Saturday, June 10, 2006

Megan's "Visions of the West"

Web Assignment # 2

Visions of the West

1. The most prominent theme I take away from Emanuel Leutze's painting is one of the American dream, or ideal. This meant, especially to Americans during Westward expansion, equal opportunity for land to raise a family (women and children are pictured), to build a home, produce goods (the land looks fertile), cultivate the land -- to essentially practice the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that America was founded on just a century before Leutze's painting. The most striking images that lead me to this conclusion is the landscape. The snow topped mountain, the amber waves of grain, the sea to shining sea -- all very idyllic American imagery. It is important to notice the differing apparel and appearance of the men and women. One man in particular is standing tall above the rest, hatless with a healthy head of hair. I will guess that he is a young, wealthy, robust young explorer. The rest of the men and women are cloaked in ragged cowboy hats, tired and frazzled faces, hurrying to the top of the ridge. They do not seem as at ease as the fine young gentleman at the top.

The native American Indians are not shown in the painting but their presence to the men is clear -- their guns are drawn, waving freely in the air ready to defend themselves against Indian attacks. The image depicts a flurry of emotion - all that craving this American dream. There is great anticipation among these roused yet weary men.

I think this image portrays a glossy side of travels westward. The image is only that of the happily ever after picturesque moment and fails to address the grueling means that these people survived to achieve this kind of image. It could have been very well used as propaganda to fuel the sale of Homesteads out west.

2. Fanny Palmer's depiction of westward expansion not only shows the new railroad(including the exhaust pollution) and schoolhouse but also the native Americans which can be seen with their horses perhaps deliberately on the wrong side of the tracks. The settlers are all of Anglo-Saxon origin. Unlike the Indians way of life of preserving the earth's natural resources, the white men are mining and profiting from it. The native Americans are shown on their horses, wearing some headdress and holding a spear watching the smoggy train roll past the new town.

3. In "Pioneers of America" could easily be mistaken for a Folder's advertisement of the old West, the tall, dark, handsome father doting over his American born son before a hard days work logging. Again, the ideal situation is portrayed in these portraits of the American West. Her work stops short of addressing the constant harsh weather, deadly illnesses and generally difficult way of life of these people.

In this work, the woman is shown faintly in the background, her face is covered by her bonnet and she is perhaps washing clothes or pumping water for her family. The men are front and center, denoting the emphasis on a man's importance. Leutze's mural portrays women as an integral part of the wagon train - caring and tending on the children and men. Although still farther in the background, the woman's face is shown clear as she protects her child.

4. Progress is inferred through images of both the traditional and the more stately, improved driver-equipped covered wagon. In the far background, sailboats and water transportation is shown - the world of commerce is expanding from the west worldwide. Crops being irrigated and fertilized is shown as well as the buffalo running off the land that they once roamed free. In relation to one another, the artist shows the expanding and booming industrialized world running the old world away until they are almost extinct. The ships coming into the port, the rivers running down from the port into the mainland -- the covered wagons, the rail, the telephone lines.

5. The notion of the white man's burden, that whites must pillage forward and culture savage civilizations because, as Berkeley poignantly concluded in his poem, "time's noblest offspring is it's last." It is in direct agreement to that the new settlers are much more intelligent creatures than those who were living on the land before them.

6. In your opinion, are these works of art accurate representations of the Anglo-American settlement and incorporation of the West? Why or why not? What role (if any) do you think they played in shaping American beliefs and opinions about subsequent political, military, and foreign policy decisions and events?

I think I already addressed how accurate these images portray the west but to reiterate, these are all very glossy versions of life of a western settler and I believe could have easily been used as propaganda to entice more families to forge west to fuel America's emerging industrial economy.



At 9:16 PM, Blogger H. McLure said...

Congrats on your first post, Megan!

Web Assignment #2 looks pretty good -- I'm assuming 1, 3, & 4 are on the way?

More detailed comments to come, of course!

At 3:34 PM, Blogger lucas said...

Comment #1. I'm always a little tentative about critiquing something like this, but bear with me. For the third picture, you said that "the ideal situation is portrayed in these portraits of the American West." I don't really get too many positive tones out of this. For one thing, it is a black and white piece, which automatically conveys a more somber tone. Secondly, the day is overcast, the sun is not shown in the piece. The landscape is in no way picturesque, and the vultures circling overhead most likely symbolize death. The family is not shown together and happy, and the father is drinking. To me, this is not a piece intended to draw people towards the west. One concrete thing I believe that I can base this assertion on is the use of “Empire” in the title. “Empire” is rarely a word used with positive connotation. Even when a nation is an empire, they rarely refer to themselves as one. Megan is correct in her opinions of the gender roles, however. The roles were very rigid during the time and there was little room for overlap or middle ground. I think this picture conveys more than one thing, but to say that it is an altogether positive image of the west is, in my opinion, slightly off.


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