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
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
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
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. …