Black IdentityWhat factors contributed to changes in African-American self-definition in the 1960s?• Sartre’s “Black Orpheus” — The growing sense of ethnic identityamong African-American’s was influenced by Sartre’s “Black Orpheus”and the emphasis of existentialism on the inevitability of humansuffering and the necessity for the individual to act responsibly in theface of that predicament.• Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man — This novel was instrumental inintroducing existentialist attitudes to an American audience. The mostvital realization of the novel’s narrator is that he must assert hisblackness instead of hiding from it.
• Asserting Blackness in Art and Literature — The collages ofRomare Bearden depict the black experience. The poet and playwrightAmiri Baraka demonstrates a sense of a single black American identity,one containing the diversity of black culture within it. The violent Wattsriots in Los Angeles reflected the growing militancy of the African-American community.• Discussion Question: In what way did black artists articulate blackidentity?
The Vietnam War: Rebellion and the ArtsHow did artists respond to the Vietnam War?• Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five — Antiwar sentiment wasreflected in the arts in works primarily about earlier wars, World War IIand Korea, as if it were impossible to deal directly with events inSoutheast Asia. The fatalism of Slaughterhouse-Five mirrors the senseof pointlessness and arbitrariness that so many felt in the face of theVietnam War.• Artists Against the War — Claes Oldenburg’s Lipstick (Ascending)on Caterpillar Tracks targeted the university administration of Yale.The Art Worker’s Coalition was an antiwar organization. Theyprofessed the view that museums embodied the establishment politicsthat had led to the war.
• Conceptual Art — A strategy designed to undermine the artestablishment emerged—making art that was objectless, art that wasconceived as either uncollectible or unbuyable, either intangible,temporary, or existing beyond the reach of the museum that was felt tobe supporting the war. Heubler’s “January 5-31, 1969” was anexhibition that consisted of its catalog but no objects.• Land Art — One of the most famous of works designed specifically toescape the gallery system, a site specific work, is Smithson’s SpiralJetty. Heizer’s Double Negative draws attention to the differencebetween the relative brevity of human time and the vastness ofgeological time. The temporary installations of Christo and Jeanne-Claude evoke time’s passing and the fragility of human experience.
• The Music of Youth and Rebellion — Given the involvement ofAmerican youth in the antiwar movement, it was natural that rock androll helped to fuel the fires of their increasingly passionate expressionsof dismay at American foreign policy. Rock was the musical idiom of ayouthful counterculture that embraced sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.Posters such as Six Days of Sound by Bonnie MacLean becameemblems of the era. The Woodstock Festival has become legendary.• Discussion Question: Describe some of the significant imagery ofRosenquist’s F-111 and how this imagery fueled controversy.
High and Low: The Example of MusicHow did “high” culture and “popular” culture coexist in the musicalworld?• Gyorgy Ligerti and Minimalist Music — Minimalist music wasinspired by advances in electronic recording and productioninnovations. Composers transformed the simple elements with whichthey began into dense, rich compositions. Ligerti developed a rich, butmuch more minimal, brand of polyphone—which he called“micropolyphony.”• The Theatrical and the New Gesamtkunstwerk — The musicfor Wilson’s play Einstein on the Beach was composed by Philip Glass.The “doubling” introduced in this work is another facet of postmodernexperience. Laurie Anderson most fully realized the Gesamtkunstwerkideal with her multimedia piece, United States.• Discussion Question: Explain Brecht’s critique of the Gesamtkunstwerkand its influence.
The Birth of the Feminist EraHow did the feminist movement find expression in the arts?• The Theoretical Framework: Betty Friedan and NOW —Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique rejects modern American society’sconstruction of women. She founded the National organization forWomen, the primary purpose of which was to advance women’s rightsand gender4 equity in the workplace.• Feminist Poetry — The work of both Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plathexplored the difficulties that women faced in determining an identityoutside the patriarchal construction of “woman.”• Feminist Art — Many women artists were insistent that their work beapproached in formal, not feminine terms—that is in the same termsthat the work of men was addressed. Judy Chicago’s collaborativework, The Dinner Party, announced the growing power of the women’smovement. Eleanor Antin consistently explored the construction offemale identity in contemporary American society. Cindy Sherman castherself in a variety of roles, all vaguely recognizable as stereotypicalfemale characters in Hollywood and foreign movies, television shows,and advertising.
• Discussion Question: Discuss feminist themes in art.
Questions of Male IdentityHow did male self-definition come into question?• It stands to reason that if female identity is not essential but sociallyconstructed, the same should hold true for men.• Richard Prince was one of the first artists to address this theme asseen in his advertisements of cowboys, specifically the Marlboro Man.• If Prince’s cowboys represent the macho side of American maleidentity, the gay rights movement would play a dramatic role inchallenging such American attitudes about the nature of masculinity.