Shawn Huckins’s ‘revolution’ will not be televised; it will be painted
Shawn Huckins has looked at the early history of the United States and has given it new context. Taking American 18th-century paintings, he combines the images of the past with text commonly found on the present-day internet.
In his description of the project, which he has titled “An American Revolution Revolution,” he states:
The American Revolution was conceived through an exchange of a few well-formed ideas communicated in person and by handwritten letters. Imagine what George & Co. could have done with the Internet.
Imagining what the founding fathers could have done with today’s technology is not an easily answered question. Huckins describes a 21st-century world we know all too well, one comprised of instantaneous communication paired, ironically, with an increased isolation of the individual from the outside world. Would the revolution have been possible if there were YouTube trolls and constant fact-checkers? Or with so many people focused more on their phone screens than the real world around them? Who knows.
Huckins continues his project description by stating:
Technology influences how much we know and what we believe, as well as how quickly and intelligently we convey our ideas. But does how we communicate govern the value of what we communicate? The physical act of typing very fast on small devices has undeniably impacted spelling, grammar and punctuation, encouraging a degree of illiteracy that has become the new social norm. As goes our grammatical literacy, do our social and cultural literacies follow? What should we make of the fact that the political organization Move-On.org has 109,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook while Justin Bieber has 6 million plus followers on Twitter?
Huckins is right in many ways. It’s easy to see that the mechanics of writing (penmanship, spelling, grammar) are compromised by increased computer usage, but I hesitate to follow that assumption to “social and cultural literacies.” Haven’t there always been Justin Biebers in society? And haven’t there always been those who are more politically engaged than others? The internet is merely a magnifying glass on our already established interests.
What Huckins’s project makes me wonder is what kind of potential the internet has for sparking real social change. We’ve seen plenty of instances of smaller reforms made due to public outreach online, but a larger, systemic overhaul as drastic as the American Revolution was? That’s something worth wondering about.
I can’t help but assume that Huckins feels the same way. After all, his paintings are not a quick photoshopped overlay of text over paintings; they are hand-painted replicas of the original works, altered only to accommodate his project’s text addition. If Huckins is as committed to detail and craftmanship as the painters of the 18th century were, surely there are some politically enlightened minds as motivated for change as the founding fathers were a few centuries ago, right?
In the words of Huckins, “Who hasn’t panicked at the sight of no bars on their cell phone? We are enslaved to our smart devices, computers, and social networking sites as much, if not more, than by a distant king.”
All images via Shawn Huckins
H/T to Ignant