Not Your Ideal Identity

Our next discussion in Visual Literacy was in the realm of identity: How do we get our identity? Can we change it? What are the pros and cons of identity? In our search for the answers we looked at the works of several artists, namely Cindy Nikki S. Lee, Cindy Sherman and Anthony Goicolea.

Nikki S. Lee gave us insight into the nature and origin of our identity. With her “Project” series (i.e. the “Yuppie Project,” “Hip-Hop Project” and the like), Lee proves that identity is something one is born with and/or raised into. For example: in her “Hispanic Project,” Lee assimilated herself into Hispanic surroundings, clothing, make-up, behavior, etc. Yet even with this acting and effort, at the end of the day, one can easily see that Lee is a Korean woman dressed as a chica. From this, we can assume that identity is at least partly due to our origin.,r:13,s:0,i:122

Nikki S. Lee’s “Hispanic Project”

Next, we can learn from Cindy Sherman whether it’s possible to change our identity. Sherman, like Lee, uses her photographs to capture her own self with various identities. Whether an unnamed woman of her Untitled Film Stills series or a rendition a 16th century noble, Cindy makes a commentary on change of identity. In some of her photos, it is obvious that she is wearing make-up and costume or that she is not who she says she is. From this I read: no matter how you dress, act, or appear, you can’t fully convince others, and certainly not yourself, of your new “identity.”,r:48,s:0,i:301

Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills #58”

Finally, we looked at the works of Anthony Goicolea, another photographer. Goicolea’s study of identity takes us into age as identity, as he captures himself in “boyhood.” Youth is often associated with freedom, blitheness, health, etc. But Goicolea seems to be reminding us with his violent, un-innocent images of boyish activity (really, himself photographed multiple times) that adolescence is not as good as we remember it being.,r:41,s:200,i:127

Anthony Goicolea’s “American Gothic”


I, too, photographed myself with another identity that I have never really had but maybe secretly wanted: to be a party girl.  These photos of me scantily clad will not be published here, because I hold to my true identity: prudish homebody. I guess you could say, to revert back to one’s childhood, or to try and be someone we are not isn’t all its cooked up to be. We are who we are because we were made this way by Someone who knows better than us. The thing we can change is whether or not we choose to we live that innate identity to its full potential.

Fame: Are you sure you want your fifteen minutes?

“Mona Lisa,” Leonardo DaVinci, 1506.

After our discussion of religion as a conceptual framework in art, our Visual Literacy class turned to a study of representations of fame in art. Within this framework, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous class periods in which we discussed Mona Lisa‘s value in regard to its fame. Just as this masterpiece is viewed, so are many actual celebrities. Mona Lisa, because of its great fame, has been reproduced thousands of times in thousands of ways. This effect of a great painting (or even great people) can be quite positive in that this reproduction only furthers one’s fame and/or value. Mona Lisa is now the most famous and priceless piece of art in the world, while James Dean and Elvis have been made the subjects of countless celebrity shrines over the years.

James Dean

Elvis Presley

However, we must also look at the dark side of fame. One can see that mechanical reproduction of Mona  Lisa has, in a way, eliminated her one-of-a-kindness, her rarity. It goes back to that saying, “When everyone is special, no one is.” So many pictures have been taken of Kim Kardashian, some people might be getting sick of looking at those pouting lips and huge hips. Yet, even worse than the loss of value through mass repetition is the blatant disrespect given to famous figures. Duchamp is not the only person to have put a mustache on Mona Lisa, as we well know.

Mona Lisa Pavarotti

Celebrities of all degrees face the same problem as Mona Lisa. One can’t help but try and find the faults of someone who seems to be perfect and have it all. But society often forgets that these are fallen human beings just like the rest of us. We tend to make gods out of celebrities, but when they fall we’re the first point a finger and laugh. What’s the cause of this? Who knows? Maybe “normal people” are envious; maybe they want to make sure celebrities are made of flesh and blood like the rest of us; maybe they have some weird compulsion to utterly and spontaneously love and hate one person.

Doctor Phil and his Muppet look-alike

Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton with their “South Park” characters






In any case, the vast number of means of spreading fame in our modern world has made it seem that anyone and everyone can be famous. We might all just have our “fifteen minutes” because of Facebook, your neighbor’s camera, your own awesome blog for Visual Literacy class, etc. But the question is, how does one make himself immortal? That is for the truly famous (or infamous) to teach us. Of course, if you want to be stalked by crazy fans by day and insulted by everyone else by night, be my guest.

Convicted in Your Religion, or Convicted of Your Religion?

The past few weeks of our Visual Literacy class have been devoted (no pun intended) to discussion of how religion is affirmed, criticized or neutrally portrayed in art. Our review of several artists and their works has helped my understanding of the misunderstanding of religious-themed artwork. Thus, having made my own pieces of art, via photography, I hope the following points help you, dear reader, understand as well.

“Flipping Awesome”: my affirmation of religion

Affirmation. I learned from Chris Ofili’s painting of Our Lady and elephant dung that affirmation of religion is not always an obvious trait to find in artwork. Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary was lam blasted by people such as Mayor Guiliani of New York City, as sacrilegious and “sick.” However, the elephant dung can certainly be seen as an honor to Our Lady’s image, rather than an insult. Let me explain: Ofili finds his origin in Africa, where pachyderms’ waste is used as a medium in sacred art specifically. Therefore, Ofili is positively pointing to the Virgin Mary’s place as a divine figure. If Guiliani had only been a bit more open-minded and educated, he might have figured this out. With my own affirmative piece, I sought to utilize Ofili’s strategy of subtle affirmation. Capturing only the feet of Christ on a crucifix might seem pointless, yet it is in this that I find the ultimate reason for religion: thanking God for the gift of His own Son’s death in order to give us life.

“Altera Christa”: my critique of religion

Critique. In choosing my method of criticizing religion, I decided to present a supposed fault found within my own Christian tradition, thus adding validity and proximity to my claim. However, I would first like to discuss Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, another work that excited much controversy. An image of Christ submerged in pee, Andres’ photograph gives immediate offense. Even so, Sr. Wendy Beckett, a well-known art historian and critic, finds affirmative value in Piss Christ. She rightly speaks of Christianity’s healthy love for the physical, and she opines that the photograph points to this belief that the body is good. Yet, in my opinion, Sr. Wendy is naive in thinking this is an affirmation of religion. Many of today’s viewers, and perhaps Andres himself, would not look into the deeper meaning of such a disgusting idea. Now, my photograph is much less revolting than Andres’, but I hope it opens minds in the way Sr. Wendy imagines Piss Christ doing. Female priests are not found in the Catholic Church, a tenet I fully support. However, many inside and outside the Church find this to be sexist or “behind-the-times,” and I attempted a critique from their viewpoint.

“Light of the World”: my neutral view of religion

Neutral.  Let now turn our discussion to something sweeter, literally. My SweetLord by Casimo Cavallaro is a good example of a artwork that seeks to neither affirm or criticize. Though many, such as Bill Donahue of the supposed “Catholic League,” found Cavallaro’s chocolate sculpture of Christ’s body offensive. A soundly reasoning person can see that now offense was meant in the sculpture. However, even Cavallaro himself had no defense for the work’s positive value. Therefore, I see this piece as religiously neutral. For me, it was easy to find a religious image that is neutral. Many religious traditions use candles, so it seemed universal to photograph a burning candle.

I hope my photographs relay my grasp of religious artwork as a means of affirming, defaming, or neutralizing their subject matter. Amen.


The What, Why and Wow of Walker and Wiley

Let’s leave Duchamp for now and turn to two influential artists of our modern age, Kehinde Wiley and Kara Walker. In many ways these two are alike: both are African-American artists who use their talent to eloquently comment on race. Of course, they also differ greatly: Wiley’s art is colorful and allegorical; his subjects are dressed in bright hues against filigreed backgrounds, and often pose as exalted figures of history or saints. Walker, on the other hand, places her subjects within the stark, harsh reality of slavery; she chooses the medium of  simple yet provocative black silhouettes on white walls.

“Le Roi a la Chasse,” Wiley, 2006.

“Keys to the Coop,” Walker, 1997.







Yet, what are the underlying racial messages and of Wiley and Walker, and what makes their methods effective? Wiley’s placement of African-American people in artful “power poses” formerly held by white men shows that wide-spread abolishment of race discrimination has opened high positions in society to African-Americans ready to assume them. On the other hand, Walker’s portrayal of slavery could be a statement about the persistence of thinking that African-Americans are low on the social ladder. Both statements point to the cause and effect of prejudice and stereotypes of race.

Martyrdom of St. Cecilia,” Maderno, 1600.


Wiley’s imitation, “The Virgin St. Cecilia,” 2008.





The impression Wiley’s paintings leave is that “saints” can be found in anyone, even in the random models Wiley chose from the streets. Taking degraded humanity and raising it up should certainly be the ideal of any society, “post-racial” or not. Walker’s opinion may be less subtly put forth, but it is powerful nonetheless. Her use of black silhouettes for every figure could be a commentary on the “color-blindness.” However, even in their ambiguous shadows, it is a simple to discern who is black and who is white in her scenes. Both artists, whether they intended to or not, point to the continuation of race differences. Because, let’s be honest, you can’t be “colorblind.” We need to accept those differences and learn to love them. That’s where I find the wow of Wiley and Walker.

“Renaissance Society” (detail), Walker, 1997.

Duchamp’s “Readymades”: Hmm. . .

“Bicycle Wheel,” Duchamp, 1913.

Now allow me to introduce Marcel Duchamp. Born in France in  1887, Duchamp was influential to the progression of twentieth-century art. His most characteristic works were the “Readymades” or “Assisted Redaymades.” These were essentially manufactured, “found” objects, which Duchamp would simply title,  sign– either with his own name or one of his pseudonyms (R. Mutt or Rrose Selavy)– and perhaps alter in a very minimal way. The concept of Readymades was that art could be made free from aesthetic dictation; what defines art is whether it is “good, bad, or indifferent.”

“Hat Rack,” Duchamp, 1917.

Some consider the revolutionary idea of Readymades to be Duchamp’s commentary on fame being the attraction for art. Indeed, a Readymade is theoretically reproducible by anyone. So, why are these everyday objects housed in museums around the world? The titles of Duchamp’s Readymades provoke one to discern the deeper meaning behind a snow shovel, a bottle rack, etc.. In a lecture called “Apropos of ‘Readymades’,” Duchamp said, “. . .The title was meant to carry the mind of the spectator towards other  regions more verbal.” However, Duchamp believed that the “creative act” for Readymades comes from the spectators themselves, who are left to impose their own meaning upon the “artwork.”

This is where Visual Literacy comes in. For class, we now have the opportunity to make our own Readymades from just about anything. Of course, proving Duchamp’s theory of fame, I doubt my Readymade will attract nearly as much attention as any of his did (though, I must say, that would be nice). Trying not to try too hard, I chose a lab skull as my Duchampian masterpiece. Making limited alterations by stuffing it with toilet paper and signing it “The Big Oak,” I proclaimed this unassuming model to be a “work of art.” Easy peasy. But wait. . . I now needed a title that would both whisper my own ideas and leave my viewers completely free to glean their own interpretations. Thus, I present to you Sad e Dreamy:

“Sad e Dreamy,” Teresa Querciagrossa, 2012

I’ll let you decide what this Readymade means, and maybe later I’ll tell you what it means for me. Duchamp would be proud of me: I took the work of another, titled it, called it my own, and confused everyone in the process. Now that is apropos of Readymades.

The first entry of a new blogger can be a bit schmultzy. . .

. . . but here it goes. Hello and welcome! I ‘m a bit reluctant to share personal information through what could turn into a viral blog, but here’s a little something about Teresa Querciagrossa: I grew up in that magical land of corruption and movie stars, Southern California. (No, a true native never refers to it as So Cal. That’s for those people in Nor Cal.) The fourth of seven children, I was raised in a very Catholic home (and by very Catholic, I mean daily Mass, Rosary, and baptism birthday-type Catholic).

There is no quick summary of my childhood, so let’s just say it was rocked, and the effects of it are pretty awesome. My home school education got me into the  fine, four-year Holy Cross College, where I now study philosophy, with minors in political science, studio art, and global perspectives. Once I have completed my undergraduate studies I would like to study abroad and/or enter a graduate program for architecture. My family’s business cultivated in me a love for reading and travel, and a distaste for RV camping. (It’s a long story. . .) Even so, I enjoy the outdoors, backpacking and rock climbing in particular. I really didn’t/don’t/hope to never have much to complain about in life.

Okay, so why exactly am I making this blog? Well, as I mentioned above, I am a studio art minor, and one of the many fun classes one must take for such a minor is Visual Literacy. What, you may ask (it’s okay, I did), is Visual Literacy? Vis Lit (for shortness’ sake) is one’s ability to “read” art, media, and anything else taken in by one’s eyes. I registered for this class because, as a studio art minor, it is important for me to learn not only how to read others’ art, but also how to incorporate literacy into my own art. Through this course, I hope to learn the valuable tools of understanding and expressing effectively.

I have some experience in “reading” art, but not to a great extent. I have always loved religious art, because it often contains symbolism from which one can glean concrete information. (e.g. You know that picture is of St. Lucy because she always holds a plate with her eyeballs on it, having been blinded by her persecutors before martyrdom. You know that picture portrays St. Francis of Assisi because he always looks like the founder of PETA, with all those animals surrounding him. You get the idea.)

Also, one of my favorite means of entertainment is going out to the movies with my four brothers. (As you can imagine, they always picked the most unrealistic, most swashbuckling, action-packed, testosterone-based movies.) I would often come out of the theater and say, “Yeah, it was entertaining, but not a very good movie.” I would then have to explain why an entertaining movie is not always a “good” movie. Thus, my critique of art, namely of movies, was developed until I despaired of ever finding a movie that thrills and inspires. (There are a few. Movies by the Cohen Brothers and Christopher Nolan do both.) Still, I recognize the need to further my literacy of art in general, and I hope Vis Lit will do so.

Already, I have learned quite a bit about reading art. Through theory (lines, shapes, texture, etc.), one can gain practical information. More importantly, however, one can take “words” from any work of art, and string them together to form the sentence or paragraph or whole dissertation the artist is trying to relay. As we dive into Vis Lit, I anticipate learning many such things. I am excited to be blogging. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. . . I’m sure blogging will get me started in understanding art in a way that looking at hundreds of masterpieces could not, and express myself in a way that my cheesy, little stick-figure drawings never will. Here’s to blogging!

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