Friday, December 4, 2009

Whoes identity maters most?

Recently a friend of mine wrote on my FB profile..."You can do better than Barbra Cruger-esque work" My immediate reaction to his comment was why Cruger and not Munch? The work in question was take on Munch's work The Cry rendered in Cruger-esque style. But he still chose to pin me on Cruger and not Munch.

I had referred to two artists in western art history whose works I admired... one whose work i had appropriated and second whose style i copied... The work in question neither belonged to Cruger nor Munch... but depicted my own predicament of life. There were three identities at play in the same work. Munch , Cruger and mine. So whose identity mattered most?

Appropriation of old masters work is a given art historical practice. That was the least of the issue in this argument. So it was between Cruger and me. It is really interesting to know how some people chose to react to this same work depending on the 'identity' they chose to see.
while some chose to see Cruger's identity over mine like my esteemed friend belonging to art fraternity and therefore disappointed by the work, while others saw mine over Cruger's stylistic approach and wondered what I was trying to convey.

So how does one define one's identity through a work of art? Is it the stylistic approach or the artistic content? Can multiple identities exist in the same work of art? Can an artist not have his or her own stylistic identity and still make a relevant contribution. Is artistic style a critical issue or commercial one? does style really matter today? or artistic style is passe and single artist can have multiple stylistic approaches... who cares who you are?

Finally in a globalized world what identity really means? Is it your personal/religious/national/or global persona that will define who you are? Or none of it really maters any more. Like Chuck Close said in one his interviews.... "I don't care for the integrity of the artist... all I ask is the work relevant to me...."


  1. Hi Very deadly Kali,
    First of all I never said, 'you can do better than Barbera Cruger-esque work'. What I said was, 'you could have avoided Cruger-esque typos'.

    In any form of art there is both writerly and readerly positions. It is futile to argue which one is best. The author has the authority to produce a text with a particular intentionality. But the reader/viewer approaches most often from without its intrinsic intentionalities.

    Citing Barbera Cruger was a way of reading that work where Edward Munch's Scream is quite evident. An artist is free to refer to any historical images and in post-modern/contemporary art it is not necessary to acknowledge the source.

    An artist's stylistic formation important in more than one ways as it invests an artist with more than one identity. If you look at the modernist period, there is a collapse of identity pertaining to the local as the ideological investment was more on the existential issues than the 'locality' that defined the artist.

    But even then, locality and identity played a crucial role in defining the stylistic nature of an artist's work. I would randomly cite Picasso's typical spanish works (as against his innumerable existential works) and Ramkumar's Benaras works (as against his existential works).

    Your works belong to the postmodernist thinking in which the references are consciously chosen to present an ideological position rather than a stylistic statement. If you look at the most famous post-modern creations, you may see how style is predominantly important in defining an artist's identity. I would cite Christian Boltansky to Anselm Keifer.

    In contemporary art, references are used repetitively to create a style. In your case, I dont know whether you extensively worked on this stylistic aspect. Your style is more or less defined from your Kumari series onwards.

    Then about locality and idenity. Without which how can an artist exist at all? There are multiple idenitities for an artist- from a goan to mumbaikar to indian to a permanent migrant to a nomadic poet! But still you obviously to choose to carry one or many to define yourself.

    I feel identity is important as long as a it defines the individual's and a society's freedom and also freedom to choose.

    Chuck Close is right. The work becomes relevant to him because whatever he finds in a work of art reassures him with his own practice, identity, ideology and whatever....


  2. Johny,

    Yes You never said "you can do better" but "you could have avoided crugersque typos"...

    You always win war of words.=)) After all words are your zone... a war zone or play zone whichever the way.... so I take it with all your good spirit and I do follow your intentions and contentions in the argument... so your point is well taken!

    And just to clarify the point of stylistic identity- for a year or two I was using Cruger-esque.... typo in my work.. so there are many more works in Cruger-esque mode which you have not seen...;p

    agree with you when you say identity is important as long it defines the "freedom to choose" - and also "freedom not to choose" if I may add to that. Blog was about Protean identity that as a individual/woman one has to deal with mostly on personal basis and can spill over on professional life.
    I personally feel stylistic identity in visual arts is what makes the successful artistic brands.
    So can a Protean identity be recognized as successful and strategic identity?
    Technically speaking it should...