Monday, March 30, 2009
The word 'icon' (according to the authoritative, reliable Wikipedia) used to refer exclusively to images of religious figures. It now applies to a range of religious, political, cultural figures who no longer stand for themselves as individuals, but who signify certain values, ideals, or types of accomplishment. The person's image may inspire people to aspire to the heights reached by the icon. The importance and value of the icon's image starts with her or his life, character, and accomplishments, and it grows with the strength of particular images, whether captured or created, and with ensuing history. The icon's image can become so popularized that it stands for a loose set of connotations more than for specific details. Che Guevara's revolutionary ideals and military prowess are internationally famous in part based on Alberto Korda's photo, taken in Cuba in 1960. Jonathan Green, director of the UCR/California Museum of Photography, has speculated that "Korda's image has worked its way into languages around the world. It has become an alpha-numeric symbol, a hieroglyph, an instant symbol. It mysteriously reappears whenever there's a conflict. There isn’t anything else in history that serves in this way."
Corporate brands and their logos aim for similar power and recognition, but of the completely manufactured sort. There is nothing organic or real about a corporate brand and its logo. Naomi Klein does a much better and more thorough job than I will attempt here of outlining the development, spread of and current resistance to brands in her book No Logo. Suffice to say that some corporations have been very successful at convincing consumers of the 'iconic' nature of their logos. But rather than inspire consumers, their aim is to acquire consumers, and their obedience.
La Virgin de las Mercedes
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism?
How the (official) Catholic Church in Latin America continues to reinforce class hierarchy and division begun by the Spanish conquistadores?
Or an oblique critique of the hypocrisy of Daniel Ortega's revolutionary rhetoric, while he is driven in a flotilla of silver Mercedes jeeps and makes backroom pacts with the Catholic Church - you support me in the Presidential elections and I will completely outlaw abortion. Even in cases of rape of young girls by their fathers or uncles, or when the mother's life is in imminent danger.
We all know Starbucks sells lifestyle as much as coffee. They are also at the forefront of large corporations marketing hip virtue, and who embodies hip virtue more than the Dalai Lama?
None of what I've written is new or earth-shaking. Some have criticized my images as laissez-faire art, or as unoriginal, or not theoretically rigorous. I don't claim that any of my images are high art, whatever that means anymore, and I don't find such categories useful. Some pop images and advertising are provocative and aesthetically interesting. I also don't claim to be highly skilled technically. These images are some of the first I've made with Photoshop, and software doesn't come easily for me. And I'm not going to write a super-duper post-modern contemporary contextual critique of the zeitgeist of the temporal gestalt of my discourse. It doesn't seem to be fashionable for artists to say what they mean. So I may never be a famous or successful contemporary artist. I'm afraid I find most of the essays and gallery catalog articles pretentious and elitist and terribly difficult to understand. And I studied at Stanford, UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. A lot of contemporary art-speak looks suspiciously like a secret language to make certain that none of the unwashed millions can enter the conversation.