustrated, Kennicott would have done better to focus on the quality and importance of the art of a great American painter.
I read with great dismay Philip Kennicott’s criticism of N.C. Wyeth’s art as a reflection of white superiority. To say “the works on view don’t look explicitly racist” is such a damning straw-man argument that it would be ridiculous if it weren’t so offensive. I was exposed to Wyeth’s work as an illustrator, illuminating great works of literature with inspiring art that still managed to be introspective.
His son Andrew Wyeth shifted the perspective with intimate and melancholic portraits, which also featured primarily white subjects. N.C. Wyeth painted what was narrated in the text, and Andrew Wyeth depicted what he saw in rural Maine. It is not surprising that their subjects were white, and it is incredible for the author to suppose that this demonstrates an ideology of racial superiority. Sure, they are both white men, but their art transcends this (now) derogatory term.
Art is most meaningful when it explores what it means to be human, not what it means to be white or male or, for that matter, any specific identity. Extend this logic further, and we find ourselves dismissing Claude Monet or Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn or William Shakespeare or John Steinbeck. And what happens if white men depict nonwhites? They are criticized as cultural appropriators (the complex legacy of Rudyard Kipling or Paul Gauguin, but even the innocence of Ezra Jack Keats). It is wonderful that the canon is expanding and is enriched by artists of all backgrounds and perspectives, but if in doing so we dismiss historical “masters” as mere examples of white privilege, we all are diminished.
The power of migration stories told through art
Sebastian Smee’s July 15 Style review, “At Phillips, the migrant story is told with truth,” resonated with me. As an art information volunteer at the Phillips Collection, I have had the opportunity to welcome visitors to the exhibit “The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement” since its opening on June 22,
as well as, when offered, receive their post-visit feedback. It has been and continues to be a powerful experience.
With the exception of Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants seeking a better life in the United States, whether our journey began on the Mayflower, at Ellis Island or at the U.S.-Mexico border. One visitor, a native of Estonia, shared with me her vivid childhood memories of residence in a displaced persons camp post-World War II before emigrating to the United States. Another observed that the exhibit not only evoked the current global refugee crisis but also documented the continuum of pathos from prior waves of migration. For me, as the granddaughter-in-law of a Polish native who was rejected at Ellis Island because he was deemed incapable of supporting himself due to a hearing disability (despite being a skilled tailor) and perished there after contracting tuberculosis, it was very personal.
The many evocative aspects of the exhibit cited by Smee support the hypothesis that another visitor shared with me, observing that “the plight of refugees takes a toll on all of us.” These include Jacob Lawrence’s compelling “Migration Series,” depicting the trajectory of African Americans from the South to the North after World War I began,
only to discover that they still faced discrimination in the North; Arshile Gorky’s poignant memorial painting of himself as a child and his mother, the latter who died of starvation after a death march during the Armenian genocide; historical photographs of Depression-era migrants by Dorothea Lange and Ellis Island arrivals by Augustus Sherman; and Kader Attia’s heartbreaking “La Mer Morte (The Dead Sea),” consisting of blue clothing “strewn on the floor like so many discarded lives.”
As Smee astutely concluded, “Imagination thwarted or challenged calls out for vision, and the deeper engagement art offers. This show provides it.”
Lois A. Engel, Washington
An affecting echo
I have always held the late William Safire in great esteem as an authority on language. This respect has been only enhanced by my having determined the possible inspiration for a poignant section of the draft speech that Safire wrote for President Richard M. Nixon to deliver 50 years ago if the astronauts had been stranded on the moon. According to James Mann’s July 14 Outlook essay, “The elegy that Nixon had ready ‘in event of moon disaster,’ ” Safire included the following affecting words as the final paragraph of his tribute to the potentially soon-to-be-deceased astronauts: “For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”
These words appear to echo those of poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) in his sonnet “The Soldier,” a salute to the patriotism and sacrifice of an English soldier at the beginning of World War I: “If I should die, think only this of me:/ That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England.”
While the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s cannot be compared to the horror of World War I, the deaths of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon certainly would have been tragic for all mankind.
It's just the circle of life
I daresay Hassler-Forest would find a fascist message, or at least a politically incorrect one, in any children’s story. He has already reinterpreted a bunch: “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mulan,” “The Little Mermaid” and doubtless others. He now tells us that Mufasa is really an autocratic monarch, the lions are a ruling class and hyenas “transparently represent the black, brown and disabled bodies that are forcefully excluded from this hierarchical society.”
Not sure the hyenas would agree, but perhaps we are now ready to see the Pied Piper of Hamelin as another example of the Führerprinzip.
John Staddon, Durham, N.C.
I thank Dan Hassler-Forest for his anarcho-syndicalyst takedown of “The Lion King.” According to Hassler-Forest, Disney’s cartoon veld is a place where the weak learn to worship the strong and accept the role that nature (an avowed fascist) has assigned as either predator or prey.
Unfortunately or not, Disney’s cartoon portrayal of life on the African veld with its hierarchies and predations resembles actual life, especially on the African veld, where a lion (a.k.a. “king of the jungle”) will eat anything it can get its teeth into and would lie down with the lamb only to get a nice lamb chop for dinner. But Hassler-Forest, a media studies professor who is pictured on the Internet wearing a Superman T-shirt with the bad old hammer and sickle where the “S” should be, was determined to find “fascism” in an innocuous cartoon. That millions died under the shadow of the symbol he wears freely during the period in which Walt Disney founded the entertainment empire that has given pleasure to generations of fans should make us wary of Hassler-Forest’s wrongheaded analysis of a treasured cultural icon.
Robert Girardi, Washington
An unforced error
In The Post’s coverage of the women’s Wimbledon final on July 14, every photograph printed of the winner, Simona Halep — one on the front page and two in the Sports section [“ ‘Best match of my life’ ”] — had her face obscured. One showed runner-up Serena Williams clearly. Halep deserved better as champion and for those readers not as familiar with her.
Carolyn Clemente, Arlington
I'll quote what he's quoting
From Kelly’s review: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life doing something else, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
From the movie: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Edwin Fountain, Arlington
A not-so-literal wrap
I take a back seat to no one in my admiration for Ashley Parker’s insightful reporting on President Trump, but I must take exception to her claim in her July 19 The Debrief column, “How, in just 3 days, the president’s racist tweets became fodder for a crowd,” that the president “literally wrapped himself around the flag” in his effort to take the patriotic high road in his feud with “the Squad.” Trump certainly attempted a figurative flag wrap, but a literal version of this feat would require the physical elasticity possessed only by certain reptiles, Houdini-caliber contortionists and fictional superheroes.
Douglas M. Pollock, Oakton
George F. Will’s excellent July 11 op-ed on David Maraniss’s father, “An American communist who paid too dearly,” began with a great quote. However, it wasn’t Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Harvard Medical School professor and author of the Breakfast-Table series, who wrote it, but his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. One needs to be careful about such things.
Richard Gordon, Bethany, Conn.
A photo that wasn't illustrative
“After summit, Silicon Valley’s trouble is just beginning,” the July 13 Economy & Business article speculating on how President Trump will follow up on his scary “social media summit,” was accompanied by a photograph captioned, “Placards display a tweet from the president and the definition of ‘shadow-banning.’ ” I had no idea from reading the article what “shadow-banning” is. A Post article I found online described it as a practice by Twitter of “not kicking [people] off the service but instead making their accounts harder to find” and reported that “conservatives” believe this practice is being applied prejudicially.
Unfortunately, the photograph did not reveal what the placard said (or what the “tweet from the president” stated). That would have been useful to readers. Otherwise, the photo seems to have been a not-so-pretty picture of some placards and a waste of six square inches that could have been additional reporting on the evils the Trump administration does.
I admit that the Business section of The Post is one of my least visited reading locales. By nature or nurture, I am by no means a business person. That being said, I was thoroughly excited by the new food horizon reported in the July 7 Business article “Maggots: A taste of food’s future.” The article was able to transcend the “ick” factor and factualize the future of food production in layman’s terms. That much of this was happening in carbon-central Texas was heartening to say the least. If you’ll excuse the pun, it seems as if EnviroFlight, Evo Conversion Systems and Symton BSF have worked out the bugs in the process.
To read honest, thorough and excellent science and practical information gives me hope that ramblings about “fake news” are drowned out by honest reporting about the genius in our country from entrepreneurs such as Lauren Taranow at Symton BSF.
Bob McPherson, Mount Airy
A peculiar pairing
The photograph that accompanied the July 11 Economy & Business Digest was lovely. It depicted a woman in an Albanian field and was almost impressionist in nature, soft and muted. But why pair it with a caption about “contentious elections” and “Albanians [who] have taken to the streets”?
I’d like to think that it was intentional, ironic, but I can’t be sure.
Sharon Hills, Springfield
Shine some light on this omission
Thousands of Americans across the country took part in candlelight vigils on July 12 to protest this administration’s inhumane treatment of migrants. On July 13, I eagerly fetched my copy of The Post, expecting to see a photograph on the front page, but no, I couldn’t find any mention of it. Why?
Rose Kelleher, Gaithersburg
I was surprised to see that the July 17 front-page obituary for former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, “Justice was leader of high court’s liberals,” neglected to mention one of Stevens’s most remarkable opinions: his dissent in Citizens United. In emotional and powerful language, the justice wrote that the court’s ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.” He added, “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.” His reasoned judgment is sorely missed.
Craig Kellermann, Washington