Contemporary Art in a Consumer Society

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Contemporary Art in a Consumer Society

Society has many influences that dictate the way a population will interact with one another, one of these influences is consumerism. Consumerism is the consumption of goods and services by society and how these products affect the society they reach. Society can be heavily influenced by consumerism. This is prominent throughout social environments; such as the media, television, advertising, etc. This high level of saturation and influence is represented through art. Often artist creations are derived from society and how the society functions and interacts with these influences.

Contemporary art raises many questions as to the reasoning behind the artist’s creation. Some questions to keep in mind are: How society views consumerism through contemporary art? How is society represented in contemporary art? How does society influence contemporary art? An analysis of consumerism in art can be made from observing particular pieces from such artists as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, and Takashi Murakami, to name but a few.

Turning the focus to Jeff Koons, who uses consumer objects in many of his pieces. One piece in particular; Hennessy, The Civilized Way to Lay Down the Law, 1986. This painting is an oil ink on canvas. The painting depicts a couple in a dimly lit room, the man is sitting at a desk reviewing books, as the woman approaches with two glasses of Hennessy and is leaning over the man’s shoulder and offering a glass to him. In the top left corner of the painting there is a quote that reads “Hennessy the civilized way to lay down the law” and in the bottom right corner is a promotion that reads “the world’s most civilized spirit”. The painting is essentially an advertisement for Hennessy, which is a consumer product, and in this ad we can observe several subtle nuances that portray social activities. The painting describes a setting in which people are interacting with the product, this allows the audience to relate to the piece because it is a product that any person can buy, and the situation is common place and realistic. The painting also suggests that the product will increase the likelihood of this kind of scenario; the Hennessy is portrayed to have some ability to create this interaction. Not only does the painting depict a high class intellectual setting, but it also uses sex appeal to get the viewer’s attention, the suggestive pose of the subjects reads as a romantic encounter that causes the viewer to be intrigued by the painting and more importantly the product and situation the painting conveys. Koons uses consumer objects, such as the Hennessy to create a realistic setting that viewers will understand and relate to. By using consumer products as a subject, Koons is able to speak clearly to his audience and convey his message about how consumers interact with the products they buy.

Perhaps one of the most well known artists to use consumer objects is Andy Warhol. During the 1960’s he created pieces using well know consumer products and even social icons. Warhol attempted to remove the artist’s interaction from his works by using subjects that viewers knew very well, such as Campbell’s soup and Marilyn Monroe. Warhol is credited with the creation of “Pop Art” which is art that uses popular culture in society to create works that depict this culture in various ways. Roy Lichtenstein however used this same style in many of his works before Warhol. Pop art usually breaks traditional methods of art, and uses a more progressive, modern style. One particular Warhol piece, Green Coca Cola Bottles, 1962 is a great example of consumerism in art. Warhol created this oil on canvas painting, displaying several coca cola bottles lined up next to each other, most full but some are less full or empty. Warhol uses the familiar consumer product as the subject to express the continuity of society. The bottles represent mass...
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