Picasso and Duchamp, setting the precedent for appropriation of the black image.
I think that I am always nervous to see the black image anywhere. I worry if the depictions of the black body are either trying to sell black to me or to perpetuate “Black Death Spectacle”. What can we do? In art I think about the attempt of an other group to empathize with a minority group and how those interactions are always at best lack luster, at worst they are pandering/degrading. Why are we as a human race of artists so bad at creating respectful meaningful visual culture concerning minority peoples?
Well my first thought is Picasso. And my second thought is Duchamp.
Picasso was not the sole reason for issues of visual culture but he exists as an example of the male genius that scares me. As a studio art major, often the only artists people can even name are Picasso and Van Gogh. Picasso has become a monolithic figure of what modern art consists of to the broader world. But the reason I feel that he perpetuates bad visual practice is not his life as a misogynist, and narcissist, but his astheticising of African culture as a way of creating interest in his work. Now, he was building off of a long tradition of orientalism. But instead of orientalism, a practice that projected a kind of lifestyle on any peoples that seemed exotic, Picasso removed the aesthetic style from its cultural context. And instead of the spirit of elevating the African forms that he saw, Picasso was rebranding them as his own.
Duchamp, I think is due a lot of credit. His work is prolific in how we think about where the art lies in a piece. The fountain has got to be one of the most referenced works of art in the modern and contemporary world as game changer in conceptualism. Recently strong evidence has been found showing that Duchamp was not the source of the iconic urinal piece. According to a Huffington post article there is strong evidence that would place artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven * as the true origin of the brilliant idea that changed contemporary thought. She was known for her eccentricities. But the greatest irony Duchamp created was not that an object out of utilitarian context could become art, but that the real readymade was the work of women artists that could be put on display and taken credit for.
And the issue today is that we exist in a visual culture that is built on these ideologies. Not cubism, conceptualism, but of the cultural readymade- A way of life or suffering that is exotic and exciting. And that rather than trying to understand all of our roles as both contributors of and fighters for people other than us, artists now take the stance of observers making work that only exists to challenge our ideas of the present. But in reality these works of art (art using involving the forms and cultures of others) often stop short of helping people they appropriate to just helping the artist.
Much of this stems from the idea of what cool means or what cool comes from. Cool is on the fringes of what is popular and what is unknown. Like in the essay “white negro” we find the ideology of the white man of the past. The hipster was the white counterculturist who dug into the obscurities of black entertainment and culture. They would go to jazz clubs and drink in the soul. It is rooted in a desire to be inclusive and accepting but may manifest in a disregard for the context that created black culture (wether that be religion, tradition, hope for a better future, and the intangible nature of soul). I am thinking of cultural tourism, or even virtual tourism. How I would define the term is when you read about, live briefly in, watch a documentary on as particular culture and single out a portion of it that is intriguing.