A couple of weeks ago, ns taught a lecture on surrealism come my introduction to Art background students in ~ the Pennsylvania Academy the the fine Arts. That course, among the works we disputed was René Magritte’s famed provocation, The Treachery of photos (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) of 1929. You know the one: a picture-perfect illustration the a pipe v words in French that translate to “This is no a pipe” created beneath it. In situation you require a refresher top top the definition of the initial painting, here’s a an excellent summary video clip by Beth Harris and also Steven Zucker of Smarthistory:

As Harris and Zucker explain, this painting deserve to be taken in several various ways. First, the course, there’s the obvious: Magritte is correct that this is no a pipe, since it is a painting of a pipe, making that a representation and not the genuine thing. Up till the early on twentieth century, western artists had been came to mainly v illusionistic depictions of the herbal world, and also with this painting, Magritte upends centuries of tradition. One can even see this paint as an strike on the really notion that language itself, as the word “pipe” is no an actual pipeline any an ext than Magritte’s painting is: both space symbols that stand in for the real thing.

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But there’s another means of looking at this paint that ns think can be telling for some of our existing discussions bordering monuments today. Magritte provides us a perfect painting of a pipe, and also a message that claims it is not a pipe: which carry out you believe? Which blog post is stronger? perform you respond an ext to the tangible image, or the text? What go this tell us about words and images today?

When i look at this painting, i am powerfully reminded the the id of recontextualizing problem monuments by adding new plaques or inscriptions to place them together the darker facets of their historical background. This has actually been argued in some circles as an alternative to remove the monuments, together a method of keeping the developed environment when providing necessary information about the past. I’ve lengthy felt that this was no a workable strategy, and also I think Magritte speak us specifically why. In various other words:

Which is an ext powerful, the photo or the text? perform you believe the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee set on a towering pedestal, one of the enduring icons of heroism and power in west art, or carry out you believe the message that speak you the is no worth celebrating? Is there any type of text or any kind of plaque that could possibly counteract the visual affect of a monument? Or will certainly the text always fade right into the background?

To mine mind, there’s no means to insert text alongside a monument that would certainly counteract the power of the visual symbol, unless that message is composed on a billboard or superimposed top top the monument in part way. The equestrian statue and also the triumphal shaft are as well ingrained in our collective social heritage to allow for disruption in text. If we space going to seek simply representation in ours public spaces, us will have to find an additional way.

A couple of weeks ago, ns was invite to participate in a historian roundtable by the ~ above Monument path blog, a task sponsored by the American Civil battle Museum that explores the messy historical context the Richmond’s storied Monument Avenue. Monument Avenue, a City Beautiful-inspired boulevard that Confederate luminaries, is at this time at the center of discussions over whether to remove, recontextualize, or maintain Confederate monuments. The ACWM assembled a group of four historians and also tasked us with answering the question Why now? Why are we only simply now acting to revise the Confederate landscape?

Or, as the advent to the roundtable placed it:

As we complete tracing the histories that emanated from 1890, we would like to much more directly resolve the backgrounds that have actually led come this certain moment that we reconsidering Confederate monuments in Richmond and beyond. In short, why is this keep going now? The 2015 Charleston murders room an obvious starting point. But we would choose to explore several political and social contexts that might reveal the this much much more than a an answer to a solitary horrific act, but one that represents depths structural change in American society, in just how we check out ourselves and also our collective past.

The various other three entries space by Modupe Labode, Julian Maxwell Hayter, and W. Fitzhugh Brundage, and I extremely recommend analysis all 3 of castle – I definitely learned a lot! mine entry, “Undercurrents that Opposition and the Catalyst for Change,” explores exactly how the black color Lives issue movement and also the Civil battle sesquicentennial developed an setting of opposition into which the Charleston shooting exploded as a spark for action. An excerpt:

The black Lives issue movement was established by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2013, in the wake up of the acquittal the George Zimmerman because that the murder of Trayvon Martin. It started as a hashtag on society media, but quickly came to be a an effective organizing tool for local communities mobilizing come protest police shootings of unarmed black people. In the summer that 2014, national attention focused on protests in the city that Ferguson, Missouri after Mike Brown to be shot by a police officer. Mass protests damaged out again in Baltimore, Maryland in April 2015, much less than two months before the Charleston shooting, after ~ Freddie Gray died from injuries continual in the earlier of a police deliver van. When Dylann Roof murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston in an act of clearly white superior violence, the galvanized a movement that was prepared to mobilize for change.

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The Robert E. Lee frosting in Charlottesville, VA, as it showed up on April 20, 2018

Another scholastic year is winding down, and also as always, I discover myself looking backward and forward. This past June, I welcomed my baby daughter into the world, and also at first the arrangement was to save to a light expert load this year to provide myself time to adjust to the fact of gift a parent. Yet then the events in Charlottesville, Virginia happened, and also suddenly I found myself through just about as lot work together I might handle.

First came the interviews: through the Washington Post, Mic, U.S. News and World Report, The arts Newspaper, and several various other outlets. Climate I started a series of windy talks. This past fall, ns traveled to Newark, Delaware come speak in ~ the university of Delaware, to Columbus, Ohio because that the Southeastern College art Conference, and to Washington, DC to visit American University. My travel in the spring consisted of the College arts Association in Los Angeles, the Midwest Art background Society in Indianapolis, and also a special symposium on the long background of iconoclasm in arts at the university of Virginia. That last event brought me come Charlottesville, where I saw the sites the figured so prominently in the occasions of last August (special many thanks to Jalane Schmidt because that an informative and candid tour!).

PAFA students in “American Sculpture” comment on plaster models that sculptures by Hiram Powers with Smithsonian curator Karen Lemmey

While maintaining up through my occupational on monuments, I also had a complete year of teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of well Arts. In the fall, i taught 2 sections the the an initial half that the survey (Prehistoric come Medieval), along with my “American art to 1945” class. In the spring, I had two part of the second half of the inspection (Renaissance come Modern). However I also had a chance to meet a dream, to teach my first-ever class on the history of American sculpture! The scale of the class was intimate, with only eight college student (most of whom to be practicing sculptors), which intended plenty of avenues for comprehensive discussion and field trips to check out sculpture in the round. Some of the highlights included a walking tourism of Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia and a lovely afternoon v Curator that American Sculpture Karen Lemmey in ~ the Smithsonian American art Museum (SAAM). I learned a lot while prepping the lectures, and my students’ passionate made Wednesday afternoons among the highlights of my week. Definitely a semester come remember!

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

But even as i reflect back fondly top top the previous year of teaching, I likewise look front to putting away my lesson planning and purple grading pen because that the next fifteen months, due to the fact that I will certainly be walk on leave! i am dazzling to announce the I have been vested the councilor Daniel Patrick Moynihan Fellowship with the James Smithson Fellowship program at the Smithsonian college for the 2018-2019 scholastic year. I’ll invest the year functioning on my publication project, Monumental Crisis: Accident, Vandalism, and also the Civil battle Citizen Soldier and also learning all about public policy so that i can build solutions for communities grappling through their problem monuments. I’ll it is in in residence in ~ SAAM, and I’m looking forward to return to a cubicle in the Fellows’ Office. My setup is to split my time in between DC and new Jersey so the I can be v my household on weekends, and also I’m functioning on a bucket perform of monuments, cultural institutions, and other sites to visit if I’m in DC – hoping to make the many of every day that I’m down there!

Indianapolis Soldiers and Sailors Monument, April 2018

This bring me to one last point: lately, I’ve been reasoning that I’d favor to take it my work on monuments in a bit more of an businessman direction. There’s a lot of work come be excellent to file the monumental landscape together it at this time stands and to negotiate what to do with statues that no much longer align with neighborhood values. I’d prefer to do an ext to help: giving public talks, composing for the mass market, and designing workshops come think through huge issues. I’m not sure how all of this will look simply yet, yet I’m hoping the this fellowship year will aid me to develop a clear strategy for placing some of these concepts into practice. To that end, clock this space for big changes. Over the next couple of months, I’m hope to increase the frequency that my write-ups on this blog and to review the entire site come foreground several of my tactics for public outreach. I hope you’ll come follow me on this journey through me, and also as always, i welcome all suggestions and leads! ns look forward to diving right into my research study full-time and also rethinking my ar in the current monument debates.

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About Me


Sarah Beetham is one art historian specializing in the arts of the unified States. She currently resides in Piscataway, brand-new Jersey and also is employed together Chair of free Arts and Assistant Professor that Art history at the Pennsylvania Academy the the fine Arts.