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Art, throughout the times have reflected, promoted and challenged the cultural beliefs of many different societies. To reflect a culture or society the artwork must create or suggest a particular impression of that era. To promote the cultural beliefs of a society the artwork must encourage and support the beliefs. For the artwork to challenge the beliefs it must question tradition. Gislebertus and Michelangelo promote and reflected the society and religion in which they belonged whereas Kruger and Serrano reflected yet challenged their society and religion.
Gislebertus was a sculptor of the Romanesque period. His sculpture of the last Judgement in progress on the West Tympanum of St. Lazare, Autun, France in 1130, reflected and promoted the strong Christian beliefs of this society. This artwork is extremely detailed and reveals many Christian icons and symbols. In the middle of the artwork is Christ, who is the focus of the composition and on either side of him are devils and angles blowing their trumpets. The weighing of souls is depicted throughout the artwork and next to each scale, are angles and devils competing for each soul. Below Christ are the dead rising, one being “plucked” from the earth by giant hands. Here humanity?s pitiful weakness in revealed in these terror stricken people as the angles summon them to judgement. The devils have legs which end in sharp claws and lean from hell as they drag souls in and are accompanied by howling and roaring demons. Gislebertus? sculpture was affective in influencing and inspiring the viewers of his artwork as he created a sense of terror and fear by revealing the awful consequences for the damned which encouraged the viewers to follow the Christian and as a result increased the power of the church. Gislebertus was commissioned to depict biblical stories as the majority of the population was illiterate and this was the only way which God?s message could be heard. Therefore, Gislebertus reflected the Christian dominated society and promoted the Christian religion.
close up of Last Judgement the Tympanum
Michelangelo also reflects and promotes his Italian; Christian dominated culture and the religion itself through his artwork. Michelangelo?s fresco in the Sistine Chapel, Italy, was created between 1508 and 1512 and depicts the most solemn biblical story of the creation of man in the High Renaissance style. The large size of 18?18″ X 9?22″ reflects the grandness and power of the God and the church. The creation of Adam is not the traditional representation but a humanistic interpretation of the event. God and Adam confront each other in a uniformed landscape. The Lord transcends wrapped in drapery and life leaps into Adam like an “electrical spark” from the extended mighty hand of God. This is a blunt depiction of how God is the ruler of heaven in the Olympic Pegan sense and is an indication of how easily the High Renaissance joined Pegan and Christian traditions. This artwork reflects the power, glamour, glory and prestige of the Church in this Christian dominated society. This reflection also promoted the church and attracted more Christians. The artwork was a decorative and educational feature of the church. The artwork made the church more appealing and beautiful so therefore attracted more pilgrims and also depicted a biblical story that conveyed the morals of temptation and as a result educated and brought to life the Christian story for the illiterate followers. This artwork reflects the churches power and prestige as well as promoting the Christian religion.
ceiling of Sistine Chapel
In contrast to the above artists, Barbara Kruger is a post modern artists who uses the techniques of appropriation and recontextualisation to simultaneously challenge and reflect contemporary culture. Kruger?s work Untitled (Your Gaze hits the side of your face) reflects both the cultural attitudes embedded in commercial advertising, as well as targeting modern feminist issues. This work overlays a readymade photograph of the head of a classically beautiful female sculpture with a vertical row of text composed of seven words selected by the artist- Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face. These words are isolated in bold, black and white rectangles, which is confronting to the viewer, as one must read it downward one after the other, simulating the quick simple bold messages of commercial advertising. While by definition, this post modern artwork has no given meaning these words and the positioning of them on top of a classical female sculpture does reflect the feminist perception of the female role. The message in this work hence reflects the way that much of western art and society regardless of their position has been constructed to present the female form for the enjoyment of the male gaze. The way the words have been bolded is also reminiscent of street signs or commercial advertising that aims at making a quick but powerful impact. This is most effective in the work and reflects the cosmopolitan culture that we are living in and the many messages and signals that we are given everyday that we only selectively retain. Therefore this work appropriates both the words and the classical image and recontextualises them to both reflect and challenge modern society.
Serrano is another post modernist artist who challenges and reflects our modern day society through art. Serrano?s work, Piss Christ, is a colour photograph of a statuette of the saviour on a cross, submerged in his own urine that produced a light. The use of urine, which is considered to be at the bottom of the hierarchy of body fluids, was highly controversial and tests public tolerance and challenges the government?s commitment to freedom of speech. Piss Christ also questions the public reverence for art, not religion. The authority of the Roman Catholic Church in our present day is also challenged and it highlights the fact that the Church has little power over the people in today?s society. This is displayed through Serrano?s figure of Christ as it is a tawdry, mass produced statuette motivated by work-for-pay, not devotion. This factory-produced crucifix represents the deterioration of religious sentiments. It alerts the populace to the difference between true devotion and superficial expressions of faith. Serrano challenges and reflects the diminishing influence the church has on society today by condemning the condemned.
In conclusion, art has had a major influence on reflecting, promoting or challenging traditional cultural beliefs over many different eras. This trend will continue over the years as society changes and artists like Gislebertus, Michelangelo, Kruger and Serrano will force society to look at there culture in a more detail and question their own beliefs.
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