The cultural frame considers social issues such as politics, economics and environmental concerns. Meaning in cultural artworks is understood from a social perspective and may relate to such issues as race, cultural identity, multiculturalism, gender, beliefs and values. Artists usually reflect the issues in society may they be social, political, racial, environmental or sexual. Specific movements and styles have been produced as a result. There is a greater integration between art and community as art adopts a critical role in society.
Traditional artists use to focus on the material practice, but postmodernism changed that as they focused on the concept and ideas. It is the idea that has come to dominate the form of much art and this has generated a pluralist where there are many approaches reflecting different issues. In a sense, all works of art perform a social function, since they are created for an audience. Artists who embrace their role as a social commentator are Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, Otto Dix and Gordon Bennett. Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828) sets the scene commenting on the atrocities of man.
Both of his works, Disasters of War (1863) and 3rd of May 1808 (1814) show graphically the horrors of mutilation, torture and death in war. He reflects the inhumanity that was occurring during the Spanish Revolution where innocent civilians were killed. Art during this time usually depicted soldiers as heroes and believed to be fighting for a good cause. Goya was one of the first artists to portray the true horrors of war. He became deaf halfway through his lifetime, which increased his understanding of emotions and expressions and his reliance of his other senses.
Relying on documentaries and second hand accounts of war, Goya developed artworks of scenes of the Spanish revolution. He was unable to release his artworks until 8 years after the war, due to the fear of being executed, the fear that was created because of war. 3rd of May is a painting that depicts a scene of a French firing squad executing Spanish countrymen during the night. The colour scheme is quite muted with its dark blues and browns except for one figure: a man in white who has his arms raised, in a similar position like Jesus Christ. His eyes are wide with terror and beneath him are the bodies of already executed men.
Around him are other men, some pray, some coil with fear and despair and the others cover the faces with their hands, unable to witness the brutal situation. The firing squads are faceless, making them seem anonymous and cold. Goya depicted the events that occurred to commemorate the Spanish spirit, but he does not glorify war. His works transcends time and place, continuously making a statement about man’s humanity to man. He was a major influence on European modernist artist who saw his loose painting style as a basis of their own Impressionism.
The exploration of human action and emotion in madness and violence could also be seen as a later influence on Surrealism. Goya’s influence on Modernists was profound and can be seen in the works of both Otto Dix and Picasso. A reference to Goya – the figure at the far right of the painting has its hands up, similar to the main focus point of Goya’s Third of May where he is a symbol or surrender. It draws similarity of the events, as they were both acts of savage brutality against innocent people. Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) was one of the co-founders of Cubism, a modernist movement that focused on the colour and shape rather than realism.
In Guernica (1973), he makes a similar comment on man’s inhumanity to man, like Goya, expressing his cry out against the murderous events that occur during warfare. The painting caused deep controversy, artistically and politically. Guernica was the event that was the catalyst for the painting, where the destruction of the Basque capital happened. Combined with the distorted imagery and colour scheme, the painting is confronting as the shapes, which form characters, and animals are emotionally and physically scattered.
His individuals and animals are both highly distinctive and symbolic. The large size of the work (350 – 777cm) and the restricted colour scheme of blacks, greys blues and whites increase the visual impact of the artwork. Artists felt compelled to use a more abstract and dehumainsed form-language to cope with it. The mural size painting executed in 1937 to memorialize the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica and created a work that expresses multiple perceptions of a single catastrophic event.
The painting describes the bombing in terms of modern new, sky-borne methods of terror Otto Dix (1891 – 1969, German), together with George Grosz, he created the style Die Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity], a form of social realist art, which examined the corruption, and social inequality of post-war German society. With the rise of the National Socialists in 1933, Dix was dismissed from this teaching at the Dresden Academy. He moved to Lake Constance and was only allowed to paint if he agreed to paint landscapes rather than political subject matter.
Dix was conscripted into the army during World War II and in 1945 was captured and put into a prisoner of war camp. He returned to Dresden after the war where his paintings became more religiously insightful of his wartime experiences. “Der Krieg [War]” (1924) arose out of Dix’s own experiences of the horrors of war, which affected him as both an individual and as an artist. “Der Krieg” itself, was consciously based on Goya’s “Disasters of War”. Like “Disasters of War”, Der Krieg uses a variety of etching techniques.
Similarly, it uses the technique of a long sequence of images and reflects Goya’s brutal realism in terms of its presentation. GH Hamilton describes Dix’s cycle as ‘perhaps the most powerful as well as the most unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art…” Dix was both horrified and fascinated by the experience of war. There is a nightmarish quality to his etchings, as well as a quality of sensuousness, indicating that there may be, in Dix’s case, an addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war. It is universally regarded as one of the great masterpieces of twentieth century.
Dix’s oeuvre as a whole, and Der Krieg in particular, was influential on a number of other twentieth century artist such as Ben Shahn, Pablo Picasso and Robert Motherwell. Gordon Bennett (1955, Australian) comments on Australian history and the racial relationships within society. His main issues with society are racial concerns and connectedness to place and nationhood as subjects and the intention of his work as a comment on social history. He presents a viewpoint on the world both past and present. Bennett was half aboriginal, and was not aware of his heritage until he was teased in school.
During his time, racial discrimination was a major issue, particularly with the Aboriginal people. Using his experiences to assist him, he gets his audience to ask questions about perception and knowledge. His artworks often challenge views, as he persuades them to re-evaluation their actions and thoughts on race and citizenship. Highlighting the tensions in black-white relationships from the colonial era to the present. Using postmodern methods, Bennett has deconstructed works of Modernist artists such as Pollock, Basquiat and Mondrian. Notes to Basquiat Twenty-First Century 2000) is an interpretation of Basquiat’s paintings, to suggest a sharing of racial experiences that is reinforced by the words marked, such as ‘mimic’, ‘emulate’. He implies that their experiences are similar but different.
The intense imagery and use of text are evident as they are structured and simplified. Rather than appropriating imagery directly from Basquiat, Bennett has developed his own version of Basquiat’s ‘street-graffiti’ inspired style, including word lists and layering of background colour, although he does include some of Basquiat’s symbols, such as the crown and the childlike drawing of toys. The plane in this work more obviously references the 9/11 attack on New York’s Twin Towers in Notes to Basquiat (the Coming of Light) 2001. ) These symbols are mixed with Australian motifs, such as Captain Cook’s hat and the words ‘drover’ and ‘true blue’, as he examines the foundations of identity and different accounts of experience, culture, race and history.