Sunday, April 17, 2011


The above postage stamp uses a stock photo of the replica statue of Liberty Bringing Enlightenment, according to a BBC report. USPS is unapologetic.

For decades, stamps were a country's proud display of their accomplishment in the arts. Engravers were highly sought after, and artists and photographers were commissioned to do their best. It used to be an honour to be asked. In 2001 USPS issued a series celebrating American illustration. Here is the Rockwell Kent stamp based on Melville's famous book, which among other themes addresses a person's control over their own thoughts and person, ie liberty:

Kent was known for his Communist sympathies, and a rather libertine life. Yet he would never have abided by the Soviet style oppression of liberties, which would have never tolerated Kent's shenanigans in return. He stayed American, his artistic contribution celebrated.

While I'm sure the replica statue photographer is pleased, I doubt he/she made anything more than the same royalty they would have made had it been used for a story in one of those free travel magazines in the back of an airplane seat. Any old shot of Liberty would have sufficed; this person just got lucky that the designer turned them up in a search engine query. I bet the designer at USPS did their own cropping too.

Isn't it a bit hypocritical? Hasn't this nation always championed artistic liberty? Yet by depriving their creative people of the chance to address the theme of liberty in a thoughtful and innovative way, by going with a yawner of an overdone icon long since drained of all but bland unthinking symbolism, they have hampered not just artists' livelihood but liberty of thought too, that is, by not adding to the variety of thought circulating out there.

Conservatives grudgingly had to tolerate Kent, by the way. As they should. Opposition is an important part of thought, of reason, of logic. Liberty allows for opposition in order to refine thought and policy, you know, as in enlightenment.

Stamp art, as representative of good governance, can rightly reflect humanist values. But now they just download something mundane from a corporate stock site. They have taken liberties, not given them. Enlightenment awaits.

[this blog post is dedicated to D.A. :-P]

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