Working on my new classroom!
I have these hanging up, but it’s very difficult to put them in a spot where all of the students can see them. Trying something new this year where we focus solely on them for the first week or two before our larger projects begin.
One of the most striking things about many of the curriculum projects was the routine use of appropriated materials. Whether created in the spirit of Romare Bearden’s histories of the African-American experience composed of fragments of found photos (Bearden & Henderson, 1993) or Kenny Scharf’s Junkie, in which painted purple vines entwine on a yellow field of retro insecticide ads (Tony Shafrazi Gallery, 1998), the student artwork often used print materials as the stuff out of which their art was composed. For the students, recycling imagery felt comfortable and commonplace. If one lives in a forest, wood will likely become one’s medium for creative play. If one grows up in a world filled with cheap, disposable images, they easily become the stuff of one’s own creative expression.
Robert Rauschenberg revolutionized expressive painting when he substituted the seemingly random juxtaposition of found images for personally generated abstract marks (Forge, 1972). The modernist principle of contrast is not adequate to describe the energy generated by bringing together radically disparate elements, an artistic strategy utilized since Dada photomontage and Surrealist objects such as Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered teacup (Burckhardt & Curiger, 1996). The term juxtaposition is useful in helping students discuss the familiar shocks of contemporary life in which images and objects from various realms and sensibilities come together as intentional clashes or random happenings.
Often, positioning a familiar image in relationship to pictures, symbols, or texts with which it is not usually associated generates meaning in an artwork. Hannah Höch, an early Dada proponent of the new medium of photomontage, created provocative works by recombining found imagery. In Die Braut of 1927, winged objects swirl around the central image of a traditional bride and groom. The woman’s head is replaced by an oversized image of a young child’s face (Makela & Boswell, 1996). This simple visual move changes any potential romantic fantasy readings of the bridal couple, shifting the focus to society’s degrading legal, religious, and cultural conventions regarding the status of women.
Though deconstruction has a more specific meaning in the theory of Jacques Derrida (Glusberg, 1991), in everyday art world parlance, recontextualization and deconstruction can often function synonymously. The magazine Adbusters has many examples of deconstructing contemporary advertisements by pairing the original ads with fragments of other images and texts that contextualize the consumer fantasies within environmental and global justice discourses.(FN5)
As images become cheap and plentiful, they are no longer treated as precious, but instead are often literally piled on top of each other. Layered imagery evoking the complexity of the unconscious mind is a familiar strategy in Surrealist art and of early experimental approaches to photography. In postmodern works by artists such as David Salle, Sigmar Polke, and Adrian Piper, the strategy evokes the layered complexity of contemporary cultural life (Fox, 1987; Grosenick, 2001). Multiple layers of varying transparency will increasingly be a readily available strategy to students because it is a common feature of most digital imaging programs such as Adobe Photoshop(R) (Freeman, 2001).
INTERACTION OF TEXT & IMAGE
In a 1990 montage, artist Barbara Kruger paired a photograph of a woman, peering through a magnifying glass, with a greatly enlarged eye, with the text “It’s a small world but not if you have to clean it” (Emerson, 1999, p. 127). The text does not describe the work, nor does the image illustrate the text. The interplay between the two elements generates rich and ironic associations about gender, social possibilities, and cleanliness. Students who make and value art in the 21st century must learn not to demand a literal match of verbal and visual signifiers, but rather to explore disjuncture between these modes as a source of meaning and pleasure.
Many contemporary artists incorporate various media into their pieces, using whatever is required to fully investigate the subject. Contemporary artists routinely create sculptural installations utilizing new media such as large-scale projections of video, sound pieces, digital photography, and computer animation. Indeed, multi-media works of art are now encountered in contemporary museums and galleries more frequently than traditional sculpted or painted objects.
The concept of hybridity also describes the cultural blending evident in many works. New York and Tokyo-based Mariko Mori draws on costuming, make-up, popular culture, and traditional Buddhist beliefs to create complex photographic and video installations. Her work explores boundaries between spirituality and cyberculture, between the human and the re-creation of the human through technology (Fineberg, 2000).
In Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, the traditional meaning of the saccharine image is challenged when it is presented with an even more stereotypical depiction of a wide-eyed, red-lipped African-American woman holding a broom in one hand and a rifle in the other, juxtposed with a life-size Black Power clenched fist (Broude & Garrard, 1994). By shifting the context within which a familiar advertising image is seen, students spontaneously question who creates and controls imagery and how this imagery affects our understandings of reality—an important activity of visual culture art education.
The term gaze is frequently used in contemporary discourses to recognize that when talking about the act of looking, it is important to consider who is being looked at and who is doing the looking (Olin, 1996). Gazing, associated with issues of knowledge and pleasure, is also a form of power and of controlling perceptions of what is “real” and “natural.” Much critical theory in art history and film studies makes use of the term to investigate how our notions of “others” are constructed through proprietary acts of looking and representing. For example, consider the standard art historical discussion of Gaughin’s depiction of Tahitian women in which his Orientalist theories and projections of spirituality, timelessness, and sensuousness determine our perception of the women (Janson, 1968).
U.S. urban street slang for proclaiming one’s identity and affiliations, representin’ describes the strategy of locating one’s artistic voice within one’s own personal history and culture of origin. David Wojnarowicz grounded his art in his experiences as a young, gay man in New York during the emerging AIDS crisis (Scholder, 1999). Tracey Emin makes funky mixed media paintings and objects that investigate all aspects of her life, including crummy jobs, alcohol abuse, and sexuality (Riemschneider & Grosenick, 1999). Shirin Neshat creates video installations and photo text works that explore the psychological conditions of women in Islamic societies (Grosenick, 2001). It is important that art classes provide students with opportunities for meaningful self-expression in which they become representin’, self-creating beings. These opportunities should allow students to see examples of contemporary artists using artmaking to explore the potentials and problems inherent in their own cultural and political settings (Gude, 2003).
[From: Postmodern Principles: In search of a 21st century art education by Olivia Gude, 2004]