What Is the Role of Patriotism in the Study of American Art?

M. Elizabeth (Betsy) Boone and Lauren Lessing, Executive Editors

Do we have a responsibility to the nation in our teaching and writing on American art? How would this responsibility be enacted and can it be done without seeming to be jingoistic? Does a new understanding of our nation impact our teaching and study of American art? How do you feel about the idea of a national narrative? Have you been challenged to rethink the relationship between American art, the nation, and its citizenry at any time in the last year?

David M. Lubin, Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art, Wake Forest University

Patriotism can involve loving one’s homeland for the diversity of cultural enclaves it encompasses, while not excluding the rest of humanity or claiming the superiority of our homeland to every other on earth. To be sure, global thinking (in the form of economic globalization or cultural imperialism) has a lot of negative baggage attached to it, but having a cosmopolitan outlook should be encouraged in tandem with patriotic thinking, not seen as its opposite.

Angela Miller, Professor, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Washington University, Saint Louis

Now is a difficult time to be an American. Never have we witnessed such a massive onslaught on—and undoing of—the basic tenets of decency in public life, freedom of protest, freedom of speech, freedom to breathe clean air, freedom to make decisions about our reproductive health, the protection of minority rights, equal justice under the law, and respect for science and empirical grounds of truth. Rarely have we seen the door slammed shut with such force against ideals of international cooperation and respect.

Patricia Junker, Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, Seattle Art Museum

“What a thing is patriotism! We go for years not knowing we have it. Suddenly—Martial music! . . . Native flags! Friends cheer! . . . and it becomes life’s greatest emotion!” What a thing is patriotism, indeed, that the emotion can so easily overtake and divide us.

Lauren Lessing, Mirken Director of Academic and Public Programs

I have often asked myself what exactly is the meaning of the term “American art” and why museums of American art are important. In this particular historical moment, can an art museum help to build a sense of common commitment to a place, a set of ideals, and one another?

Alan Wallach, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art and Art History, The College of William and Mary

I could begin by asking, does patriotism have a place in the study of American art? However, I prefer an even broader question: can ideology—and patriotism is nothing if not an ideological phenomenon—furnish a basis for scholarship?

Sally Webster, Professor Emerita, City University of New York

This Midwest—St. Paul, St. Louis, and Chicago—is familiar to me. It is where both my adult children live. Our son and his family lived first in St. Paul and now in St. Louis; our daughter and her wife are in Chicago. And I, an ardent New Yorker, was born in Indiana. These have never been flyover states for me, but their newfound political power came as a shock. How have we liberal academics become so disconnected from our country’s interior?