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Analysis of Barbara Kruger

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1214 words Published: 16th Aug 2018

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For this short essay writing I get an example of single contemporary artist Barbara Kruger. Barbara Kruger is an American conceptual artist. A lot of her effort consists of black and white photographs overlaid with declarative captions-in white-on-red Futura Bold Oblique. The phrases in her works frequently consist of use of pronouns such as “you”, “your”, “I”, “we”, and “they”.

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I begin my essay with the retort how Barbara Kruger be considered illustrative of Baudrillard’s or Barthes’ theories. Postmodernism was born out of a response in opposition to the policy of Modernism. Most particularly, Postmodern artists discarded the Modernist obsession with the aesthetic and began by questioning the recognized qualities tied to this aesthetic. As the Postmodern movement progressed, this critique intensified and moved beyond simply formal concerns; artists also began criticizing many underlying notions of Modernism, together with ideas about creativity and authority. Simultaneously, French philosophers Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard introduced theories concerning the rising artistic practices of appropriation and simulation. Barthes, in his elaboration on the theory of appropriation, described principles and practices that a lot of artists were employing in their critiques on Modernism. The work of American artist Barbara Kruger gives the most powerful embodiment of Barthes’ theories of appropriation.

Roland Barthes, in his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” stripped mutually authority and authorship from artists and writers, declaring, “A text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God), but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them new, blend and collide.” This theory not only described the postmodern artistic practices of the time, but it undermined Modernism’s lofty goals and claims of creating original artwork. According to Barthes, no author or artist creates something new and unique. Instead, every formed thing is a recycled regurgitation of that which preceded it.

As Postmodernism continued to develop, many artists not only acknowledged Barthes’s denouncement of originality but also embraced it as a means through which to further critique the works and tenets of Modernism. These artists favored the readymade object as more powerful than the supposedly new crafted objects shaped by Modernist artists. By openly acknowledging the process of appropriation that occurs within the manufacture of all art, these artists leveraged the power of pre-existing imagery and signs to produce “new” works with multiple layers and multiple meanings.

Barbara Kruger began her career as a graphic designer and commercial artist for publications and magazines such as Mademoiselle. Her work as a postmodern artist began to garner attention in the early 1980s; about fifteen years later than Barthes published “The Death of the Author.” Kruger’s experience in the profitable design world greatly influenced her work both officially and philosophically. She embraced both the imagery and language of advertising, combining black and white photographs with ambiguous but accusatory statements in collage-like presentations. But she concurrently rejected the philosophies of commercial advertising and the majority, by raising questions concerning gender equality, consumerism, and stereotypes.

Regarding the state of culture, In Untitled (Your Comfort is My Silence), 1981, Kruger combined a black and white image of a man’s head with his index finger over his mouth and two lines of text reading, “Your comfort is my silence.” The initial two words cover the man’s eyes, further eliminating his exact identity and reducing him to a generic symbol of masculine dominance and control. The text is presented in a combination of black text over white rectangles and white text in red rectangles in a cut-and-paste manner. By employing collage to join pre-existing imagery with authoritative statements, Kruger practices the appropriation that Barthes described. Kruger’s work also assigns an interpretive role to both the viewer and culture at large, as posited by Barthes. By keeping her statements to some extent cryptic or ambiguous, Kruger forces viewers to build meaning from their own earlier experiences, thereby actively participating in the procedure of appropriation.

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In addition I am going to cover the answers of is it simplistic for an artist to rely heavily on theory, Does “good” art go beyond theory and Are these “original” works? While Kruger and other artists who deliberately practice appropriation are most likely aware of Barthes’s philosophies and statements, it is hard to say how much their work and practice is shaped by such theory. Oftentimes theory seems somewhat reflexive to contemporary practices; critics notice existing artistic trends and then posit theories and extend technical language to describe such practices. As such, one could disagree that artistic practice influences theory just as much as theory influences the practice that follows. Certainly theory plays some role in virtually every piece or work of art, even if the producer or artist is unaware of it. Sometimes, the identical theory can even direct artists in two completely different or opposing directions. Modern theory, for example, called for aesthetic experience and formal purity, and many artists worked to attain the ideal representation of these criteria. Postmodern practice should not be viewed as alike attempt to perfectly render the theories of Postmodernism; rather, it is more perfectly a reaction against the tenets of Modern theory.

From my point of view it seems then that theory and practice share a somewhat cyclical relationship. Artists produce new work, and then critics develop theories and language to describe it. Other artists take these newly-formed theories as information for what constitutes art at the time and turn out their art accordingly. After a period of extremely following the most recently canonized theories, other artists consciously operate outside of the dominant theory or refuse it altogether and produce another new “type” of work. This appears to be a recurring trend in the relationship among art theory and art practice.

The work of artists such as Barbara Kruger, poses many essential questions and reiterates those raised by Roland Barthes. Although such artists intentionally employ the process of appropriation in producing their artwork, their works are no less “original” than that of other artists. Even Modernist painters, who so adamantly strove for originality and uniqueness, operated within the framework and visual language of the preceding millennia of art and history. As Barthes says, “The writer [or artist] can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, not at all original.” Possibly this means that, concurrently, not anything is original and everything is original.


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