"GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GO WEST" was first stated by John Babsone Lane Soule in 1851 in the Terre Haute Express. Horace Greeley received credit later. It was an historic command and an offer. The West provided oases for entire communities seeking refuge from racial and religious persecution. Civil war veterans from both sides found opportunity for a new start in the West. The sparse population density in the territories required collaboration and cooperation for survival and provided the climate for women to be recognized as political citizens with the rights to vote and serve on juries. Economic hierarchies were shattered as the poor became land and homeowners and “second sons” managed family land trusts. However, the price for these opportunities was the displacement and destruction of the societies and nations of indigenous peoples who populated the land prior to the doctrine of manifest destiny. The MAPC firmly denounces manifest destiny and the resulting genocide of native peoples. Yet, we must recognize that we live in the shadow of our own history and the history of the American West continues to shape our present and the future that we create as a nation.
The contemporary west is a holiday destination and repository for immense natural and cultural treasures as well as a flashpoint for controversies over public lands, land use, wildlife management, water distribution and the extraction of natural resources. Changing climate and desertification, restitution and acknowledgement of historic programs of genocide and continued injustice toward native people, and the darker issues that accompany self-sufficient and separatist communities are challenges for the national parks, public lands and towns, cities and communities of the contemporary West. The issues are complex and a reflection of larger national debates.
The West continues to represent opportunity, frontiers, wilderness, and a home for idealists, individualists and the self-sufficient. It is as much an idea and symbol, an enshrinement of a set of values, as it is a physical place. “The West as America” is evident in advertising, film industry and popular imagery. The inaccurate and simplified characterizations of the people and motivations that shaped the west are used to market cars, candy bars, sports teams and cigarettes. The mythic west is certainly part of our daily lives and experience as Americans. The actual identities and communities that we have built would be unimaginable to nineteenth century Americans in the west. However, many of the underlying issues may be quite familiar.
As artists working with printmaking media we are accustomed to collaboration, cooperation and community within our studios and in our processes. Do we continue to embody the pioneers, pathfinders and trailblazers and in those roles, how do we take responsibility for and acknowledge the voices of those who were exterminated or displaced? Are we continuing to create new identities and challenge our political and social realities, or do we seek to find homesteads or create utopian communities where we are removed from others? Where is a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive West in this process? How do we seek and establish cooperation and collaboration and can we be “rugged individuals” and also “good citizens”? How do we respond to cultural expectations as artists? How do we include the perspectives and experiences of diverse communities? What do we desire for the art we make and for the communities of artists that we create? Do we continue to “Go West”?
We invite you to embark on a journey to Wyoming, still a frontier to many, and participate in a conversation at the 2018 Mid America Printmaking Council Conference. The University of Wyoming Department of Art & Art History, Laramie, Wyoming looks forward to serving as your conference host and providing exhibitions in partnership with the University of Wyoming Art Museum.