INTRODUCTION some to be non-conventional drawings. Within Dearest

INTRODUCTION

Within
this essay, I will be providing a comparative argument and visual analysis
between two drawings. These works are Guerrilla Girls, Dearest Art Collector, 1986; and Chris Ofili, afro, 2000. I chose to compare these works because of the
similarities between them, such as the use of text as a focal point, and subtle
and ironic witty objection to society and discrimination. I will focus on
points such as ‘how is text and font used to target the consumer’, as well as
discussing language techniques and drawing processes and the effect of these. The
aim of this comparison is to gather information about how artists use text and
image to convey their opinions about society and the context of which they were
created.

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Dearest Art Collector by the
feminist art activist group Guerrilla Girls is a finished work and is
representational of sexism within the creative world. It is part of the
portfolio Guerrilla Girls Talk Back. (Tate,
2018) The principal subject of the drawing is a selection of text targeting
consumers and collectors of artwork that is completely, or primarily, produced
by men. A pastel shade of pink is used as a backwash, with the screen-printed
design of delicate text font filling the space available, and a miniature
flower central to the top of the drawing. Chris Ofili’s work, afro, is also a finished work, with
the word ‘afro’ in a decorative font central to the image, made up of miniscule
portraits with afros. This is a subtle yet witty approach to racial
discrimination. (Tate, 2018) Key issues I will be discussing within this
comparative analysis include sexism and racism. Key points include text, image,
tone and language, formal elements and drawing processes.

 

COMPARISON

Drawing
processes determine the overall effect of a finished drawing and the drawing
quality. The formal elements within artwork; line, colour, tone, texture, form,
pattern, and shape; all contribute to the desired result. The method is highly
influential, as well as the form of media the artwork takes. These media forms
include, print, broadcast and e-media, which is interesting when analysing art,
to determine what is considered ‘art’. For example, conventional art is
primarily thought of as painting or sculpture. Non-conventional artworks
include acting, literature, graphics, architecture, and textiles, despite all
using a drawing process to produce the result. Some may argue that these forms
are indeed artworks, but not drawings. Both Dearest Art Collector and afro
may be considered by some to be non-conventional drawings.

            Within Dearest Art
Collector, the formal elements line, colour, and shape are used, keeping it
quite minimalistic. The drawing uses line in a bold but delicate, feminine way,
taking up most of the work and filling the space available. The accompaniment of
the simple shape of the sad flower adds to the patronizing feminine effect.
However, this makes the line and the text the most important aspect of the
drawing, emphasizing the representations being made. The text is a dark tone,
whereas the background is a pale pastel shade of pink, again making the text
stand out most. The pastel pink shade communicates to the consumer because of
the relevance and popularity within that period, as well as carrying
connotations of femininity, giving the overall drawing an ironic, patronizing
feel. Similarly to Guerrilla Girls, Barbara Kruger often used solid colours and
shapes (Love for Sale: The Words and Pictures of Barbara Kruger, 1997) as well
as choosing simple primary colours such as red, white and blue. (Kruger, 1999) Differently,
Jenny Holzer often worked with bright, fluorescent light illuminations, (Simon,
Smith and Buchloh, 2008) which created a more dramatic effect. Similarly to Dearest Art Collector, afro uses line in a feminine way, with ‘intricate
surfaces of lush floral motifs’. (Gioni and Ligon, 2014) However, Ofili chooses
to keep his work monochrome, with a higher focus on line, pattern and shape. This
suggests that Ofili wants to exaggerate the racial discrimination by working in
black and white, or alternatively wants the focus to be on the line work.

            Dearest Art
Collector is a screen print on paper (Tate, 2018) which is highly
reflective of popular mark making methods of the time. Although afro was created more recently, the more
traditional technique of graphite on paper was used. This ‘conventional medium
of pencil and paper as a means of transcription’ could be because of its direct
and quick approach of ‘catching the creative process as it happened’. (Hoptman,
2002) The traditional methods are often thought to ‘belong’ to male artists,
which could be one reason that Guerrilla Girls chose to adopt a more modern,
commercial approach to their artwork. The ‘domination of painting and sculpture’
meant that women who sewed often had their work looked down on, leading to
feminist projects that encouraged these non-conventional methods. (Framing
Feminism : Art and the Women’s Movement, 1970-1985, 1987) Popular methods for
women during 1970s included photography, ‘opposing its simple mechanical means
of picture taking with the masculine ethos of creativity that was celebrated in
the traditional media of painting and sculpture’. (Love for Sale: The Words and
Pictures of Barbara Kruger, 1997) Mary Kelly stated that feminist art ‘entails
assessment of political interventions, campaigns and commitments as well as
artistic strategies’. (Framing Feminism : Art and the Women’s Movement,
1970-1985, 1987) This is strongly reflected within the 1980s, with feminist
artwork becoming more commercial and public. Art activists often used logos,
slogans, billboards, posters and street art to spread their message and this
use of graphics was extremely popular. (McQuiston, 1997)

Text
is often used within artwork to target the consumer for a shock factor or to
make a stand politically. The font is also highly important within the work, as
it can determine the tone of the overall drawing. Dearest Art Collector by artists Guerrilla Girls is a finished work
that reflects this, representing sexism within the creative world, as well as afro by Chris Ofili, whose work
highlights racism in current society.

            One way in which text is used to target the consumer is
through the enhancement of using an accompanying image. Guerrilla Girls
primarily used text within their work, and communicated to the consumer through
ordinary commercial methods and advertising; for example, signs and billboards,
which meant that the impact was fast and hard-hitting. In 1985, the feminist
art activist group started a poster campaign to target anyone associated with
the exclusion of women or non-white artists from mainstream exhibitions. (Tate,
2018) Similarly to female artist Barbara Kruger, Guerrilla Girls’ choice of
text and accompanying images within street poster campaigns meant that the
message was quick and readily available for everyone to see. (Tate, 2018) (McQuiston,
1997) Barbara Kruger, like Guerrilla Girls, often used accusing statements
accompanied by juxtaposing images, to ‘contradict the conventions of the
media’. She was associated with a group of artists in the late 1970s that she
felt had developed ‘a vernacular sort of signage’. Examples include a woman
surrounded by fashion magazines, with the overpowering caption ‘Deluded’; and a
photograph of a woman in prayer, accompanied by the word ‘Perfect’, both
photocollages produced from 1979 to 1980. (Love for Sale: The Words and
Pictures of Barbara Kruger, 1997) This choice of text to portray sexism is
further represented by Guerrilla Girls’ Do
Women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? and is enhanced by an
image of a reclining female nude, with a cartoon style gorilla face. This
accompaniment of the image not only compliments the text with its ironic
humour, but also emphasizes the objectification of women, through the use of
disembodiment. Differently to Guerrilla Girls, Barbara Kruger described her
work as ‘the panorama of social relations mediated by images’. (Love for Sale:
The Words and Pictures of Barbara Kruger, 1997) This suggests that for Kruger,
the choice of text enhances the image, whereas for Guerrilla Girls, the text is
the primary focal point.

            Similarly, to both Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger, afro uses images to enhance text, with
text as the focal point. Differently to both artists however, Ofili chooses to
use drawings to form the word. Miniature portraits with afros make up the word,
and without close inspection it is hard to recognize individual faces. The
choice of image plays on the idea that ‘all black (or other ethnic) people look
alike to someone outside their racial group’, hence the title afro. (Tate, 2018) Surrounding the word
‘afro’ is a border of delicate line drawing that gives the impression of
mindless doodling. This intricate drawing enhances the text within the work,
creating a juxtaposition of beauty and racism. Ofili experiments with delicate
borders in his Afro Margin works. (Gioni
and Ligon, 2014) Miniature designs are used to make up the lines that create a
larger image, for example in his Prince
among Thieves; Albinos and Bros with
Fros; and 7 brides for 7 bros,
small portraits with afros are used again. (Hoptman, 2002) (Gioni and Ligon,
2014) Image is obviously important to Ofili, due to his usual work primarily
consisting of intricate drawing and mark making. (Gioni and Ligon, 2014)

            Tone and language play an important part within artwork
that contains text. Guerrilla Girls refer to themselves as the ‘Conscience of
the Art World’, (Schor, 2012) (Tate, 2018) (McQuiston, 1997) and according to Suffragettes
and She-Devils, it is in ‘this sarcastic yet humorous mode,
that the Guerrilla Girls have staged one of the most skilful social critiques
of the conservative 1980s and 1990s’. (McQuiston, 1997) This is strongly
reflected through the tone of Dearest Art
Collector, containing wit, irony and humour, while being
‘characteristically tongue-in-cheek’ as well as sincere. (Schor, 2012) The text
within the work targets the art collectors whose ‘collection, like most, does
not contain enough art by women’. This depiction of sexism is shown through
irony and humour, by the polite language in which it was written, as well as
using a ‘sexual play’ and cuteness that appealed to the media of the time. (Schor,
2012) The passive aggressive aspects of the artwork are shown through
traditionally feminine elements to enhance the choice of sarcasm, such as the
pastel shade of pink used; the delicate text font and the flower at the top of
the page. The femininity and coyness in the tone is highly reflective of post
feminism – Guerrilla Girls play to the patriarchy by using their sexuality as
women to spread their message. The type of language also reinforces this idea
of ironically stereotypical feminine features; for example, ‘Dearest’ and ‘all
our love’, is both flirtatious and sarcastic. This innocence conforming to
gender norms is challenged by other feminist activist artists during the late
1970s, such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, whose works tend to be more
angry, critical and direct to ‘produce confrontational statements’. (McQuiston,
1997) Kruger often used words with connotations of violence, whereas Guerrilla
Girls generally chose to use an ironically feminine, sarcastic tone within
their work. (Kruger, 1999) Holzer focuses on ‘the articulation of speech’ and most
of her work contains a sharp tone that gets the message across quickly. (Simon,
Smith and Buchloh, 2008) Even though ‘Feminist graphics…changed character over
the course of the 1980s’ and became ‘angrier and more direct’, (McQuiston, 1997) the Guerilla Girls maintained their
feminine ironic humour which made them stand out from the other female activist
artists of the time. Despite the few differences between the artists, the
underlying messages of sexism are still portrayed through the varying tone and
language of the text within the artworks.

            Chris Ofili chooses to include minimal text within his
work, with afro containing simply the
word ‘afro’, central to the drawing. It is with this minimalistic approach to
text that comes a flat, statement tone, causing the consumer to question the
meaning of the word. ‘The personal is political’, (Framing Feminism: Art and
the Women’s Movement, 1970-1985, 1987) is certainly reflected in the work, due
to the consumer lacking knowledge of the artist’s intentions. The assumption
that the work must be political is associated with the word ‘afro’, which draws
attention to race. The lack of understanding the choice of word leads the
consumer to believe that the drawing is highly personal to Ofili. This subtlety
differs to that of Dearest Art Collector,
which makes it clear that their work highlights sexism. Although both artists highlight
racism within their work, Guerrilla Girls use a more direct approach,
particularly within their street poster asking, ‘When racism & sexism are
no longer fashionable, what will your art collection be worth?’. (McQuiston,
1997) (Schor, 2012)

            Another way in which text is commonly used to target the consumer,
is by using language techniques, particularly rhetorical questions, audience
address and use of statistics. For example, Guerrilla Girls’ poster Do women have to be naked to get into the
Met. Museum? uses a rhetorical question to directly target the consumer and
make them take their message seriously. (Tate, 2018) (McQuiston, 1997) Below
the rhetorical question, in a slightly smaller font size, they state ‘less than
5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes
are female’, to ironically answer ‘yes’ to the question posed. The statistics
used, and varying font types and size of the text enhances the work further.
Audience address can particularly be highly effective to target the consumer of
the artwork, with Kruger stating, ‘It’s our pleasure to disgust you’, and Guerrilla
Girls personally addressing the ‘dearest art collector’ in the form of a
letter. Although Dearest Art Collector
does not use rhetorical questions or statistics like many of Guerrilla Girls’
other work, the use of the direct address and letter format creates a highly
personal feel, proving effective at targeting the consumer. afro does not use any of these language
techniques, but instead uses single word emphasis to draw attention to racism
and social injustice.

           

CONCLUSION

Artwork
is often created for a variety of audiences with different intended results.
Both artworks communicate to various audiences in a variety of ways, by using
text and accompanying images to highlight discrimination. The feminine style of
font used in both works produces an ironic, passive aggressive tone, and the
language reinforces the aggression towards discrimination. Method and qualities
of each drawing vary, although line and shape play an important role within
both. While Dearest Art Collector has
commercial, graphic qualities, afro
is more sketch like and harmonious. Despite the few differences, both drawings
communicate to the consumer through an emotional, highly effective quality.

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