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The National Endowment for the Humanities has initiated a new program, Picturing America, to promote American art in the classroom. (I learned about it from Margaret Soltan, reporting on a lecture by John Updike at the launch; a version of his text is here.) The heart of the program is a virtual exhibit, distributed to schools as a set of reproductions, and also visible online in a well-designed chronological gallery.
Some caviling aside – the “wall text” for the images isn’t great, and the selections of sculpture and architecture are fragmentary compared to the paintings – the “exhibit” is really impressive: substantial but digestible, “link-rich” without distraction, and consistently strong in selection without sacrifice of breadth. You may not come away knowing what’s American about American art (neither, as Soltan points out, does Updike), but you’re sure to be surprised. A few surprises for me: Whistler’s “Peacock Room”, a cinematic Hopper , a challenging Romare Bearden collage. Check it out.