Image courtesy of the Anderson Gallery

At the Anderson Gallery, Drake University | Curated by Dr. Lenore Metrick-Chen
Jan 27 – Feb. 26, 2012 | Catalog

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life


We exist in a time where new ideas created cannot escape the grasp of the culture industry. This is an entity which consumes counterculture and through mass media outlets, regurgitates it back to the original owners as a “pop” culture. This is our original culture after it is reduced to clichés and false depictions of universal beliefs and standards for how to act. The general public is said to then act out this pop culture, and a counterculture resists only to become consumed and reduced again, in an endless “circle of manipulation.” This manipulation of our culture is similar to the souls from Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1504) being forever eaten and excreted by the “Prince of Hell. Contemporary artists must find new ways of not only resisting this cultural reduction machine, but of finding the truth within the falsification of our culture.

“’Art is a lie that tells the truth’” – Wendy Doniger quoting Pablo Picasso


A Modern solution: Revealing reality through the combination of various planes within one plane

The examination of the modern work, “Blue Nude” by Henri Matisse (1907) can allow for a better understanding of the contemporary use of lies in art to reveal truths. For Matisse to accurately depict life, something constantly in motion due to time’s fundamental definition of never stopping, he captures all of the infinite instances of this movement within one single instance— the medium of a flat canvas—by painting various planes and therefore various perspectives within one single plane. “Blue Nude” acts as a lie because it is physically one plane, or one single instance in time, imitating multiple planes or infinite instances. Despite its physical, two-dimensional limitation, this lie reaches the truth because it accurately depicts the reality of the eye working with the mind to see both continuously and consecutively the people and objects around us.

A contemporary appropriation solution: Re-discovering reality through the combination of various selves within one singular alignment

In “Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics,” Hal Foster suggests that rather than creating new signs to resist the culture industry, artists must resist through the intervention and corruption of signs already made and manipulated by consumer culture. Wendy Doniger, in “The Woman Who Pretended to Be Who She Was,” suggests this re-use of signs through the process of imitating the imitator to eventually become the imitator.

Doniger discusses the way art imitates life imitating art, and explains, “Even when we attempt to be natural, we are often imitating what we regard as natural, which often amounts to what art has taught us to regard as nature.” Doniger provides the example of unbroken horses freely playing in a field compared to horses, “after many years of training,” imitating what they have been taught rather than naturally “horsing around,” concluding that, “it often takes a great deal of art to look natural.” If we can no longer distinguish between what is originally natural, and what we have been trained to believe is natural, how can we maintain any semblance of authenticity? How can we feel comfortable as ourselves, if we can no longer define our truest selves?

Instead of being yourself, Doniger posits that you must pretend to be yourself, or more specifically, you must imitate the thing that is imitating you. Because the original reality can no longer be reached directly, it must now be reached through the creation of double negatives, or through adding something (another state or layer) that negates the false reality in order to bring you back to the true reality. For example, by exploring and parodying popular culture’s various cliché representations of females, Cindy Sherman imitates her imitator imitating her. Cindy Sherman is first her original self, “Cindy,” and then the self of “pop- culture-imitating-Cindy,” and finally she is “Cindy-imitating-pop-culture- imitating-Cindy.” Through this “triple-cross-masquerade,” or triple imitation, “Cindy-imitating-pop- culture-imitating-Cindy” becomes “Cindy Sherman” (the fully realized self). However, it is only through this alignment of all of these layers of imitation (through consciously experiencing her current self imitating a stereotypical personality that is an imitation of her previous self) that she can become her fully realized self. She can possibly re-possess, or re-rob her cultural identity through this mediated area, as well as through the combination of the three areas (or multiple selves) at once (like the clear vision created through the adjustment of different lenses during an eye exam).

Place yourself in the following situation: You are born in a car, from which you can never leave. You have only ever known the outside world by looking at it through the windshield of your car. Therefore, you cannot separate the windshield from the natural environment beyond the windshield; you see them as one inseparable thing. In order to see the windshield and the natural environment separately, you must look at them through another windshield, while still remaining in your car (Example appropriated from a windshield metaphor in “Mythologies” in “Myth Today” by Roland Barthes).