“Art is obviously art, right?.. Dance is art. TV and movies are leisure, I guess. But what about ‘the cinema’ that high-toned and serious activity? Pop has got to be leisure…Music is a littler bit of both, depending on the music…and where does architecture fit in, with its careful collapse of form into function?”  What Barbra Kruger was trying to say here is that art is much more than meets the eye. Many people look at any type of art whether it is a photograph, a drawing, a painting, etc. and simply stop there. They do not look deeper into the image itself. That is something that we have been learning to do constantly through the first weeks in this course. We have been taught with great pedagogy to frequently look deeper in multiple images. Pedagogy is essentially the art or science of teaching; education; instructional methods. One thing we have been taught is the numerous amounts of “ways of looking” at an image. Now many people probably think nothing of this saying. But in the Cartwright’s book, “The Way of Looking” they explain that, “to look is to actively make meaning of that world.”  They go on to explain that a single image can have several meanings and purposes, we as the viewer just need to look at them in the right way. Since we see images every single day I believe that many people have become numb to this concept, the images around them simply blend in with the surroundings. But this is something that we are encouraged to break out of in this course; we are now understanding that these images are the very items that shape our life completely without us even acknowledging it. There are several details that go into an image other than the way we view it.
Another key point in an image is how it is represented. “Representations refers to the use of language and images to create meaning about the world around us.”  Each image whether it is a simple photograph or a decorated advertisement represents something. If there was a photograph of a homeless man in Africa and the viewer had no context to that image that man would represent all of Africa to him. This goes for every image, we just have to analyze them a little more than the ordinary person. “Images have been used to represent, make meaning of, and convey various sentiments about nature, society, and cultures.” This is the great power of a single image, many photographers do not understand the concept of this “representation” because each and every picture holds it, whether it was intended or not.
This representation of an image has a lot of power. So much power that I believe people do not even understand what one simple image can do. One image with a strong enough representation of something and enough power can change a culture. Now power is something that people can gain, more or less. But the term I want to focus on more is the term hegemony. Hegemony is defined as the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.  It essentially has to do with influence. This is something that can be related to images and media. There is always a person or persons who are behind each image that we see. Depending on their reasoning for it some of these images are entertaining, but others are influential. I would define this group of artists as a group with great hegemony. It says in “The Ways of Looking, that “Gramci’s concept of hegemony has been useful among critics who want to emphasize the role of image consumers in influencing the meanings and uses of popular culture in ways that do not benefit the interests of producers and the media industry.”  In other words, these are the images that want to prove a point rather than lie to the people. This is what the term hegemony truly means to me.
These artists who carry this meaning of hegemony go against the grain. They go against the popular culture in a way. Since popular culture is essentially the entirety of ideas, attitudes, perspectives, images, and media in the current culture. It is technically the popular things of today, whether it is an image or a new idea it falls under popular culture. I could strongly say that Instagram or Vine, which are two social networking programs that are fairly new and popular fall into this realm of popular culture. We cannot say in ten years people will still think that these social networking sites are the “popular” things to use. That’s the one thing about popular culture, it is always changing, always moving, it stays hip and it stays popular. I think everyone could agree that one thing that will always stay in the popular culture no matter what era would be the way sexism is used in images. Especially with women, I cannot fathom the amount of advertisements, commercials, or photographs that have a women in it that is suppose to be sexually appealing, but yet it has nothing to do with what the advertisement is trying to sell. These advertisements try to make it seem like if you buy this product you will than become sexually desirable. In John Bergers Ways of Seeing article he states as he is explaining the concept of an advertisement with a man and a women who seems to love him for the product he has, “If you are able to buy this product you will be loveable. If you cannon buy it, you will be less loveable.  This is unfortunately in my opinion something that will be staying in the popular culture for a long time. Simply because no matter how silly the concept is, at the end of the day putting sexually attractive women in an advertisement works.
This is what creates the consumption of products. Even though people understand a little more about advertisements now days. It is still the popular culture that helps people consume products. The new and popular ideas, the new and popular “things to buy” etc. these are all things that become spectacles to us, the consumers. A spectacle is essentially something that is visually appealing. This is what the advertisement companies today understand, that all they need to do is make their product visually appealing and it will automatically become a spectacle in the consumers minds. This is why we see sexism so much, because it appealing to many consumers, even though a coke is not going to get me a thousand pretty ladies, we unconsciously turn that product into our spectacle. We see rich, famous and loveable in all these advertisements and we automatically think that this is something we can achieve with that product. But “all publicity works upon anxiety. The sum of everything is money, to get money is to overcome anxiety.”  This is what turns our consumption on anxiety to get things that please us at that current moment.
Lastly, to switch gears I want to talk a little about “the gaze” in an image. The gaze is basically the gaze or look a person has in a photograph. It is not necessarily the gaze they have when they look into the camera, it could be or it could be a gaze in a certain direction. It gives the viewer interest of what is going on, it gives the photograph emotion in a way. The eyes are something extremely emotional, especially in a picture; if we focus on the eyes of a human we see so much emotion. This is why the gaze is so important. In Lucy R. Lippard’s article, “Double take” she explains a photograph that she has seen of Indians that was taken by an American, she states, “Perhaps this photograph was already tinged with propaganda even at the time it was taken. Perhaps Mary Schaffer herself had an axe to grind. She may have been concerned to show her audience (and who were they?) that the only good Indian was not a dead Indian.”  There are a lot of themes in this article, but perhaps what brought her to this conclusion that there was a deeper meaning to this photograph was the gaze the Indian family gave the camera. Perhaps it was different than all the others she ever saw. This is something that the gaze can bring; it can bring meaning to a picture. The object of the photograph she is explaining is the Indian family, the object can be the center of attention in a photograph or it could also be the implicit items I the photograph. But for this one it would be the Indian family.
After only a few weeks in this class it has broadened my understanding of art itself. For art has to do with images and some people would take art and the images that are in art and simply say there is no meaning or importance in them. But after reading the readings and listening to discussions it is clear that art is so much more than that. Art has meaning whether it comes from the ways you look at it or the gaze in the actual image. It can bring power or hegemony to a culture or even a popular culture. And it can represent an unlimited amount of themes. Art is more than what people think it is, art is the essence of how we live.
1. Krueger, Barbara. “Arts and Leisure.” Remote Control. N.p.: n.p., 1993. 1989
2. “Pedagogy.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com (14 Feb. 2014)
3. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to 4. visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 10
4. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 12-13
5. “Hegemony.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com (14 Feb. 2014)
6. Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2009. Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture. New York: Oxford University Press: 54
7. Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Viking, 1973
8. Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. New York: Viking, 1973
9. Lippard, Lucy. “Double take: The Diary of a Relationship with an Image.” (1996): 88. Rpt. inThe Photography Reader.
Imagery & Culture
16 February 2014