The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

ART/WRITE – Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

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Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940)


1. Biography

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith was born in St. Ignatius, Montana, raised on the Flathead Reservation and is an enrolled Salish member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation of Montana. Her early childhood was difficult, as Smith went to work at the age of eight to help out her family who had very little. She also had to live in foster homes as a child and went to public schools where she faced open discrimination because she was Native American. Despite this difficult childhood, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education from Framingham State College in 1976 and a Masters of Art degree at the University of New Mexico in 1980.

Her heritage as a Native American plays prominently in her artwork and in her life’s work. She has committed herself to improving the education and the preservation of Native American culture. After completing art school and establishing herself as a very successful contemporary artist, Smith worked to raise funds for scholarships and textbooks for the college on her reservation. She has been active as a spokesperson and historian for Native artists that she feels are unappreciated. Smith is also an environmental activist, motivated by a concern of the destruction of the land and its peoples.

Using a combination of representational and abstracted imagery, Smith paints over clippings from newspapers, photographs and textbooks. Smith’s work as an artist visually communicates her concerns about the land, government oppression and commercial misrepresentations of Native American culture and histories. Spam, like much of Smith’s work, is about the contrasting perspectives of land between Euro-Americans and Native Americans. In her own words, “Euro-Americans see broad expanses of land as vast, empty spaces. Indian people see all land as a living entity. The wind ruffles; ants crawl; a rabbit burrows. I’ve been working with that idea for probably twenty years now.”

The painting Spam works to raise the viewer’s awareness of the almost total elimination of the bison, an animal species central to the life of Native Americans. During the nineteenth century, killing campaigns of the bison brought the animal close to extinction. Smith explains the imagery and text, “tell a story about the Indian peoples’ loss of the buffalo and having to eat commodity food or poor people’s food such as Spam. This is not a story of yesteryear but today’s story as well” (personal communication, May 7, 2013).


Serwer, J.D. (1996). American kaleidoscope: Themes and perspectives in recent art. New York:   Distributed Art Publishers.

Tremblay, G. (nd). Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Flathead contemporary artist. Retrieved from                 http://www.missoulaartmuseum.org/files/documents/collection/Montana%20ConnectionsSmith/TremblayEssay.pdf

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Retrieved from http://www.nwhp.org/whm/smith_bio.php

2. History

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s painting Spam relies heavily on the use of text to convey its message about the politics and history of food on native lands. The roots of this practice go back to the rise of modern art in the late 1800’s Europe with artists like Pablo Picasso and George Braque. For these Cubist artists, words were viewed as another visual element, like shapes or lines.  Besides the words being used as a formal element, they also worked to communicate the meaning of the work of art more directly.

By the 1960’s the use of text had become a very common compositional element in contemporary Native American art. Native artists at the time were predominantly concerned with the invisibility of Native people politically as well as the feeling that native histories had been erased or white-washed by the history books. Art then became a way to combat this “official narrative” and text was seen as a more direct and powerful means by which to bring attention to the historical accounts of Native people.

Quick-to-See Smith began including words in her paintings in the late 1980’s. Including words cut from newspapers articles or other source materials, the artist collaged these words directly onto the surface of the canvas. Later, Quick-to-See Smith began to stencil words onto the painting as well (example “SPAM”). The pairing of carefully selected text cut from newspapers like “Put Your Trust in the Land”, “You Could Say We’ve Arrived” and “Minding the Menu”, help to translate the visual language in her work.

“Whether they [native artists] are using text to speak clearly, enhance narrative, combat silence, rewrite history, speak metaphorically, convey rhythm or express states of mind or body, contemporary Native American artists have shown that language is an ideal medium for personal for personal and political expression. In this respect, it is the perfect complement to art itself”.


Morris, K. (2009). Reading between the lines: Text and image in contemporary Native American art.       American Indian art magazine. 34(2), pp 52-59.

3. Writing Exercises

Description- Free Write

Look closely at the image for five minutes, then free-write about what you see for two minutes. Reading what you wrote, circle the most important idea to you. Take another minute to look closely at the painting, then free-write about this idea for another two minutes. Stop again and take a minute to read what you wrote and look closely at the painting.  Circle the most important idea that you just wrote and free-write for two more minutes about this idea.

Share responses with other students. Compare what you see. How are your responses similar and different?

Descriptive/ Narrative Writing- Farcebük Page

Use descriptive writing and practice seeing from another point of view to talk about an art work or an artist using a familiar social media format. Use the farcebük worksheet.

Imagine that Jaune Quick-to-See Smith is your friend on a social media website. Create a “farsebük” conversation between you, Quick-to-See Smith and other friends on your wall. Cite specific examples from the painting SPAM in your conversation.

  • What would you ask the artist about their work or life?
  • How would the artists respond?
  • What factors might influence the artist’s comments?

Persuasive- Interpretation

Artists use subtle elements within a work of art to convey a meaning, such as gesture, color or line. SPAM’s image contains many clippings from newspapers and magazines. What do these texts say? What do they mean? Complete a “What I See- What it Means” worksheet in order to analyze the message/s of SPAM. Record the denotations and connotations of the work and then share your findings with the class. Summarize the overall main ideas and meaning of the painting in a short essay citing the visual evidence to support your conclusions.