Even though some may challenge the ideological messages behind Barbara Kruger’s work in the 1980’s, it brought about a change in society. She criticizes everything that is wrong with the stereotypical society using a conceptual approach to her artwork. Kruger challenges gender, sex, religion, consumerism, greed, power and her work becomes fueled by the mass media.
Kruger was born in 1945 in Newark, New Jersey. In 1964, she studied at the School of Visual Arts at Syracuse University. After a year at Syracuse, she went to the Parson’s School of Design in New York and studied graphic design. After a year at Parson’s, she received an entry level position at Mademoiselle Magazine in New York. She was soon promoted to head designer at the magazine.
By working for a magazine, she was able to see how words and photos can have a certain power to consumers. She became familiarized with these concepts of graphic design and started applying them to her artwork. During the late 1970’s she started off using her own photography as the medium for her work as a female artist.
In the 1980’s she developed a different approach to her work by integrating images and text. In the book “Thinking of You” Steven Heller states, ” Kruger’s method was influenced by reductive Modernist graphic design, the kind that began somewhat idealistically but has dominated corporate identity during the postwar years, as well as the so-called “Big Idea” or “Creative Revolution” advertising style of the sixties, known for clever slogans and ironic single images” (Heller 112).
Kruger’s artwork is considered postmodern. For Kruger, as for many contemporary theorists, postmodernism is not a style of succeeding the dissolution of modernism but rather a historical condition, marked by new philosophical relations; it signals a rupture with the notion of sovereign and individuality inherited from the Enlightenment (Linker 12). Postmodernism is an art movement that happened after modernism during the late 20th century. Kruger’s work impacts postmodernism because it sets a precedent for social constructs.
Barbara Kruger uses space, text, and photos as a way to bring her messages to a grand audience. Her use of words and pictures convey a deeper meaning. Her artwork shows the viewer how fast people are to label someone in society. The work shows how another person’s view can impact society as a whole by letting the hierarchy in society manifest our culture. Barbara went beyond this to get a reaction from society by raising this social awareness in her art.
Some may argue that her work disrupts the space or environment in which it is displayed. In the article “Jam Life into Death”, Ana Balona de Olivera talks about how Kruger uses the explicit artistic violence of disruption in order to raise awareness of hidden social violence (Balona de Olivera 752). I don’t agree that her artwork is violent or disruptive in relation to space itself. In our vast world, we see largely advertised displays all around us. There is more violence viewed on television and in news. I believe her work is more about the message than the actual disruption of the space it occupies. She makes us stop and wonder what we are looking at.
When viewing her work, we are challenged to see the actual message behind the work. She tries to communicate messages that she feels are beneficial to society or ironic in nature. The images she chooses may or may not have anything to do with the text on top of the images. Kruger states, “As long as pictures remain powerful, living conventions within the culture, I’ll continue to use them and turn them around” (Squiers 148).
Kruger uses black and white images that she has come across in magazines, advertisements, and other media. She uses these images that aren’t her own but started to weave them with text to make them her own, which is called appropriation. Kruger’s work will be necessary to a visual representation for the 1980’s, her influence now permeates all the forms of a media culture that she appropriated (Garrard 263).
Working as a graphic designer, Kruger was aware of how certain images sell to a grand audience. In graphic design, the font you use depends on the message you are trying to convey in the advertisement. The font that Barbara uses is called Future Bold Italic. I appreciate the fact that Kruger uses the same font in every piece so the viewer can’t convey a certain feeling or mood attributed with it. She let the words do the talking. Even though her images are a collage, they possess a graphic quality to them. With this experience, she could use images through repetition and recognition that impact our social culture.
Kruger uses the color red behind the text invoke a range of feelings by the viewer. The color red can make people feel angry, loving, warm or powerful. Her color choices were something you would see in a newspaper or for marketing a brand like Coca-Cola during the 1980’s. Again, her graphic design abilities came into play. By using these colors she could grab people’s attention to them. These colors seem to resemble Russian constructivism but I don’t think she was influenced by the art produced during that time.
Kruger challenges how celebrities are portrayed by the media though she may be condemned for doing so. Kruger is teasing the male audience by not putting her whole body on display. The play on words cover up any sexual connotations. Kim Kardashian’s body appears to be made plastic or airbrushed but none the less perfect.
In conclusion, Kruger’s work is similarly fueled by the mass media. Using re-occurring ideological messages to communicate her ideas the themes of gender, sex, consumerism, greed and power, she criticizes everything that she feels is wrong with the society we live in.