Module Exercise 3: A Critical Analysis


Contemporary artists explore the body from a variety of formal and conceptual constructs. Some artists, such as Jenny Saville ( and Maureen Connor, address our notions of the “perfect” body in their work, particularly as one might find the body represented through media images and pop culture. Other artists consider the body as a mortal organism, subject to decay and degradation. Consider, for example, the work of artists Joel-Peter Witkin, ( Kiki Smith ( , and Robert Gober ( n=1&a=141&im=1) . The body as cultural sign (and battleground) is another focus for contemporary artists. Many of Barbara Kruger’s ( photomontages from the 1980-90s addressed major cultural and political issues of the times: sexual expression, reproductive rights, and role of women in the work force. Our textbook (Robertson & McDaniel 2 009) also refers to “Performing Bodies” (pp. 82-4) in reference 2019. 2. 17. Module Exercise 3: A Critical Analysis 2/6 to how some artists use their actual bodies as instruments and/or materials in their work. Janine Antoni ( , Adrian Piper ( , Mierle Ukeles ( , and Carolee Schneemann ( are a few artists who use performance as a vehicle for expression. We also find that rapid technological changes have introduced both subject and content into contemporary art about the body. Artists such as Stelarc ( explore the “posthuman” body (Robertson & McDaniel 2009, pp. 95-101) as cyborg-an amalgamation of biological and machine parts. Some artists working with this topic do so in ways that are highly conceptual and which represent the body as a literal machine. Rebecca Horn’s ( Painting Machine (1988) and Wim Delvoye’s ( Cloaca (begun in 2000) are two such examples. The human figure is deeply represented in the art and cultural artifacts of most world cultures and it remains a popular subject in today’s art. Contemporary artists explore the human body with regard for its corporeality (its material reality as flesh, tissue, and bone) and its existence as a “cultural artifact” that reflects “society’s views of proper behavior, social and economic roles, and power relationships” (Robertson & McDaniel 2009, p. 76). For this assignment, you are to write a critical analysis of a work of art discussed in Chapter 3 (The Body) in the course textbook. As a premise on which to organize your thoughts, reflect on the question: “How do artists today explore our complex perceptions of the human body?” This is the underlying question that should be addressed in this module exercise. With regard to the purpose of this assignment, your analysis of the work should relate to how the artist is addressing issues of the body in or through the work. The goal of a critical analysis is to help your reader/audience to gain insights into a work and new ways of thinking about a work of art that they otherwise might not have discovered on their own. The purpose of this assignment is for you to present a critical analysis that builds on a visual description of the work. Some description of the work that you discuss is appropriate. Description, however, should quickly lead to a discussion of the artist’s technique, an interpretation of the work’s meaning or intention, and an evaluation of the work.

Assignment Guidelines:

Select a work of contemporary art (created after 1980) that is discussed in Chapter 3: The Body (in the course textbook). You are required to identify in your response the section and page number where the work is discussed in Chapter 3: The Body. Write a critical analysis of the work in which you present your analysis and evaluation and discuss how you perceive the artist is exploring issues of the human body through the work. Use the following steps for developing your critical analysis: Begin your analysis with a consideration of the work’s formal elements: What is the subject matter of the work? What is the work made of? What techniques did the artist use in creating the work? How large or small is the work? Does it have physicality or is it solely conceptual? What colors, textures, and shapes are present in the work? How is the work exhibited? Once you’ve established a formal analysis, move on to discuss the significance of the work. Frame your discussion of the work’s significance by using at least two or more of the following perspectives (Brereton, n.d.): Historical significance: When was the work created? What was happening in the world at that time? Are there specific events or actions that contributed to the work’s conception? 2019. 2. 17.

Module Exercise 3:

A Critical Analysis 3/6 Cultural significance: What is the meaning of the work? How is the “meaning” of the work affected by the values, beliefs, customs, ideas of the culture in which the work was created? Social significance: How is the work valued or used by contemporary society? Does the artwork address particular social groups? Does the work address or explore particular social issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, etc? Political significance: Is the work making a political statement? If so, what political issue does the work address? Does the manner in which audiences experience the work frame the work in a political context or purpose? Is the political significance of the work a deliberate action of the artist or accidental by virtue of exhibition, changing events, etc.? The final part of your essay should provide your reader with a conclusion that summarizes your main points and which leaves your reader with additional thoughts to consider, something more for the reader to think about as they contemplate the work you analyzed. Embed an image of the work you discuss within your essay or provide a working URL where the work may be viewed online.

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