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Art and Society | Modern Art & Ideas

Many artists create work in response to the social, cultural, and political issues of their time. See how Dorothea Lange, Martha Rosler, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres responded to the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, and the AIDS crisis. See short films about other themes: http://bit.ly/1OqE0ZZ Enroll in "Modern Art & Ideas" on Coursera: http://bit.ly/1JHtmuM.

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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user Residuum
    Would an artist like Martha Rosler even be able to exist today? I would think with all the copyright issues surrounding it, no one would be able to do this kind of collage work nowadays.
    (3 votes)
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Video transcript

We often think of the art world as separate from the real world. This is rarely the case. This video is called Art & Society. A theme we will explore using three works. It's 1934. The height of the Great Depression. Dorothea Lange was running a successful portrait studio in Berkley, California. The photographs she took of the social elite made her a good living. But when she looked out her window, she couldn't ignore that people were struggling. We can't escape what's happening around us. The theme of society allows you the opportunity to think more critically about where something's coming from and what's that point of view. Lange left the studio and took her camera on the road. Hired by a New Deal program, Lange travelled up and down California. She was documenting the lives of the state's newest residents: migrant workers. Lange was driving back to San Francisco after a long assignment. She saw a pea pickers camp but kept driving. Twenty miles down the road, something made her turn around. "I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother as if drawn by a magnet." The family had arrived at the camp only to learn that the crop had been destroyed by rain. They were stranded along with 2,500 other migrants with no work and no food. Lange took only six photos. She sent her negatives off to Washington and within days, supplies were rushed to the area. The story, along with one of her photos, was printed in the San Francisco News. The picture caught the public eye. Lange's final image did more than tell the story of government aid. It connected with people. It was re-published, it was displayed at The Museum of Modern Art. Here we are, decades and decades later, but we really understand or can imagine what that experience must have been like in a way that's really tangible and something that we can really relate to. It's 1967 and America's involvement in Vietnam is escalating. Declared the Living Room War, there was no escaping Vietnam. Well, almost no escaping. Martha Rosler was dumb-founded. How could Americans be interested with the war one moment and interested in a couch the next? So she combined them. To her, they were inseparable. She used magazines that came into the American household everyday and called the series: House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home. "We need to constantly question become passive consumers of images, to always look to the margins." "What is it telling us not only by what's in the frame, but also, what is the frame and what's behind the frame?" In 1991, New York was facing a different kind of conflict. The AIDS crisis was part of this political landscape that was very much in conflict. "Where does he get off taking our tax money to promote homosexuality?" "Politics won't cure AIDS. Not doing anything but killing Americans." So Felix Gonzalez-Torres hangs two clocks on the wall. "There is never such a thing as an apolitical or inert artwork." People were fearful and angry. Gonzalez-Torres used simple imagery as a response to the era's uncertainty. He used lightbulbs. He used candy. He used clocks. Two clocks touching set to the same time that gradually go out of sync. And it could be circumstance or it could be sickness or disease that suddenly brings you out of sync with something or someone. It doesn't kind of hit you over the head right away. It allows you to kind of linger there for a minute. It's subtlety is its power. Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, Martha Rosler's House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home and Felix Gonzalez-Torres' Untitled (Perfect Lovers).