Vietnam War Memorial Art Controversy Script

Hi everyone,

Today I want to explain the controversy around Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, built in 1982 and located in Constitution Gardens, northeast of the Lincoln Memorial. It is composed of 140 reflective black granite panels engraved with names of those who died in service. The panels form 2 converging walls placed on a v shaped path dug into the mound.

All of the issues in the controversy involves the major question: what is the purpose of the memorial? We can begin understanding why and how each stakeholder answers the question by analyzing 2 overarching themes; political and apolitical. These 2 themes not only tie stakeholders together and but also examines their individual position in this spectrum from opposing to supporting the memorial. [point and place finger around each bubble to express the range of support or against)

Let’s start with the apolitical side. The apolitical theme began with the Vietnam Veteran and Founder of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund JASON Scruggs. In his 1980 interview with NBC, Scruggs announced that the VVMF bill signed by President Jimmy Carter approved of a design that is, “not to be a political statement” about the war but rather a “contemplative, reflective,” and “conciliatory” space for the nation to heal. This need to be apolitical really came through in the selection process held by VVMF where the candidate’s name, gender, and race are not included in the entries. The winning candidate Maya Lin, a Chinese American Women who was still in college, proved the effectiveness of being apolitical especially in a time when even being a women in the field is pretty rare.

Although her win was surprising, her adherence to being apolitical was not. Lin’s background had a clear influence on her intention to free the grieving public from the hassles of politics and the morality of the war. In her press release before construction in 1981, she commented that,” The Vietnam War “never entered my world”. In fact Scruggs even mentions in his book To Heal a Nation, that one of the main reasons VVMF picked her after the initial selection process was because she “never read a book or seen a TV film clip about Vietnam”. Lin’s influence instead came from her experience at Yale University’s Memorial Rotunda. In her article “Making the Memorial”, she wrote that after seeing stonecutters add one name after another of her classmates who died in the war, she realized “the power of a name” and its impact on the grieving process. This is why the reflective granite panels only bares engraved names so visitors can focus on grief alone.

In our current extremely bipartisan political climate, it is hard for us to even imagine conservatives and liberals working together. However the bipartisan support for an apolitical design which started in the passing of the VVMF bill and furthered in the repeating recognitions by presidents of both parties, is actually a tool that politicians use to manipulate public perception of the war and the use of war. Robert K. Brigham, an international relations professor at Vassar College and a doctorate of U.S. Foreign policy, explains in his article “Monument or Memorial? The Wall and the Politics of Memory”, that at the beginning the apolitical design was crucial for politicians to distract the public with notions of grief/unification and push them away from embarrassing losses and the morality of the war. This approach soon changed when both the liberal and conservative media, such as the New Republic and National Review respectively, berated Maya Lin’s minimal design of engraved names, equating it to a police list for bus accidents. He explains that politicians were pushed by media’s harsh critiques to change the narrative from the focus of a united common grief to a sense of nobility by connecting the sacrifice of Vietnam soldiers to the liberation agenda of War 1 & 2 soldiers [point to Reagan and Clinton’s faces] and in turn “cleansing Vietnam from America’s record”. According to Brigham, cleansing America’s record is crucial to both parties because without changing the public’s negative perception of war, politicians would lose the threat and effect of war as a tool in their political arsenal, greatly reducing America’s power and influence over the world. Which is why the members of Congressional Selection Committee who granted the land for the memorial, adamantly demanded the addition of Frederick Hart’s statue The Three Soldiers in order to symbolically connect the Vietnam war with previous wars; knowing perfectly the statue would completely destroy Lin and VVMF’s apolitical efforts.

Another group who wanted to change the memorial and viewed memorials as political tools were the Vets. They believed Maya Lin’s design is an act of aggression towards vets. One of the most vocal opponents Tom Carhart asserts that to the average vet who weren’t highly educated or acquainted with high art, the black tone of the granite represents “the universal color of shame and sorrow and degradation” and the sloped surface is a further insult to wounded and disabled vets. Instead, Cahart explains that Vets just want a monument to “offer emotional comfort to vets and the families” by commemorating the war so that they can get by knowing their sacrifice wasn’t for nothing (Wolfson).

Memorials are special because they are not only great public spaces to celebrate but also to mourn. However its meaning not only differs to each one of us but also with time and the change in public perception. So Next time you visit a memorial think about the underlying meaning for not only those it was built for but also the intentions of those who built it.

Word Count: 1030

Works cited

Brown, J. Carter “Statement on S2042.” 1988, pp. 1 to 3.

Brigham, Robert K. “Monument or Memorial? The Wall and the Politics of Memory.” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques, vol. 25, no. 1, 1999, pp. 165–175. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Klein, Christopher. “The Remarkable Story of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”, 11 Nov. 2015,

Lin, Maya. “Making the Memorial.” The New York Review , 2 Nov. 2000.

Wolfson, Elizabeth. “The ‘Black Gash of Shame’—Revisiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Controversy.” Art21.Org, Chris Ware , 15 Mar. 2017,

An Outsider Guide to Voice Recitals

Target Audience: Any invitee to a Syracuse voice recital.

Time/Date Attended: 8:00 pm February 17 2018

Having performed in violin recitals for most of my public school education, I was always intrigued by voice recitals. The school orchestra rarely ever performed with singers as they were quartered off with the jazz club. So when a friend asked me to go see her friend Sarah Schriner’s senior recital at Crouse Hall, the answer was obvious.

Assuming the occasion was very formal as it was for my graded violin recitals, I dressed in my best suit and tie, expecting everyone else would too.

I was completely wrong.

What to REALLY Expect

To college music students, final recitals do not determine the singer’s grade as you would expect but is rather a way for students to achieve the Performance Honors title (SUVPA, 2). It is really a social event for students to impress you with what they have learned.

Although formality isn’t heavily required for the audience, you can definitely expect it from the artist’s quality performance to her every introduction. The recital is strictly organized into 4 stages: beginning introduction to welcome attendees and teachers, the first set of three classical songs, intermission (a 15 minute dress change), the last set of three contemporary songs, and closing remarks (SUVPA, 2). Formality is so important to the Schriner that you can definitely expect her to step off and on the stage before introducing the next song and its required background performers even though they sometimes are the same performers as before!

Another attention to formality is the performer’s attire. Even though all the performers wore black, you can definitely tell the instrumental performers and the reciting artist apart. While the performers wore shirts, dress pants and shoes in an indistinctive matte black for all the songs, Schriner wore shiny silver shoes, earrings and necklace to contrast her jet black braid hair and \ pattern embroidered velvety black dress for only the classical songs. To better suit her contemporary and jazzy songs such as “The End of a Love Affair” by Edward C. Redding (1965), she wore a silky dark blue open back top, black dress pants, and shiny slim black stilettos. To invite you into mood of the music even more, Schriner even released her tied hair at the climax of the song: a true testament to performance formality.

But for the audience, you can expect the opposite.

What to Wear

While many music teachers, through their handouts, would advise you to wear from business casual or formal clothing, it is definitely not the case for college recitals (Phillips, “Recital Etiquette).

In the sparsely seated Setnor auditorium, attendees wore very casual clothing ranging from hoodies and sweatpants to sweaters and jeans. Some even wore their most comfortable pajamas. After asking my shark pajama-wearing neighbor why the dress is code is so relaxed, she explained that the recital is “a casual social performance to celebrate the singer’s last year”, not a formal academic test.

She went on explaining that music students are required to attend at least 12 recitals each year. Thus to music students, who were most of the attendees, the recital is a very common occurrence to fulfill a quota, warranting casual clothing. To blend in, you can definitely comfortable casual clothing and be able to focus on the performance instead of itchy collars or uncomfortable shoes!

How to Act

While the attendee dress code may be lax, there are a few unspoken rules that you can tell regular attendees follow strictly.

Many online handouts by music teachers such as Kristin Phillips’ “Recital Etiquette” may describe seating as random and “first come first serve”, but when you enter Crouse Hall’s glamorous wooden bracketed Setnor auditorium you can clearly see an order. Instinctively, groups of attendees distance themselves from the stage based on their relationship to the recitalist where friends and family sit closest, followed by professors, and lastly dispersed pairs of classmates who are there to fill their quota. So when picking out seats or saving seats for a friend, please consider your group’s relationship to the artist to not hurt his or her feelings!

Another unspoken rule that many music teachers repeat but never elaborate is when to stop chatting, cheering and clapping. Phillips simply suggests, “refrain from any talk, whisper, or chatter during the performances” in her list of rules, but fails to mention exactly when (Phillips, “Recital”).

Throughout the recital, you can clearly hear chatting, cheering and clapping start exactly when Schriner the recitalist stops and end suddenly when she steps on the stage as if the audience of mostly music students is trained to do so. However, they really are. During the intermission (15 minute break), my shark pajama wearing neighbor explains to me that freshman music students were scolded by TAs until they follow the rule automatically. So, to avoid glares and shushes, no noise after the singer steps on stage!

The last rule and the most important rule is to not criticize the performer in any way during the entire performance and the reception! If you do so be ready to be ignored by your neighbors for the entire event!

How to Enjoy the Music

One way to enjoy the music is to find a famous performance of it prior to the recital by locating the recital program (the list of music and its composers) on the school page and then compare that performance to the recitalist’. But to avoid breaking the last rule, you can only share your insights with yourself in this case.

“The better way” my shark pajama wearing friend told me, “is to talk about how the voice recitalist sings with the instrumental performer”. Meaning, she recommends discussing with others about how the tone, pace and pitch of the recitalist’s voice compares or reacts to the melody produced by the background instrument. For instance, I told her I really appreciated how Schriner treated the “La Vie En Rose” climax where her crescendo (an increase in loudness) is paired with the background piano’s diminuendo (a decrease in loudness and pitch) to emphasize her voice as it increases pitch and loudness.

“La Vie En Rose” performed by Edith Pilaf on Youtube

Like many recitals before hers, Shriner’s voice recital is split between classical and contemporary with mostly German composers for classical songs (Dalton, 7). J.T. Dalton, a graduate music student who wrote his thesis on college voice recitals patterns, predicted accurately the nationality of Shriner’s songs, which were pre-approved by her professor Jonathan English (SUVPA, 2).

Dalton states that for classical selections, “Austro-German composers were most prominent at 38 percent, followed by Americans at 17.6 percent” compositely from 297,888 recitals from 1880 to 1975 (7). He furthers by explaining that, “women recitalists tended to favor American contemporary works more than did the men” (53). Shriner’s list of songs perfectly follow this trend if you look at her program where two of the three classical songs are German and five of all the 8 songs are American.

In his conclusion that “dominance of the Austro-German group is borne out by the prominence of composers Schubert, Schumann”, Dalton even names Schubert, the composer of a song Schriner’s professor chose (84). By knowing this background, you can engage a conversation with not only the recitalist but also her mentor during reception!

Post Recital

When the performance ends, the social aspect of the event comes alive in the reception. After closing remarks, the recitalist will guide the audience to the reception giving you the opportunity to meet, talk, and give flowers to her.

Conversations usually start with congrats or thanks for the performance but are mainly about the recitalist’s personal life. If you don’t know the artist personally, you can talk about the performance but they are usually are in the two types mentioned previously. To me, the reception is what makes recitals so great because you get to know vocal artists from a personal basis before they become inaccessible mega stars we could barely see on stages miles away.

Word Count : 1336

Works Cited

Dalton, J. T. (1980). “An Analysis Of Programming Patterns Of Undergraduate Solo Vocal Recitals As Found In Selected Educational Institutions For The Academic Years 1964-65 Through 1974-75”. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303028160). 23 Feb. 2018,

Phillips, Kristin. “Recital Etiquette.” Musicteachershelper, Brandon Pearce, 23 Feb. 2018,

SUVPA. Sarah Schriner Senior Voice Recital . Sarah Schriner Senior Voice Recital , SUVPA, 2018.

Viewing Las Meninas through Its Mirrors

Exhibited in Madrid’s Museo Nacional Del Prado, Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez (1656) has been considered by art historians as one of the most pivotal paintings in the progression of portraiture. However, to the common museum goer, the piece seems to be an ordinary oil painting of many figures; not standing out from the other Baroque style paintings depicting group portraits.

When I first saw the painting in the Baroque wing of the Museo Nacional Del Prado, I too had the same reaction. It looked like many other royal portraits of the Spanish and Dutch Baroque styles where there is a dark background of a portrait filled hall and a dark green palette to accentuate the dramatic light on the royal figure and his/her subjects. After reading Fred S. Kleiner’s Gardner’s Art through the Ages, I realized I was wrong to interpret the piece directly from one dimension. Kleiner recommends readers to focus individually on the relationships between the figures and the viewer, the portraits to the viewer, mirrors to the viewer, and mirrors to the figures (198). Or simply; see the painting not only from the perspective of a viewer towards a flat image, but rather from the viewpoints of the painted figures either in the scene or reflected in a mirror.

Las Meninas, Diego Velázquez (Madrid, 1656)

In an epiphany, the hidden meaning and significance of the painting became perfectly clear. Using one portrait, Velázquez had depicted the royal family and their subjects through multiple dimensions by implying this image could be seen from at least three different major viewpoints. Thus “dimension”, in this context, is determining who is looking at this image and from where.

For example when you look at the painting in a quick glance, the first thing you see is the brightly lit princess Infanta Margaret Theresa (who is the focal point) and a few of her meninas (ladies in waiting). The high contrast makes the darker figures behind the princess, especially Velázquez himself, obscured in the first glance. This assumes that you are simply looking at a flat image depicting a space and you are facing it, establishing the first dimension. When you look again, your focus will shift away from the princess to the figure of Velázquez standing behind an easel as if he is pondering his next brushstroke. This is crucial because it implies Velázquez, not you, is looking at a mirror reflecting the image. Thus the painting has transported you from looking at the painting in a museum to Velázquez looking at a reflection of the image in the hall of King Philip IV’s royal palace, creating the second dimension. After this minor discovery, the true epiphany is unveiled as your eyes wander to the background and see what at first seems to be a portrait of a couple but actually is a mirror’s reflection of King Philip and Queen Elizabeth of France inspecting the scene of Velázquez painting their daughter and subjects. This second mirror plunges you into the third dimension by implying you move from Velázquez’s perspective to the King and Queen’s view who are facing Velázquez. Thus with one flat image, Velázquez has transported your “conscience” from the museum to Velázquez’s viewport to the King’s perspective in his royal palace in 1656, creating an ultimate experience of multidimensional awareness.

Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck (1434)

While Velázquez’s painting is shockingly innovative for its time, Las Meninas was not the first to explore the concept of multiple dimensions but rather the visual epitome of the theme. In fact Velázquez was heavily influenced by Jan van Eyck‘s Arnolfini Portrait (1434), a painting he purchased for King Philip IV’s personal collection where the illusion of a second dimension is implied by a distorted reflection in a mirror placed between the two figures (Kleiner, 200). The idea of multi-dimensional awareness and illusion was also developing in Spanish literature of that era. For instance in Don Quixote , Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote (1615) the main character does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out an imaginary story. Don Quixote’s imaginary story is based on famous tales to emphasize that he is living out his own story (Kleiner, 205). The multidimensional concept is also in plays such as Calderón de la Barca’s play Life is a Dream:

“What is a life? A frenzy. What is life?

A shadow, an illusion, and a sham.

The greatest good is small; all life, it seems

Is just a dream, and even dreams are dreams”

Besides being an apotheosis of its period, Las Meninas also influenced how art can be “Modern”. In his book The Order of Things, Michel Foucault explains that the painting started, “a new episteme, or way of thinking representation, freed finally from the relation that was impeding it, can offer itself as representation in its pure form” (31). This means that the painting triggered the Modern notion of depicting ideas or emotions separate from the realistic form. This is clearly evident because Las Meninas wasn’t famous for how accurately the human form is depicted but rather its ability to use an illusion to express an abstract experience.

According to Kleiner, Velázquez’s use of illusion and multidimensional awareness heavily influenced both Picasso’s work in Cubism and Dali’s in Surrealism. In Ma jolie (1911), Picasso combined visual and auditory dimensions by layering symbols of sheet music from his favorite song Ma jolie in a way that represents features of his lover (also nicknamed Ma jolie) depicted from different sides (345). Just like Las Meninas, Ma jolie seems physically flat from the layers of sheet music but expresses multiple dimensions abstractly.

Velázquez’s ingenious method of layering dimensions in a flat image is further explored with a new medium in Dali’s Surrealist photo series “In Voluptas Mors” (1951). In these photos, Dali positions himself in the foreground with an inquisitive pose and then placed 7 naked women in the background. These women are positioned to resemble a skull, creating an illusion between the 2d skull and the 3d women. Again just like Velázquez, Dali asks viewers to question their perspective of reality. In conclusion, Las Meninas is not only historically important for its novel ability to place expression of ideas above literal representation, but also its influence on the Modern notion of freeing expression from literal representation.

After seeing and then reading about Las Meninas, I have learned beyond why the painting is a masterpiece. It has showed me how to enjoy paintings by not only seeing them as compositions of forms, color, and textures, but rather as images of ideas. More specifically, paintings are not direct channels of information like diagrams, but rather enigmatic puzzles that both you and the artist try to piece together as you try to figure out what the painting means and the artist ponders the next stroke.

1140 Words

Works Cited

Calderón, de B. P, and Edwin Honig. Life Is a Dream: A Play. New York: Hill & Wang, 1970. Print.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Print.

Gardner, Helen, Richard G. Tansey, and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages. , 1996. Print.