Final Take Home Essay

Until recently, it was possible to divide art into distinctive categories more or less accurately. Thus, in accordance with disciplinary grounds, performing arts can typically be divided into opera, dance, music, and theater. In literary arts, the distinction is usually based on genre – fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. In visual arts, the distinction is typically based on medium – painting, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, installation arts, or graphic arts. However, 21st century brings a new tendency to mix and compound art forms, styles, and categories in order to create hybrid art mediums. Such artists as Blake, Close, Murata, Thomson, and Richter have gone far beyond the boundaries that divide pure photography and other art forms in search of new means to express themselves.

Earlier, visual arts critics could draw a distinctive line between photography and painting using a notion of realistic situation (Gelder, Westgeest 18). Thus, photography depicts some particular moment which is characterized by “dramatic expression”. The latter shows a situation that truly happened. Alike, painting can depict a moment characterized by “dramatic expression” but it remains rather detached from the represented moment. However, nowadays, critics cannot be that categorical. Technologies made it possible for artists to employ and experiment with photography in many other artistic mediums and forms. Gelder and Westgeest state that “the price paid for this can be the loss of belief in photography’s objectivity and indexicality” (33).

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Jeremy Blake, a famous American digital artist, created fascinating examples of the modern hybrid visual language that nowadays prevails in the moving-image culture (Manovich). One of his best works is Sodium Fox. It is a mix of photography, paintings, 2D animation, and effects enabled by software. Using such strategy, Blake slowed down usually fast rhythm of motion graphics comparing to how they are usually performed nowadays. Despite slower pace of his films, they are extremely dense in terms of information. In Sodium Fox, the density is created by original exploration of the production environment’s basic feature, which is based on software and some particular programs like aftereffects of the image construction from potentially numerous layers.
Blake was first to be noticed for creating large-scale digital C-prints. They looked like both paintings and photographs but were neither in reality. Furthermore, he started to animate sequences of such images aiming at creating looping digital video works. Blake used visually dense images that possessed both abstract and representational expressions. His stylized works focused on a range of subjects varying from violence to glamor, from metaphors of art to profiles of cultural icons. Thus, despite still employing of photography in his works, the artist rejects its still nature in favor of motion graphics.

Chuck Close is a famous American photographer and painter who is well-known for large-scale portraits and an intricate technique to make human portraits (“Charles Thomas Close”). Close has largely contributed to the art of portraiture through the mastery of numerous painting techniques, printmaking techniques and handmade paper collages. His works are usually associated with photorealism, which is a style that connects painting and photography. Thus, Close uses so-called ‘grid technique’. A photo is enlarged reducing each part of it to formal elements of design that is a little work of art itself. He took advantage of photography’s realistic depicture of a specific moment and technology that made it possible for an artist to manipulate with enlarged photos using different painting techniques.

Takeshi Murata is another American digital artist who develops his artistic works within the paradigm of media hybridization. In his profound work titled Pink Dot, Murata creates a breathing and living image with distinct biological feelings (Manovich). Such technique has been currently used by many artists. However, not many of them managed to recreate an image on the verge of coming to life as it did Takeshi Murata. In order to create this breathing-like rhythm, the artist transforms live action footage into a flow of abstract color images and photos. However, the transformation never comes to a final state. The artist adjusts its degree all the time. Firstly, we see almost unprocessed live imagery or photos. Then, it turns into an abstract pattern. Furthermore, the parts of the image are again visible; this process continues endlessly. In Pink Dot, the notion of media hybridity is performed through a permanent metamorphosis. Thus, there is a lasting change occurs between different media aesthetics: the texture of a movie and abstract patterns of flowing images and photos, and between the original liveliness of human figures and the artificial liveliness they exhibit when processed by a program.

Kristine Thomson is an American artist who works primarily in photography and sculpture. Her works usually focus on people’s emotional responses to death (Yury). By using C-print technique, the artist brings images from various historical periods into a shared visual space. As a result, she manages to start a conversation between past and present addressing the questioning loss and mourning. In her C-prints, Thomson uses photography due to its extreme expressive power of a particular moment.

Gerhard Richter, an outstanding visual artist from Germany, has largely employed hybrid artistic forms in order to debunk the idea of the artist’s obligation to follow a single style in his/her creative works (Colberg). Richter has started creating his artworks based on photos since 1960s. He made paintings from black and white photos and based them on books, newspapers, views of town, seascapes, etc. Richter would start with taking or finding a photo, then continue projecting it onto the canvas, and finally painting over the canvas. Starting from 1989, Richter created new images by putting wet paint over the photos. These photos were mostly shots of everyday life: buildings and streets, family and friends. Such works are usually referred to as overpainted photos. Thus, now Richter uses photography to depict reality. However, he creates a painterly reality later, which puts, in its turn, a distance to the notion depicted in the photo.

As illustrated above, more and more artists resort to different art forms’ combinations in search of new means of expression. Nowadays, the artists are not fully satisfied with photography only depicting reality and, therefore, conveying objectivity. The abovementioned artists develop photography within other artistic forms, such as painting, print, digital media, and music. They employ the expressiveness of the moment depicted in the photograph and put it in other artistic realities.

Marcel Duchamp is a profound French artist who defined the rapid development in twentieth-century art and largely influenced its further development in twenty-first century. Duchamp’s creative works are usually associated with a number of artistic movements from cubism and surrealism to dadaism and conceptual art. However, Duchamp’s major innovation was in his attempt to reverse art from pleasing eye to serving the people’s mind. He introduced a number of profound issues on the artistic process and, therefore, greatly influenced the way art is developing nowadays. Modern artists prove to pick up rapidly all Duchamp’s innovations from ready-made and deskilling to the art of performance. Thus, Duchamp initiated the movement currently referred to as pop art and made a great impact on a number of contemporary artists, among which are Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Ai Weiwei, and many others.

Dada movement appeared during the WWI. It introduced the idea of anti-art. This concept, which was employed by dadaists and Duchamp in particular, was aimed at showing people how dangerous the world has gone (Zucker). The aim of this movement was to undermine the way we value art. Duchamp is known for creating and introducing so-called ready-mades that correspond to the concept of anti-art. Some of them were assisted ready-mades. Duchamp would take two unrelated objects that exist in the world and put them together. The others were pure ready-mades like, for example, In Advance of a Broken Arm. Combining day-to-day objects and fancy titles, Duchamp showed his ironic approach to art and created special narratives. He stated that in 20th century, the value of art was not necessarily located in the practice of its making, but in symbolic language and the ability of art to transform the way we see things. Thus, Duchamp deskilled a conventional artist. He undermined the importance for an artist to possess some sophisticated artistic skills. Thus, Duchamp challenged the definition of art and art market by relocating an artwork from handicraft to the sphere of conceptualism.

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Duchamp and Warhol had a strong taste for celebrity, desire to shock, and special view of day-to-day objects in common. Warhol owned nearly thirty Duchamp’s pieces of art. In order to get a copy of famous Fountain, Warhol traded three of his own portraits. Warhol managed to understand Duchamp’s most striking oeuvre – the ready-made – and continued the tradition praising the irony of mass production (Pinnington). Thus, in 1964, Warhol made a series of sculptures that imitated the shipping cartons for soap pads and ketchup. Later, in 1968, he performed 500 Brillo boxes, showing great connection of this particular exhibit to Duchamp’s concept of ready-made. However, Duchamp himself regarded pop art and Warhol’s creative work as a return to conceptual painting by saying that he referred to the Warhol’s canvas with 50 Campbell soup cans. While considering this work, a person will not be interested in the visual image but in the concept the piece of art conveys (Pinnington).

Warhol kept on using Duchamp’s concept of ready-made art during all his life. In 1964, Warhol installed controversial screen prints at the world fair. The work was titled “13 Most Wanted Men” and inspired by Duchamp’s work “Wanted: $2,000 Reward exhibited in 1923” (“13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair”). Following Duchamp, Warhol reinterpreted the art icon Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, debunking the concept of high art. His first interpretation appeared in 1963 and was followed by the number of renditions. Warhol depicted Mona Lisa in the same way he pictured Elvis Presley and Marlin Monroe. By doing so, Warhol criticized the aesthetic values of modern society orientated at mass production and mass consumption.

Peter Blake started to incorporate pop art elements into his works while studying at Royal College of Art. In 1967, the artist created the famous cover to Beatles album presenting the art of surreal juxtaposition. Impressed by the works of Duchamp, Blake decided to create a series of paintings making Duchamp their main hero (“Peter Blake: The Marcel Duchamp World Tour”). Blake sent Duchamp on a tour to posthumous world meeting people and visiting different places. In his first painting, Blake brought Duchamp to Tarzan and all his family. Furthermore, French artist went to meet Elvis and Spice Girls. Afterwards, Duchamp appeared in the company of Damien Hirst and Picasso. By creating this series of paintings, Blake aimed at tribute to Duchamp for laying the modern pop art’s groundwork.

Duchamp is well-known for bringing chess into art. Therefore, in one of his series, Blake paints Duchamp playing chess with Tracey Emin. The painting is based upon the real story (Sooke). After Duchamp had married a young heiress, they left for the honeymoon which failed since Duchamp spent most days studying chess combinations. Therefore, his bride simply glued chess pieces to the board while the artist was asleep. In 1963, at Pasadema Art Museum, Duchamp performed a chess match with a nude woman, Eve Babitz. Using the original chessboard, Blake decided to recreate the famous chess play together with Carol Holt in 2007.

Ai Weiwei is a leading contemporary artist from China. His works are largely influenced by Duchamp. Ai Weiwei inherited from the latter the art of provocation and shocking the audience. Duchamp’s influence is highly reflected in many Ai Weiwei’s works. Thus, Weiwei’s works have this deep conceptual meaning that Duchamp referred to when speaking of the concept being more important than the artwork itself. Ai Weiwei is rather Duchampian in his thoughts about art (Philipsen). Duchamp blamed other artists for being engaged more in development of their artistic skills than in conceptual depth. Like Duchamp, Chinese artist believes that the audience’s interpretation is the main element of an artwork. Ai Weiwei never interprets or explains his art. He provides the audience with the possibility to evaluate the work without bias.

Ai Weiwei’s Dropping of the Han Dynasty Urn put the artist ahead of his time. The work represents a new form of art titled “documented form.” Moreover, the work speaks of a rapid shift from Duchamp’s ready-mades. Philipsen also states in his article on Weiwei’s creative work that there is also a cultural significance in the Weiwei’s work. By destroying the Han Dynasty Urn, he draws the audience’s attention to the destruction of Chinese heritage during Chinese cultural revolution. The movement continues to take place in contemporary China making its way towards development and modernization. While Duchamp raised the question of what is defined as art, the contemporary artists use his ideas and go even further.

Ai Weiwei’s Dropping of the Han Dynasty Urn shows similar ideas with Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. As well as Mona Lisa, Dropping of the Han Dynasty Urn possesses high cultural significance in its context. Both artists aim at recontextualizing an artwork making different narration. Thus, by adding some moustache and goatee to Mona Lisa’s painting, Duchamp made a reference to Da Vinci’s homosexuality and tried to debunk deeply rooted icons. The same applies to the idea of Chinese cultural heritage destruction (Philipsen). Alike Duchamp, Weiwei aimed at breaking stereotypes and bios, which people surround different objects with.

Marcel Duchamp is a profound French artist. His biggest contribution lies within his ability to question and admonish the existing norms. Duchamp was the first one among those who raised controversy over the pieces of art and their form creating a basis for today’s artistic movements. As it is illustrated above, such successful modern artists as Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, and Ai Weiwei based their works on the Duchamp’s legacy with further supporting and advancing his ideas. Duchamp’s advancements such as ready-made, deskilling, and performance are among the most popular modern artistic forms.