Recently, artists such as Yasumasa Morimura, Cindy Sherman, and Nikki S. Lee have challenged alot of what I view as art. These artists get dressed up and take pictures of themselves in elaborately contrived situations. It is method acting to the extreme.
Morimura is a Japanese male dressing himself as different stereotypical women of art history. He prepares his studio, lighting effects and more to look just like the originals, posing as female icons like Mona Lisa, Frida Kahlo, Marylin Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.Cindy Sherman began taking portraits of herself in costumes of working women to highlight the stereotypes of females. Nikki S. Lee, who recently spoke at one of our Tuesday Evening Lectures is a Korean born artist who was intrigued by the many categories of lifestyles in America. She is probably the most controversial because she lives a certain lifestyle for long periods of time. She documents these "projects" as they are called by having people take pictures of her playing some role. Blending into cultural settings, she is seen as a skateboarder, a yuppie, a hip-hop girl, a Hispanic, and even a stripper. These roles take her months to complete and people never really know when she is in or out of character.
How have the visual arts come to this conclusion? What is it about today that justifies the idea of lifestyle as artistic expression? Personally, I think photography has challenged reality. We have the most realistic rendering of the world around us so we make art of what is real. I must mention that photography lies in the same way that a painting can. So the question is how do we conceive of reality? In the arts, questions are raised to consider how things really are, not as they are idealized. Painting and portraiture were idealized for hundreds of years so now people are interested in the truth about life. This shift in focus is integral to artists who lives their lives as art. Andy Warhol was the first to stand in a gallery and declare himself as the artwork. He did that more to emphasize consumerism, but nevertheless, he challenged the the way artists think of the genuine self. How do we portray the genuine person, or become that honest person?
Art makes us think about our lives, but I never saw my life as a way to think about art. Maybe this is why "lifestyle art" (as I call it) is so controversial. It challenges identity as something that we contrive everyday from the decisions we make on what to wear to the way we decide to speak. It is really as simple as choice. I am not me because of my race, gender, social class or anything else. I am me because I constantly choose to be. This is scary to those who think their identity is given or inherent. Nikki S. Lee could be me and I bet she could be me very well.
However, I feel there is a moral side to this art that provides observation on social distinctions. There is a sort of redemption, because though I may be that very stereotype that Cindy Sherman is manifesting, Cindy Sherman is not me. Nikki S. Lee can create the outward preferences I have developed, but even so, she is not me. While some might find the work of these artists sarcastic and farcical, I see it as a homage to those who live their lives in such a manner. Those who are a stereotype does so because of a conscious choice of expression. That is their art.