This essay will discus the works of graphic artist Barbara Kruger and photographer Keith Arnatt. I will explore a brief background of each of the artists, relating to their practice, various examples of their work and elaborate on two specific pieces. The works in question are Kruger’s Your Body is a Battleground and Arnatt’s Notes from Jo. I will make comparisons between the two artists and consider what’s appealing about text as a visual communication in art.
Barbara Kruger studied at Syracuse University, the School of Visual Arts, and later studied at Parson’s School of Design under Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel in New York. This led her to secure a job at Condé Nast Publications, working for Mademoiselle Magazine. Within a year at this publication she was promoted to head designer. Following this the artist has worked as an art director, graphic designer and a picture editor at House and Garden and various other publications. This background in graphic design throughout her education and work experience has had an influential impact on her art. The artists works’ are usually made up of old black and white images taken from various media sources such as old photographic annuals, instruction manuals and magazines. She then edits them by cropping, enlarging or juxtaposing the images and overlays them with statements or phrases of bold text set in red enamelled frames. Her images are taken from conventional magazines that sell the exact ideas she is disputing. The text and phrases used in her work often impose subjects to the viewer about feminism, consumerism, power and desire.
“The planarity of the imagery simulates the two-dimensionality of printed media, while their sharp fore-grounding has an expository quality, a visual punch that assaults the viewer”
“All of these elements work together in her art to reject conformity and interfere with the cultural stigmas and stereotypes we are bombarded with every day”.
For example in I shop therefore I am (1987), Kruger is suggesting that humans are defined for what they own, rather than for what they think. That the world has become a consumer culture, and people are often using shopping as a method of replacing something that’s missing in their lives. The consumer culture has an evident power over the population and Kruger successfully raises these issues in a sharp one sentence slogan. In ‘Untitled (Questions), (1991), Kruger uses the United States flag to pose questions regarding authority and power. The red and white stripes are replaced with questions. “Who is free to choose?”, “Who dies first?” and “Who laughs last?” The stars have been exchanged for the words “Look for the moment when pride becomes contempt.” The combination of provocative text and the iconic flag stimulates tension that takes away from the overall simplicity of the work. The work takes a critical look at American values. Other works conveying these values include a group of collages made in 1979 and 1980, demonstrating images overlaid with text and phrases such as a woman surrounded by fashion magazines stamped with the word Deluded, another shows a hierarchy photograph of a woman with her hands clasped in a prayer, with text reading Perfect. A third work shows a woman leaning away from a man raising his fist, combined with the phrase No don’t.
A famous work entitled Your Body Is a Battleground (1989, depicts a black and white photograph of a woman’s face divided vertically down the middle. Half of the face is black and white, while the other half is a negative of the image. The division in the portrait suggests a contrast of positive versus negative. The woman’s hair and...