Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ramon Riley FINAL - VISUAL culture: The New Ravishing

VISUAL culture: The New Ravishing
Ramon Riley

Looking at Sandro Botticelli’s untitled painting commonly known as La Primavera or Allegory of Spring, we can find an Allegory of our visual culture, which we explored in Sturken and Cartwright’s Practices of Looking...

La Primavera, painted in 1482, depicts mythological figures in a garden.  From watching a television program Every Painting Tells a Story, I was inspired to investigate this allegory for the lush growth of spring as a potential for metaphors connecting to our readings from Practices of Looking...  as well as for my work, for my life, and for my art.

Sandro Botticelli
La Primavera, 1482

But First, to understand the painting, we must read it from right to left.  This is not our natural way to read imagery.  In western industrialized culture, we train ourselves to read from left to right.  Once we adjust to looking at La Primavera, we begin to explore the subjects of the painting: six females, two males and a putto (fat child).

Sandro Botticelli
La Primavera (detail), 1482

Secondly, in Greek mythology, man created gods in his likeness.  In Christianity, we are taught that God created man in the likeness of his own image.  For this painting, we must calibrate our thinking.  These gods of Greek mythology are flawed with human qualities.  On the right, Zephyrus, god of the biting west wind of March, is “ravishing” Chloris against her will, after she resisted him.  He wanted her, regardless of her resistance, so he took her.  Zephyrus, a force of nature, ravished Chloris, an unintentionally seductive nymph, who rejected and resisted Zephyrus.  This metaphor is critical in making connections to our western industrialized culture.  From this aggressive act, flowers sprouted out of the mouth of Chloris.   Despite being overpowered, Chloris transformed into Flora the goddess of flowers, or the goddess of spring.  

After reading Sturken and Cartwright’s Practices of Looking..., I have come to this conclusion:  in our western industrialized culture there is always a ravishing.  We the people are like Chloris, the unintentionally seductive nymphs of Zephyrus’ desire.  Wealth and power are like the west wind blown from the mouth of Zephyrus.  We can never obtain the wind, but we can be devastated by the wind.  Our resilience and transformation produces a figurative garden.

Every pun intended.  The male gaze as the primary target audience of visual marketing is no coincidence.  Throughout history, men have ravished seductive women.  Ravishing is a display of power with little skill.  Seduction is a skillful way of being that must be nurtured and tuned, but regardless of how skillful or for whom the seduction is intended, stereotypically, men ejaculate at the thought of being powerful.  This makes men easy targets of marketing.  The empty promise of obtaining power is a faster sell in promoting consumable goods than the promise of making one desirable, which takes work to develop, more work to maintain and is subjective to asking approval from an audience.

In my work, I used to think I focused on the metaphorical transformation of the nymph Chloris into Flora, the goddess of flowers.  I thought I chose subjects that have been affected, possibly devastated by the wind.  Whether literally eroded, by weather and time, or poetically rusted, by mistreatment or abandonment, I found great pleasure in the “dusting off”, rediscovery, recovery and re-exhibition of beauty.  Taking the opportunity to immerse, for the first time of my adult life, in my art, I began piecing together thoughts that had been gestating for 15 years, but I had no idea how to make my ideas my “work”.  Surrendering to the academic process of making art, which involves study, theory and criticism, I wanted to distance myself from being an amateur, kitsch and/or stagnant artist.  That much I knew.

Swiping through images of Botticelli’s work in an Art history “app” on an iPad, I realized my work too will be swiped through, from screen to screen, on a beautiful “retina display”, or some other new technology, if I am lucky.  This is another kind of ravishing.  Technology will swallow the work of artists whole.  If that is to be an artist’s fate, then what is the point of putting oneself out there? 

Retreating back to the studio, painting to music at three in the morning, I realized then, as I do now, this is the moment.  I have to decide whether I can accept the offerings of the real world or live inside my mind.  We are all like Chloris:  In the real world, we have all had something taken from us or put into us.  By simply existing, we are subject to be ravished by shallow, aggressive “gods”.  In the real world, I am like the nymph Chloris, but that is not who I am in my mind. In the studio, I realized I was deciding whether my work is an acknowledgement of such a “taking”, an inventory of what is left of me, or a discovery of an untouchable and sacred place.  

In La Primavera, Flora, the goddess of flowers, is the second female image from the right.  In this 6 and a half foot tall painting, it is Flora who is addressing the viewer by looking at and stepping directly toward us, approximately at eye level.  Despite the dominating acts of Zephyrus, her arrival symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life.  Perhaps, Flora was the answer to the question:  What could my art become?  

To the left of Flora, we see Venus the goddess of love. Venus is also looking at the audience, though not as directly as Flora, for Venus is an overseer presiding over the garden.  She is a god too.  Her oblivious response to the ravishing of Chloris implies its inevitability.  Venus, therefore, has her graces set to seduce another male god in the painting, Mercury.  Mercury, who is waving a wand to keep the clouds away from the garden in springtime, is the messenger god of abundance and commercial success. 

Sandro Botticelli
La Primavera (detail), 1482

In Practices of Looking..., we learn, in our western industrialized culture, people in power control visual media, and thus control production.  The mass population looks to the “powers that be” to thwart off the clouds with their magic wands in the role of Mercury.  Despite thinking their actions being more like Zephyrus, we cast them as Mercury, who is receiving Venus’ graces, primed to make love on the lush ground of springtime grass.  In another painting by Botticelli, Mars and Venus, painted a year later, we see the affect of Venus’ love on Mars, the god of war.  With his helmet cast aside, Mars is easily satisfied by Venus.  Seeing such satisfaction makes Mercury the lucky god.  So why would we not cast ourselves in the role to receive Venus’ love?

Sandro Botticelli
Venus and Mars, 1483

In La Primavera, Venus’ three accompanying dancing nymphs, the Three Graces (Charm, Beauty, Creativity), set the stage for Mercury to enjoy the love of Venus.  Venus’ aloof facial expression, similar to her expression in the other Botticelli paintings Birth of Venus and Mars and Venus, is appropriate because her love is unobtainable. Just as the wind of Zephyrus is inescapable, Venus’ love is impenetrable.  Her love can not be owned.  One can only be affected by it.

Sandro Botticelli
Birth of Venus, 1486

Unfortunately, mastery of media means that powerful corporations are creating truths for the masses.  We the people have grown to be fearful of the gods, to believe we own gods, or believe we are God.  The average person never knew the game.  Now, the average person no longer knows their place.  Media tricks us into believing we can only be Chloris or Zephyrus, meanwhile trying to reduce Venus, so we may never know her.  

We need only to look at Titian’s Venus of Urbino, painted just 56 years later in 1538, to see the inspiration for the kind of marketing we have mastered today.  Here, Venus is looking directly at the viewer.  She is touching her vagina.  She is teasing the viewer unapologetically.  Venus of Urbino is placed in a domestic setting, which implies that she is ready to be tamed by mortal man.  While I enjoy the painting’s direct sexuality, she does not deserve to be called a Venus.  Venus of Urbino is just an easy lay, so don’t be fooled.

Venus of Urbino, 1538

Typing this paper in my local Starbucks, I see another trick, Siren, the company’s logo portrayed as the muse and welcoming hostess of the company’s brand.  A siren in Greek mythology is a seductive, devious creature who lures sailors to their death with her sex appeal and her song.  In the early Starbucks logo, we knew she was a siren because she clearly had two mermaid-like tails, but over the years, the logo has become more deceptive.  Her tales are almost completely hidden by design principles of symmetrical balance and unity with the lines of the hair.  This siren is being presented as a Venus. a Titian-style Venus, however, looking directly at the viewer.  Starbuck’s website acknowledges that she is a “siren” but manipulates her purpose:  “And she’s a promise too, inviting all of us to find what we’re looking for, even if it’s something we haven’t even imagined yet.” ( Death!?!)

Mastery of media means images can be taken and used to turn tricks, or serve as prostitutes.  How else could a devious killer be misrepresented by one of the world’s biggest brands as a muse or goddess in the form of a logo, such as the siren being used by Starbucks?  Conversely, how else could the goddess of love be reduced to an easy lay in the form of endless Venus impostors?  This is the new ravishing.  All is fair when pushing commodities.

Marx thought an ideology such as consumerism brought ‘false consciousness’ making the masses vulnerable to coercion.  Familiarity brings marketability which births sell-able products, projects and even political candidates.  We are bombarded with messages and images that make us feel powerful, only to be disempowered by the magic trick or the dominant-hegemonic forces.  This is interpellation, a sophisticated form of manipulation.  Someone is getting powerful, and thus someone is getting rich by manipulating the masses.  Those who own production control ideas.  This also gives some insight to the widening income gap in America.  The rich keep getting richer because there are more ways to control media, and, thus, they have more ways to gain capital.  

I try to imagine an agricultural culture where labor and the crop dictates the schedule and, thus, the senses of a man... no iPods, no magazines, no billboards, no radio, no television, no computer... no need.  In such a culture, the ravishing can be more obvious.  American slavery is an example of such a ravishing as recent as 150 years ago.  Some things are just in our nature.  The visuals that are centerpiece of our current “culture” suppress our resistance by soothing us with pseudo art in the form of advertising that reinforces our culture’s ideology.  Industrialization has perfected the veil.

I taught a foreign exchange student from Russia about 12 years ago, who told me “American blue jeans” would be prized souvenirs to take back to her home.  An inventive use of cotton intended to be gear for steelworkers had been masterfully marketed as fashion...  This cotton commodity is what made our country unique to an outsider.  ...the literal fabric of the figurative garden that sprouted out of the mouth of Chloris.

Enter the digital garden.  Through media, fantasy itself is a marketable commodity.  We are constantly creating and consuming fantasy.  Such a cycle is a complex and interconnected VISUAL culture.  It is no longer as simple as seeing the advertisement and buying the product.  Advertisers know that buying into the fantasy keeps us in a constant state of consumerism.  Consumer addicts just need to have access to the products.  

In a conversation with one of my ninth grade students,  I was astonished by the impact of VISUAL culture on her.  She said, “I wish life had a soundtrack.  Then, you would know what was going to happen by what type of music was playing, and you would know what to do.”  Mastery of media has so effectively blurred the lines between fantasy and reality, we no longer wish they were one and the same.  We believe fantasy and reality ARE one and the same.

Most of us, now, appreciate media in the context of other media.  For example, I do not see our young people listening to music for music sake.  There must be a video that also informs them about the fashion trends, latest lingo, and temperament.  To many, “What a Wonderful World” does not exist on its own.  It recalls emotions and imagery from Toy Story 3.  Does it no longer make US feel as good when it was “just” a beautiful song from the soulful and raspy voice of Louis Armstrong?

The production of fantasy is a valuable commodity.  In our western industrialized culture, we mass produce fantasy.  Because most of us do not have to toil in the fields; because most of us do not have to pick cotton; because most of us do not work from sunrise to sunset; because our poorest citizens have more leisure time in a day and more years in a lifespan than during anytime in history,  we have time to fantasize.  Our dreams and our fantasies are the lush garden.  VISUAL culture keeps us caught in a cycle, however, where we continue to cast ourselves as Chloris.   

That once famous superstar athlete may have trouble walking in his 50’s.  That platinum selling musician did not make nearly as much money as you thought.  That award winning actor overdosed on drugs.  The powerful business man is obese and impotent...etc., yet we repeatedly fill the roles of Chloris and Zephyrus in our fantasy commodity.  ...the phoenix from the ashes ...the rags to riches story... With the hopes of becoming Flora, these “beautiful” stories are in constant rotation being retold and resold.  Why do we JUST dream to be nymphs who morph into gods?  

Without truly seeing Venus, we won’t see the big picture.  She is the center of an this almost basic, symmetrical composition.  Venus is the goddess of sex, but she is also the goddess of love, beauty, fertility, prosperity and victory.  With his arrow aimed at Mercury, Cupid, Venus’ son is the god of desire, affection and erotic love, so sex is definitely an important part of the picture, but that is not the only part.  Venus’ power goes beyond desires of the flesh.    

Sandro Botticelli
La Primavera (detail), 1482

In my current work, I am embarking on a journey to explore and reveal Venus, uplifting both her overt and subtle attributes as the lead actor in my fantasy.  I have been creating abstract foundations in paint on paper and allowing them to settle.  I then cultivate the surface with abstract mark-making like vitamin-rich soil, hoping Venus may find my work a suitable, protected “garden” environment.  Lastly, I try to unearth her from the depths of my underpainting, whether her likeness emerges as portrait, sculpture or landmark, so that I can admire her charms and her grace... 

Ramon Riley
untitled (in-progress)

Venus can not be reduced, but she can be ignored, and others can pose as her impostor.  Christianity teaches about such pitfalls in or relationship with God.  As Christianity teaches, one must be open to receive and accept God, we too must be skillful in the art of Looking to see gods, so that we may either fantasize to be them or fantasize to be loved by them. 

In VISUAL culture there will always be a ravishing, but it is the preservation and play by the gods Mercury and Venus (along with the Cupid and the Three Graces) in La Primavera that could be inspiration for other fantasies giving us something greater than the hope of Chloris’ transformation to inhabit the garden.

...As the professional practicing artist of my own fantasy, may I always choose to cast myself as Mercury, so that I may protect the garden beneath Venus’ feet, constantly being prepared to receive her love.  

Ramon Riley
untitled (Venus), 2012

Marita Sturken, Lisa Cartwright, Practices of Introduction to Visual Culture  (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art  (New York City, NY: Rugged Land, LLC, 2002).

Steven Pressfield, The Warrior Ethos  (New York City, NY: Black Irish Entertainment, LLC, 2011).

The Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV)  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).

Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, 1879, "Venus" 
Samuel Butler, Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey (A Buki Editions Collection, 2009). 
Campos, Thai. "Botticelli - The Philosophy Behind Primavera." Suite Jan. 2010 <>.
M., Steven. "So Who Is Siren?" 5 Jan. 2011 <>.
"Cupid" in The Classical Tradition, edited by Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, and Salvatore Settis (Harvard University Press, 2010), pp. 144–145.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ramon Riley - TEN - Who Are WE Visually?

Writing TEN  - “Who Are WE Visually”?
Ramon Riley

Cool.  The word has been extracted from it’s vernacular origins.  It is the key to America’s visual mission statement.  Introduced to America by Miles Davis with “Birth of the Cool” recorded in 1949 and released in 1957, the idea of "cool" and being cool has been marketed and sold ever since.

It is not a coincidence that the emergence of Jazz, an American-born art form, happened just before American commercials and advertisements began selling a way of life and ideas of success instead of strictly being informational campaigns to move consumer goods... marketing “cool”.  Sparked by The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s-1930’s, like the more recent hip-hop explosion of the 1980’s-1990’s,  it was a cultural movement where music, poetry and art was seamlessly woven within a lifestyle.  Black Americans of The Harlem Renaissance, who were not of the mainstream, invented and reinvented themselves.  Anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston said, “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company?” America couldn’t.  

America’s acceptance of it’s Black citizens as the entrepreneurs of “cool” led to the progress of the civil rights movement, to progress in education, to progress in socio-economics... all the way to the white house.  Black people make white people rich because black people create “cool” and corporations manufacture, package and sell “cool” for profit.  Do I sound racist?  Wikipedia Elvis Presley. You know, “the king”?  “He began his career in 1954, working with Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who wanted to bring the sound of African-American music to a wider audience.”  Elvis Presley was manufactured and marketable “cool” in an acceptable package at the time.

Knowing that televisions upstart in the early 50’s, marketed as an educational tool, becoming a tool for product placement puts things in perspective for me (p. 151-186).  I am reading between the lines, but, there is a connection to Black history.  Black Americans gained civil rights just in time to be useful salespeople, as well as consumers.  If you watch sports, for example, Black athletes have become inseparable from the company that markets them.  I merely think about Michael Jordan, and an image of the Jumpman  logo (a spin-off company of Nike) appears in my mind.  I see the Jumpman logo, and images of Jordan dunking from the free throw line in the ’87 dunk contest is conjured.    

Visual media becomes even more complex, because black people have not had civil rights long enough to accumulate generational wealth.  America associates a face of authenticity with its Black citizens.  If we see a rich Black person, or a successful Black person, we assume they are a product of the American Dream, advancing oneself through hard work and opportunity, not through nepotism.  ...and that is “cool”.  So when many Americans see black skin, they think “cool”.  President Obama and Jay-Z should hang out (and they do) because they are both black.  And through a series of deductions, if X equals Z and Y equals Z and Jay-Z is “cool”, then... I have no idea where I was going with that...

The pitfall is believing one’s own hype.  Miles Davis birthed “cool” because he was as inventive in music as Picasso was in visual art.  He sampled and appropriated a genius blend of sources, and he OWNED the product because he OWNED the process.  Michael Jordan was “cool” because he mastered the fundamentals and studied the best before him, dominating a team sport in an unprecedented way.  MJ was jazz in the athletic form.  These are just two examples of icons whose image/persona of  the “cool” is supported by substance.  The difference was time.  Davis was “Birth of the Cool” and Jordan was a pioneer during an ascension of the mastery of media's use of "cool".  

Reading Sturken and Cartwright’s Practices of Looking... has been life-changing for me.  This book filled in many gaps.  Visual media has been mastered.  We are easily defeated by it’s power.  If I am thinking it, I may be too late, for it’s already being test-marketed.  Each chapter provided insight on ways it happens... 

Unfortunately, mastery of media means media is able to separate “cool” from its origins.    Media manufactures rebellion in ways, such as teen angst, for example, and kids believe that is cool.  Every time I see screen-printed t-shirts that say “Anarchy”, I say “packaged rebellion” to myself.  Media places labels on people to separate us.  Media doesn’t wait for us to want.  Except now, our wants don’t have to be backed by substance.  It makes the work of corporate pseudo-artists easier, and who wouldn’t want to make their job easier.  We are misled to believe that’s the American way, but that ain’t “cool”.  When we simply go along for the ride, we lose our “cool”.

So, Who are we?  ...collectively as Americans...  Well, we want to be “cool” because “cool” was born when media was born.  “Cool” and media grew up together.  Americans invented jazz, and, therefore, invented the formula for “cool”.  Now, “cool” is more American than apple pie.  “Cool” is dreaming and carrying out ones dreams TODAY.  You want to play on the big stage? Start playing on whatever stage will have you, and OWN IT like it is the big stage.  That’s "cool". ...even if that big stage means practicing into a broomstick/microphone.  ...just so long as one is working at it, then you're really “cool”.

“C-O-O-L What's that spell? 
C-O-O-L That spells cool's all because of something 
That I didn't learn in school 
I'm just cool (Cool) 
Honey, baby can't U see? 
Girl, I'm so cool (Cool) 
Ain't nobody bad like me 

C-O-O-L   C-O-O-L”

-The Time

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ramon Riley - Writing NINE - A Life Worth Stealing

Writing NINE  - A Life Worth Stealing
Ramon Riley

In Chapter Nine from Sturken and Cartwright’s Practices of Looking... “The Global Flow Of Visual Culture”, I found myself feeling hopeless...

How does one make an impact, when multi-national corporations can make, bastardize  or destroy you in the name of profit?  I found it mind-boggling that the chapter put to words what I’ve always thought.  “The convergence of previously discrete media industries and technologies allows media to be integrated into the lives of people across boundaries more smoothly and effortlessly.”(p 315) In other words, they have so mastered the game that these big companies can telegraph their moves and not care because we accept it.  I am aware of this every time I watch Disney/ESPN/ABC television.  It is unavoidable.  A single corporation will find some way to get you:  film, magazines, books, sports, TV, newspapers, radio, websites...etc.

Question 1.  How are you most vulnerable?  What is your weakness when it comes to being a targeted consumer?

The concept of cultural imperialism (p 322) as a way of exporting a way of life and cultural products was particularly disturbing.  We envy the French. Wait! We must hate the French.  I can’t remember why... but I find it fascinating to hear from people who travel that it was always better than they expected, wherever the place.  That is because we have been conditioned to believe America is the greatest and most advanced in every way.  One would think with so much media access, we would be more free thinking.  In reality, that is how we are controlled even in our own country through our own media.  It has been my observation that, in the past 20 years, my black nephew, in a working class family, acts as entitled as my white students from upper middle class families.  Media and “reality” TV has managed to bridge the race gap for the worse.  During a recent trip to New York City, I witnessed college students from a country of lightly tanned people (I could not recognize the accent), and all I could decipher was the repeating of “Carrie Bradshaw, Carrie Bradshaw”, the main character from the movies and series, “Sex in the City”.  They then began acting in a very unbecoming manner; speaking loudly and posing glamorously while they took each others’ pictures.  As an aside, it just so happened that I saw the real Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker, the night before, during the encore of her husband’s show on broadway, and she was very unassuming, wanting anything but attention.

Question 2.  Who are we (Americans)?  How would you market us? What traits would you want to see mimicked by tourists?

Right before I passed judgement towards the statement about third world households most expensive purchase being the television, I thought about all the “man caves” and game rooms where the TV is the basically the epicenter of the home (p 326).  But now, we are moving away from TV into interactive TV because of the boom of the internet.  “If you like our show, follow us on twitter, or check out our website...”  I am not encouraged by the internets multi-directional/fundamentally democratic experience.  Sure, I can get hair products and art supplies through the mail that I would not have access to in Indiana, PA, but at what cost, really?  I remember waiting outside the Civic Arena in 1997 to get a ticket to a Prince concert that was later cancelled.  The people I met, and the experience of hearing the “Emancipation” album in someone’s car, while we sought relief from the cold, was worth the journey.  Every artist knows the process is better than the product.  

Not to be a total cynic, there are some wonderful things about the internet.  I can find moments of nostalgia more easily, and I can share them with others.  I guess I am questioning... Does having this access replace creating new memories, movements...etc. It’s all turned into history far too quickly anyway.  It’s like we have shortened the lifespan of good art and increased the lifespan of trainwreck media.

Question 3.  What have you found on the internet that you could not have access to otherwise?  

Question 4.  How dependent are you on the internet?  Classwork aside, how long could you go without access to the internet?

The chapter goes on to talk about the difficulty in regulating the internet and the importance in big companies using what once was seen as small, free media and advertisement.  Regulating the internet because it is a place of free speech...PORN.  I am glad they acknowledged that elephant (p. 339-344).  (I did find it interesting that there was no mention of China, since they are so big and their market  dictates so much.)  It is too much to digest because it is so encompassing.  I don’t know if I am missing the forest with all the trees in the way, so I close my paper with this...

If not for us relating to images like a joyous child playing jumprope in the neighborhood, companies would have no imagery to use that evokes our emotions.  Then, how would they sell us products.  We must have a life worth stealing, and then we must fight to hold on to it.  I am going to go listen to that Prince album again.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ramon Riley Writing FIVE - Visual Culture’s Stronghold on Authentic Life

Ramon Riley 

Writing FIVE  - Visual Culture’s Stronghold on Authentic Life

The movie opens with a metaphor for us to consider.  White sheep being herded with a lone black sheep caught in the middle of the pack... The 1936 film Modern Times, written, directed and starring Charlie Chaplin directly and indirectly addresses many of the topics we have read in Practices of Looking...  by Sturken and Cartwright.

First, Modern Times was not very “modern” at all.  This is a silent film created and released after silent films had run their course.  Chaplin, however, was a master pantomime artist, so his resistance was an obvious attempt to promote his strongest attributes as an actor.  Voice was added in the film only as post-production to clarify the details of a scene through a phonograph, a radio and a television adding bit parts within the film.  Many people wondered why Chaplin resisted “talkies” when the technology was available. The expectation was that the world’s biggest star, the first million dollar movie star, should adopt current technology in order to stay relevant, and sticking with silent film was making Chaplin obsolete (1). 

Modern Times (1936)

Modern Times was also shot using an outdated film technique.  At 18 frames per second, a speed used for silent films, the action seemed more fast paced and animated when it was played at 24 frames per second, the new normal film speed of the time.  Like the lead character in the film the Little Tramp was trying to survive the world of industry, factory workers, and assembly lines, Chaplin was trying to survive the changing landscape of film.  Moreover, while Chaplin denied any messages beyond pure entertainment, many agree that Modern Times intentionally makes a statement about people’s insignificance in respect to the “machine” of industry.

Throughout Practices of Looking...  Sturken and Cartwright refer to us as a Western industrialized culture living in a multimedia environment, which stems from capitalism.  Discussed in chapter 1, social power and ideologies are are produced by images.  Navigating through imagery is not a passive process.  We influence the meaning and value of the marketable mass produced objects, images and experiences, or stuff, we buy.  This awareness is necessary in attempting to dissect our visual culture.  Not every culture is bombarded with images every second of everyday.  We are the connoisseurs of taste.  Our taste says much about who we are.  Through “representation”, we are like gods seeking visuals in our likeness and refining our taste.  This determines what we buy, whether literally or conceptually.  Buying gives us power, both actual and perceived.  Buying power (or surrendering buying power) is the canvas on which mass media attempts to understand and shape our habits, so they can sell us their stuff.

Radio and Television made “information” available to non-literate people, and this made capitalism more prevalent in daily life (p. 153).  Prior to radio and television, we could not put our trust in mass media to teach and give us “our” opinions.  Many never really question information from “trustworthy” faces of a trusted source of news, like FOX or CNN.  Our hearts, minds, and souls are the battlefield for the war between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces.  Does George Bush being marketed as the president one could have a beer with versus Al Gore, the pretentious snob, make Bush a more effective president?  Then, why are candidates personalities and temperaments reportable “news” for network “debates”?

Trust is important in the ideology of our consumer culture, and this trust can be easily manipulated.  In chapter 5, the idea is presented that films like JFK masterfully convince us of the film’s accuracy by incorporating television news footage or imagery to look like vintage news footage.  This is evidence at how deeply layered and in-grained visual culture is in the Western industrialized psyche (p. 157).  Perhaps, trust can be easily misplaced because the viewing audience convinces itself that viewing television replaces participation (p. 165).  We think that by “paying attention” to social and political issues we are informed and active.  And maybe we are.  Maybe “tuning in” provides data for the market researchers.  We use our buying power as political power.  

In Modern Times, our hero the Little Tramp can not escape the trappings of consumerism.  Whether he is falling asleep on a job, as a night watchmen, in a comfortable bed of a department store, the dream is to have the desired lifestyle.  During a scene with the Little Tramp and the Gamine resting their weary souls on the lawn of a well-to-do house, the two fantasize about what it would be like to have that house as a home for themselves.  They imagine a stocked refrigerator, fresh fruit from the tree outside their window, milk straight from a cow outside their door and having to give little effort for anything.  Coming back into consciousness, they decide to “give it a go” back to the city hoping to make a living.  Work hard to “take it easy”.

Chaplin and Goddard
Modern Times (1936)

Marx thought ideology brought “false consciousness” making the masses vulnerable to coercion.  Familiarity brings marketability which births sell-able products, projects and even political candidates.  Someone is getting powerful, and thus someone is getting rich by manipulating the masses.  Those who own production control ideas (p.51).  This also gives some insight to the widening income gap in America.  The rich keep getting richer because there are more ways to control media and thus more ways to gain capital.  In Modern Times, the omnipotent, omnipresent boss changes the speed of production from his big office removed from the sufferable realities of his men in an attempt to increase production and thus profit.

Althusser’s modifications of “ideology” (p.52-54) plays throughout the movie by the Little Tramp’s many failed attempts to conform.  The Little Tramp reads the newspaper about new opportunities to become a successful person and live the good life, and off he goes for the next humorous adventure.  Every time Tramp fails, however, he is jailed by police, and no one questions the inhumanity of the conditions, only Tramp’s incompetence.  We are interpellated.  We are so bombarded with messages and images that make us feel powerful, only to be disempowered by the magic trick or the dominant-hegemonic forces (p.57).  The Little Tramp was a failure for his humanity in context of the system.

Sex is the wildcard.  In Modern Times, Paulette Goddard was the object for the male “gaze”, as explored in chapter 3, which can manipulate the viewer, though she manages to contradict typical gender roles and sexual stereotypes to do so.  Chaplin, in his real life was known for objectifying young women to the point of questionable legality regarding his young muses.  The beautiful Goddard, Chaplin’s much younger wife and co-star, is one of many in the long tradition of beautiful screen women of desire.  In the film, Goddard as the Gamine is strong, savvy and able to survive.  She supports herself and her family.  While the Little Tramp is imprisoned, she gets a job and a house for the two of them upon Tramp’s release (4).  I would also argue the androgyny of Chaplin’s pantomime contradicts the stereotype of masculinity, which, in many ways, seems to champion gender equality.  Perhaps, the comedy genre allowed such contradictions to be tolerated or overlooked . Ultimately, the beautiful Gamine is successful as a dancer hired by an overweight club owner.  

In politics, the prowess and good looks of Barack Obama, was played up to get the first black man elected to the white house.  Our “gaze” was a target of manipulation during the 2008 political campaign.  More men would rather be Barack Obama, and more women would rather be with the democrat Barack Obama than the republican John McCain.  Not to be outdone, the republicans introduced America to Sarah Palin as a vice presidential candidate.  The lower the republicans were in the polls, the shorter Palin’s skirts became.  A vice-presidential candidate actually wore leather boots and leather skirts.  In addition, comparisons were made between Barack Obama and Will Smith, the top selling movie star at that time and a world savior in most of his films, to soften initial skepticism toward Obama’s race based on more than 80 years of under-representation and misrepresentation in mass media (that is putting it very mildly, too mildly).  Michelle Obama even went on the Oprah show comparing Obama’s and Smith’s pertruding ears.  This calculated comparison could be categorized as propaganda. 

But the most extreme example of the power of persuasion in visual culture is the misuse of the famous toothbrush style mustache of Chaplin by Adolf Hitler.  Clearly with this look, Hitler stole people’s trust by likening himself to an established friendly face (2).  Through the distorted filter of history, the mustache is often mistakenly referred to as Hitler’s, and many wrongly question why Chaplin looked like Hitler.  In addition to the historical impact the Natzi atrocities, Hitler claimed ownership of Chaplin’s look and changed the meaning of the swastika (originally a symbol for peace) simultaneously.  This was tragic to Chaplin.  As a result, Chaplin satirized Hitler in The Great Dictator, shortly after Modern Times to warn against blindly following leaders.  Before its release, the film was marketed as a brave and important film for it’s attack of Hitler (2).  Hitler’s propaganda was counter-attacked by something “propagand-ish”.

Chaplin and Hitler
w/ trademark toothbrush mustaches

The film climaxes with the speech that is now famously referenced in commercials and appropriated in hip-hop records.  The speech has even been posted to youtube with contemporary film images to further enhance and illustrate Chaplin’s words and meaning, in a posting called, “The Greatest Speech Ever Made”:  

Surprisingly, In its time, Chaplin’s speech was criticized as anti-climatic and flat.  My relating it to events that have happened over 60 years later, or by seeing black and white film as nostalgic, which was simply the standard for film at the time, is viewing the work out of historical context in some ways (p.109).  However, Chaplin’s ability to seemingly step off the screen and address us, the Western industrialized culture does seems current.  This implies Chaplin’s awareness of the lasting power of media, so he chose his words carefully. 

Reading Practices of Looking...  by Sturken and Cartwright makes me question if such passion has been simply marketed to me.  This is a mass produced film for profit.  Does this film have a political intent, making it propaganda, as Walter Benjamin’s essay warns (p.131)?  Or are Modern Times and The Great Dictator works by an artist, using his savoir faire; his popularity, pantomime, creative control, and power of media, to fight the very machine that had made him rich, but also resulted in his likeness being used to brainwash and kill. 

The first five weeks of this course has brought to light for me the seriousness and complexity of visual culture.  It plays out like a game for some, but it is literally life and death.  The lines between our Western Industrialized culture and visual culture are intertwined as a result.  We must buy something.  We are consumers more than we are a democracy. This may contradict the plight of many artists.  However, after all the analyzing, the artist and the audience must leave a space in their heart to enjoy...Art.

Modern Times concludes with our hero the Little Tramp and the Gamine narrowly escaping the law.  They leave town realizing they are still in tact, and thus, they embark on Chaplin’s trademark ending.  The Little Tramp and his mate walk away from the camera toward the horizon... and that is my idea of aesthetic beauty.... Roll credits.  

  1. Frank Nugent, "Modern Times (1936). Heralding the Return, After an Undue Absence, of Charlie Chapin in ‘ModernTimes’". The New York Times: Movie Review February 6, 1936–
  2. Bosley Crowther Wallace, "The Great Dictator (1940). THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; 'The Great Dictator,' by and With Charlie Chaplin...” The New York Times: Movie Review October 16, 1940–
  3. The Great Dictator (1940)
  4. The Gamin: Paulette Goddard,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

FOUR Reaction

Untitled 9/21/12
Ramon Riley
 I decided to reproduce my last drawing in a new context.  The projection is exactly the same, but by changing the background that the image was projected onto, the pieces are very different.  ART.

Untitled 9/19/12
Ramon Riley

Untitled 9/21/12
Ramon Riley

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

FOUR - Reproduction and Visual Technologies

FOUR - Reproduction and Visual Technologies

Untitled 9/19/12
Ramon Riley

Above is an art work of Braddock, my hometown, from a combination of 3 photographs.  I used photoshop and a projector as well as collage, paint and graphite.

I chose Braddock as the subject because I was fascinated by the idea Sturken and Cartwright presented in chapter four from "Practices of Looking..." that images of the past being looked at today is out of the original context.  This relates to gentrification of urban neighborhoods.  As Braddock begins this process whether it is welcomed or inevitable, it takes THE Braddock, which once breathed life through the first steel mill and first Carnegie Library, out of context for profit.  Buy low sell high.  What once produced 80 % of the world's steel (yes the world's steel) is being dissected and redistributed.  What it is worth historically can never be measured monetarily, yet that will be its fate. seeing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

I liked the metaphor that historically Braddock has been a place of production, and now its meaning/purpose has changed.  It's steel has built many of the worlds buildings.  This project was poetic, so I had to also include a song by my favorite poet.

"...Takes a life to make a life
Livin' in the world of crime tonightCan't find a better way to break youThis ain't livin', I gotta do what I gotta do"
...from "This Ain't Livin'" by 2Pac

Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing Three - Group C Reaction

Writing Three - Group C Reaction
Ramon Riley

I found James Battistelli’s description of his work fascinating!  Is there a blog with pix?  The idea of science fictions impact opens a new discussion that I hope the book gets into further.  I think how we are portrayed in science fiction sometimes tells us more about our culture than movies based in reality or even based on true stories.  Battistelli say’s, “What I plan to do in my work this semester is incorporate body extension and performance into these new creatures I am creating,” which hooked me in based on the concept alone. 

I found Michelle Coulbaugh’s take on the chapter and the impact of branding and labels compelling saying “Specifically, my paintings focus on creating new representations and relationships between the spectator and the fast food industry. I strive to break down the industry’s power over our buying choices by removing branding from their food packaging. What is left is a stark, blank slate upon which we can apply a fresh judgment on what and why we are buying.”   After seeing her current pieces in Kipp Gallery, I realize my mind had added the labels to the product. My mind completed the picture.  There is a difference in a McDonald’s yellow and a Wendy’s yellow.  My mind immediately saw that paler Wendy’s yellow and filled in the blanks.  These big companies are watching us and directing us.  We are the market in market research.  Repetition fosters familiarity, which is difficult to resist even if the result is unfulfilling.  I am trained to go back again and again.

Crystal Miller’s point that the scale of her work is very important to addressing/engaging people was well stated.  Having worked on illustration size drawings for the past five years versus putting work in a gallery environment is a daunting task because how it will ultimately be received  is dependent on variable I had not been considering.  The intimacy of holding a book is very different from luring viewers in to see you work.  What I thought was large can be dwarfed by the context of a wall.  Having been in class with the artist, I wanted to hear more about how she chooses her subjects for her photographs.  I wonder what makes something worthy of this creative treatment of printing and scaling to turn it into art.  I wonder is it being at the right place at the right time, or is there some part of the plan that is consistent when you are looking?

Crystal’s paper addressed the sexual undertones of the “gazing” process that I focused on in my writing, but I thought  Eric Brennan’s stating “Men may like to imagine they are in control but women love knowing they DO control men’s gaze,” was addressing the elephant in the room.  As he states in his blog, (we are) “Surrounded by people and society that are always trying to influence us,” I am finding I grow impatient with people who are unwilling to take a stance, state an opinion or aren’t willing to acknowledge their emotions and feelings.  Ironically, many art students try to adhere to unreachable standards of purity.  I feel this is out of fear of having to defend one’s self.  Brennan’s paper also references the the repression of feelings seen as inappropriate.  My question is inappropriate by who?

Why do we have this standard that any and every question is worthy of answer?  Group C re-evaluated their work based on Mulvey.  Why?  I would have to commit time to see her work as a filmmaker before I put so much stock in her criticism.

She instead stated that she intended to use Freud and Lacan's concepts as a "political weapon." She then used some of their concepts to argue that the cinematic apparatus of classical Hollywood cinema inevitably put the spectator in a masculine subject position, with the figure of the woman on screen as the object of desire...
Mulvey argued that the only way to annihilate the "patriarchal" Hollywood system was to radically challenge and re-shape the filmic strategies of classical Hollywood with alternative feminist methods. She called for a new feminist avant-garde filmmaking that would rupture the magic and pleasure of classical Hollywood filmmaking. She wrote, "It is said that analyzing pleasure or beauty annihilates it. That is the intention of this article..."

That just sounds sterile and bitter.  Are her films void of beauty and pleasure?Why would I want that for myself?  Before I punish myself, I will consider and analyze the source.