Flash Points

Some Thoughts on Art + Transformation + Pop Culture

Kara Walker, "You Do" (1993-94). Cut Paper on canvas, 55 x 49 in. (140 x 124.5 cm). Collections of Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton. Photography courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Kara Walker, "You Do" (1993-94). Cut Paper on canvas, 55 x 49 in. (140 x 124.5 cm). Coll. of Peter Norton & Eileen Harris Norton. Photo courtesy artist & Sikkema Jenkins & Co., NYC

Our latest reflection on the theme of art + transformation comes from two popular Philadelphia-based art bloggers, Roberta Fallon & Libby Rosof. The founders of TheArtBlog.org, the pair shared some thoughts on the transformative relationship between pop culture & art:

There’s a constant conversation going on between art and pop culture. Each seems to transform the other for better and for worse. iPod advertisements quote Kara Walker‘s (Season 2) black on white silhouettes. Cai Guo-Qiang‘s (Season 3) firework explosions transform the ultimate pop culture “ooh” and “aah” experience into a commentary on light and space–but also exploding bombs.

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Everything is fodder in Ryan Trecartin’s through the looking glass world. People are transformed with face paint and audio is distorted to the verge of incomprehensibility. And the values of the corporate world and the family world are inverted so that there is no good/bad dichotomy and everything is a crazy jumble. The transformation allows the artist room to comment on how crazy and immoral the real world is.

That ability to transform has magic powers, and the ancients understood that when they donned masks and swallowed peyote buttons. Art is not peyote. It won’t get you through the doors of perception literally. But good art does open up doors of perspective that help us revise our understanding of the world around us.

– Roberta Fallon & Libby Rosof

  1. Ben Street says:

    Is there really such a distinction between ‘art’ and ‘pop culture’? Is this a distinction ever made by anyone working in any other field of cultural endeavor besides the art world? Just a thought, but it is a little frustrating!

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  3. Nicole says:

    But, Ben–What other cultural category brushes as closely with pop culture and simultaneously claims independence from pop culture besides Art (proper, capital A)? I’m sure the math and science guys are duking their own battles out over distinction right now, snapping their fingers a la West Side Story and crashing beekers over each others’ heads…

    I think “pop culture” is really tainted by the word “pop:” it makes some loose and false alliances with pop art, when really the relationship worked the other way. Pop culture, in the truest sense of what pop culture is, implies both the current and the fleeting. I think us people of the arts have a hard enough time proving our worth to modern society–the last thing we need is yet more grounds for the false assumption that the arts are, in some weird way, not going to withstand the test of time.

    Unrelated note: Ben–You’re my absolute favorite writer. I always look for your posts!

  4. Ben Street says:

    Hi Nicole –

    It’s very true, what (I think) you’re implying about contemporary art’s neuroses about permanence. Bearing in mind that I haven’t properly thought this through, I do think that the empty promise of historical permanence, the kind of thinking that leads to the notion of art as “investment” (something I find a little nauseating, not to mention wrong-headed), does art as a whole more harm than good.

    For all kinds of reasons not excluding that, it’s in the art world’s interest to insist on a notion of permanence that draws a line between art and “other cultural products”. This has to be a recent thing, though, this self-imposed isolationism – it certainly wasn’t the case in those heady pre-modernist days. Those were good times.

    Unrelated note: ever seen Nicole and I in the same room together? No? Exactly.


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