Restricted Pittsburgh Removes Stephen Foster Statue

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donna

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I guess to be Politically Correct we need to go thru every museum in the world, every city and town and rid the world of any art works that are objectionable to someone. We probably won't have anything left but at least everyone would be happy.

Except I wouldn't be. I enjoy works of art which includes statues from all time periods and cultures. They are history.
 

19thGeorgia

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I think anytime there is a majority support among locals for removing monuments, then the locals get to remove those monuments because they should have control over their own community.
But these folks typically claim to be multiculturalist.
Only what the majority wants seems to work against that idea.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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Just because it's "art" doesn't mean it's good, and doesn't automatically make it representative of anything other than what the artist intended. I can think of a number of things that are "art" and "protected speech" but that we wouldn't really want to hold up as a symbol of a community. (Mapplethorpe's works come to mind.)
 
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donna

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I know many of you have been to many Art Museums and galleries in the world. I have been to many. You may think this off topic, but I feel it goes to the heart of purpose of art.

Many art works depict horrible scenes of abuse and unfeeling for many, including women.

Violence on women has been depicted in art for three millenniums. It was especially portrayed in Roman, Greek and post Renaissance Western European art. There is also these depictions in Chinese painting and Japanese ukeyo-e prints.

Some notable examples are:

Lycugnes (360 BCE) red figure pottery of the abduction and rape of Cassandra.

Peter Paul Rubens "Rape of the Daughters of Luiceppera"

Titian "The Rape of Lucretia"


Bologna (statue ) "Rape of the Sabine Women".

Eugene Delacroix "The Death of Sardanapalus".

I first took Art History in 10th grade. That was when my art teacher started with earliest drawing (Prehistoric Man) and went thru to Modern times. Many scenes depicted this kind of art. Some were hard to look at for young girl but the teacher talked about the artist and the times these were painted or culture that created them. I realized that even though scenes depicted were hard to view, these were done by great artists of the time. to study art you study all.

I guess what I am writing is should all art works, including these be removed from Museums and galleries. I am sure many Art Historians, Museum Directors, Art Teachers and Art Collectors would say no. Art works reflect history and what was culturally accepted over the years.

Foster and his music was of his time. These were popular songs in both the North and South. This statue represents one of the songs and thus just a part of history.

I know many of you disagree but art is of the time and I don't think any art like books should be removed or banned. We have a choice of what to read and look at. It is part of freedom.

These are just a few that are considered great works of art
 

LoriAnn

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I guess what I am writing is should all art works, including these be removed from Museums and galleries.
For me, if the piece is in a museum, I likely won't have an issue with it. Especially if I had to go out of my way to see it...and then be offended. (That's just silly.)

If on the other hand it's in general area like a park, then I think it's up for discussion as to whether or not people find it offensive and want to see it everyday. If people voted to have it moved to a museum, then I wouldn't argue.

There's another factor here, of course: Slavery.

It's an ugly part of this country's history that it seems we're still grappling with. If people are erupting over battle flags and monuments, I'm not surprised that a "happy slave" statue is also controversial. Honestly, it shouldn't surprise anyone.

We have a choice of what to read and look at. It is part of freedom.
Agree. They are looking for a home for the Foster statue, and people should still have the option to see it.
 

Southern Unionist

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When I saw the statue, the first thing I thought was, "two people from extremely different backgrounds and cultures, brought together by music". But I guess music doesn't serve that purpose anymore.

This sculpture removal is just another example of history revision.
 
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LoriAnn

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When I saw the statue, the first thing I thought was, "two people from extremely different backgrounds and cultures, brought together by music".
That's an interesting take on it! And a good example of how art affects people differently. :smile:

The fact that I personally follow and sometimes participate in these types of discussions is interesting to me, mostly because I'm the last person to take offense at things. There's just a lot I don't notice, and when I DO notice, I tend to make more positive associations and assumptions.

Maybe I explore the topic because I realize how much of others' perspectives I miss. I do appreciate everyone here offering up theirs! I've read all of them and consider them all carefully.
 

Southern Unionist

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I feel bad for the sculptor, whose message has been lost in a flood of political correctness.

Maybe this sculpture should go to New Orleans, where race, ethnic background, income level, and social status have never been insurmountable obstacles for people to share their musical interests, and such distinctions barely exist at all today in the city's music community. Nearly all of American music carries heavy black influences today, and the Mississippi River was the avenue for spreading this dynamic north from New Orleans, where it started. Jazz was invented at Congo Square (at the edge of the French Quarter) by slaves, and the blues came to be in nearby rural areas upstream, before finding a home in Memphis. Classic rock evolved from blues, which has more recently influenced country music.

The lower Mississippi River's music culture evolved rapidly and spread fast, thanks to constant riverboat traffic and related transient jobs. New Orleans is still its creative capital, but racially and socially inclusive jazz and blues venues are easy to find as far north as Memphis and St. Louis. Jazz culture still has a significant presence in Chicago, where it was brought by train.

I'm reminded of the lyrics of the song, The Ballad of Curtis Lowe. The story is fictional in its details, but things like that have been going on in the Deep South for generations, and still do. In this story, a young white boy is willing to risk getting in trouble with his mom for going to see an elderly, destitute black man who drinks heavily, but has a love of the blues and the ability to play a dobro like a pro. The young boy is destined to be a successful musician, and a lot of knowledge, musical experience, and passion is being passed on from the older generation whenever the two get together. The fact that they have nothing else in common is not an issue at all, because music has the ability to leap over such barriers as if they were nothing.

If the leaders who prevail in current times are the ones who can look at such things and see something bad, something evil and racist, then we are truly in deep trouble. All of the racial unification work done by music could be erased in a generation.
 

Joshism

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Yes this Stephen Foster song is racist by current standards but perhaps not so by period standards.
I thought the whole point of ministrel shows was racism - "ain't it hilarious how ignorant the negroes are?"

I would say, "Be reasonable," but it is clear reason is not involved. I doubt anyone could name any significant historical person who would not offend someone. If offending someone is the standard, then we will have no monuments to individuals.
The problem here seems less about Foster and more about the particular statue itself. If the statue has simply depicted Foster by himself there probably would be limited outcry.
 
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Joshism

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"Once you head down the path of adjusting the past to fit modern sensibilities, you are engaged in Soviet-style history. In the old days, figures like Trotsky and Beria would simply disappear from historical photographs when their presence became politically uncomfortable."
A photo is a historical document. Altering it obscures and distorts history, like a letter or official report.

A statue pretty much always has fiction mixed in, usually intentionally, to depict the subject based an agenda - usually idealized, bigger and better.
 

Joshism

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So how does America deal with views from the past that are considered politically incorrect by current standards?
Before we can answer that question we need to establish how you define "politically incorrect." It seems to be a catchall perjative for "things the other guys of a certain political persuasion think is offensive."

Would a statue of Alexander Stephens giving his Cornerstone Speech, engraved "The negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition." be politically incorrect or just plain racist?
 

AshleyMel

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I'm so glad @Southern Unionist spoke to this post and gave this perspective! (I immediately thought of some great music too....Muscle Shoals anyone!)
Of course, I knew the songs but never the man behind them nor had I ever seen the statue.
Personally, I lived and grew up with gentleman who looked like both men so certain thoughts never entered into my mind. I'm thankful for that.
 
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Excerpt from the University of Pittsburgh's Biography of Stephen Foster:

"Another thread in the mythic fabric is that Foster dashed off perfect masterpieces in a flash of inspiration, songs expressing the sentiment of American ante-bellum South. Yet, aside from these absences, visits to the family in Ohio, and until he went to New York for good in 1860, Stephen spent much of his life in Pittsburgh where he worked consistently at his songwriting, keeping a thick sketchbook to draft ideas for song lyrics and melodies. As a professional songwriter of unparalleled skill and technique--not an untutored musical genius--he had made it his business to study the various music and poetic styles circulating in the immigrant populations of the new United States. His intention was to write the people's music, using images and a musical vocabulary that would be widely understood by all groups. Foster worked very hard at writing, sometimes taking several months to craft and polish the words, melody, and accompaniment of a song before sending it off to a publisher. His sketchbook shows that he often labored over the smallest details, the right prepositions, even where to include or remove a comma from his lyrics.

"Rather than writing nostalgically for an old South (it was, after all, the present day for him), or trivializing the hardships of slavery, Foster sought to humanize the characters in his songs, to have them care for one another, and to convey a sense that all people--regardless of their ethnic identities or social and economic class--share the same longings and needs for family and home. He instructed white performers of his songs not to mock slaves but to get their audiences to feel compassion for them. In his own words, he sought to 'build up taste...among refined people by making words suitable to their taste, instead of the trashy and really offensive words which belong to some songs of that order.' Stephen Foster is understood by some scholars as having reformed sentimental songs in black-face minstrelsy, then the most pervasive and powerful force in American popular culture.

"It is possible that the sense of compassion reflected in some of his songs was aided and encouraged by his boyhood friend and artistic collaborator [ardent abolitionist] Charles Shiras.”Pittsburgh was a center for abolitionist activities in Pennsylvania, and Shiras was a leader of the movement. Inspired by local appearances by William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, Shiras launched a crusading abolitionist newspaper, and subsequently published a volume of anti-slavery and anti-capitalist verse. He and Stephen wrote at least one song together, and a stage work that was performed but never published and is now lost."
https://www.pitt.edu/~amerimus/Fosterbiography.htm


Excerpt from Singing a New Song: Stephen Foster and the New American Minstrelsy

"Stephen Foster’s perception of slavery developed dramatically between 1847 and 1860. In a period of increasing political tension, Foster’s new “plantation melodies” may have shifted the focus of northern audiences, subtly directing them to question the misrepresentations of slave life in earlier minstrel works. Indeed, Eric Lott suggests that the drastic revision of the minstrel style was a harbinger of the armed conflict that was to come:

"Stephen Foster’s ‘Plantation Melodies’ unwittingly conjured up the hydra-headed [political] conflicts [of the era]; these melodies, and the vast dissemination of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in various politically divergent blackface theatrical productions [were] a kind of prelude to civil war on the stage [and they] offer a lens through which to read a political crisis...a revolution on American soil.[49]

"Although Foster’s early minstrel songs promote the dehumanizing stereotypes of contemporaneous blackface performance, his later “plantation melodies” are essentially non-ethnic in content.

"In a speech to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in 1855, Frederick Douglass lauded Foster’s new minstrel style:

'Considering the use that has been made of them, that we have allies in the Ethiopian songs... “Old Kentucky Home,” and “Uncle Ned,” can make the heart sad as well as merry, and can call forth a tear as well as a smile. They awaken the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish.'[50]

"These songs explore universal themes of humanity—love, nostalgia, and longing—in both their text and their music. Through their association with the blackface minstrel show, they reinforced a new understanding of slaves and slave life, allowing Stephen Foster to add his musical support to the anti-slavery movement."
https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mp/9460447.0001.203/--singing-a-new-song-stephen-foster-and-the-new-american?rgn=main;view=fulltext
 

Southern Unionist

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The problem here seems less about Foster and more about the particular statue itself. If the statue has simply depicted Foster by himself there probably would be limited outcry.
... as if Foster was somehow responsible for the fact that most black Americans were slaves at that time. It was simply a fact in his world. As a musician, how else could he have responded to this reality in a way that would have been better?

Slavery prevented most black Americans from having an opportunity to prove that they were capable of doing so much more than simple manual labor, except in music. In their free time, they could sing, play, and write whatever they wanted, and they did, providing some encouragement to white abolitionists, confirming their theories. Congo Square on Sunday afternoons became one of the best free concerts in America.

On the racism issue, it seems to me that musicians and serious music fans have always been ahead of the curve.
 
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John Winn

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On the racism issue, it seems to me that musicians and serious music fans have always been ahead of the curve.
You got that right. In this country musicians found ways to circumvent laws that attempted to separate the races.

Music is really the universal language and it can cross all sorts of barriers. Musicians are about the music and most of them know that beneath the surface we're all fundamentally the same even if our life experiences are radically different. Through music we deliver our stories and messages to others.
 

LoriAnn

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Then I guess the question is: With these various monuments, how interested is the average person in the details and/or the nuances?

What @Copperhead-mi posted would make for a really helpful (though really long) plaque. But if people continue to just see the "happy slave", then what?

"The statue has been criticized as racist for decades, and was the subject of previous reviews by city government."

"But Felder said that the issue is not Foster's own legacy, but imagery that demeans black people."


Source

That was just the first decent looking source I ran across to find exactly how much of a controversy the statue has been. I didn't realize it has been a subject up for debate for decades.

And I highlighted the second quote because really, how does one argue against this? I'm not really sure how the city could proceed in a way that would make everyone happy.
 
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