PBS Art Series Overlooks Minorities

Article excerpt

There's an old joke about the Lone Ranger and his buddy Tonto

in which the pair are boxed in a canyon by hostile Indians.

"I guess we've come to the end of the line," the Lone Ranger

tells his partner.

The punchline is Tonto's reply: "What do you mean 'we,' white

man?"

I had a similar reaction last week when I read a special issue

of Time Magazine that's been designed as a companion piece for

an eight-part television series called American Visions that

began airing on PBS Wednesday.

Time editor Christopher Porterfield writes that the focus of

the issue is American art, but in fact the artworks are

secondary. The project is more about the way certain aspects of

American history and culture can be observed through the

nation's visual art.

Time art critic Robert Hughes, who wrote both the magazine

contents and the TV series, begins by saying "The images made by

America's artists inscribe our beliefs, our dreams -- our

story."

But after reading American Visions , I have to echo the Lone

Ranger's erstwhile friend: "What do you mean by 'our?' "

There is exactly one work of art by a named female artist, a

watercolor by Georgia O'Keefe. Paired on the page with a

photograph by Ansel Adams, O'Keefe's work is describe as

"womblike."

She is described as a "natural" who is "instinctively in touch

with the cosmos," unlike Adams who has "technical mastery."

There is one other work of art that was almost assuredly

created by a woman, a quilt titled Diamond in a Square, Circa

1910 . It's ascribed to an "Unknown Amish Quiltmaker" without

one suggestion that "Anonymous was a woman" as an old slogan

used to assert.

There are a couple of examples of work by African-Americans,

including Romare Bearden's collage, The Dove. Work by Native

Americans or other minorities seems to be absent, except for a

mention of Maya Lin's war memorial, in part because Hughes has

paid scant attention to craft traditions such as textile art in

which minority artisans have excelled. …