Themes of Art
In this chapter, you will learn to
1. LO1compare representations of the sacred realm,
2. LO2identify how works of art reflect politics and the social order,
3. LO3explain the story or history represented in works of art,
4. LO4describe how artists represent everyday life,
5. LO5discuss how art is used to reflect on the human experience,
6. LO6recognize invention and fantasy in art,
7. LO7characterize the representation of the natural world in art, and
8. LO8restate how artists respond to art and its institutions.
In extending our modern concept of art across cultures and backward in time, we observe that
peoples throughout history have created visually meaningful forms. Whether those forms be
paintings or textiles, buildings or ceramics, they have in common that they are about something.
This â€œaboutnessâ€ is what allows us to experience them as art. But what sorts of things are they
One way to begin exploring the elusive concept of â€œaboutnessâ€ is to consider some broad areas
of meaning that have been reflected in the arts of many cultures throughout human history. We
can call these areas of meaning themes. No doubt, every person setting out to name the most
important themes in art would produce a different list. This chapter proposes eight themes, from
the sacred realm to art about art and its institutions. Each one allows us to range widely over the
worldâ€™s artistic heritage, setting works drawn from different times and places in dialogue by
showing how their meanings begin in a shared theme.
Just as a work of art can hold many meanings and inspire multiple interpretations, so it may
reflect more than one theme. As you read this chapter, you may find yourself considering works
discussed earlier in the light of the new theme at hand, or thinking about how a newly
encountered work also reflects themes discussed earlier. This is as it should be. Themes are not
intended to reduce art to a set of neat categories. Rather, they provide a framework for exploring
how complex a form of expression it can be.
The Sacred Realm
Who made the universe? How did life begin, and what is its purpose? What happens to us after
we die? For answers to those and other fundamental questions, people throughout history have
turned to a world we cannot see except through faith, the sacred realm of the spirit. Gods and
goddesses, spirits of ancestors, spirits of nature, one God and one aloneâ€”each society has
formed its own view of the sacred realm and how it interacts with our own. Some forms of faith
have disappeared into history; others have remained small and local; while still others, such as
Christianity and Islam, have become major religions that draw believers from all over the world.
From earliest times, art has played an important role in our relationship with the sacred, helping
us to envision it, to honor it, and to communicate with it.
Many works of architecture have been created to provide settings for rituals of worship and
prayer, rituals that formalize contact between the earthly and the divine realms. One such work is
the small marvel known as the Sainte-Chapelle, or holy chapel (3.1), in Paris. The chapel was
commissioned in 1239 by the French king Louis IX to house an important collection of relics
that he had just acquired, relics he believed to include pieces of the True Cross, the Crown of
Thorns, and other instruments of Christâ€™s Passion. The kingâ€™s architects created a soaring vertical
space whose walls seem to be made of stained glass. Light passing through the glass creates a
dazzling effect, transforming the interior into a radiant, otherworldly space in which the glory of
heaven seems close at hand.
3.1 Interior, upper chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. 1243â€“48.
Art Resource, NY
The Sainte-Chapelle is a relatively intimate space, for it was intended as a private chapel for the
king and his court. In contrast, the Great Mosque at CÃ³rdoba, Spain, was built to serve the needs
of an entire community (3.2). A mosque is an Islamic house of worship. Begun during the 8th
century, the Great Mosque at CÃ³rdoba grew to be the largest place of prayer in western Islam.
The interior of the prayer hall is a vast horizontal space measured out by a forest of columns.
Daylight enters through doorways placed around the perimeter of the hall. Filtered through the
myriad columns and arches, it creates a complex play of shadows that makes the extent and
shape of the interior hard to grasp. Alternating red and white sections break up the visual
continuity of the arch forms. Oil lamps hanging in front of the focal point of worship would have
created still more shadows.
3.2 Interior, Great Mosque, CÃ³rdoba, Spain. Begun 786 c.e.
Photo Scala, Florence
In both the Sainte-Chapelle and the Great Mosque at CÃ³rdoba, architects strove to create a place
where worshipers might approach the sacred realm. The builders of the Sainte-Chapelle
envisioned a radiant vertical space transformed by colored light, whereas the architects of the
Great Mosque at CÃ³rdoba envisioned a disorienting horizontal space fractured by columns and
shadows. In both buildings, the everyday world is shut out, and light and space are used to create
a heightened sense of mystery and wonder.
The sacred realm cannot be seen with human eyes, yet artists throughout the ages have been
asked to create images of gods, goddesses, angels, demons, and all manner of spirit beings.
Religious images may serve to focus the thoughts of the faithful by giving concrete form to
abstract ideas. Often, however, their role has been more complex and mysterious. For example,
in some cultures, images have been understood as a sort of conduit through which sacred power
flows; in others, they serve as a dwelling place for a deity, who is called upon through ritual to
take up residence within.
Our next two images, one Buddhist and one Christian, were made at approximately the same
time but some four thousand miles apart, the Buddhist image in Tibet, the Christian one in Italy.
The Buddhist painting portrays Rathnasambhava, one of the Five Transcendent Buddhas, seated
in a pose of meditation on a stylized lotus throne (3.3). Many of his iconographic details are
similar to the Amida Buddha (see 2.29) from the last chapter. He has an ushnisha and sits in a
meditative pose. His right hand makes the gesture of bestowing vows; his left, the gesture of
meditation. Unlike other buddhas, however, the Five Transcendent Buddhas are typically
portrayed in the bejeweled garb of Indian princes, rather than just featuring elongated earlobes.
Arranged around Rathnasambhava are bodhisattvas, also in princely attire. Bodhisattvas are
enlightened beings who have deferred their ultimate goal of nirvanaâ€”freedom from the cycle of
birth, death, and rebirthâ€”in order to help others attain that goal. All wear halos signifying their
holiness. The buddha, being the most important of the personages depicted, dominates the
painting as the largest figure. He faces straight in front, in a pose of tranquility, while the others
around him stand or sit in relaxed postures.
3.3 Rathnasambhava, the Transcendent Buddha of the South. Tibet. 13th century c.e. Opaque
watercolor on cloth, height 36 Â½”.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. From the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection,
Museum Associates Purchase (M.78.9.2)
The second example, painted by the 13th-century Italian master Cimabue, depicts Mary, mother
of Christ, with her son (3.4). While in the last chapter we saw the Christ child adored by
shepherds, in this painting the infant and his mother sit tranquilly on a throne. The gold
background places them in a heavenly realm. Maryâ€™s right hand indicates the Christ child, who
raises his own right hand in a gesture of benediction. On both sides of her are figures of angels,
heavenly spirit-messengers. Again, all wear shimmering gold halos signifying their holiness. As
in the Buddhist painting, the most important personage dominates the composition, is the largest
figure, and holds a serenely frontal pose.
3.4 Cimabue. Madonna Enthroned. ca. 1280â€“90. Tempera on wood, 12′ 7 Â½” Ã— 7′ 4″.
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Â© Quattrone, Florence
We should not conclude from the remarkable formal similarity of these works that any
communication or influence took place between Italy and Central Asia. A safer assumption is
that two artists of different faiths independently found a format that satisfied their pictorial
needs. Both the Buddha and the Virgin are important, serene holy figures. Bodhisattvas and
angels, who are always more active, attend them. Therefore, the artists, from their separate points
of view, devised similar compositions.
THINKING ABOUT ART Iconoclasm
(left) Large Buddha, Bamiyan, Afghanistan. 3rdâ€“7th century c.e. Stone, height 175′. Â© Jenny
Matthews/Alamy Stock Photo
(right) The empty niche after the statue was destroyed. March 2001. Marion Kaplan/Alamy
In arguments for iconoclasm, why is worshiping artworks themselves not the same as worshiping
what they represent? On the other hand, how can art communicate religious beliefs, practices,
On February 26, 2001, the Islamic fundamentalist rulers of Afghanistan, the Taliban, issued an
edict that stunned the world: all statues in the country must be destroyed, for they were being
worshiped and venerated by unbelievers. The order targeted statues large and small, those
housed in museums and those on view in public places. But the statues that caught the publicâ€™s
attention were a pair of monumental buddhas. Carved into the living rock of a cliff face
sometime between the 3rd and 7th centuries, they were originally cared for by Buddhist monks
and visited by pilgrims during religious festivals. The monks and pilgrims left centuries ago, but
the statues had survived. It seemed scarcely credible that they were about to be blown up, but
that is exactly what happened. In early March, despite international diplomatic efforts, the statues
Why would statues be destroyed in the name of religion? Like many other religions, Islam has at
its core a set of texts that invite interpretation. One of these, the Traditions of the Prophet,
contains two objections to representational images. The first objection is that making images
usurps the creative power of God; the second is that images can lead to idolatry, the worship of
the images themselves. Historically, these warnings have led Muslims generally to avoid
representational images in religious contexts such as mosques or manuscripts of the Qurâ€™an, their
holy book. Interpreted more radically, they have sometimes been used to forbid all
representational images, no matter what their context. Our word for the destruction of images
does not come from Islam, however, but from Christianity, which also has a history of destroying
images in the name of spiritual purity. The word is iconoclasm.
Iconoclasm is derived from the Greek for â€œimage breaking.â€ It was coined to describe one side of
a debate that raged for more than a century in the Christian empire of Byzantium (see page 359).
Byzantine churches, monasteries, books, and homes were decorated with depictions of Christ, of
the saints, and of biblical stories and personages. Yet during the 8th century, a movement arose
against such depictions, and a series of emperors ordered the destruction of images throughout
the realm. Again, the objection was idolatry. Christianity too has at its core a set of texts. The
most important of these is the Bible, which contains a very clear warning against making images.
The warning comes directly from God as the second of the Ten Commandments.
Centuries after the Byzantine episode, iconoclasm arose in western Europe when newly forming
Protestant movements of the 16th century accused Catholics of idolatry. Protestant mobs
ransacked churches, smashing stained glass, destroying paintings, breaking statues,
whitewashing over frescoes, and melting down metal shrines and vessels. To this day, Protestant
churches are comparatively bare.
Images have played an important role in almost every religion in the world. Many religions
embrace them wholeheartedly. In Buddhism, for example, making religious images is viewed as
a form of prayer. In Hinduism they may provide a dwelling place for a deity. The modern
Western invention of â€œartâ€ has meant that many of these images have been moved to museums,
and in the end this may have been part of the Talibanâ€™s point. We may not worship images for
the deities they represent, but do we worship art?
We should not conclude from the remarkable formal similarity of these works that any
communication or influence took place between Italy and Central Asia. A safer assumption is
that two artists of different faiths independently found a format that satisfied their pictorial
needs. Both the Buddha and the Virgin are important, serene holy figures. Bodhisattvas and
angels, who are always more active, attend them. Therefore, the artists, from their separate points
of view, devised similar compositions.
Politics and the Social Order
Of the many things we create as human beings, the most basic and important may be societies.
How can a stable, just, and productive society best be organized? Who will rule, and how? What
freedoms will rulers have? What freedoms will citizens have? How is wealth to be distributed?
How is authority to be maintained? Many answers to those questions have been posed
throughout history, and throughout history the resulting order has been reflected in art.
In many early societies, earthly order and cosmic order were viewed as interrelated and mutually
dependent. Such was the case in ancient Egypt, where the pharaoh (king) was viewed as a link
between the divine and the earthly realms. The pharaoh was considered a â€œjunior god,â€ a
personification of the god Horus and the son of the sun god, Ra. As a ruler, his role was to
maintain the divinely established order of the universe, which included the social order of Egypt.
He communed with the gods in temples only he could enter, and he wielded theoretically
unlimited power over a country that literally belonged to him.
When a pharaoh died, it was believed that he rejoined the gods and became fully divine.
Preparations for this journey began even during his lifetime, as vast tombs were constructed and
outfitted with everything he would need to maintain his royal lifestyle in eternity. The most
famous of these monuments are the three pyramids at Giza (3.5), which served as the tombs of
the pharaohs Menkaure, Khafre, and Khufu. Thousands of years later, the scale of these
structures is still awe-inspiring. The largest pyramid, that of Khufu, originally reached a height
of about 480 feet, roughly the height of a fifty-story skyscraper. Its base covers more than 13
acres. More than two million blocks of stone, each weighing over 2 tons, went into building it.
Each block had to be quarried with hand tools, transported to the site, and set in place without
mortar. Tens of thousands of workers labored for years to build such a tomb and fill its chambers
3.5 The Great Pyramids, Giza, Egypt. Pyramid of Menkaure (foreground), ca. 2500 b.c.e.;
Pyramid of Khafre (center), ca. 2530 b.c.e.; Pyramid of Khufu (in background), ca. 2570 b.c.e.
Radius Images/Alamy Stock Photo
The pyramids reflect the immense power of the pharaohs who could command such forces, but
they also reflect the beliefs underlying the social order that granted its rulers such power in the
first place. In the Egyptian view, the well-being of Egypt depended on the goodwill of the gods,
whose representative on earth was the pharaoh. His safe passage to the afterlife and his worship
thereafter as a god himself were essential for the prosperity of the country and the continuity of
the universe. No amount of labor or spending seemed too great to achieve those ends.
Visitors to the pyramids at Giza originally arrived by water, disembarking first at one of the
temples that sat on the riverbank (each pyramid had its own). From there, they would have
walked along a long, raised causeway to a second temple at the base of the pyramid, which itself
could not be entered. The temples contained numerous shrines to the dead pharaoh, each with its
own life-size statue of him. Statues lined the causeways as well, and still more were inside the
pyramid itself. Before our modern mass media, it was art that served to project the presence and
authority of rulers to the people throughout their lands. During the days of the Roman Empire, in
the first centuries of our era, an official likeness of a new emperor was circulated throughout the
realm so that local sculptors could get busy making statues for public places and civic buildings.
One of the finest of these ancient Roman works to come down to us is a bronze statue of the
emperor Marcus Aurelius (3.6). Seated on his mount, he extends his arm in an oratorical gesture,
as if delivering a speech. His calm in victory contrasts with the spirited motions of his horse,
which was originally shown raising its hoof over a fallen enemy, now lost. The Roman fashion
for beards came and went, like all fashions. But the emperorâ€™s beard in the statue is a significant
iconographic detail, and part of the way he wanted to be portrayed. Beards were associated with
Greek philosophers, and Marcus Aureliusâ€™s beard signals his desire to be seen as a philosopherking, an ideal he genuinely tried to live up to.
3.6 Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. 161â€“80 c.e. Gilded bronze, height 11′ 6″.
Musei Capitolini, Rome. Â© Vanni Archive/Art Resource, NY
During the often violent transition into our modern era, art remained deeply involved with
politics and the social order. The perspective of the artist changed profoundly, however. Instead
of exclusively serving those in power, the artist was now a citizen among other citizens and free
to make art that took sides in the debates of the day. EugÃ¨ne Delacroixâ€™s Liberty Leading the
People leaves no doubt about the artistâ€™s support for the Revolution of 1830, a popular uprising
in Paris that toppled one government and installed another (3.7). Delacroix completed the
painting in the very same year, and it retains the passion of his idealized view of the insurrection
and the hopes he had for the future it would bring. At the center is Liberty herself, personified as
a Greek statue come to life. Holding the French flag high, she rallies the citizens of Paris, who
surge toward us brandishing pistols and sabers as though about to burst out of the painting.
Before them lie the bodies of slain government troops.
3.7 EugÃ¨ne Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People, 1830. 1830. Oil on canvas, 8′ 6″ Ã— 10′ 10″.
MusÃ©e du Louvre, Paris. Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
Delacroix painted the work on his own, without a patron. When the painting was displayed to the
public in 1831, it was bought by none other than Louis-Philippe, the â€œcitizen-kingâ€ that the
revolution had put in power. But perhaps the image was a little too revolutionary, for the new
king returned the painting to Delacroix after a few months. In fact, Liberty Leading the
People did not go on permanent public display until 1863, after a vast urban-renewal program
had minimized the possibility of angry citizens again taking control of the streets.
Where Delacroix glorifies violence in the service of democracy in Liberty Leading the People,
Pablo Picasso condemns the violence that fascism unleashed against ordinary citizens
in Guernica, one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century (3.8). Guernica depicts an
event that took place during the Spanish Civil War, when a coalition of conservative, traditional,
and fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco were trying to topple the liberal government
of the fledgling Spanish Republic. In Germany and Italy, the fascist governments of Hitler and
Mussolini were already in power. Franco willingly accepted their aid, and in exchange he
allowed the Nazis to test their developing air power. On April 26, 1937, the Germans bombed
the town of Guernica, the old Basque capital in northern Spain. There was no real military reason
for the raid; it was simply an experiment to see whether aerial bombing could wipe out a whole
city. Being totally defenseless, Guernica was devastated and its civilian population massacred.
3.8 Pablo Picasso. Guernica. 1937. Oil on canvas, 11′ 5 Â½” Ã— 25′ 5 Â¾”.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid. Â© 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists
Rights Society (ARS), New York
At the time, Picasso, himself a Spaniard, was working in Paris and had been commissioned by
his government to paint a mural for the Spanish Pavilion of the Paris Worldâ€™s Fair of 1937. For
some time, he had procrastinated about fulfilling the commission; then, just days after news of
the bombing reached Paris, he started Guernica and completed it in little over a month. The
finished mural shocked those who saw it, and it remains today a chillingly dramatic protest
against the brutality of war.
At first encounter with Guernica, the viewer is overwhelmed by its presence. The painting is
hugeâ€”more than 25 feet long and nearly 12 feet highâ€”and its stark, powerful imagery seems to
reach out and engulf the observer. Picasso used no colors; the whole painting is done in white
and black and shades of gray, possibly to echo the visual impact of news photography.
(Newspapers at the time were illustrated with black-and-white photographs; newsreels shown in
cinemas were also in black and white. Television did not yet exist.) Although the artistâ€™s
symbolism is very personal (and he declined to explain it in detail), we cannot misunderstand the
scenes of extreme pain and anguish throughout the canvas. At far left, a shrieking mother holds
her dead child, and at far right, another woman, in a burning house, screams in agony. The
gaping mouths and clenched hands speak of disbelief at such mindless cruelty.
Like Liberty Leading the People, Guernica has had an interesting political afterlife. Francoâ€™s
forces were triumphant. Picasso refused to allow Guernica to reside in Spain while Franco was
in power, and so for years it was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When
Franco died, in 1975, the painting was returned to Spain, but there another debate ensued: Where
in Spain should it stay? The town of Guernica wanted it. So did the town where Picasso was
born. Madrid, the Spanish capital, won out in the end. The Basque Nationalist Movement, which
would like to see the Basque territories secede from Spain, considers that Madrid kidnapped their
rightful cultural property. Guernica is now displayed behind bulletproof glass.
Stories and Histories
Deeds of heroes, tragic legends, folktales passed down through generations, episodes of
television shows that everyone knows by heartâ€”shared stories are one of the ways we create a
sense of community. Artists have often turned to stories for subject matter, especially stories
whose roots reach deep into their cultureâ€™s collective memory. When images tell a story, we say
that they are narrative.
Storytelling to effect social change is at the heart of William Hogarthâ€™s art. The print seen here
(3.9) is the first image in a series of six prints titled A Harlotâ€™s Progress. The image introduces
us to an innocent country girl, Mary Hackabout, who has arrived in London. The parson who
was to serve as Maryâ€™s guardian in the city appears befuddled in the background, leaving Mary
to be met by an older woman. Unfortunately, the older woman runs a brothel and recruits Mary
into prostitution. A series of tragedies ensues and the story ends with Maryâ€™s death after serving
time in prison.
3.9 William Hogarth. A Harlotâ€™s Progress, plate 1. 1732. Engraving.
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, d.c.
Hogarth used symbols within the narrative to hint at Maryâ€™s sad fate in this image. A pile of pans
on the left side of the print is about to topple over, just as Maryâ€™s life is soon to descend into
misery. To the right, the head of a dead goose flops over the side of Maryâ€™s basket to signify
metaphorically that her goose is cooked. Hogarth used conventional iconographic details like
these to help his viewers understand the imageâ€™s meaning. His strategy was successful, and his
moralizing serial prints became so popular that he sold subscriptions in advance to thwart
The Arapaho artist Frank Henderson told the story of his people in Off to War (3.10). The
Arapaho lived in the mountains and plains of the western United States until Anglo-American
incursion forced them onto a reservation in the Oklahoma Territory in 1867. Henderson recorded
the history of the Arapaho people as their horse-based culture was converted to an agrarian
society confined within the reservationâ€™s boundaries.
3.10 Frank Henderson. Off to War. 1882. Pencil, colored pencil, and ink on paper, 5 3Â»8 Ã— 11
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, 1999
Henderson depicted two warriors leaving for battle in this drawing. They wear traditional regalia
and their horses charge excitedly across the page. Plains Indian artists had previously made
images like this on their tipis, depicting significant events and celestial symbols in stylized line
drawings. Once restricted to the reservation, artists turned to a different material. Henderson
made his drawing on a ledger, a bound book made for recording financial transactions. Ledger
art by Henderson and other artists recorded history for their communities, and these images
remain an important source for understanding the histories of Native American peoples.
Judith Baca and her team of artists share Hendersonâ€™s interest in recording history, using the
concrete walls of a drainage canal. Bacaâ€™s Great Wall of Los Angeles (3.11) is a half-mile-long
history of the area from prehistory to the 20th century. The goal of this ongoing project is to
represent the histories of the diverse populations of Los Angeles who are underrepresented in
history books and school curricula. Baca collaborates with historians and other artists to picture
events that have received little attention, but deeply affect peopleâ€™s lives. The scene shown here
represents the roles of Asians and Latinos on the frontier in the 19th century. It also pictures how
the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo brought California and other western and southwestern
territories into the United States, splitting the regionâ€™s Latino population. Unlike Hogarthâ€™s prints
and Hendersonâ€™s ledger art, Bacaâ€™s narrative storytelling is public. It recalls Mexican murals of
the 20th century that made similarly strong political and social statements. The Great Wall of Los
Angeles is the longest mural painting in the world, and is still growing.
3.11 Judith Baca. Great Wall of Los Angeles: Frontier California 1880 and Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo 1848. Begun 1974. Mural painting.
The Citizens of the Planet/UIG via Getty Images
History has furnished artists with many stories, for history itself is nothing more than a story we
tell ourselves about the past, a story we write and rewrite. In Altar to the Chases High
School (3.12), Christian Boltanski draws on our memory of the historical episode known as the
Holocaust, the mass murder of European Jews and other populations by the Nazis during World
War II. Chases was a private Jewish high school in Vienna. Boltanski began with a photograph
that he found of the graduating class of 1931. Eighteen years old in the photograph, the students
would have been twenty-five when Austria was annexed by Germany at the start of the war.
Most of them probably perished in the death camps. Boltanski rephotographed each face, then
enlarged the results into a series of blurry portraits. The effect is as though someone long gone
were calling out to us; we try to recognize them, but cannot quite. Our task is made even more
difficult by the lights blocking their faces, lights that serve as halos on the one hand, but also
remind us of interrogation lamps. We wonder, too, what the stacked tin boxes might hold.
Ashes? Possessions? Documents? They have no labels, just as the blurred faces have almost no
3.12 Christian Boltanski. Altar to the Chases High School. 1987. Photographs, tin biscuit boxes,
and six metal lamps; 6′ 9 Â½” Ã— 7′ 2 Â½”.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gift of Peter and Eileen Norton, Santa Monica,
California. 89.28. Photo Paula Goldman. Â© 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New
Picturing the Here and Now
The social order, the world of the sacred, history and the great stories of the pastâ€”all these are
very grand and important themes. But art does not always have to reach so high. Sometimes it is
enough just to look around us and notice what our life is like here, now, in this place, at this time.
Among the earliest images of daily life to have come down to us are those that survived in the
tombs of ancient Egypt. Egyptians imagined the afterlife as resembling earthly life in every
detail, except that it continued through eternity. To ensure the prosperity of the deceased in the
afterlife, scenes of the pleasures and bounty of life in Egypt were painted or carved on the tomb
walls. Sometimes models were substituted for paintings (3.13).
3.13 Model depicting the counting of livestock, from the tomb of Meketre, Deir el-Bahri.
Dynasty 11, 2134â€“1991 b.c.e. Painted wood, length 5′ 8″.
Egyptian Museum, Cairo. Scala/Art Resource, NY
This model is one of many found in the tomb of an Egyptian official named Meketre, who died
around 1990 b.c.e. Meketre himself is depicted at the center, seated on a chair in the shade of a
pavilion. Seated on the floor to his left is his son; to his right are several scribes (professional
writers) with their writing materials ready. Overseers of Meketreâ€™s estate stand by as herders
drive his cattle before the reviewing stand so that the scribes can count them. The herdersâ€™
gestures are animated as they coax the cattle along with their sticks, and the cattle themselves are
beautifully observed in their diverse markings.
Another model from Meketreâ€™s tomb depicts women at work, spinning and weaving cloth. They
would probably have been producing linen, which Egyptians excelled at. In China, the favored
material since ancient times has been silk. Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk (3.14) is a
scene from a long handscroll depicting women weaving, ironing, and folding lengths of silk. The
painting is a copy made during the 12th century of a famous 8th-century work by Zhang Xuan,
now lost. In this scene, four ladies in their elegant robes stretch a length of silk. The woman
facing us irons it with a flat-bottomed pan full of hot coals taken from the brazier visible at the
right. A little girl too small to share in the task clowns around for our benefit. If this is a scene
from everyday life, it is a very rarefied life indeed. These are ladies of the imperial court, and the
painting is an exercise just as much in portraying beautiful women as it is in showing their
virtuous sense of domestic duty.
3.14 Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, detail. Attributed to the emperor Huizong
(1082â€“1135), but probably by a court painter. Handscroll, ink, colors, and gold on silk; height 14
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Pictures from History/Bridgeman Images
Daily work is also the subject of a painting made in Mexico in 1575. Feather Workers (3.15) is
part of the manuscript known as the Florentine Codex. This bound book was written by Friar
Bernadino de SahagÃºn with the assistance of native Mexican artists and informants. The text is in
Spanish and the Aztec language, Nahuatl. As a missionary, SahagÃºn created the book as a
general history of the Indians of central Mexico as he worked to convert them to Christianity. He
recorded their traditional religious rituals, gods, agricultural practices, and arts. In the scene
shown here, artists make clothing and regalia out of brightly colored feathers. They use whole
feathers and individual barbs from birds kept in the Aztec rulerâ€™s private aviary. Examples of
their work appear in the two panels below. A feather mosaic shield like the one in the middle
panel is discussed later (see 20.12).
3.15 Bernardino de SahagÃºn. Florentine Codex: Feather Workers. 1575â€“77. Ink and pigment on
Mexico City, Biblioteca Manuel Gamio del Museo del Templo Mayor. DeAgostini/Getty Images
Living in New York in the 1960s, Robert Rauschenberg found that the visual impact of daily life
had outgrown the ability of any single image to convey it. Instead, to communicate the energy
and vitality of his time and place, Rauschenberg treated his canvas like a gigantic page in a
scrapbook. The result is a kind of controlled chaos in which photographic images drawn from
many sources are linked by a poetic process of free association. Windward, for example, includes
images of the Statue of Liberty, a bald eagle against a rainbow, the Sistine Chapel with
Michelangeloâ€™s famous frescoes (upper left), Sunkist oranges, Manhattan rooftops and their
distinctive water towers (in red), building facades (in blue), and construction workers in plaid
shirts and hard hats (in blue, lower right) (3.16). Part of our pleasure as viewers lies in teasing
out their visual and conceptual connections.
3.16 Robert Rauschenberg. Windward. 1963. Oil and silkscreened ink on canvas, 8′ Ã— 5′ 10″.
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel. akg-images. Art Â© Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/Licensed
by VAGA, New York, NY
The Statue of Liberty and the eagle are symbols of the United States, while the statue is more
specifically a tourist attraction of New York. Sunkist oranges are an American product, but
Rauschenberg likes their name as well: sun-kissed, kissed by the sun. In a repeat of the image
directly below, he paints white all the oranges but one. The single orange becomes a sun, and the
rest are clouds. â€œSun-kissedâ€ also applies to the rainbow, which is moist air kissed by the sun. It
applies more generally to a clear day in New York, and in the company of the eagle and the
statue it evokes the sentiments expressed in one of our most popular patriotic songs, which
begins â€œO beautiful for spacious skies.â€ Again and again we find the optimistic gesture of raising
up: Liberty raises her torch high, the rooftops hold aloft their water towers, the Sistine Chapel
holds up its great vaulted ceiling, the construction workers build a skyscraper.
ARTISTS Robert Rauschenberg (1925â€“2008)
Work of Shepard Fairey on display at CAC. Centre for Contemporary Art. Soho district, Malaga,
Spain. Perry van Munster / Alamy Stock Photo
How should we categorize the works of Rauschenberg? How does his style capture the culture
and the events of his time? What are some of his dominant themes?
Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Milton Rauschenbergâ€”who later became known as Bob and then
Robertâ€”had no exposure to art as such until he was seventeen. His original intention to become
a pharmacist faded when he was expelled from the University of Texas within six months, for
failure (he claims) to dissect a frog. After three years in the Navy during World War II,
Rauschenberg spent a year at the Kansas City Art Institute; then he traveled to Paris for further
study. At the AcadÃ©mie Julian in Paris he met the artist Susan Weil, whom he later married.
Upon his return to the United States in 1948, Rauschenberg enrolled in the now-famous art
program headed by the painter Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Many
of his long-term attachments and interests developed during this period, including his close
working relationship with the avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham. In 1950
Rauschenberg moved to New York, where he supported himself partly by doing window
displays for the fashionable Fifth Avenue stores Bonwit Teller and Tiffanyâ€™s.
Rauschenbergâ€™s work began to attract critical attention soon after his first one-man exhibition at
the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York. The artist reported that between the time Parsons
selected the works to be exhibited and the opening of the show, he had completely reworked
everything, and that â€œBetty was surprised.â€ More surprises were soon to come from this steadily
The range of Rauschenbergâ€™s work makes him difficult to categorize. In addition to paintings,
prints, and combination pieces, he produced extensive set and costume designs for dances by
Cunningham and others, as well as graphic design for magazines and books. â€œHappeningsâ€ and
performance art also played a role in his work from the very beginning. Rauschenberg used
objects that he found around him in his paintings. One has an actual stuffed bird attached to the
front of the canvas. Another consists of a bed, with a quilt on it, hung upright on the wall and
splashed with paint. Works that might be called sculptures are primarily assemblages of ordinary
items; for example, Sor Aqua (1973) is composed of a bathtub (with water) above which a large
chunk of metal seems to be flying.
Rauschenberg explained his interest in images from daily life in an interview in 1965. He
described the art he made in New York City as â€œunbiased documentation of my observations,
and by observations I mean that literally, of my excitement about the way in the city you have on
one lot a forty story building and right next to it you have a little wooden shack. One is a parking
lot and one is this maze of offices and closets and windows where everything is so crowded. â€¦
It was this constant, irrational juxtaposition of things that I think one only finds in the city.â€
Later in the same interview, discussing the connection of his art to the here and now,
Rauschenberg explained, â€œThe one thing that has been consistent about my work is that there has
been an attempt to use the very last minutes in my life and the particular location as the source of
energy and inspiration, rather than retiring to some kind of other time, or dream, or idealism.â€1
We get from Rauschenberg a sense of boundaries being dissolvedâ€”boundaries between media,
between art and nonart, between art and life. As he said: â€œThe strongest thing about my workâ€¦is
the fact that I chose to ennoble the ordinary.â€2
Reflecting on the Human Experience
An Egyptian official, a lady of the imperial Chinese court, and artists in 16th-century Mexico
would all have had very different lives. They would have known different stories, worshiped
different deities, seen different sights, and had different understandings of the world and their
place in it. Yet they also would have shared certain experiences, just by virtue of being human.
We are all of us born, we pass through childhood, we mature into sexual beings, we search for
love, we grow old, we die. We experience doubt and wonder, happiness and sorrow, loneliness
Surely one of the most common of human wishes is to talk, if only we could, for even a brief
moment, with someone who is no longer here. Many religions embrace the idea that the dead
form a vast spirit community capable of helping us. Many rituals have been devised to honor
ancestors and appease their spirits. But all the rituals in the world do not compensate for the ache
we sometimes feel when we wish we could speak to those who came beforeâ€”to tell them what
we have become, to ask for guidance, to compare experiences, to explain, to listen.
Meta Warrick Fullerâ€™s poignant sculpture Talking Skull depicts that wish being granted (3.17).
Kneeling before the skull, naked and vulnerable, the boy seems to hear an answer to his plea. On
one level, Talking Skull embodies a universal message about the desire for communion beyond
the boundaries of our brief lifetime. But it is also a specifically African-American work that
addresses the traumatic rupture with ancestral culture that slavery had caused. Fuller was a
pioneering African-American artist. Born in 1877, she pursued her artistic training in both the
United States and Europe, mastering the conservative, academic style that brought mainstream
recognition to artists in her day. Like many of her generation, she sought out themes that would
help American blacks reconnect with and take pride in their African heritage.
3.17 Meta Warrick Fuller. Talking Skull. 1937. Bronze, 28 Ã— 40 Ã— 15″.
Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket
Looking at Fullerâ€™s sculpture, we enter into the boyâ€™s thoughts through empathy. Fuller counts
on this ability, and her artistry facilitates it by giving us numerous clues: the pose, the nakedness,
the intense gaze, the open mouth. In Self-Portrait with Monkeys (3.18), the Mexican artist Frida
Kahlo does not provide us with an easy way into her thoughts. She seems, rather, to hold us at
armâ€™s length with her gaze, to insist that we cannot truly know her.
3.18 Frida Kahlo. Self-Portrait with Monkeys. 1943. Oil on canvas, 32 1Â»16 Ã— 24 3Â»16″.
Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection. akg-images. Â© 2019 Banco de MÃ©xico Diego Rivera
Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Kahlo began to paint while recovering from a streetcar accident that left her body shattered and
unable to bear children. She would know periods of crippling pain for the rest of her life, and
would undergo dozens of operations. Her first work was a self-portrait, as though to affirm that
she still existed. She continued to paint self-portraits over the course of her career. In them she
expressed her experience as a woman, as an artist, as a Mexican. Often, as here, she painted
herself as the still center of a busy visual field. Wearing an embroidered Mexican dress, she
regards us coolly, skeptically. Or perhaps it is herself in the mirror whom she sees.
Her two pet monkeys seem both protective and possessive in their gestures. Their gazes tell us
no more than hers, but she and they clearly share an understanding that excludes us. Behind them
two more monkeys peer out from the foliage. Next to her head, as though she were thinking it, a
bird-of-paradise flower displays its extravagant, flamelike petalsâ€”exotic, proud, desirable, and
slightly menacing. European visitors admired Kahloâ€™s paintings for their dream imagery, but she
herself rejected such praise. â€œI never painted dreams,â€ she said. â€œI painted my own reality.â€3
One of the most reticent yet complete evocations of our existence and its fundamental questions
is the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeerâ€™s quiet masterpiece Woman Holding a Balance (3.19).
Stillness pervades the picture. A gentle half-light filtered through the curtained window reveals a
woman contemplating an empty jewelerâ€™s balance. She holds the balance and its two glinting
trays delicately with her right hand, which falls in the exact center of the composition. The frame
of the painting on the wall behind catches the light, drawing our attention.
3.19 Johannes Vermeer. Woman Holding a Balance. ca. 1664. Oil on canvas, 15 â…ž Ã— 14″.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Widener Collection 1942.9.97
The painting is a depiction of the Last Judgment, when according to Christian belief Christ shall
come again to judge, to weigh souls. On the table, the light picks out strands of pearls. Jewels
and jewelry often serve as symbols of vanity and the temptations of earthly treasure. Light is
reflected, too, in the surface of the mirror, next to the window. The mirror suggests selfknowledge, and indeed if the woman were to look up, she would be facing directly into it.
Scholars have debated whether the woman is pregnant or whether the fashion of the day simply
makes her appear so. Either way, we can say that her form evokes pregnancy, the miracle of
birth, and the renewal of life.
Birth, death, the decisions we must weigh on our journey through life, the temptations of vanity,
the problem of self-knowledge, the question of life after deathâ€”all these issues are gently
touched on in this most understated of paintings.
Invention and Fantasy
Renaissance theorists likened painting to poetry. With words, a poet could conjure an imaginary
world and fill it with people and events. Painting was even better, for it could bring an imaginary
world to life before your eyes. Poetry had long been considered an art, and the idea that painting
was comparable to it is one of the factors that led to painting being considered an art as well.
One of the most bizarrely inventive artists ever to wield a brush was the Netherlandish painter
Hieronymus Bosch. When we first encounter his Garden of Earthly Delights (3.20), we might
think we have wandered into a fun house of a particularly macabre kind. The Garden of Earthly
Delights is the central and largest panel of a triptych, a painting in three sections. The outer two
sections, painted both front and back, can close like a pair of shutters over this central image.
Closed, they depict the creation of the world; open, they illustrate the earthly paradise of Eden
(left) and Hell (right). Between Eden and Hell, Bosch set The Garden of Earthly Delights, which
depicts the false paradise of loveâ€”false because, although deeply pleasurable, it can lead
humanity away from the bonds of marriage toward the deadly sin of Lust, and thus damnation.
Hundreds of nude humans cavort in a fantasy landscape inhabited by giant plants and outsized
birds and animals. The people are busy and inventive in the things they do to and with one
another (and to and with the animals and plants). They seem to be having a fine time, but their
goings-on are so strange that we are both intrigued and repelled by them. Can these truly be
3.20 Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights, center section. ca. 1505â€“10. Oil on
panel, 7′ 2 â…” Ã— 6′ 4 Â¾”.
Museo del Prado, Madrid. Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY
While Bosch imagined an earthly paradise, Giovanni Battista Piranesi created a subterranean
dungeon using a printmaking technique known as etching. He called the sixteen prints in this
series Il Carceri (â€œThe Prisonâ€) (3.21), and explained that they were â€œcapricious inventionsâ€
from his own imagination. The etchings picture an underground prison of ambiguous spaces,
stairways to nowhere, and soaring, dark vaults. We see this architecture from a low vantage point
to emphasize its size. Piranesi filled his frightening spaces with machines and tiny figures. After
printing an initial run or state of the prints, Piranesi returned to his images and made them even
darker and more ominous, like the one seen here. He added chains, ladders, and spiked objects
that look like torture devices. He even added spikes to the top of the sawhorse on the right that
gives this print its title. Piranesi drew these additional elements with slashing, aggressive strokes,
with the result that the form adds to the scary content. Texts in some of the images refer to the
ancient Roman justice system under some of its more brutal emperors. Piranesi likely also
created the etchings in response to the Enlightenmentâ€™s celebration of reason. His work
anticipates the movement known as Romanticism that would soon react to the rationality of
Enlightenment with stories of monsters and high-keyed emotion.
3.21 Giovanni Battista Piranesi. â€œThe Sawhorse,â€ from Il Carceri, second state. 1761. Etching.
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C./Rosenwald Collection
A far more benign imagination was that of Henri Rousseau. Rousseau worked in France during
the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was acquainted with all the up-and-coming artists of
the Parisian scene, and sometimes he exhibited with them. The naivetÃ© of his expression came
not so much from ignorance of formal art tradition as from indifference to that tradition.
Rousseau loved to paint jungle scenes, but they were wholly products of fantasy, for in fact he
never left France. Instead, he assembled his exotic visions from illustrated books, from travel
magazines, and from sketching trips to the zoo, the natural history museum, and especially the
great tropical greenhouses of the Paris botanical garden. Entering them, he said, was like walking
into a dream. In his last painting, he gave this dream to a young woman (3.22). Reclining nude
on a velvet sofa, she seems unsurprised to find herself in a dense forest of stylized foliage,
serenaded by a dark-skinned musician wearing a loincloth. Perhaps it is his music that has cast
this spell in which giant lotuses grow on land, lions are as tame as house cats, and a full moon
shines during the day.
3.22 Henri Rousseau. The Dream. 1910. Oil on canvas, 6′ 8 Â½” Ã— 9′ 9 Â½”.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 252.1954. Digital Image
Â© The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY
The Natural World
As humans, we make our own environment. From the first tools of the earliest hominids to
todayâ€™s towering skyscrapers, we have shaped the world around us to our needs. This
manufactured environment, though, has its setting in quite a different environmentâ€”that of the
natural world. Nature and our relationship to it are themes that have often been addressed
During the 19th century, many American painters set themselves the American landscape as a
subject. One of the first of these was Thomas Cole, who as a young man had immigrated to
America from England. Coleâ€™s most famous painting is The Oxbow, which depicts the great
looping bend (oxbow) of the Connecticut River as seen from the heights of nearby Mount
Holyoke, in Massachusetts (3.23). To the left, a violent thunderstorm darkens the sky as it passes
over the mountain wilderness. To the right, emerging into the sunlight after the storm, a broad
settled valley extends as far as the eye can see. Fields have been cleared for grazing and crops.
Minute plumes of smoke mark scattered farmhouses, and a few boats dot the river. Cole even
gives us a role to play: we have accompanied him on his painting expedition and climbed up a
little higher for an even better view. On a promontory to the right, we see the artistâ€™s umbrella
and knapsack. A little to the left and down from the umbrella, Thomas Cole himself, seated in
front of a painting in progress, looks up at us over his shoulder.
3.23 Thomas Cole. The Oxbow (View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, After
a Thunderstorm). 1836. Oil on canvas, 4′ 3 Â½” Ã— 6′ 4″.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908, 08.228. Image
copyright Â© The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY
Cole developed the painting in his studio from a sketch he had made at the site, though he also
introduced a number of inventions to make a more effective composition. The shattered and
gnarled trees in the left foreground, for example, are a device he often used, and even the storm
itself is probably a fiction, although he certainly could have seen such storms. But the view of
the river bend from the mountain, a famous sight in Coleâ€™s day, is largely faithful to his
In contrast, the painter of Shade of Pines in a Cloudy Valley (3.24) may never have seen the view
they depict nor would their audience have expected them to. Landscape is the most important
and honored subject in the Chinese painting tradition, but its purpose was never to record the
details of a particular site or view. Rather, painters learned to paint mountains, rocks, trees, and
water so that they could construct imaginary landscapes for viewers to wander through in the
mindâ€™s ey e. Whereas Coleâ€™s painting places us on the mountain and depicts what can be seen
from a fixed position, the artist here suspends us in midair and depicts a view that we could see
only if we were mobile, like a bird.
3.24 Shade of Pines in a Cloudy Valley, 1660. Ink and color on paper.
Heritage Arts/Heritage Images/Getty Images
In his inscription, Wang Jian writes that his painting was inspired by a work by the early 14thcentury master Zhao Mengfu, who in turn admired Dong Yuan, a 10th-century painter known for
a view of this same region. In just a couple of sentences, Wang Jian situates himself in a
centuries-old tradition of painterly and poetic meditations on the Xiao and Xiang rivers and the
Jiuyi Mountains they flow through, a landscape rich in historical, literary, and artistic
associations. All of that was more important to the painter and his audience than topographical
Nature has been more than a subject for art; it has also served as a material for art. The desire to
portray landscapes has been matched by the desire to create them for the pleasure of our eyes. A
work such as the famed stone-and-gravel garden of the Buddhist temple of Ryoan-ji in Kyoto,
Japan, seems to occupy a position halfway between sculpture and landscape gardening (3.25).
Created toward the end of the 15th century and maintained continuously since then, the garden
consists solely of five groupings of rocks set in a rectangular expanse of raked white gravel and
surrounded by an earthen wall. A simple wooden viewing platform runs along one side. Over
time, moss has grown up around the rock groupings, and oil in the clay walls has seeped to the
surface, forming patterns that call to mind traditional Japanese ink paintings of landscape. The
garden is a place of meditation, and viewers are invited to find their own meanings in it.
3.25 Stone and gravel garden, Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto. ca. 1488â€“1500, with subsequent
Â© Vanni Archive/Art Resource, NY
The simplicity of Ryoan-ji finds an echo in Spiral Jetty, an earthwork built by the American
artist Robert Smithson in 1970 in the Great Salt Lake, Utah (3.26). Smithson had become
fascinated with the ecology of salt lakes, especially with the microbacteria that tinge their water
shades of red. After viewing the Great Salt Lake in Utah, he leased a parcel of land on its shore
and began work on this large coil of rock and earth. Smithson was drawn to the idea that an artist
could participate in the shaping of landscape almost as a geological force. Like the garden at
Ryoan-ji, Spiral Jetty continued to change according to natural processes after it was finished.
Salt crystals accumulated and sparkled on its edges. Depths of water in and around it showed
themselves in different tints of transparent violet, pink, and red. Spiral Jetty was submerged by
the rising waters of the lake soon after it was created. Following droughts in the early 2000s, it
resurfaced, transformed by a coating of salt crystals.
3.26 Robert Smithson. Spiral Jetty. Great Salt Lake, Utah. April 1970. Black rock, salt crystals,
earth, red water (algae); 3 1Â»2 Ã— 15 Ã— 1500′.
DIA Center for the Arts, New York. Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai
Â© Holt-Smithson Foundation/VAGA, New York. Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni
Art about Art and Its Institutions
Artists learn to make art by looking at art. They look at the art of the past to learn about their
predecessors, and they look at the art of the present to situate themselves amid its currents and
get their bearings. In Chapter 2, we saw Yasumasa Morimura appropriate an image by the
Spanish 17th-century artist Diego VelÃ¡zquez in order to raise questions about self and the nature
of creativity. When he did this, he made art about art itselfâ€”about learning, making, and
viewing it; about its nature and social setting; about specific movements, styles, or works.
Jeff Wall is an artist who often sets up a dialogue with earlier art in his work. A Sudden Gust of
Wind (after Hokusai) (3.28) shows him thinking about Hokusaiâ€™s Ejiri in Suruga
Province (3.27). Wall takes seriously the idea, touched on in Chapter 2, that photography has
taken over from painting the project of depicting modern life. But he does not practice
photography in a straightforward way, going into the world to take pictures of objects he sees or
events he witnesses. Instead, he uses the technology of photography to construct an image, much
as a painter organizes a painting or a film director goes about making the artificial reality of a
film. He builds a set or scouts a location, he sets up the lighting or waits for the right weather,
and he costumes and poses his models. Often, as here, he uses digital technology to combine
many separately photographed elements into a single image. Wall displays the finished works as
large-format transparencies lit from behind. A Sudden Gust of Wind is almost the size of a
billboard, a glowing billboard.
3.27 Hokusai. Ejiri in Suruga Province, from Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. ca. 1831. Polychrome
woodblock print, 9 â… Ã— 14 â…ž”.
Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of James A. Michener, 1991, 21941
3.28 Jeff Wall. A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai). 1993. Transparency in lightbox, 7′ 6
â…ž” Ã— 12′ 4 5Â»16″.
Photo courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York. Â© Jeff Wall
Typically, what Wall wants us to see comes into focus only once we have the â€œart behind the artâ€
in mind. Hokusaiâ€™s Ejiri in Suruga Province is from Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, a series of
views of daily life in Japan linked by the presence of the serene mountain in the distance. Like
Hokusai, Wall sets his scene in a nondescript place, a flat land that is nowhere in particular. He
re-creates the two trees, the travelers, and the wind-scattered papers. But there is no sublime
mountain in the background, nothing to give the scene a larger meaning or sense of purpose.
Without knowing Hokusaiâ€™s print, we would not realize that the most powerful presence in
Wallâ€™s photograph is an absence, the mountain that is not there.
Some artists comment on the figures and institutions of the art world: artists, schools, critics,
auction houses, collectors, galleries, and museums. The activist group known as the Guerrilla
Girls came into being in 1985, shortly after the opening of a huge exhibition at New Yorkâ€™s
Museum of Modern Art. The show, titled International Survey of Contemporary Painting and
Sculpture, included works by 169 artists, fewer than 10 percent of whom were women. The
Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of women artists, protested the absence of women from this
and similar exhibitions. They produced a poster that asked in bold type, â€œWHAT DO THESE
ARTISTS HAVE IN COMMON?â€ Underneath were the names of forty-two prominent artistsâ€”
all male. The poster text continued, â€œThey all allow their work to be shown in galleries that show
no more than 10 percent women or none at all.â€
More posters followed. One asked, â€œDo women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?â€
(3.29), and noted the underrepresentation of women artists in the Metropolitan Museum of Artâ€™s
collection. The poster uses a photograph of a painting by the 19th-century French artist JeanAuguste-Dominique Ingres to represent the abundance of womenâ€™s bodies displayed in
museums. A gorilla mask is superimposed over her head, as the Guerrilla Girls wear this kind of
mask when they appear in public. These posters drew attention to art institutions that promoted
white male artists, all but ignoring women and minority artists. The works achieved almost
instant chic, partly because of their excellent graphic design and partly because of the Guerrilla
Girlsâ€™ aura of mystery. The group remains active today.
3.29 Guerrilla Girls. â€œDo women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?â€ 1989.
Screenprint on paper, 11 Ã— 28″.
Copyright Â© by Guerrilla Girls. www.guerrillagirls.com
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The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.
Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.
You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.Read more
Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.Read more
Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.Read more
Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.Read more
By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.Read more