Writing history is an act of interpretation based on the past. Creating art about history further separates past events from the final work.
What happens when an artwork tells a story that distorts an actual event? What if that “distorted” artwork communicates a historical “truth”?
Below is a famous image from a civil rights protest in Birmingham. The image tells a powerful story. It turns out that the actual events leading up to the image and the people involved tell a much different story than one we would infer simply by looking at the image.
There is a sculpture, based on the above image, that tells an even more dramatic story pictured below. What does it mean if the artwork, though powerful, does not accurately tell the actual story of the events it is depicting? What if it tells the truth of the brutality of the crackdown on the civil rights movement through inaccurately depicting an event? What does all this say about the power of artwork? The connection between history and art?
Below is a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast that discusses these issues and is where I found this story.
I found another blog post discussing these issues in greater detail. Really interesting discussion as well in the comments section.
When the Truth Gets in the Way of the Story You Want to Tell
“Put simply, we don’t like complicated stories. We like our stories cleaned up and sanitized and well tailored for public consumption. We like heroic knights vs. evil villains. We like incorrigible racists and bigots vs. tolerant human rights champions. We like credulous believers vs. rational freethinkers. We like medieval jihadis vs. freedom fighters. We like damned vs. saved. We like lazy welfare sponges vs. hardworking taxpayers. We like sinners and saints and darkness and light and red and blue and black and white. And if reality doesn’t serve up the story that we want? If the truth turns out to be a bit blurrier and more inconvenient than we’d prefer? Well, we’ll just tell the story how we want to.”
In the US, it’s often taught as a heroic struggle for freedom against the tyrannical British Empire, which was unfairly taxing the colonists without giving them representation in government (though in some high school classes, and certainly at the college level, it’s taught with more nuance).
But how is the American Revolution taught in the UK and in other countries around the world?
Why are people so reluctant to change their minds? This well-researched and well-presented cartoon delves into that very important question. It also helps elucidate the relationship between emotion and reason when our belief system is challenged.
Interesting set of videos that shows you the limitations of what we can learn from body cameras on police officers. It also raises issues around how our prior knowledge, expectations, and experiences affect what we see when we interpret a given situation.
“This confirms what Professor Stoughton has found in his own presentations with judges, lawyers and students: What we see in police video footage tends to be shaped by what we already believe.
“‘Our interpretation of video is just as subject to cognitive biases as our interpretation of things we see live,’ Professor Stoughton said. ‘People disagree about policing and will continue to disagree about exactly what a video shows.’
“Race can also play a role. While Professor Stoughton’s work did not seek to determine how the race of the driver affected viewers’ conclusions, numerous studies have shown that some sort of conscious or unconscious bias is present in all of us, including law enforcement.”
“The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon — now Ho Chi Minh City — to the Communist north, two years after the withdrawal of U.S. ground troops.
“We have two very different accounts of that same extraordinary day. The first, from a U.S. veteran who helped execute a mass evacuation on April 29. The Air America pilot was a part of the largest helicopter airlift in history.
“The second, from a retired Sergeant Major who was among the ranks of the North Vietnamese forces. He raised the flag on Davis Camp at Tan Son Nhut Airfield at 9:30 a.m. on April 30.”
“This story has much to say about the nature of scientific knowledge. It is not, as we so often think, a collection of objective facts and unbiased observations that sprout in hermetically sealed environments, unsullied by human minds and hands. “On closer analysis,” writes science historian Paul Feyerabend, “we even find that science knows no ‘bare facts’ at all, but that all the ‘facts’ that enter our knowledge are already viewed in a certain way.” Facts come clothed in history, colored by context. Science is less a statement of truth than a running argument. As it turns out, the scientific method isn’t so “scientific” after all.”