• Episode 10: Thinking and Rethinking Orientalism

      2021-09-17
      In this episode, called “Thinking and Rethinking Orientalism,” we examine Orientalism as a particular version of the Western gaze that influenced many 19th century European painters. The Western or European gaze treats non-Western subjects as different and inferior, but also as exotic, mysterious, or enticing. After examining the orientalist visual tropes in paintings by Gérôme and Delacroix, we turn towards contemporary artists. Moroccan photographer Lalla Essaydi creates meaningful portraits of Muslim women that challenge perceptions of Arab female identity. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian was an Iranian artist whose works combine Eastern and Western influences into a unique sculptural style. We take a look at her series Fourth Family.
    • Episode 11: On Disability

      Steer, Linda (2021-10-29)
      Episode 11: On Disability This episode of Unboxing the Canon introduces the topic of disability and the visual arts, looking at both historical and contemporary examples. We consider the near absence of visible disability in the history of Western art and discuss how some contemporary artists are representing disability in powerful ways. Beginning with Diego Velázquez’s 1656 painting Las Meninas, this episode examines it and other historical works through the ideas of contemporary artist, writer and disability activist, Riva Lehrer. Then we turn towards the work of Persimmon Blackbridge, a Canadian artist whose work touches on disability, institutionalization, censorship, and queer identity. We demystify the artist-genius myth and end with a brief discussion about how curatorial choices can make art more accessible.
    • Episode 9: Portraits of Rulers

      Steer, Linda (2021-05-20)
      In this episode, “Portraits of Rulers,” I take a look at the history of portraits of rulers in the canon of Western art and examine how portraits engage with structures of power. Beginning with French and English royalty in the 17th and 18th century, I end with a visual analysis of Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of former American President Barack Obama. Focusing on these rulers allows us to see how European portrait conventions use a number of visual cues, from clothing, pose, setting, and the objects included within the painting, to convey wealth, power and the right to rule. Examining a portrait of late 17th-century Queen Marie Antoinette allows us to see gender differences in royal portraiture. Looking closely at Obama’s portrait reveals the ways in which Wiley both adopted and refined European portrait conventions in a way that makes his portrait stand out among portraits of other American presidents.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 1: Revealing a Portrait

      Steer, Linda (2020-09-09)
      Episode 1, “Revealing a Portrait”, considers what the canon of art history is and looks to a painting by contemporary African American artist Titus Kaphar to consider what it excludes. It also addresses the notion of “subject positions,” a way of acknowledging who we are and how that influences what we see and how we look at art. Kaphar’s work aims to make the invisible visible, and to reveal those figures that have been excluded from art history. His work highlights the Black experience, which has been overlooked in traditional art history courses, museums and other art institutions. In his powerful 2017 TED Talk, Kaphar demonstrates to the audience how European art has erased Black people, and how those people might be brought to the forefront. He uncovers his slightly altered copy of a 17th century family portrait by Dutch artist Franz Hals. He then proceeds to white out the prominent figures with a mixture of white paint and linseed oil, eventually revealing a small Black boy in the group. Kaphar notes that “Historically speaking, in research on these kinds of paintings, I can find out more about the lace that the woman is wearing in this painting -- the manufacturer of the lace -- than I can about this character here, about his dreams, about his hopes, about what he wanted out of life” (Kaphar, Can Art Amend History?). Episode 1 asks listeners to think about the role of history in art and the ways in which historical art is connected to contemporary culture.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 2: Reversing the Gaze

      Steer, Linda (2020-09-16)
      In this episode we examine contemporary Cree artist Kent Monkman's diptych mistikôsiwak on view now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The monumental paintings were completed in 2019 and are called Welcoming the Newcomers and Resurgence of the People. In his words, Monkman aims to “reverse the gaze” from white settlers looking at Indigenous people to Indigenous people looking at settlers. Welcoming the Newcomers adapts figures and poses from a variety of works of art that depict the Indigenous people of Turtle Island from the point of view of white Europeans and settlers to present a different story and a different point of view about first contact. Resurgence of the People uses Emmanuel Leutze's 1851 Washington Crossing the Delaware as a source to picture contemporary immigration from Monkman's point of view.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 3: Tear Down the Monuments!

      Steer, Linda (2020-09-23)
      This episode takes a look at the history of monuments and examines some of the issues surrounding monuments today. It considers the history of the Robert E Lee monument Richmond Virginia, its signification in relation to the history of equestrian sculptures and considers its role now. The removal of confederate statues in the American South is part of a worldwide movement to confront the violent legacy of colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the attempted genocide of Indigenous people, and other atrocities committed by Europeans and settlers. In the wake of the #blm movement and the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada, this episode asks: what should we do with these monuments now? Dr. Steer examines several options and their implications, such as putting the monuments in a museum or park, contextualizing them, creating new monuments and new works of art, destroying the monuments, or leaving them as is.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 4: Swallowed Whole

      Steer, Linda (2020-09-30)
      In this episode, called “Swallowed Whole,” Dr. Steer considers Gothic cathedrals as an art form and examines their relationship to European power structures. The episode begins with the earliest Christian art, in the catacombs of Rome, and ends with a brief consideration of the role and function of Western European churches today. This episode also covers the important role of relics in Medieval Christianity, the rise of pilgrimage culture in Europe and its connections to economics and architectural innovation, as well as the affective impact of the interior spaces of cathedrals.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 5: Taken from the Headlines

      Steer, Linda (2020-10-07)
      “Taken from the Headlines” considers European history painting, its roots and its legacies. What exactly are history paintings? And why are they significant in the canon of Western art? In this episode of “Unboxing the Canon” Dr. Steer examines these questions along with some historical examples before turning to the present moment to consider how artists use this genre today and reflect on some of its limitations. This episode covers the concept of istoria and Renaissance narrative paintings, dramatic 19th century history paintings in France and their relationship to politics, and contemporary Indigenous work dealing with the trauma of the residential school system in Canada.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 6: Light and Luxe

      Steer, Linda (2020-10-21)
      In this episode, called “Light and Luxe,” we take a look at the connections between Dutch painting, trade, and luxury during the so-called “Dutch Golden Age” of painting. We will focus on post-1650 genre painting as well as a new form of still life painting called Pronkstilleven (loosely translated as “ostentatious” or “sumptuous” still life) that emerged around the mid-17th century. Artists covered include Vermeer, Gerard ter Borch, and Willem Kalf.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 7: Musing on Museums

      Steer, Linda (2020-11-04)
      This episode, called “Musing on Museums,” takes a look at the history of the modern Western museum and considers what stories museums tell and how. From wunderkammern and other private collections to the British Museum and the Louvre, museums are intimately connected to power. Contemporary artists Fred Wilson, Spring Hurlbut, and James Luna reveal the hidden histories of collecting and collections and ask us to think about what is collected and how those collections are organized. By troubling organization systems, contemporary artists uncover new ways of finding meaning in museum collections.
    • unboxing the canon - Episode 8: Appropriation and Copying

      Steer, Linda (2020-11-25)
      In this episode, “Appropriation & Copying,” I take a look at the ways in which artists refer to the work of their predecessors through copying and appropriation. Art instruction uses copying as a method to learn. In addition, artists refer to their predecessors in a myriad of ways by quoting or remaking existing works of art. We can think of the history of Western art as a conversation between works of art, past and present. Appropriation differs. Appropriation art takes a known work of art and uses it in a way that reveals something about the original, but also creates a new work of art. Sometimes the differences between the original and the new work of art are theoretical, yet not visible. As a form of cultural critique, appropriation can reveal sublimated meanings in a work of art, political meanings, or socio-cultural meanings. While the verb “appropriate” has various meanings, in this episode, to appropriate means taking a work of art and re-making it in a way that reveals the original’s meaning and simultaneously creates new meanings for the appropriation. This episode will briefly consider the modern work of Manet and Duchamp before turning towards contemporary art by Kehinde Wiley, Kara Walker, and Yasumasa Morimura, all of which appropriate the content or forms (or both) of the canon of Western art.