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What Is Art?

Nowadays, art influences different spheres of life in various ways, especially when the media is highly developed. Drastic changes in society make the term “art” ambiguous, so some works are admitted to be extremely controversial because of their obscenity, audacity, and perhaps impertinence. The purpose of this paper is to examine an undoubtedly debatable piece of art and identify its contribution to society.

The painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” was created by Chris Ofili in 1996 and exhibited in Berlin, London, and New York, where it was a subject of ardent scornful debates. “The Holy Virgin Mary” represents a black Madonna encircled by female genitalia alluding to putti and reminding butterflies at first sight. The medium used is mixed as it includes oil paint, resin, glitter, pornographic collages, and even lumps of elephant dung. According to the source, Chris Ofili brought manure from Zimbabwe and applied it in his work to support connection with Africa (Akhtar-Farren, 2019). The author referred to his childhood’s questions about race and purity.

This piece of art became controversial due to all the elements it comprises, as they are thought to be the ridicule of modern art. However, it makes a social contribution as well implying, that “The whole ordeal stands for a metaphor of the hypocrisy American conservatism and its agenda to suppress the dissenting voice” (Dinsdale, 2018). It means that the author tried to express his version of Madonna without any intention to insult religious people. Ofili’s intended to depict an image of a real Madonna of an African origin having Catholic views and spirituality combined, and disputed how whiteness represents sexuality in art and history. The aesthetic value of the work is concluded in the author’s usage of the medium belonging to his heritage. The author believed that the materials he used represented his religious and cultural background (IDinsdale, 2018). In my opinion, Ofili’s perception affects any life as people tend to assess everything according to their beliefs, origin, and culture.

Therefore, this work is influential as in concerns the cultural and racial issues which are criticized by people who cannot accept such differences. Even though the painting is disputable, it has never been censored or banned. Though some works offending people’s rights or affecting children can be prohibited, the government tries not to suppress artistic expression. There are no official permissions for the authorities to censor artworks.

All in all, I believe this work should be considered as a work of art due to its depths of perceiving and accepting cultural and religious values. “Making blind assumptions can perpetuate cultural and racial ignorance that prevents understanding and enhance animosity” (Akhtar-Farren, 2019, para 10.). Also, Ofili stated, “the people who are attacking this painting are attacking their interpretation” (Akhtar-Farren, 2019, para 10.). The perception of one’s work depends on pure ignorance.

By its definition, the art is a limitless expression of human imagination performed by creative skills and embedded in any form such as music, literature, painting, etc. The variants of art are endless, and so are its interpretations. Therefore, the term “art’ represents a complex system of creations and perceptions. Even though some consider a piece of art as a masterpiece, others tend to criticize it.

One of the most critiqued artworks of the 21st century is a collection of Instagram photos named “New Portraits,” presented by a conceptual artist Robert Prince in 2014. The series of selfies made $100,000 profit to the author. The artist rephotographed the seductive pictures of ordinary people and celebrities (mostly women) from their Instagram accounts. The technique was straightforward: Prince took screenshots of the portraits, took another photo of them, and printed them on canvas. The only alterations inserted in the pictures were the captions and comments added by Prince.

Despite that the work gained popularity, Prince has earned a notorious reputation. Many critiques consider this piece of art a violation of an unapologetic appropriation and the owner’s rights (Parkinson, 2015). However, some find it genius and socially significant as the artist showed the people as they are, and proved that art could exist in any form even if it is copywriting. For he could not use a camera, his iPhone turned into the art studio (Sharkey, 2016). It also implies aesthetic value because all the pictures included in the installation correspond in style, form, and expression. The installation reflects how people tend to share their photos, especially selfies, sometimes without thinking whether it’s worth posting or not. This work can relate to my life because I use Instagram and see all those full of sense or completely meaningless pictures people post and do it myself.

This piece of art has never been censored, though the author had many lawsuits concerning appropriation. As far as it is known, no government or authority can edit any artwork. The limitation of self-expression is restricted as it violates people’s rights. Moreover, modern works influence art suggesting new ideas and expressions. “New Portraits” affect the conceptual art as a direction in a way that not only the original materials can be presented, but the existing ones as well. Also, the influence of social media on our life can be traced within the series of portraits.

In general, I cannot consider “New Portraits,” as I believe such “art” implies pure stealing people’s pictures. The source states that legal issues can undermine the Prince’s career (Sharkey, 2016). The author himself admits to reflecting on a topic of appropriation (Parkinson, 2015). Therefore, I do not think such installation is complicated to compile, and anyone could do that.

References

Akhtar-Farren, S. (2019). Chris Ofili’s ‘The Holy Virgin Mary’. The Mancunion. Web.

Dinsdale, E. (2018). That time this ‘hip hop Virgin Mary’ really pissed off the art world. Dazed. Web.

Parkinson, H. (2015). Instagram, an artist and the $100,000 selfies – appropriation in the digital age. The Guardian. Web.

Sharkey, L. (2016). “Richard Prince: The Controversial Artist and Master of Appropriation”. Hignsnobiety. Web.

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