- Rylie Goodchild
The effect Art and Culture have on the Selfhood of an Individual: How a Self is formed through their Contextual Society.
The mid-century was a time of advancements in how the world operated.
Following the great wars, and greater depression, the world was crying out for hope. America supplied this with capitalist media painting the perfect family on a coke advert to provide a standard for the middle class family. The American dream was the antithesis of power at the time: if you fit the mould, and constantly upheld the norms of society, you were the most powerful, (mainly because this communicated that you were functioning after a time of global trauma). Within this structure gender, class (or more-so money) and race were not superficial factors, they were caveats that meant that were taken into account when hiring or firing from well paid jobs. Husbands needed to get ahead at work, and being white, cis and straight meant one had the best chance. Wives had to care; care about how they looked, care for the children, care for their husbands, (all unpaid labour). The capitalist structure positions working men in a stressful cycle where they are never making enough money to obtain the promised lifestyle of that class, these men then air this strife to wives at home causing strain on relationships and tension where everyone is reliant on money. As much as the nuclear family appears perfect, they are trapped, destined to explode. This descended over America in its most intense form, and all became based around attaining and maintaining the status quo. In this climate selfhood was something to be utilised in business and politics, detaching itself from identity and authenticity. Gaining autonomy over the self is the most important form of feeling at one with the being, yet many aspirational individuals try to craft their identity in a commodifying way that may serve them materially, but causes deep trauma emotionally. In this structure the binary of gender is embellished beyond femininity and masculinity: the dream woman must be a perfect politically correct supermodel, and the man fulfil his role as provider while orchestrating his business as a titan of industry. Her most valued attribute is her looks, his: earning potential. Remnants of this society are omnipresent today, yet have transcended to the ether of our meta-age relationship with media. Still, a fact applicable to all is that when the variations of these personalities are broken down one can grasp quite easily that all man seeks in life is power.
Power oriented society was not created in America, and can be seen dated as far back as ancient Rome. In Sex and the Constituion Geoffrey R. Stone discusses how ancient Greece differed from Rome on their belief systems around sexuality. In Greece, sexuality was not used as societal reasoning against an individual; “To the greeks same-sex sex was simply a sexual act. It did not define a type of person”, (Stone, G.R. Sex and the Constitution 2017). This enabled more free and natural relationships to form, when not forced into binary structures. The later Roman way of thinking was that the Greeks were “Cunning, effeminate and degenerate”(Stone, G.R. Sex and the Constitution 2017) due to their society not marrying up to the power and dominance oriented ethos of Rome. These two cultures clashed in their terms of understanding sex, and this can be seen to penetrate the methodologies at play in their societies more generally.
Affiliate of the Factory Robert Mapplethorpe was most famous for representing the power in sex through his explicit photographs of the black phallus. He chose to present the most offensive image to society (contextually at the time) in an aim to shock and push the boundaries of thinking. “If you don’t like my pictures, perhaps you’re not as avant garde as you think.”(Robert Mapplethorpe) was his opinion, when conversing about his practice. He enacted complicated master-slave scenarios that tested one’s masculinity, and recorded this as an investigation of mans relationship to power. Like Andy, Robert is a master example of how men at this time begun to abuse their power towards minority groups that didn’t have the access or voice that the artists did, as white cis men. As much as both of these great artists provided queer representation in the art community, they also caused a lot of segregation between the sexes and racial divide. Mapplethorpe hugely tokenised the male black body in his fetishised images of their bodies. Similar to Andy, he hired his muse and lover Milton Moore, whose penis he made famous in the now widespread 1981 photo Man in polyester suit. To the audience of production in the 60’s this was simply shocking, but to a further progressed contemporary society Mapplethorpe’s work is troubling representation for an underrepresented group. Nobody wishes to be seen only as an object for sex, no matter gender, race or social-economic background. Here is where feminism and racism meet on the intersection of suppression; as they share a common enemy in the fight against tokenisation and oppression.
It is not hard to see that the main cultural differences in our powerful ancient worlds was that the Greeks held beauty and art sacred, whereas the Romans felt war a more important stimulus. Although, once you scratched the surface of Greece there was also a stigma attached to being dominated in the bedroom. While same-sex sex was deemed okay, being penetrated by an older man was attached to shame, (not to mention how women were universally seen as inferior maidens) showing that even in a seemingly cordial society power and dominance relating to sex, and therefore gender, is a large factor in the shaping of culture.
Pliny the elder took away that “the Greek habit is to conceal nothing” whereas “the Roman way” is to give all statues “a coat of armour”.(Stone, G.R. Sex and the Constitution 2017). Andy’s Man-hattan island existed at the intersection of these two philosophies: appreciating art as a powerful trade off blue-chip stock, illustrated by his close relationship and representation by Larry Gagosian to this day, but bedding this underneath the beautiful dream of American prosperity. The commercial art scene caught an air of seediness around this time, not helped by Andy of the factory being associated with Steve Rubell & Ian Schrager of Studio 54. If Andy were to be conceptualised as a statue representing the spirit of the 60's, he would appear as tangible, reachable and accessible while leeching capital gain and social ascent, under the ethos of concealing nothing as a coat of armour.
It was written in 1999 that: “The Warhol Portrait internalises and confirms the structured transformation of social interaction under advanced capitalism. That such experience is now to be mediated by and restricted to commodity exchange,” (C.Breitz, 1999). The effect Andy had during the mid-twentieth century on culture has shaped the way we exist in relation to one another in the presence of art since. It could be said that Andy identified a gap in the commercial market of art, wearing his black and white wigs like a raccoon, to fit his factory into the industry’s small hole for a working class buyers market. Together with the nightlife scene, he constructed a false reality that grew out of his work and into the spirit of the times.The factory was a place to be seen, it acted like the contemporary Soho House should; facilitating connections with creatives and forming the kind of community that the art world has not seen since. It struck an incredible fine line between an awareness of clout exchange and maintaining the fun, free festivity borrowed from nights at Studio 54.
Tonight Edie heads to 54 with him, entering the inner sanctum: a panopticon surveyed by culture dealers: a lifestyle likened to religious devotion at our forever reliable Vanity fair: “54 has become the stuff of legend and myth: the Valhalla of Hedonism, the Taj Mahal of Free Love, the Camelot of Nightlife”, (Vanity Fair, 2017).