(De)Constructing the American Myth
(Where Did You Come From?)
At best, art tells shows us the truth (aesthetics) about who we are. At worst, it tells us what to think (called propaganda). As overseers and image-bearers, we must read with disciplined eyes and minds to explore the stories within the stories, and the messages between the lines.
For the most part, artists (both authors, musicians, and painters) clash with culture. If they don’t, they are propagandists, and we should not engage with them in the first place. Artists see the world differently and they fight against its foundations, and that’s why we, as consumers of their art, need to examine their message and teach ourselves how to critically respond.
This unit, then, addresses the primary strains of American Myth Making — Family, Politics, and Religion — and once again asks two of the big three questions: “Who Are You?” and “Where Did You Come From?”
To this point in the year, you’ve read about the American Dream. You’ve wrestled with the Founding Fathers. Now we take a look at life at a local level: at the communities that pride themselves on living the American Experience and the voices that consider themselves authentically American — and those who question their authenticity. We will look at art as an exploration into aesthetics and as a means of propaganda.
We are looking for the story within a story. We are looking for the agenda. We are looking to find the artist’s perspective, and we are seeking to have them defend their work. How do we do this? We will step into their shoes: we will talk like them, we will listen like them, and we will write like them. In doing so, we will be creating the ultimate argumentative stance: empathy, which means “feeling for your subject” (you might see the word “pathos” embedded in there). We will also be establishing an essential rhetorical exercise called decorum, or “establishing the parameters of an argument and controlling its direction,” we use forensics to develop an aesthetic understanding of the works we study; this data will help art come alive — and hopefully lead you into the discussion of a lifetime.