Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Privacy Fences

Michel Foucault demonstrates the power that an “all seeing eye” has on an individual, stripping him of all secretive behavior and putting his every move on display.  This extreme exposure controls every aspect of a person’s life, producing unnatural behavior.  Michael McKeon builds off of Foucault’s theory and forces the reader to think of privacy in a new way:  as a luxury.  Through an analysis of early European home blueprints, a shift from a more public and grandiose lifestyle to a private seclusion was seen.  Although flamboyancy was still valued, the contrast between public and private exponentially increased.  This was not only to prevent scandal, but also to separate the help from the Highness.  McKeon says, “At the higher social levels the boon of spatial privacy is sought in the physical separation of quality from commoners, of family from servants, and of one person from another (pg.431).”  This is seen even today by the value placed on a brand name or the year of a car.  The display of money is used as a distinction between classes of people.  Privacy fences, alarm systems, and gated communities are used almost exclusively by the upper class as a constant reminder that there is a difference between, “you and me.”  McKeon also reveals the importance of the rich being seen as they ate their elaborate meals as a show of grandeur.  This phenomenon is similar to the modern day Facebook obsession.  Status updates of big plans and elaborate vacations, workplaces, degrees, and flattering photos are publicized as a means of promoting only desirable attributes of oneself.  Privacy is usually taken for granted until it has been taken away.  Inmates are required to be strip searched frequently, and celebrities complain of the intrusive paparazzi.  Privacy is a concept valued by most, but recognized by few.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Male Body: Contrast Between High Art and Advertising

A male body depiction by Monique Lassooij

Calvin Klein Ad
Susan Bordo and Linda Nochlin explore artist's and advertiser's use of the human body in art.  Bordo investigates the advertiser's motive behind using male models to increase sales and its effect on consumers, while Nochlin analyzes high art 's methods and purpose behind depicting nude bodies.  In Nochlin's essay, "Renoir's Great Bathers," she says that the relationship between these images in high art and in other areas is either complementary or absolutely contradictory.  In the two pictures above, Bordo and Nochlin might agree, that the messages behind each image disagree. 
In the image created by Monique Lassooij, the first thing to notice is the torso of the man, depicted by harsh geometric lines creating muscle tone.  The background of the image is grey, fading into the background and even the face of the man is blurred indicating that its contribution to the image is insignificant.  The male body is without context, allowing it to simply exist and be appreciated for its natural beauty, rather than be sexually fantasized.  An image like this would not typically be seen in a female adult magazine, because its purpose is not to sexually arouse the viewer, but to celebrate beauty that can be found not at a waterfall, or a mountaintop, but within the human body.
Obviously the purpose behind the Calvin Klein advertisement is to sell this specific brand of underwear and to promote the Calvin Klein industry in general.  However, it can also be assumed that the makers behind this advertisement wanted to close the gap between men and their sexuality.  Far more women are displayed provocatively in the media than men due to this male tension.  Because of this exposure, most women are more comfortable looking at female bodies than men are looking at male bodies.  If this tension is reduced, and men can embrace and celebrate their sexuality, men are more likely to spend extra time on their appearance, including shopping for underwear.  This attempt is evident by the man lying down with emphasis on his facial expression and open legs.  This advertisement screams sexuality.
Even though the purpose behind each image is different, both messages can be appreciated.  The human body should be admired and celebrated just as we celebrate the beauty of birds, deer, and other animals found in nature, and it is also important for men to embrace their own body for the purpose of self acceptance.  However, the relationship between high art and advertising is a complex one, and this is only one example and interpretation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Even though the artists are singing the same song, the two versions of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” are completely different because of the musician’s ability to individualize the song to their own interpretation.  The song comes from the book, The Grapes of Wrath, where Tom Joad is an Okie during the great depression.  Throughout the entire book, the characters face oppression by their fellow man as they face the cutthroat world society has created with the loss of money’s comfort.  The story is a sad one, but Bruce Springsteen and The Rage Against the Machine tell it entirely different.
In Bruce Springsteen’s version the listener gets a definite feel of the melancholy aspect of the song.  With acoustic guitars and the haunting sound of the harmonica, a gloomy yet frighteningly real mood is cast while Springsteen barely whispers the lyrics.  Not only is there a heartbreaking sentiment but there is also a plea, a rally for change that moves the listener to reexamine the world they live in.  Springsteen appeals to the listener’s sense of character, and warns that this injustice cannot be tolerated.
In the version created by The Rage Against The Machine, a rock metal feel is added to the song therefore creating a feeling of resentment and fury toward the listener for allowing this unfairness to occur.  The sound of a helicopter at the beginning creates a building effect right before the lyrics start.  The singer is not necessarily yelling, but his voice is stressed, causing a reexamining of oneself rather than the rest of the world.  The listener feels almost guilty and ignorant that they didn’t see this result coming all along.  This band appeals to the emotions of the listener and authoritatively demands change.
It is eye opening to see how a song can be changed so dramatically simply by a change in instruments and the voice behind the story.  However, both methods are rather effective at pointing out society’s flaws and just how much people will take. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Berger and After (Berger and Bordo)

Although they write in two separate time periods, John Berger and Susan Bordo, share a common burden, to increase the public’s awareness of the distorted definition assigned to beauty.  Although they choose to expose this issue using two independent angles, they both plead for a change in the conception of what is beautiful. 
Berger is appalled by society’s assessment of artistic beauty.  No longer are technique, passion, and meaning the criteria for a valuable piece of art.  Instead, the price tag of the piece dictates its value.  Berger says, “Not because of what it shows- not because of the meaning of its image.  It has become impressive, mysterious, because of its market value (Ways of Seeing pg. 109).”  The very thought that this issue is affecting only the upper class, is a direct example of what Berger is trying to demonstrate.  Those that are excluded from “the elite” are being coerced into thinking that art is not available for them to enjoy and are thus being deprived of the education that only artistic creativity can provide.  History is embedded in nearly every painting, and without direct analysis by the viewer, history can be interpreted and twisted to match the agenda of those who are rich enough to experience it firsthand.  This threatens everything that history influences from tradition to morals.
Bordo is also concerned with beauty’s assessment but not in the medium in which Berger refers.  She reveals that the gender rigid boxes placed on beauty are being replaced by unrealistic ideologies of what is attractive.  Women have fought for “equality” with men, in the hopes that one day they will no longer be judged as sex objects but as capable and intelligent individuals.  Bordo describes the outcome when she states, “I never dreamed that “equality” would move in the direction of men worrying more about their looks rather than women worrying less (Ways of Seeing pg. 170).”  Instead of an equal feeling between men and women about their value to society as an individual, an equal feeling of anxiety concerning physical appearance is produced.  Inadequacy has now seeped over the gender line.  While the phrase, “no one is perfect” has been repeated countless times, perfection is what society expects, especially when appearance is concerned.  So what does this mean, a few more people realize they aren’t model material?  Bordo exposes “the diseases of a culture that doesn’t know when to stop (Ways of Seeing pg. 173)”, a frightening epidemic of anorexia, bulimia, and obsession with cosmetic surgery stemming from this idealistic propaganda.
Both Berger and Bordo reveal to the reader society’s mystified definition of what is beautiful.  Berger states that in art, monetary value is beautiful, while Bordo says that in terms of physical appearance, perfection is the key.  Both ideologies are detrimental to society and both writers’ attempts to rid the world of these falsifications can be admired.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

#1 Looking at Pictures (Berger)

Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola, by Sofonisba Anguissola

I chose the painting described as, “Bernardino Campi painting Sofonisba Anguissola,” because I felt that it had a deeper meaning than just a glance’s interpretation.  At the first look of this painting, one might assume its message is simply to portray a man showing his affection for his lover through a portrait like so many other paintings try to accomplish.  However, when I looked more closely at the man’s face, I wondered, “What exactly is the relationship between the artist and the woman in this portrait?”  I then noticed that his expression seems more authoritative than passionate.  Also, the portrait of the woman is very formal and professional, not the work of a lover depicting his better half.  I wondered if I could find the answer by asking another question:  “What is the social context surrounding the time frame in which this painting was created?   I found that in the early 1550’s there were very few successful female artists and after further research I discovered that the author, Sofonisba Anguissola , was illustrating her mentor creating her portrait (http://peterjamesfield.blogspot.com/2010/10/why-have-there-been-no-great-women.html.)  So, in a world dominated by men, this woman paints her instructor from which she learned her skill, painting her.  What is the quality of their relationship?  I speculate that if she had a deep admiration for him she would have painted her portrait smaller and her mentor larger.  Instead we see only his side profile and he seems to be fading into the background as she stands out as the focus of the image.  I am not saying that she had no respect for him, neither that she disliked him, but perhaps she was trying to make the argument that just because he was a man does not mean that he was more significant. 
I suppose that perhaps Berger would go through about the same process to extract the meaning from an image.  He also researched when the painting by Hals was created in order to know the context of the image.  Berger later said, “It is not possible to produce circumstantial evidence to establish what their relations were… Study this evidence and see for yourself” meaning that you must have proof to back up your interpretation if you are making a statement about history.  You can’t mystify the past or taint history to prove your side.  Completing this process made me realize the importance of analyzing traces of history.  If no one wondered about this image, Sofonisba Anguissola’s attempt to make herself heard in a society that wasn’t listening would have been unsuccessful.