Art and Ownership

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 9. Art & Place, Washington DC by Daniela2 Comments

Art and place have a lot to do with each other. In de Botton’s chapter Eye Opening Art, van Gogh explains to his brother why he had to move to a certain city to produce certain art pieces and achieve a purpose that could not be achieved in Paris. Art has so much to do with the place it is created that once you move it from its origin, it brings along with it the sentiment, culture, and politics of where it came from. In D.C., there are various art galleries and exhibits that cross cultural and geographical boundaries as well as sites that showcase local art.

A relationship I find interesting to explore in a place like D.C. is art and ownership. There is so much inside of D.C. that is not native of D.C. The District sometimes feels like it belongs to the United States more than it belongs to its citizens. It exists to serve the country’s greater purpose and its citizens is a secondary purpose. Do the residents of D.C. own their city? Do they get to use its buildings and its spaces for what they value or does its need to be diplomatic and inclusive as a representative land take precedent? Because of the variety of interests and the differing purposes that D.C. serves as the national capital, the imported art in the National Gallery is expansive and inclusive, covering most art movements around the world from as far back as the 13th century. Although it only presents western art, it does so in a manner that connects the US to its European roots, accommodating the need for widespread representation of the history of the Americas. The popular tourist spots do not include the local art galleries that I am sure must exist somewhere but that I could not locate without some dedicated research.

Due to my limited time to go to museums and galleries that would represent the “real” D.C., the Capitol is probably the most authentic example I could use in explaining my experience. In the Capitol, the art is very purposeful. There are two statues from each state chosen and commissioned by the state legislature that is sent to the building, representing the state’s diverse culture and past. In addition, there are many paintings and murals that depict broader US history and its founding, always maintaining focus on all states instead of D.C. as a region full of its own culture. In doing this, the Capitol is doing its job of being a representative space, but at the cost of showing the broader themes of D.C. such as the ways in which the government and political system have created their own culture in the city where it all happens. In its attempts to be a representative space for the states of this country, it does little to demonstrate what D.C. itself has to offer or what it’s like, linking it more to the US as a whole than to the ground it is standing on.

Icons that represent D.C. are not representative of D.C. but of the US overall. Florentine icons include the famous David painting and the fleur-de-lis flowered, ones that represent what lies within the city and its heritage. D.C. icons, the White House and the Capitol building do not represent D.C. as a city but as a place with a specific purpose. Representative art does not see D.C. as somewhere outside of its political and governmental realm and that aligns with my experience of this place as a whole: Washington, D.C. is so overwhelmed with its duty to the US that it is not permitted its own identity.


  1. Daniela! Your article this week is super fascinating. I am inspired by what you mention about who owns art, and more importantly, who owns the representation of the society one comes from. For instance, in D.C., perhaps the fact that the presentation of the art mirrors the political center of the United States in and of itself shapes the identity of D.C. I would like to propose to you one question, out of curiosity in your experience there – how would you elaborate on the artistic identity of D.C. as merely the focal point of American politics? Are there other identities that you wish were brought to light through the art in D.C.?

    1. Author

      Hey Momachi,

      To answer your question, I would very much appreciate if more of the art world in D.C. centered around the residents that live here as opposed to ignoring those who have a very different experience of D.C. in their day to day lives. The Washington, D.C. that its resident see is vastly different from the grandeur of the Capitol and the power of the White House. Basically, there is so much more to this area that is not featured on Capitol Hill that exists but is hard to find, and would be easier to see if more art was centered around it or if that art world was more accessible.


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