Wow this pissed me off more than I thought it would because Holy Crap I kind of expected it for back in the day, but within the last few decades? JFC I hate people.
This is what I mean when I talk about how our attitudes NOW regarding race, sexuality, morality, and how art SHOULD be massively affects how we view artwork from the past, and becomes a PART of that history and that art!
I’m not always being figurative with language like that. In so many ways, our attitudes about race dictate what we see, and how it is categorized. For example, how the Head of Memnon was classified before they identified who it was a portrait of:
An interesting aspect of this head’s modern reception was its initial characterization as that of a savage hunter, constantly aware of his natural environment but incapable of abstract thought. Once the association with Herodes’ Memnon was made, however, the ideal of the noble savage was replaced by the perception of a great character of introspection, even melancholy.
Memnon was a famous philosopher’s beloved student who died tragically young, probably of an illness. So WHY on EARTH would he have been classified a “savage hunter….incapable of abstract thought??”
These aren’t just “ideas”, they are pervasive and insidious patterns of negative stereotypes and assumptions that can change a contemplative and brilliant young man into a mindless “savage”. After all, his appearance didn’t change! The problem is firmly in the minds and hearts of the viewer, the museum curator, the cataloger, the patron, the art historian.
And we should ALL be thinking about how that affects the way we perpetuate anti-Black and racist assumptions in our own worldviews, and interactions with others in society.