Emily VanLeuvan-Reflections on Readings for July 28, 2014
After reading about the study of quilting and monuments as visual rhetoric, it seemed appropriate that the readings for today’s class continued to explore visual rhetoric. In Kathryn Glenister Roberts’s article “Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts: Perspectives on Folk/Traditional art, Roberts comments on importance of community for folk artists. Roberts writes, “In this sense, the community is more significant than the individual artists. Artists’ creations are accomplished through and for the community, which has borne the artistic tradition that enables them to create and which comprises an immediate audience for their creations” (154). As I read this passage, I thought about how important community is to any creative individual. I also thought about the power that the creative process has to unite people and bring individuals together. Fitzgerald and Hemingway flourished as part of the expatriate community in Paris in the 1920s. When people realize that their work is valued, a sense of trust is cultivated. In my classroom, I always try create a safe, comfortable environment where all of my students hopefully feel as though they are part of the classroom community. If students feel as though they are in a trusting environment, they will be more willing to take risks when it comes to writing or analyzing literature. When students take risks, they grow as individuals and produce stronger work.
I was also interested in the ways in which folk art can be used as a means of asserting independence in the face of oppression. In “Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts”, Roberts analyzes the beading of the Blackfeet tribe. She explains that “With the advent of reservation life, the Blackfeet lost their freedom to communicate openly about the lodge and their deities” (138), yet the triangle, the symbol of the lodge, remains pervasive in Blackfeet beading (160-161). To me, the patterns Roberts observes in Blackfeet beading really highlight the need for humans to express their identities and values. We have spent a lot of time in class talking about the prevalence of technology in today’s society and the decline of the creation of tangible visual rhetoric, such as quilting and beading. In the digital era, how will future members of different cultures preserve their values or assert their individuality?
I appreciated the arguments that Michael J. Schreffler makes in “Vespucci Rediscovers America: The Pictorial Rhetoric of Cannibalism in Early Modern Culture”. Schreffler’s close readings of paintings by Jan Van der Straet, Titian, Giorgione, and other artists explore how representations of America and Europe in art inform the viewer of different political attitudes during the time period. Additionally, Schreffler’s article asserts the value of visual rhetoric. I have noticed that my students often have trouble thinking about visual texts such as film, paintings, or sculptures as rhetoric. One of the English electives that students may choose to take when they are seniors is a film course. I have heard my students whisper countless times, “Next year I’m going to take film because it is so easy. All we do is watch movies!” Whenever I hear students say this, I always give a big speech about how film is a text that we actively read also, even though it isn’t a text in print form. Next year, my goal is to help my students become more accustomed to “reading” visual rhetoric by analyzing it more frequently in class.
Both of these readings have the similar idea surrounding the act of colonization (or being “civilized” as Michael Schreffler puts it). The writing by Kathleen Roberts explained clearly the difference between folk art and fine art for me. Folk art is focused more on the community and not on the individual. As we learned in class, the original art of beading initially followed geometric designs. It was not until Anglo intervention that the change to floral designs was made. However, I really liked reading about how the Blackfeet still preserved their geometric designs of the triangle within the flowers; silent resistance. Also interesting in this article is how with fine art, the individual is the one with the last say as to what the art means. However, with folk art, the individual is not focused on; rather, it is the community. The community emphasizes the “process of creation” (153) with how the knowledge of composing the piece is passed on. Creativity is not focused on. With this said, any argument over the visually created art comes from within the community. I see this similarity within different English classes. At Marshfield, one of our classes we “teach” is Writing Conference. At this location, students who are in a study can come to Writing Conference and have an English teacher go over their paper with them. For me, especially being new, it is nice to see prompts other teachers are giving their students. Also, it is interesting to see the different areas that teachers focus on within a unit. While I may go more in depth with the symbolism of the green light or theme of morality in The Great Gatsby, another teacher may focus more on gender roles within the novel. Neither is right or wrong, but it is the classroom community that leads students to extract particular information. This may be a bit of a stretch, but it also gets me thinking about the Common Core. It seems almost as if we are losing creativity in the classroom and would rather prefer us to be a community of robots all teaching the same thing, at the same time, in the exact same way. While folk art is beautiful and meaningful within a particular community, the “folk art” does not belong in the classroom.
“The Pictorial Rhetoric of Cannibalism in Early Modern Culture” sent me for a bit of a loop. In the first few images, I focused more so on the decapitation of people and did not initially notice the cannibalism. It is even said that hardly an acts of cannibalism were seen firsthand or reported, so how can this judgment be made? I need more concrete facts that visual interpretations that this act occurred. Also interesting is how America was always depicted as being a female and Europe as a male. What is this saying about gender roles? Women are less civilized than men? The last image on page 307 where it seems the “civilization” has taken place in which “The figure on the right is shown with a crown on her head and holding a scepter in her hand…The figure on the left…appears ‘dressed as a matron chieftan, with a quexquemitl, a large fan with feathers, and a copilli, or royal diadem on her head” is a bit shocking. I have to question whether the accounts of cannibalism were documented and sent to England to provide reasons for overhauling these communities within the country. Were these acts made up so they had “reason” to come in and take the lands? The fact that a subsection of this text is called “Allegories and Fantasies of Cannibalism” leads me to believe that this act is just a fantasy. I am not entirely sure about this text and am interested in hearing what others have said, as I am afraid I may have misinterpreted some of the on goings described here; or I just expected a stronger account of cannibalism than mere representations.
Michael J. Shreffler’s The Pictorial Rhetoric of Cannibalism in Early Modern Culture is the only piece we have read thus far that did not resonate with me. I do believe that cannibalism holds its place within some type of rhetorical discourse, however, I found his explanations a little difficult to follow. Was he trying to argue that his example pictorials were or were not clear and accurate depictions of cannibalism? I found that the pictorials did not quite portray cannibalistic culture. In fact, I discovered they were more indicative of battle victory or something among the like. Shreffler even states, “This rhetoric is similarly deployed in the text accompanying the figure of America in Ripa’s Iconologia, where the author’s statement that ‘the human head at her feet plainly shows that it is the custom of many of these barbarous people to eat human flesh’ is problematic in terms of its logic. Rather than ‘plainly’ indicating the consumption of human beings, the picture might be read, for example, as a sign that people in the Americas collect (or collected) human heads as trophies” (304). Again, I am unsure whether I misread this piece or not, but it does seem rather clear that the pictorials do not necessarily represent cannibalism.
Despite this, I did find one sentence rather interesting. Schreffler writes, “As such, these emblems of Europe and America come to be seen as constructing a narrative of a colonial process in which the savage and disorderly Americas will ultimately be civilized as well as governed by European powers” (306). This renders me to ask – Would the Americas have remained/developed into a cannibalistic society if there had not been any European influence?
Distinct from Schreffler’s piece, Kathleen Roberts’ Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts: Perspectives on Folk/Traditional Art was a pleasure to read. Roberts appropriately captures the purpose and rhetoric of true folk art. She states, “But folk art is different. Its symbolic meanings are more apparent because they have been created in and for a particular community and because they respect its limits” (155). Roberts appears to encapsulate the essence of this type of visual rhetoric in this description. The culture/community aspect is inherently embedded within an art form that holds a strong significance. There is no question as to whether or not Blackfeet beadwork is a great example of visual rhetoric. The answer is clear. (I also have to add that once I began reading and realized the focus was on beadwork, I immediately thought “Yay! More beadwork next class?”)
Another interesting aspect was one that raised a simple, but thought-provoking question. Roberts writes, “Indeed, most of the objects comprising Blackfeet beadwork from 1895-1935 consist of men’s clothing, men’s accoutrements, and ritual objects (such as medicine bundles)…Beadwork during this time was women’s domain. It seems significant that women chose above all to embellish men’s objects with sacred reminders in the form of symbolic triangles” (157). I found this incredibly peculiar. Why were the women embellishing male items and not female items? Any thoughts?
Two specific topoi emerge from the readings assigned for today: the allegorical representation of women as continents, specifically America, and the ability of artifacts, objects, and visual images to argue, or support discourse, rhetorically in cultural and ethnographic studies, and colonialism, the historical phenomenon and the discourse pertaining to the practice of colonialism.
Of the first, close reading of and engagement with Michael Schreffler’s, “Vespucci Rediscovers America: the Pictorial Rhetoric of Cannibalism in Early Modern Culture,” flared the feminist tendencies of this reader, igniting a somewhat latent, but ever present ire regarding the representation of and placement of women in submissive, subordinate, secondary at best, vulnerable, and sexual position in societies. Historically, at least since the 14th century, artists and mapmakers, considerably one in the same, have employed women’s bodies as allegorical figures for continents, relegating women as Rhetorical Bodies, especially as representations of the New World, America. Given the historical male domination of societies, it is not ironic that men have depicted continents as women, fertile, conquerable, and in need of dominance, control, civilizing and domestication, most specifically the heathen, “savage and disorderly Americas, (which was), ultimately civilized as well as governed by European powers. (p. 306)” As Schreffler presents regarding Van der Straet’s representation of America, the artist depicts America as a “nude woman, seated on a hammock.” Of which “Studies of this image have emphasized its use of gender and sexuality as metaphors for the exploration and conquest of territory,” the new continent is reclined, near sleep-state, and ready to be taken, in fact, in need of being taken. When Americus “called her but once, thenceforth she was always awake,” the male conqueror was able to awaken her with but a call, on beckoning and she was forever under males’ domain. As “wakening is a metaphor for discovery” and as Schreffler suggests, America is presented the the liminal moment between sleep and full consciousness,” as women are in need of awakening, as they are not ‘fully conscious.” Although this representation of continents is only an underlying note of Schreffler’s examination of the allegorical figure of women in the cultural discourse and pictorial rhetoric of the cannibalism in early modern culture, it resonated with this reader. Schreffler’s investigation of the representation and interpretation of cannibalism present, or not present, in the New World at the time of ‘discovery’ presents a second topic, which emerged for this reader, and which is best stated by Fleming (1996) as quoted by Kathleen Glenister Roberts on page 154, in ”Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts: Perspectives on Folk/Tradition Art.” Fleming is quoted, “Because of their inherent richness, concreteness, and ineffability, visual artifacts actually resist assertion…pictures are too subtle to act as assertions.” Throughout the essay, “Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts,” Roberts capitalizes on Flemings’ position, specifically in her discourse on the “argue-ability” of the BlackFeet beadwork, along with Flemings’ position that, “an argument exists…in a specifiable context of debate, controversy, opposition or doubt: its position is thus necessarily contestable.” Roberts argues that the contestation of the beadwork happens in intercultural contexts.” Were the Blackfeet women not “urged to abandon their long-standing geometric designs in favor of floral motifs” the “Blackfeet women’s communal visual arguments it the face of colonization,” would not have been necessary, and thus would not exist. Yet, the argument exists, they continued to integrated the triangular shape of the lodge, in the placement or position of the floral motifs on the materials which they adorned, despite of colonization, and suppression. Nonetheless, as a result of the elements of process, tradition, and community in the creation of folk art, folk art in its un-colonized versions as juxtaposed with the colonized artifacts, folk art does argue, and can be ‘read’ and ‘assertion’ is unnecessary. On the other hand, pictorial rhetoric is open for assertion, interpretation, as analyzed independent of ‘accompanying text.” Throughout Schreffler’s essay, in fact nearly a dozen times according to this reader’s count, the author reverts to “accompanying text,” to continue, or maintain or counter the argument for the iconographic meanings intended by the artists, and the artists’ works explored. In fact, Schreffler addresses this concern for the “blurrin
The two pieces we read this week, “Visual Argument in Intercultural Contexts: Perspectives on Folk/ Traditional Art” and “Vespucci Rediscovers America: The Pictorial Rhetoric of Cannibalism in Early Modern Culture,” both focus on the way art can inform us about cultures and people of the past. Kathleen Glenister Roberts’ piece on folk art addresses the effect of colonization on the colonized and how this relationship is evidenced in the creation of traditional art. Michael J. Schreffler’s piece, on the other hand, focuses on representations in art of the colonized created by the colonizers. Both pieces shed light on the effect of colonization on people and their culture.
In Roberts’ piece, she makes an apt and interesting distinction between folk art and fine art. “The idea of process also imply that the means of achieving the art form, and the means of passing on this artifact, is more important than the artifact. In this sense, folk art eschews cultural preservation, recognizing instead that culture is always performed and always lived” (153). The process of creation tells us more about a culture than the artifact, in this case Blackfeet beadwork. The geometric symbols which held spiritual significance for the Blackfeet people were changed to floral symbols in response to colonial pressure. However, the triangular shapes echo the former geometric patterns more than they do the actual flowers in Montana. This shows that the creation of the beadwork is not literal but much more symbolic and spiritual in nature. The fact that the creation of beadwork persisted despite colonization speaks to the tenacity of culture and way colonized people keep traditions alive in spite of colonial pressure.
In Schreffler’s piece, he looks at the artistic works of the colonizing powers to gain insight into the treatment of and beliefs about the colonized. He looks specifically at the drawing of Vespucci discovering America and the nearly hidden, but nonetheless present, depiction of cannibalism. He writes that “previous studies of that trope [cannibalism] have noted that the discourse of cannibalism emerged in the sixteenth century as a differencing mechanism, a counterpoint to idea about the ideal and individuated Christian subject of Early Modern Europe” (295). America is often described in colonial discourse as a “dream world,” as in the recollections of Bernal Diaz del Castillo: “Those great towns and temples and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amandis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream” (303). The fact that this world is described as somehow not real highlights the tendency of the colonizers to create a reality around what they in fact did not really know. For example, Vespucci wrote that “the majority of this race, if not all, live off human flesh” and explained that he was “certain” despite a lack of historical evidence to support his claim. This demonstrates the colonizer’s tendency to create their own narrative for conquered people.
Clothing in the worked Schreffler cites was also interesting. In Van der Straet’s piece, America is naked, unclothed, and therefor considered by the colonizing power to be primitive and vulnerable. Nearly one hundred years later, however, America is depicted as clothed and regal. This might symbolize the idea that, because of the prolonged presence of the colonizers, America is now more “civilized.” America has been claimed and is therefore represented as powerful because of the presence of the Spanish. We see how studying the creation of art and changing patterns can inform us about colonial experience.
This blog is designed for us to share responses to readings and to engage in conversations about Cultural Rhetorics.