The Place of Art along Historic Route 66: Iconic America

By Erik Prout and Maryam Karimi.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Route 66 has acquired an iconography that reflects American culture with automobiles and open-road freedom. While the iconography tends to celebrate modernity and promote a national car ideal, the reality of small forgotten places that were bypassed by the more modern freeways is struggle and isolation. Public art in these places could be dismissed as kitsch or opportunistic small-scale capitalism, but the common themes and motifs along a 2,000-mile-long stretch of America has a broader meaning. This research follows an ethnographic approach called participant observation. The authors explore Route 66 much as a tourist would, but record and document public art with photography, mapping, drawing, and field notes. In addition, we consider the cultural landscapes, the specific settings for the art—shaped by local artists, and the public interactions with the art. While expected, the predominance of automobiles as part of the artistic endeavor was conspicuous. Much of this symbolism relates to classic automobiles from the past. The emergence of motorcycles as part of the contemporary Route 66 experience was also apparent. The incorporation of mobility symbolism is highly significant as it interweaves with ideological themes of freedom and patriotism.

Keywords: Route 66, Mobility, Sense of Place, Automobile, American Southwest

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.23-39. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.450MB).

Erik Prout

Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

Erik is a cultural geographer with interests in landscapes, travel and tourism, and socio-political conflicts. He primarily teaches large regional geography courses at Texas A&M University where he is an Instructional Professor and is the author of The Geography of Texas: People / Places / Patterns. Erik wants to better understand the placelessness of small towns such as those in the American Southwest that seem mired in poverty and desolation meanwhile displaying pride and resilience. Art as a component of place is a new exploration, and exploring it along Route 66 is kicking.

Maryam Karimi

Graduate Student, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO, USA

Maryam was a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts working towards her M.S. in Design with the Department of Art, Architecture and Art History at the time of this research. She subsequently graduated in May 2012. Currently, she is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver in the Urban Planning Department. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design at the University of Art in Tehran, Iran in 2006. Maryam works at the intersection of art, design, landscapes, nature, and the cultural behavior of people in different regions. She is interested in learning more about the historical and cultural aspects of the US and recently she figured out exploring about Route 66—Mother road of the US—can be a good starting point for her research interests.