Blog / Visual Baggage


By Brooke Hartley

Art is not a spectator sport. Upon viewing a particular work of art, an observer actively takes part in the visual experience, generating a reaction as a consequence of his or her specific biases, beliefs, memories and goals. As a result of this process, images are injected with stereotypes that consequently give the work significance. Arguably, this phenomenon is what fuels our interest in artistic experiences and transforms mere visual imagery into something personal and consequential.

Thus, in the wake of President Obama’s recent speech at Cairo University, it is relevant to consider how political and social stereotypes shape our artistic perspective. Addressing both the United States and the Middle East, President Obama’s call for change and cooperation underscored the ways in which perceptual baggage would hinder any efforts made towards peace and mutual understanding. Along this vein, he stressed, “I have known Islam on three continents … that experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what is isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

With this in mind, one cannot deny the ways in which stereotypes have shaped our sense of the world and personalized our reality.

It seems perfect timing to come see the installation of David Roberts’ lithographs at the Nasher Museum. While President Obama speaks of stereotypes as a collective attitude, the individual stereotypes we privately harbor are just as relevant. These perspectives have the potential to surface through our experiences with works such as Roberts’ representations of the Holy Land.

Come visit the exhibition and take in Roberts’ images. Evaluate your own response. Consider the origins of your reaction. This is the start of progress.

IMAGE: David Roberts, “Jerusalem, Church of the Purification,” 1842-1844. Color lithograph. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

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