Ross Orgiefsky, a sophomore at Fordham College at Lincoln Center in New York, received an honorable mention award for Art History from the Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation.
He wrote in his student statement: “Art opens doors to palaces of culture and emotion, and I want to encourage more people to experiences these spaces. This is why I study Art History.
“Art has a way of equalizing viewer and creator – a work of art moves you, touching the humanity within us all. By sharing these moments of feeling, differences can be bridged, and minds can be opened to the social issues plaguing our globe. As a student in New York City, I feel so fortunate to share the sidewalks with hundreds of languages and cultures. Working to undo the prejudices learned by growing up in a fairly homogenous midwestern town, each day I am thankful for diversity. I wish to share that thankfulness and use art to celebrate human diversity.”
The essay question for Spring 2020 was: Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker were fascinated by Indigenous cultures. Compare and contrast these two paintings: “Ceremonial Gathering” 1967 © EIleen Monaghan Whitaker 22×30 inches which shows Native Americans in the U.S. Southwest and “Dawn, November Second” which shows Mexicans in the cemetery at Tsintsuntsan.
Beginning with a purely formal analysis, the similarities in composition are balanced by differences in color palette between the two works. In “Ceremonial Gathering,” Monaghan employs warmer colors to brighten the work and complement the pale sienna wash used on the paper. These warmer colors are largely absent in Whitaker’s “Dawn, November Second.” When used, they lack the vibrancy as seen in Monaghan’s work.
Compositionally, the two works share a generous depth of field, Whitaker more obviously using aerial perspective to convey this depth. Both works are focused groups of individuals. In Monaghan’s piece, the eye travels from foreground to background, lingering on the brightly dressed woman on the left. The composition is extremely well-balanced, as the foreground/background juxtaposition on the right is met on the left by a focal middle-ground concentration. In Whitaker’s piece, the primary focal point is again the middle-ground, specifically the group of men farther toward the background than the woman in Monaghan’s piece. Whitaker’s piece resembles a landscape, in part due to the low horizon and comparatively flatter foreground/middle-ground.
The subjects of these pieces are similar: partially forested outdoor spaces and the people who gather therein. Whitaker paints with larger brushstrokes than Monaghan and uses more diluted pigment for a generally more washed effect. Monaghan’s work has a more heterogenous distribution of color concentration, with more defined linework and detail. As such, it appears that Monaghan places a greater emphasis on color in comparison with Whitaker’s emphasis on light. Contrast is used to call attention to the men at the work’s focal point and to set a somber tone to the piece, which stands against Monaghan’s uniform brightness, conveying a carefree scene. This somber tone calls attention to the cemetery setting.
Speaking culturally, the two works highlight important similarities among native North American peoples. In both, community is central to balance. People are in conversation with one another – literally and compositionally. In Monaghan’s work, the two women at the lower right meet the eye of the viewer, signifying a bridge between insider and outsider. Despite ceremony, there is an acknowledgment of the observer. This serves as a powerful metaphor for diversity in North America today. Neither piece shows evidence of the colonizer, and the similarities in dress (take for example the vest-clad man in the brimmed hat and blue shirt on the upper left in Monaghan’s work, and any of the men in Whitaker’s work) emphasize the similarities between these two North American cultures. Placing the works in dialogue with one another, they subtly argue that borders are imagined, and cultural ancestry crosses modern political definitions of here and there, you and me. The ceremonial brightness of Monaghan’s work, when seen in context, only mirrors Whitaker’s darker composition. The subjects’ dress and attitudes, while formally in contrast, are similarly reflecting their circumstances. These two works are prime examples of art as a tool for cultural education. Furthermore, this shows that a work of art is often better understood in dialogue with another.
Despite differences in use of color, light, and the brush, these two artists have depicted culturally similar scenes. When compared, the two compositions and contexts merge to build a fuller picture of native North American peoples. This type of analysis is key when using art as a space in which to bridge an ideological divide.