When it comes to art, how do we define historical accuracy?
We often think of history painting in terms of events long past, but current events are also depicted in images, preserving a record for the future. The relationship between the actual event and the images that document them is always questionable, but even more so when there are living eyewitnesses to the scene portrayed. Both Rosenthal’s photograph from Iwo Jima and Velázquez’s Surrender of Breda visually powerful images that offer much simpler takes on actual history than those who lived through the events experienced.
Questions to Consider
- Each of these images was created not long (relatively speaking) after the event depicted took place. How do you think an image created soon after an event might differ from one produced with greater hindsight? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of each?
- How does each of these images relate to the event it depicts? What do you think was more important in each case—“accurate” documentation of the event in question or the conveyance of a specific message through the representation of the event? What does this suggest about the purpose each image was meant to serve? Do you think these images fulfilled their original functions?
- Many people tend to think about photographs as more “realistic” or “true” to events than painting or other art forms. Do you think this is an accurate assessment? Why or why not?
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