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Culture As Nature Essay, Research Paper


Rauschtubcrg’s view ‘f his landscape of media was both aff’ectionate and ironic. He likecl cxcavating wllole histories within an image histories of the media themselves. A pcrfcct cxamplc is the red patch at the bottom right corner of Retroactive I (plate 229), It is a silkscreen enlargement of’a photo by Gjon Mili, which he found in LiJe magazine. Mili’s photograph was a caref’ully set-up parody, with the aid of a stroboscopic flash, of Duchamp’s Nu le Desee li’7g a Staircase, I9I2 (plate 30). Duchamp’s painting was in turn based on Marey’s photos of a moving body. So the image goes back through seventy years of technological time, through allusion af’ter allusion; and a f’urther irony is that, in its Rauschenbergian form, it ends up looking precisely like the figures of Adam and Eve expelled from Eden in Masaccio’s fresco for the Carmine in Florence. This in turn converts the image of John Kennedv, who was dead by then and rapidly approaching apotheosis as the centre of a mawkish cult, into a sort of vengeful gotl Wit]l a pointing finger, so fulfilling the prophecy Edmond de Goncourt confided to his journal in I861:

‘I’he tlav Will come wllen all the modern nations will adore a sort of American god, about whom mucll will haN e been w ritten in the popular press; and images of this god \vill be set up in the churchcs, not as the imag ination of each individual painter maV fanc-N: him, but fixed, once and for all h!- pllotograpllN- On that das civili7.ation will have reached its peak, and there u-ill be stcam-propelletl gondolas in Venice.

From television, film, and photography we receive a stream of’images every day. There is no wa!- of paying equal attention to all that surplus, so we skim. The image we r en ember is the one that most r esembles a sign: simple, clear, repetitious. Everything the camera gives us is slightly interesting. Not for long; just for now. The extension, on the human level, of this glut of images is celebrity, which replaces the Renaissance idea of’f:ame.

Fame was the reward for manifest deeds. It stood for a social agreement about what was worth doing; hence the traditional pairing of fa’ ‘a and what the Renaissance called zirtu, “prowess” or “accomplishment.” The celebrity, as Daniel Boorstin pointed out, is famous f’or being f’amous – nothing else; hence his gratuitousness antl


The artist wllo understood this best and became best known for understanding it was Andy Warhol (b. I930). In him, the culture of packaging produced its charactcristic painter, and Warhol filled this role brilliantly from I962, when he cmcrgctl, to g(,o, wllen his powers of invention appear to have fizzled out. No seriouslNT taken artist of the twcntieth century, with the possible exception of Salvador Dali, hatl dcvotctl so much time and skill to the cultivation of publicity. Instead of lDali’s hcat, `\!hicl1 claimetl to transform everything it touched, Warhol projected an ironic and affectless cool, which let everything be itself. Warhol’s insight was that you do not haN e to act crazy; you can let others do that for you.

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