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Viewers and Meanings: Barbara Kruger I shop therefore I am - Essay Example

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Viewers and Meanings: Barbara Kruger I shop therefore I am

rk out rational rather than religious or moral explanations of what it means to be a human being. The idea behind the statement was that the human being’s ability to use logic and reasoning to work things out lies at the very heart of what makes a person what he or she actually is. It stresses the power of the human mind to give meaning to the universe, which otherwise would be an empty place, with no-one to observe it or understand it. There is overlap between this seventeenth century idea, and the modern world, since the whole of science and technology, which so dominates Western culture, is devoted to using the power of reason and observation to gain understanding of the universe, and find applications which are useful for human beings. These values are still very much part of modern life, and they co-exist alongside other explanations, such as religious beliefs about God, creationism and the human condition. The artist’s appropriation turns into an oppositional creation, however, when the artist substitutes the verb “shop” instead of “think.” The knowledgeable viewer will notice immediately that the statement is partly a quotation, and that the verb has been changed. This kind of viewer will appreciate that thinking , especially in the academic sense intended by Descartes, is a high-level, abstract concept, while shopping is a more mundane and superficial activity. Viewers who do not know the original quotation will simply read the surface message, which is to say that shopping has become a major preoccupation in our society, and it has started to define who we are. There may be some viewers, for example wealthy teenagers who have never heard of Descartes, or uneducated people set on acquiring clothes, domestic items and superficial possessions, who recognize how apt the phrase is for their own acquisitive lifestyle, and who approve of it wholeheartedly. The image encourages both of these interpretations, and this shows how cleverly the artist has recognized the cultural shift that has taken place over the last three hundred years. The framing of the statement in white, bold letters on a red rectangle, held in a black and white photograph of a human hand adds a human touch to the main ideas. The thin red outline framing the whole piece suggests the limited color scheme of a tabloid newspaper or magazine, both of which tend to sensationalize events, and reduce them to a snappy and usually extreme conclusion. This reduction to very simple adornment creates maximum impact, and forces attention upon the five words in the upper middle section of the piece. The artist is in fact practising the very art of commercialization that she is questioning in her work, and this can be regarded as irony. The artist’s implied contrast between thinking and shopping amounts to a criticism of the amount of time and resources that goes into creating the capitalist culture that ...Show more
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Summary

Viewers and Meanings: Barbara Kruger I shop therefore I am. This paper shows how Barbara Kruger’s striking artwork entitled I shop therefore I am is an example of the phenomenon known as “appropriation” in the world of art. This term implies the selection of ideas and visual elements from existing cultural artifacts, and their re-encoding into a new composition which mixes elements from the past with elements from the contemporary world…
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