As a junior in high school, I am taking AP Art History this school year. In the cozy confines of my first period classroom, we probe art pieces from 3500 BCE- modern day works through lively discussion, thoughtful written analysis and precise note taking. While I am only over one month into my study of art history, I want to be absorbed into this world. My teacher began teaching us Unit 1, prehistoric art, and then we directly advanced to Unit 10, contemporary art (1980-present), in order to have a perspective of how much we have developed as an artistic world.
One of the most fascinating pieces in Unit 10 is Cindy Sherman’s, Untitled #228: a recreation of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes- an adaptation of a Carravargio’s own depiction of Judith, a biblical hero. Each of these pieces show a woman who is beheading a man, although in Sherman’s piece, the head is already detached from the body. The progression of Caravaggio’s depiction to Sherman’s begins to attack the concept of the male gaze. The male gaze is the discourse that reflects heterosexual male attraction through meek, hyper-sexual and villanized portraits of women. Sherman includes motifs from Gentileschi’s and Caravaggio’s pieces with Romanesque draperies in the background, although the dress that Sherman’s “Judith” is wearing is a rich, blood red. Caravaggio’s piece was the most conservative in terms of how violent Judith had been depicted, and Sherman wields the most vicious portrayal of Judith.
This piece is just one of the forty two works of art in Unit 10. Each work of art is testament to our societal progression as a more inclusive and diverse art world. This unit is unlike the other units that simply portray naked women created with oil paint by wealthy white males. Pieces like, “Sunflower Seeds” by Ai Weiwei, a Chinese activist who used this project in order to give work to his impoverished hometown of Jingdezhen, just south of Beijing, is an example of this diversity. Not only is there diversity in the race of the artist, there is diversity in the purpose of its creation. Indeed, the evolution of the human identities of artists becoming well rounded and how frequently stereotypes dominate the content of works of art channel inclusivity and diversity.
While some people mourn the old paintings that were commissioned by French aristocrats and English monarchs, I see our contemporary world of art as just as impressive with its integration of technology and mixed media materials. Our contemporary world of art is created by artists of all human identities; thanks to my art history class, I can prove that myself.