"We the People"

Curated by Students of ART 262: American Art History
Fall 2014
Preus Library

This exhibition was curated as a class project for Art 262: American Art History. Each of the students worked in groups and focused on studying themes about what makes art "American." All of the pieces used for this display are a part of the Luther College Fine Arts Collection.

What is American about American Art?

A note from Dr. Kate Elliott, Professor of Art 262 and Fine Arts Collection Curator: 

"The exhibition displayed here is one part of the final group project for ART 262: American Art. Over the course of the semester we have tried to decipher exactly what (if anything) is American about American art. To this goal, the class has isolated three themes, or three ways we can begin thinking about art in America: Understanding American Identity through ‘Progress’, Changing Depictions of War in American Art, and The Sexualization and Commodification of the Nude in American Art.

Each group  researched one work from the Luther College Fine Arts Collection. The paintings and prints included were chosen because each, in its own way, exemplifies one of the three themes. The artists included in this mini-exhibition include some well-known American artists, such as Fanny Palmer, who worked for the Currier and Ives print house in the second half of the nineteenth century, producing some of the most iconic images of American expansion in the post-Civil War period. Others, like William Ellingson, who taught printmaking at St. Cloud State for many years, enjoy a more regional reputation. Bill Hampton too is well-known among lovers of art of the American West.

Each work, in its own way, challenges us to confront deeply held beliefs that permeate the American psyche, some that we might not even be able to articulate. We ask you to consider: are works of art benign objects of aesthetic contemplation? Can they instead be understood to communicate, or even expose, ideas of who we think we are as a people and as a nation? Do we like what these images say about us?

It is our hope that this exhibition both draws attention to the variety and complexity of American art, which has been an often ignored area within the history of art, and also exposes the way that our college collection can be utilized in the classroom. It is rare for students to be able to conduct research and examine actual, physical art objects rather than reproductions. Such experiences we’ve found, often challenge us to stop, consider, and ultimately think critically about images we so often take for granted."

-Dr. Kate Elliott

2014 "We the People"