Self and Free Expression in Art

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Hirshorn Museum

I think the most interesting piece at the Hirshorn Museum is Barbara Kruger’s Belief+Doubt which is on the ground floor of the museum. This is a very striking piece even though it relies on words for its impact and that is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Kruger’s work. It is amazing how a work of art that relies on language and phrases of sharp, cutting words can evoke emotions and perceptions the way this piece does. The messages affected me in a philosophical way because I took from the piece the overall message that as human beings we sometimes need to release previous biases and misconceptions, specifically beliefs that are damaging. Kruger appears to be calling for viewers to reopen their minds and shift their focus off of the shallow, external world which can be very damaging to the discovery of oneself. Essentially, the piece encourages self-reflection and asks for the viewer to evaluate and challenge what they believe to be their own inner truth.

One phrase in particular that stood out to me was situated between two big “Forget Everything” phrases. The phrase reads, “Give your brain as much attention as you do your hair and you’ll be a thousand times better off.” Again, it appears that Kruger is trying to get viewers to shift their focus off of the material and onto something more spiritual. Obviously, the beauty of this is that while many of the material struggles for people are the same, (money, clothes, gadgets, etc.) people can have radically different internal truths and motivations. Thus, it makes sense that Kruger’s overall message is to forget everything. She is asking us to start over, reexamine what we hold as important and the words provided offer a great place to begin to find that perspective. The phrase included in the title, on one of the walls with a backdrop of a loud red says it all, “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.” Question, learn and explore. That is the message I took from this piece.

Song Inspiration in Song1

Doug Aitken states, “I want to turn the museum into a canvas.” In his work titled Song1, Aitken does just that. The song as the source of the inspiration in Song1 is “I Only Have Eyes For You” by the Flamingos. The overall structure of Song1 is a respect and encouragement for diversity among musicians. Aiken expressed his desire to encompass as many perspectives and genres of the song as possible. The structure is also set up to be free expression. In the piece, for example, there are performances that are both live and recorded within the same song. It appears that Aiken wants musicians to have complete control over how they each individually represent and perform “I Only Have Eyes For You.” The structure also relies heavily on the setting. Song1 is situated between two political buildings, the capital and the Lincoln Memorial. Perhaps this is a play on the continuous clash between self-expression and the political environment. Where art allows for “incorrect” behavior, politics is always striving to be “correct.” In this piece, it is shown that there is no correct way to represent the song. The mix within the structure from the various musicians is beautiful.

The content is linked to the structure in a couple of ways. First, the structure is very open and is a “sandbox world” for artists to converge and explore their own interpretation of the song. The content, in like fashion, is very open. For example, there are performances that include both recorded and live parts of the song combined together. Also, the content relies a lot on diversity as does the structure. Aiken stresses many times that one of his requirements in orchestrating this piece was a respect and encouragement of how and what different musicians would bring to “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Finally, because the structure was open, the content was also open. This was especially apparent in the collaboration amongst the musicians. The performances were not just in one group or from one individual, there was a community effort many times between musicians of different genres to create their own version of the song.