Berger, John · Ways of Seeing

John Berger’s essay, borrowing ideas from Walter Benjamin and other authors covered in this course, explores the way that we see and gaze at images. Looking means different things to different people, but when we do look we look with assumptions. How we see images is affected by what we already know or believe.

There are 2 ways of viewing an image – as the maker and as the audience. When we see a work of art, its historical context is important in its interpretation. A work of art’s value is about its original context, and with devaluing an image it becomes accessible losing its preciousness. Reproduction changes seeing, as it no longer exists in its original time and space. That is a work’s uniqueness. We view art of the past differently than if we existed at the time they were created.

Chloe Wise’s silicone sculptures of bread and bags have us second-guessing what we’re looking at. Her paintings, part of the Dutch still-life genre, are remixed for the 21st Century. In addition to the fruits and vegetables normally seen, there are also cartons of soymilk and non-dairy alternatives proclaiming another type of modern wealth.

Sylvia Sleigh. At the Turkish Bath, 1976.

A good male nude is hard to find. Sylvia Sleigh’s paintings of nude men show them as whole beings, not just sexual objects for our gaze.

I love early video art because viewing it today, you can see the potential for the manipulation of images. Peter Campus’s Three Transitions (1973) is so fantastic in its simplicity, and still impresses viewers today.

Jameson, Frederic · Postmodernism and Consumer Society

Jameson argues that with postmodernism comes an erosion of the boundaries between high and low culture in reaction to the high modernism of the institution. With the emergence of consumer society and late capitalism following WWII, comes two features of postmodernism – pastiche and schizophrenia.

Pastiche is a humorless combination of different style and by schizophrenia Jameson means the breakdown of meaning between signifiers and the signified. Pastiche has no individuality or uniqueness. There is nothing new anymore. Jameson mentions nostalgia films that are a simulacra of the past, a breakdown of time and history. When signifiers lose the signified, they become merely images and add to the increasingly material-obsessed culture.

The author concludes his argument saying that because we have forgotten the past, “a disappearance of a sense of history” (p.143), we no longer remember the real and this schizophrenia leads to a perpetual present. This leads him to question the critical value of postmodern art. Postmodernism, then, can be seen as the transformation of reality into images with no truth or meaning, and the fragmentation of time and the creation of a perpetual present.

Jameson’s extreme argument against postmodern art is very depressing, although his ideas of time and reality are very captivating for someone who believes time exists in a more fluid state. His essay exposes how capitalism fuels the over inflation of select artists and the overall absurdity of the art market and its prospecting of young, emerging artists. If everything has already been done before, how is my art different? What do I have to say? Where will I be situated in art history?

How is Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993) different from a youtube video of Cher blinking for 10 minutes? Gallery context or undiscovered postmodern pop art?

Why do we value certain types of art over others? Tom of Finland is now considered “fine art”. So what changed exactly?

Why are ceramicists not as valued as painters? Ann Agee’s Lake Michigan Bathroom (1992) explores exactly why we value certain objects and things over others and the relation to class, gender, and domestic spaces.

Fashion was what got me first interested in art and although there have always been crossovers , I still feel that it is undervalued as an art form.

When I was about 10 years old I saw the movie Serial Mom (1994) introducing me to the wonderfully postmodern John Waters whose movies have continued to make me laugh and inspire. The separation between his work created for the masses, his literary endeavors, and his “fine art” is really interesting to see.

Kelly, Angela · Self Image: Personal is Political

With self-portraiture comes a certain self-awareness. Self expression is an illusion because the ideas we have are part of a larger collective experience. What we experience at a micro level is experienced by many at a macro level and when that is realized, then there is a possibility of solidarity and change. The personal is political.

Kelly argues that in regard to photography, because it is used so often as a vehicle to exploit women, it is difficult to use it as medium in which to express oppression. She believes that how a woman sees herself in part defines the role she plays. There is possibility of radicalism, though, in the context of how photographs are viewed. Women can’t just make photographs redefining our roles, they must actively challenge the stereotypes that pervade the media.

Kelly’s essay seems a little dated and second wave feminist, but her ideas around self-portraiture still hold true. It is not enough just to photograph a nude woman, but that it must be subverted in some way for it to be interesting and to challenge the stereotypes out there surrounding female sexuality. Kelly also mentions that when one takes self-portraits the moment is ‘felt’ rather than seen, and that leads to surprises as an artist. Filming myself and taking self-portraits is a way to document myself and I’m always surprised at the results. Like the author says, we usually see ourselves as static so when we turn the camera on ourselves the results can be surprising.

Seeing Nan Goldin’s photograph of herself Nan one month after being battered (1984) radicalized me when I was younger. A woman photographing herself wearing lipstick with her hair done in such a normal, everyday way while her eye is bloodshot and face disfigured brings attention to the normalization of domestic violence and violence against women and girls. If this was one month after the event, how did she look right after? The photo is raw and stomach-churning.

Petra Collin’s portraits are fascinating to look at visually because they represent they are a collision of social media, ~aesthetics~, and youth culture. Coming from a relaxed household, nudity, hair, and the female body was not a big deal but I can understand why it might be for this generation raised around celebrity worship, pornography, and increasing unattainable standards for women. The photographs of herself and of her friends capture this unique time that we are in and adds to the history of how women photographers represent themselves in their work.

Although not necessarily self-portraits, Maria Qamar, or Hatecopy as she is known, shows how she wants her culture represented through pop art, appropriation, and humor. She is turning art history on its head by subverting it and challenging stereotypes of Desi women.

Chantal Akerman’s Saute ma Ville (1968) follows the artist performing mundane daily tasks around her apartment escalating to a point where she’s just throwing things around in frustration. Frustration at the patriarchy and women’s expectations?

Kelly, Mary · Desiring Images / Imaging Desire

Kelly discusses the relationship between desire, the male gaze, looking, and women in art. Vision is about desire and a majority of art is about vision. Women are, and have always been, looked at. But we are the gazers too, it is just not always documented. Women are often reduced to their body which is a site of sexuality. What is masculine and what is considered feminine is constantly shifting. And although she may focus too much on Freud and his Oedipus Complex theory, the key question she never really answers is how women can both be subject and object in art.

Deana Lawson’s photographs capture the family and community of the African-American people she meets. The subjects of the photos stare at you as much as you stare at them, questioning who is the gazer and gazee. Now if she wasn’t a member of the Black community, what would her photos imply?

In Emma Amos’s painting Yo Man Ray Yo (2000), two women gaze at each other. Even though one is painted as an image, she is brought to life by her expression. Amos’s painting is a reaction to Man Ray’s Noire et Blanche (1926), a photograph of Kiki Montparnasse looking at an African mask.

Out of all of Audrey Wollen’s photographs, the most interesting are the ones in which she documents herself at the doctor’s office. Photographing yourself in pain or in suffering when dealing with different disabilities usually seen as either embarrassing or something only discussed in private is radical.