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The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture

Jun 16, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jun 16, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

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The American culture has been pervaded by consumerism and it dominates all American’s life aspects, including the artists of the country. This thesis addresses consumerism idea by exploring how people respond to it. When culture plays a significant role on what people buy, and to some extent how what people purchases to give the sense of self to people, and when there is nothing that is off limit, from art to sex, then what is the response of art. The thesis begins by a synopsis of a consumption documentary called “Art in the 21st century” in which contemporary artists elaborate on their creations, their perceptions of art and their creative processes. The thesis then analyses individual artists works, how they address consumerism idea through their artworks, and how the artists query the attitudes of the mass media,, consumer society and the and commerce. The artists used in the thesis include; Barbara Krugar, Edward Burtynsky, Micheal Ray Charles, Mel Ching and Andrea Zittle


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The consumption documentary

The “Consumption documentary” is a Twenty First Century art that explores the question of how the contemporary art addresses the consumption idea, and how the artists question the commonly held societal assumptions about mass media, commerce and the consumer society. The documentary of “consumption” explores the questions highlighted through the artistic works of Michael Ray Charles, Andrea Zittel, Barbara Kruger, Mather Barney and Mel Chin (Sollins et al 78).

According to Schroeder, the artists presented in the consumption documentary reference the kind of images the general populations are very much familiar with (26). Many people spend their whole lives training to understand television, movies, video games, beds, clothes and hoses among other things, and therefore the contemporary art invokes often these objects and experiences. This implies that the art looks often like a commodity, because in the culture of the consumer, nothing could be more vital.

Golden observed that the humorously frenetic “consumption” video sets off with artists Barbara Kruger’s original work, and explores the ways in which consumption of things is done by people in their daily lives, from sex, to money and to food (371). Throughout the documentary, trademark phrases of Kruger in red and white call for obedience and attention of the viewer. Sollins stated that Kruger’s texts proclaims “Love, Buy and Sell art” and “Feed, Love and Sell me,” and the texts also addresses the viewer in the same manner in which the advertisers sway their consumers to buy the products being advertised (119).

The “Consumption” documentary also films Michael Ray Charles at his home in a certain location and also in a studio located in Austin, Texas. Royal Art pointed out that through his studies of the blackface, minstrel tradition, advertising, Charles seeks to subvert and deconstruct blackness images through painting (66). “People usually question my blackness. I have been called many times a sellout. Many people are accusing me of perpetuating stereotype,” Charles said (Schroeder 43). “I think there exist a fine line between questioning something and perpetuating something, and I like getting closer to it as much as possible.”

In the “Consumption” documentary, Matthew Barney says that a system that has got an internal object, the Freudian narratives which highlights the producer and the consumer, sexual drive, sexual violence and the NFL films, are the things he thinks about (Sollins et al 119). The CREMASTER film series challenges genres, twists the flow of the narrative and makes an interrogation of the art as they make an exploration on the ways sublimation of the violence is done. Golden (2001) observed that the segment follows on Matthew Barney and his crew members on the CREMASTER 3 set at the race track of Saratoga and also at the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York. Sollins pointed out that at the Saratoga race track, a group of horses is transformed by Matthew Barney into corpses racing (226). Similarly, at the Guggenheim, Matthew Barney also transforms the museum into a set for video game/course obstacle.

Andrea Zittle is a true artist who lives art from her artistry works, from her clothing projects and her experimental home, to her “pocket property” artificial island off the Denmark coast (Royal Art 72). From her work, Andrea is obsessed with innovation, perfection and moving forward, but she really wanted from her artistry is some sort of hope of improved and new or for a better tomorrow. Schroeder noted that the designs of Andrea has a whimsical blend of southern California roots of the artist and the twentieth century philosophy of modernist design (319).

Some of the unique collaborative venture of Mel chin is the interactive based video game on the nomadic people’s rug patterns and the “hyperaccumulator” plants garden tat clean up a land that is contaminated (Sollins et al 110). The collaborative ventures incorporate alchemy, ecology and even botany. Mel chin said that he thinks making art is not about one method or one track. The diversity of techniques and mediums is minor. However, the diversity of ideas and their survival and the transmitted methods are of great importance. The consumption documentary follows Mel Chin in Detroit as looks for locations where he can set up his latest project that changes the arsoned houses into farms for worms that benefit the local economy.


The purpose and aim of this methodology chapter is to discuss the applied methods in analyzing how the contemporary art effectively address the consumption idea. The methods will also be used in discussing the ways in which the artists questions the commonly held attitudes about consumer society, mass media and commerce. The chapter covers the research design, describes the reliability and validity of the method used.

Study design

The research questions proposed looks at how the contemporary art effectively address the consumption idea., and also discusses the ways in which the artists questions the commonly held attitudes about consumer society, mass media and commerce. Comparative analysis research design was applied to yield both quantitative and qualitative data. Because there is already a lot of information and researches on the aspects of the topic, a survey study was not deemed necessary. Therefore, comparative analysis study design was appropriate for the purposes as it will focus on comparing the artists, analyzing their artworks and discussing the findings with the hope of identifying conclusive information or an interesting relationship from different artists. Therefore, comparative analysis design will give a more detailed summary of several art works done that are addressing the topic. This will provide expansive information on the consumption idea and how the artists query attitudes from different groups of people. Because there are different artworks from different artists that address the idea of consumption, comparative analysis offer the best tool to assist in integrating all the information.


The thesis used secondary data from different artworks of the artists and literature about the artistry of the artists. Secondary data from photographs, images, artistry, and literature about the artists was found to contain more information on the consumption idea, and how the artists query different attitudes of people and entities in the society. Secondary method of data collection is useful and advantageous to this study since a lot of data are available that was produced by the artists (Stewart 87). Moreover, there are a lot of printed media, report and books in the library and internet that provided formation for analysis. Similarly, this method is inexpensive compared to other methods of data collection since vast data quantities from the original authors and real artists are available at the disposal of the researcher. Therefore, large scale research can be done on a minimal budget (Smith 210).


In applying the comparative analysis research design, the researcher decided on the hypothesis to be tested. Literature review of all the artistry, images, photographs and studies that test the hypothesis was done. After reviewing all the literature, the researcher evaluated carefully each data, analyzed them and finally interpreted the results


According to Carmines & Zeller, validity indicates the extent to which applied instrument in data collection measures what is intended to measure (14). Instrument validation according to Kirk & Miller is improved through the judgment of an expert (11). Content validity on the other hand refers to whether the used instrument provides adequate topic coverage. Therefore, the focus for the study will be on content and face validity. To test validity of the data, the researcher verified that the available data, information, images, photographs were authentic (Carmines & Zeller 34).


A measuring instrument for data collection is said to be reliable according to Kirk & Miller, if it provides consistent results. In assessing the reliability of the data, the context and the source will be examined (22). If six out of the total number of sources used provided consistent data, similar images and photographs, then the information will be regarded as trustworthy. However, if the information is conflicting, then it will be treated with much caution

Literature Review

The consumption idea as addressed by different artists portrays the consumption of the people and its critical importance in the current world.[1] When analyzing the consumption idea or engaging in a discourse on the consumption idea, the expected results from the analysis or the discourse is the ability to first understand the consumption effects on the natural resources and critically understand how the media influences the consumption habits of people. Secondly, from the analysis of the of the consumption idea, people will be in a position to design images and art work that raise public awareness on related issues on consumption. Thirdly, people will be able to understand how certain designers and artists raise the questions about consumerism and consumption through their literary work. Fourthly, consumption analysis will enable people also to understand how designers and artists approach consumption in a different way compared to other professionals and scientists. Lastly, analysis of the consumption idea will enable people to make changes in their lifestyles to promote sustainable living (Milesi-Ferretti & Roubini 371).

In the discussion and analysis of the consumption idea, the essay applied the works of different current designers, artists and the image makers who employ creative ad unique approaches to educate the masses by spreading the message on the over consumption effects to the environment and society as a whole.

The paper first analyzed and discussed the Chris Jordan’s photographs, a photographer who exclusively deals with the consumption and consumerism issues. Similarly, the essay analyzed the works of another photographer Edward Burtynsky whose images induce awe of the landscapes which are depleted and serve as the records of the industrial consumption impacts if the natural resources. Other artists analysed include Barbra Krugar, Andrea Zittle ,Micheal Ray Charles, and Mel Ching

According to Schroeder, the contemporary artists that recycle throw away materials and waste products in their literary works mind the environment (29). There are many contemporary artists who recycle materials from the environment from individual levels to the community scales. Based on the goals of the analysis of consumption idea, the essay came up with three projects

Project one: picture consumption

In this project, the essay discussed how waste or trash can be ugly or beautiful at the same time. Secondly, the project discussed how the consumption habits of people be captured in one photograph. The images applied in this project were from work of the artist Edward Burtynsky and Chris Jordan

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 1

Figure 1

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

Photograph shows tires and it depicts over consumption of people

Project two: designing ads for the environment

From this project, the questions the essay discussed whether the media steer the general population towards purchase of things. Another question is how the advertisers encourage people to buy to purchase products or things that they do not need. The third question is how advertisements can be created to encourage beneficial and favorable change in the environment. Fourth is what should be said in the adverts; fifth is how the ads should look like. Sixth question is how to focus the public attention on purchasing of the renewable resources. Lastly is what the artists say or their opinions on the influence of the media on consumerism.

The images applied in this project were from work of the artist Barbara Kruger.[2]

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 2

Artist: Barbara Kruger

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

Figure 2

In close examination of the work of Kruger, her artistry applies the same techniques adverstinsg techniques like those used by the media to subvert message (Kruger, Goldstein & Deutsche 99). According to Dill, the media has much influence on the purchasing decisions of people (76). The radio, television, the cinema, internet and advertising are easily accessible to many people. This implies that the messages of the media can be easily and quickly reach billions of people. The media steer people in many different ways to buy stuffs. One techniques applied by Barbara Kruger as observed by Kruger & Linker is repetition of similar messages over time (132). This makes people accept them as true and even act according to the messages.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 3

Figure 3

Artist: Barbara Kruger

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

Photograph depicting advert that encourage people to purchase

According to Weber et al, the media also influence how people buy things by using or even misusing the experts (71). The media applies this tactic by first quoting some research done by experts about the latest developments. Because it is very difficult to disagree since people do not have the current information and the current knowledge, they will blindly agree. The second technique noted by Jamieson & Campbell is where the companies use the famous people for their products advertisements (102). They simply publicize that the famous individual or the celebrity has agreed with their view because of the high regard of the celebrity among the public.

Katz pointed out that commitment is another method applied by the media to influence people purchasing decisions (152). If a person commits him or herself, they companies wants to appear consistent and therefore commit themselves. People will also tend to continue with decision already made because it is easy than making new decisions

Some of the techniques applied by the media to encourage people to buy goods and services include; avante garde, weasel words, facts and figures, patriotism, magic words, diversion, plain folks, transfer, bribery, wit and humor, testimonials, snob appeal among others (Pant 27).

Project three: consumption images

In this project, the questions discussed include first, some of the different ways of representing people’s consumption habits. Secondly is how the methods convey different messages and ideas. Thirdly is how the artists approach consumption from the designers differently, from economists differently, from scientists differently and from the environmentalists differently.

The images applied in this project were from work of the artists Barbara Kruger, Chris Jordan and Kate Bingaman-Burt

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 4

Figure 4

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 92 inches

Photograph showing human consmption


Analysis if Chris Jordan’s work

Chris Jordan’s work exclusively deals with photographs that address issues of consumption and consumerism.[3] Jordan noted that the beautiful photographs of Chris Jordan on display reports on the large scale consumption and waste out of the realms of statistics and squarely places them in front of our phases (166). His photographic artistry portrays the detritus of the society’s mass culture. That is the photographs of aluminum cans, piles of cell phones, garbage and many more

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 5

Figure 5

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 96 inches

The photograph depicts approximately 11,000 trails of jet that equals to commercial flights number after every 8hours in U.S

How contemporary art of Chris Jordan address the consumption idea

In the Chris Jordan’s project of Intolerable Beauty, the artist addresses the issue of consumerism in the today’s society. Despite the fact that the photographs were randomly taken at different piles of things, the project was aimed at get the scale of the consumer society. For instance, his photograph on cell phones indicates that the actual number of mobile phones in united states that are discarded is more than about 130 million, and the picture only represented a small portion of the number (Jordan 287).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 6

Figure 6

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 100 inches

The photograph depicts about 426,000 cell phones that equals to the totak number of retired cell phones everyday in U.S

As much as there is no place on earth that shows the actual group of things to support the statistics, Brockhoff et al explained that the entire society of today is consuming things invisibly. Therefore, the only way to understand and know the staggering effects of consumerism on the environment is to read the statistics in the scientific reports (310). Similarly, Rosa echoed support of the facts that the only way of relating the important incredible facts about mass consumption in the society is through statistics (37). However, the problem with the statistical numbers is that they are so emotionless and dry compared to images and photographs. Therefore, if the society is to be motivated as a culture to change their behaviors, then deep motivation need to be found. It is difficult to connect the statistics and therefore the society will not find motivation from it (Jordan 191).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 7

Figure 7

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 72 inches

The photograph depicts approximately 60,000 plastic bags that represents the number every five seconds used in U.S

Similarly, Jordan observed that in Chris Jordan’s photographs are run with series of numbers (57). This is to provide the viewer visual and the statistics in a different way for them to experience more directly the numbers with their hearts.

According to Brockhoff et al, one of the biggest problems right now that faces the current society is the consumerism problem, global environmental destruction, global warming, desertification of the agricultural lands, and the toxification of the oceans among others (81). These are not taking place because there exists a bad person somewhere who is consuming things terribly, but this is taking place because of the small incremental harm that every individual in the world is doing individually. Furthermore, the problem is the cumulative effect from the negative and harmful behaviors of hundreds of millions of people. Every person looks at his or her behaviors and believes that it does not look bad that much. Rosa advises that each and every person have to expand their consciousness to understand that the cumulative effect to the environment from hundreds of millions of the consumers decisions causes global environmental destruction (201).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 8

Figure 8

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 72 inches

The photograph depicts effects of global warming, desertification of agricultural land, floods and toxification of the oceans

How Chris Jordan queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce

Jordan pointed out that the work of Chris Jordan tries to help people in understanding that the society cannot do anything to curb or end consumption and pollution until people think about the large scale effects of consumption (129). The artistry of his photographs attempts to raise the viewer’s consciousness so that the individual member of the society starts thinking of the collective effects that everybody is part. This corresponds to the reasons why Chris Jordan runs numbers with the photographs he makes. This calls for people to be educated and better consumer, or even make better decisions

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 9

Figure 9

Artist: Chris Jordan & Cans Seurat

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 92 inches

The photograph depicts 106,000 cans of aluminum every 30 seconds that is used in U.S

According to Jordan, Chris Jordan tries also to query the attitudes of different people and entities in the society negotiating the ideas and concepts behind his photographs, and also find and create beauty in his artworks (113). Despite the fact that beautiful images attract people and people develop interest in them, beautiful pictures with difficult subjects draw the viewer on the beautiful part of the image and forget on the subject. Brockhoff et al alluded on the Jordan’s project of Intolerable Beauty where people talked of the beauty of the images for a longer time and this overshadowed the message being relayed across (284). This also explains why Jordan runs numbers with his photographs to convey the message to the viewer

In querying the attitudes, Rosa elaborated how Jordan also observed that when the collectors were collecting his work, they did it because of their beauty (91). Similarly, at receptions of his exhibitions, people admired the beauty of the pictures and he was even tempted one time to shout to everybody what the work was all about (Jordan 78). To find a solution and to satisfy his query, Jordan indicated that Jordan made an ugly picture of about 125,000 butts of cigarettes (401). That is the approximately the number that are littered every second around the world. The main intention of the photograph was that it would be edgy and disgusting extremely. However, when Jordan hanged the image at his exhibition, everybody flocked around the photograph and talked of how beautiful the picture was.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 10

Figure 10

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

The photograph depicts 65,000 cigarettes that equals to the under 18 American teenagers who every month become addicted to cigarettes in U.S

For better or for worse, many people are attracted to the art has a representation of something terrible or awful as beautiful (Brockhoff et al 342). In general, beauty does not just involve a lot of prettiness and color. Furthermore, things can be beautiful by the fact of their complexity.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 11

Figure 11

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 92 inches

The photograph depicts 29,569 handguns that equals to the number of deaths that are gun related in 2004 in U.S

Analysis of Barbara Kruger’s work

According to Kruger, Goldstein, & Deutsche, Barbara Kruger addresses language and sign issues through her art work (198). In most instances she has been group with other post modern feminist artists because she uses mass communication techniques and advertising in exploration of the gender and identity.

Kruger, Blumenthal & Horsfield pointed out that much work of Kruger involves merging of the photographs found from sources existing with aggressive and pithy texts that engages the viewer in the struggle for control and power that her captions portrays (309). Using a computer, Barbara Kruger develops her ideas and transfers the results to images that are billboard sized. Her images are often white letters trademark against a red background. Kruger observed that some of Barbara Kruger’s slogans read “your body is the battleground” and “I shop therefore I am” (173). According to Mary most of texts of Barbara Kruger questions the viewers about consumerism, feminism, desire and individual autonomy (66).

Kruger, Alexander, and Hal indicated that Kruger works with words and pictures because of their ability to determine what people are and what people are not (73). The bigger category that flows through Kruger’s work is the alteration and appropriation of the existing images. In the contemporary culture, the significance of appropriation art rest in its ability to play with textual conversions and preponderant imagistic to change the meanings and form new ones.

How contemporary art of Barbara Kruger address the consumption idea

Barbara Kruger addresses the consumption idea in her artistry by taking visual mass commercial communication language and flips it. Generally Barbara Kruger appropriates photographic commercial imagery that is commercial and overlay them with philosophical slogans that counter run the imagery. Kruger, Goldstein & Deutsche indicated that the inversion of meaning brings out how advertising reduces the identity of individual to that of object co modified (179). This forces the viewer to identify their objectification and respond to it. The images rally against consumerism, and are explicitly political.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 12

Figure 12

Artist: Barbara Kruger

Date: 1987

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

Kruger & Linker stated that in Barbara Kruger’s work, there are elements that critique consumerism, objectify gaze and are also patriarchal discourse (423). The “objectifying gaze” has an idea that the viewer be in a power position that reduces the viewed subject to the object status. For instance, when the image of a woman is used for advertising, her identity is of least importance other than as a product prop. However, the patriarchal discourse depicts the wider social context, for instance the male dominated society where women are culturally suppressed and socially subordinated. Barbara Kruger addresses the issues by pointing out how women within mass culture are reduced to using commercials culture to express themselves. This engenders social context where social identity is a consumer behavior emergent property (Kruger, Blumenthal & Horsfield 101).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 13

Figure 13

Artist: Barbara Kruger

Date: 1983

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

How Barbara Kruger queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce

As an artist and a designer, Barbara Kruger queries the commonly held attitudes about the consumer society, mass media and commerce by using the advertising language that is based on a perspective of an insider. The juxtaposed slogans subversion plays off the expectations of the viewer where the adverting image again supports the call to action marketing. The juxtaposition is a powerful is a core marketing tactic powerful subversion. The message is an opposite of what the image is leading the viewer to expect (Kruger 26).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 14

Figure 14

Artist: Barbara Kruger

Date: untitled

Dimension: 60 by 52 inches

Anti-consumerism specs where the wearer transforms into both a object and a voyeur

Analysis of Micheal Ray Charles’s work

The artwork of Micheal Ray Charles challenges the idea of really what black identity is. Most of his works are racial and ethnic in nature as noted by (Charles 185). Schroeder noted that originally, Micheal Ray Charles intended his work to be for the black audiences but it seems many black Americans have a problem with his work (51). This can also be seen from the number of his collectors whose minority is black.

His artwork is an investigation into the historic racial stereotypes legacy of the African Americans (Sollins et al 283). His artistry examines how African Americans in the American history have been viewed and how the African Americans have come over the years to view themselves because of the stereotypes that are demeaning.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 15

Figure 15

Artist: Micheal Ray Charles

Date: untitled

Dimension: 60 by 52 inches

The paintings of Micheal Ray Charles which are styles graphically investigates racial stereotypes that are drawn from American history of product packaging, adverting, radio jingles, billboards and the television commercials (Golden 66). According to Sollins, Michael’s artworks draws comparisons between mammy, Sambo and the minstrel images of contemporary mass media and the earlier era portrayals of the black youths, athletes and the celebrities (96). These are the images Charles sees in the American subconscious constantly. From the images of Micheal Ray Charles, it indicates how stereotypes have evolved. He deals with the past and present stereotypes in the today’s society’s context in his artistry

How contemporary art of Micheal Ray Charles address the consumption idea

The contemporary art of Micheal Ray Charles addresses consumerism idea in many ways. To begin, the paintings of Charles have an antique and scrapped look to resemble peeling commercial art vintage. With these Charles presents a satirical campaign for a factious product referred to as Forever Free. According to Royal Art the product symbolizes freedom’s false promises to the African Americans by America and more specific the consumer market through their images that are false (81). In his art work, Forever Free Micheal Ray Charles fixes on the way mass consciousness and popular culture have absorbed ethnic stereotypes. The series is thought provoking and a satirical campaign advertisement for a product which is fictitious referred to as Forever Free. This is a symbol of how the free market and the freedom promises have seduced the African Americans and abandoned them. Milesi-Ferretti & Roubini indicated that the free market merges new and old stereotypes to pitch his product (29).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 16

Figure 16

Artist: Micheal Ray Charles

Date: 1994

Dimension: 60 by 42 inches

A photograph of Forever Free

Similarly, Micheal Ray Charles addresses consumerism by using products and advertisements that uses gender and ethnic stereotypes.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 17

Figure 17

Artist: Micheal Ray Charles

Date: 1994

Dimension: 60 by 42 inches

How Micheal Ray Charles queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce

Micheal Ray Charles also queries the attitude that is commonly held about the consumer society, mass media and commerce. Charles noted that Micheal Ray Charles employs stereotypes and black caricatures such as Aunt Jemima, Sambo, Uncle Tom and Pickninnies to comment on the racial contemporary attitudes (131). The caricature of experiences of African Americans such as Aunt Jemima, in Charles work is represented as ordinary blackness depictions, yet the benign aura are stripped of them that lends them an appearance of truth that is often unquestioned. Aunt Jemima is just a caricature image, but it almost becomes a real person automatically for several people in their minds (Schroeder 23). However, there exist differences between real humans and the images. In each of the Micheal Ray Charles’ paintings notions of nostalgia, ugliness, violence and beauty emerge and converge. This is a reminder that consumer society, the media and the commerce cannot divorce themselves from the past that has led them to where they are now currently, how they are portrayed and who they have become (Sollins et al 97).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 18

Figure 18

Artist: Micheal Ray Charles

Date: 1994

Dimension: 60 by 42 inches

Analysis of Edward Burtynsky’s work

According to Burtynsky & Mayer, Edward Burtynsky was another photographer just like Chris Jordan. His images induce awe of the landscapes depleted and these serve as records of the industrial consumption impacts of the natural resources (229). In the words of Edward Burtynsky, “human beings came from nature and therefore t5here is importance of having reverence for nature because human beings are connected to it. If human beings destroy nature, they destroy themselves” (Burtynsky 48)

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 19

Figure 19

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: 1985

Dimension: 60 by 92 inches

The photograph shows Rail cuts in Skihist provincial park, Canada, British Columbia

Burtynsky et al pointed out that the theme that is predominant in the work of Edward Burtynsky is the transformed nature by industries (137). His artistic works intersects with the contemporary view of mans great ages form minerals, to stones, transportation, oil among others. Moreover, Edward Burtynsky make the ideas visible in his photographs by searching for subjects rich in scale and detail yet open in meaning. For instance, the mine tailings, recycling yards, quarries and the refineries areas some of the places outside the normal experience of people, yet people partake on a daily basis their basis

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 20

Figure 20

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: 1985

Dimension: 60 by 102 inches

The photograph shows the open coal mine pit of Wester in British Colombia, Canada

How contemporary art of Edward Burtynsky address the consumption idea

According to Burtynsky et al, the images of Edward Burtynsky act as metaphors to the modern existence dilemma of the human beings (44). The photographs search for dialogue between repulsion and attraction, fear and seduction. Human beings are drawn by the desire, that is the chance of good living, yet they are unconsciously or consciously aware that the entire world is suffering for the success of people. The dependence of people on nature to provide materials for their consumption, and the concern for human beings for the planets health sets human beings into a contradiction.

In an attempt to address the idea of consumption, Edward Burtynsky explains how he wanted to understand water, that is how people use and misuse it, what it leaves behind and what it is (Burtynsky et al 229). Furthermore, he wanted to trace the global thirst evidence and the sources threatened. In addressing the human consumption, the photographs of Edward Burtynsky document beautiful and monstrous gouged landscapes, patterned fractural delta regions, rectilinear and rigid step walls, colored ominously biomorphic shapes, aquaculture, circular massive pivot irrigation plots, and the ritual, cultural and social gatherings. Pauli et al noted that in the photographs, water is introduced intermittently as a victim, a protagonist a partner, a source, a lure, a threat, an end or a pleasure (238). Sometimes, water is completely absent from the photographs. Burtynsky, Bianco & Broucke explained that instead Edward Burtynsky focuses on the physical and visual effects of lacking of water (306). This according to Burtynsky & Mayer gives its absence a more powerful presence (217).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 21

Figure 21

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: may 11, 2010

Dimension: 60 by 72 inches

The photograph shows the oil spill of REM Forza in the Gulf of Mexico

The consumption nature of human beings is also seen in the photograph of Edward Burtynsky on oil. Burtynsky observed that from the artistry, one is left wondering what the human species is up to because the achievement of human beings are becoming the source of possible infinity (55). For instance, Burtynsky et al elaborated an example of a car that represent the freedom of human beings (201). However, there is much conflict because the oil it uses as its source of energy to make everything possible is a dread source since it is an ongoing habitat endanger.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 22

Figure 22

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: may 11, 2003

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

The photograph shows the oil fields of Belrdge California, U.S

The image of mines by Edward Burtynsky also indicates how he is addressing the consumption idea. It is the human appetite that is insatiable for the raw materials of the world that is of great interest. The manufacturing tools often function also as measure of the large scale of the scenes in the photographs of Edward Burtynsky

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 23

Figure 23

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: may 11, 1983

Dimension: 60 by 102 inches

The picture shows the Kennecott copper mines of Bingham, Utah

In china, Edward Burtynsky addresses the mass consumerism idea from his photograph that showed the results of environmental degradation due to the human processes of making things that make people happy and fulfilled (Burtynsky et al 337).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 24

Figure 24

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: may 11, 2002

Dimension: 60 by 72 inches

The photograph shows Three Gorges Dam project on the Yantze River, china

How Edward Burtynsky queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce

In attempting to query the attitudes commonly held by the consumer society, the mass media and the commerce, Burtynsky et al explained that Edward Burtynsky in his photographs shows how human beings try to accommodate the expanding needs of a very thirsty and growing and civilization (226). Human beings are shaping the planet in colossal ways, and there is a possibility of human beings engineering their own demise. Pauli et al argues that people needs to think long term consequences of their actions when they are doing them (249). The pictures of Edward Burtynsky stimulates the thinking process about something essential to the survival of human beings that people take for granted

In querying the attitude of the consumer society, Edward Burtynsky elaborates how Bao Steel which is the sixth ranked global steel producer and exports its raw materials from china to Australia, India, south Africa and brazil (Burtynsky, Bianco & Broucke 281). Similarly, Guangdong province in china reveals many concentrations of factories and workers who produce world goods for human consumption from the natural resources that are depleted

In the ship breaking photographs of Edward Burtynsky, Burtynsky & Mayer pointed out how the artist tried to query the attitudes of the commerce, specifically the insurance companies (471). These images are just similar to the other pictures of abandoned queries and mines, endless oil derricks fields, pile of the tires discarded, and the huge mountain of the tankers retired indicates residues of destruction often left behind due to the industrial progress of human beings. Ship breaking idea came up due to the danger of single hulled ships after the oil spill of Exxon Valdez. Burtynsky indicated that the insurance companies refused to cover the ships, and this forced most of them to be decommissioned (21). Furthermore, only the double hulled ships were to be allowed on the open seas to avoid any form of catastrophe taking place again.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 25

Figure 25

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: may 11, 2000

Dimension: 60 by 72 inches

Picture showing ship breaking in Chittagong, Bangladesh

Analysis of Andrea Zittle’s work

Andrea Zittle is one of the American unique artists who explore contemporary western society by illustrating on the elements of geography, architecture and consumer culture to highlight the modern domestic life underpinnings. The artists have applied her day to day life aspects as the stimulus for her art works. By transforming her own personal experiences with the private/public fashion, space, transportation, shelter, refuge and food consumption into art objects, the interdisciplinary approach of Andrea Zittle allows her to investigate the fundamental contemporary life aspects (Satorius 340).

The analysis of the work of Andrea Zittle examines she employs as a designer, artist, advocate, consultant and an architect under the corporate burner to question how people behave in a society that is dominated by corporate branding and consumerism.

According to Schroeder, Andrea Zittle is considered widely as one of the artists who is influential with her works of the breeding units installations (119). These are compartmentalized breeding and living spaces for small animals. Similarly, she has produced samples of objects for individuals’ daily use from vehicles, furniture, wearable fashion and living structures that are portable. Sollins et al noted that the living units are always either portable or compact dwellings, or designed modules to define the interior space and also to provide everyday living necessities (203).

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 26

Figure 26

Artist: Andrea Zittle

Date: 2000

Dimension: 60 by 72 inches

Photo of the wearable fashions

How contemporary art of Andrea Zittle address the consumption idea

The contemporary arts of Andrea Zittle address consumerism in many ways. The most notable form in which the art work of Andrea Zittle is the modern living puritan designs which are astute ecologically. The artworks of Andrea Zittle indicate how she abhors consumerism. Her designed artworks are designed to challenge the social conformity and in response to the financial constraints she faces in her everyday life, while suggesting alternative ways of living (Golden 305). Sollins pointed out that the early installations of her designs were living units that are tiny for the individuals that were unable to afford the skyrocketing prices of New York’s houses (221). For instance, Royal Art pointed out that she started smock shop in 2007, a not-for-profit collective workshop which confronts the big businesses that makes clothes (85).

Milesi-Ferretti & Roubini pointed out that the artist living structures that are bare bone (38). Andrea Zittle has a company called A-Z Administrative Service which produces vehicles, living units and furniture that has streamlined designs for the necessary functions. The minimal yet multifunctional living units of Andrea Zittle react to their surrounding environment and pick apart daily routines. The living units of Andrea Zittle comment on the necessities like to the home idea, and how confining excessive consumption can be

According to Brutvan, Mayo & Cathcart another eye opening pieces of Andrea Zittle is the floating island and it discusses the modern necessity’s trappings (110). Andrea Zittle designed and assisted in construction of a concrete island off Denmark’s coast. Satorius stated that of Andrea Zittle’s work uncover the societal social phenomenon that push people into isolation and consumerism through lifestyles (266). Although people consider them a modern society, they are actually living in accordance to the modern values. It is great interest to observe on the everyday rituals, resourcefulness and even minimalism in the projects of Andrea Zittle. These are the fundamental features of the communities that are homeless.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 27

Figure 27

Artist: Andrea Zittle

Date: 2001

Dimension: 60 by 92 inches

Photo of the portable compactable units

How Andrea Zittle queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce

According to Brutvan, Mayo & Cathcart, the home idea is universally known as a human need. However, the home idea has an array of associations that depends on circumstance, status and income (114). Satorius noted that currently with the new inventions, the notion of home is dictated often by the “American dream” template (119). The depictions of home life by the media also ignite hunger and inflate expectations for frivolous necessities. The people with a lot of cash to afford modern living are living in excess, while the people who do not have cash afford basic needs live sparsely. Andrea Zittle explores the freedom run cost in the restricting world that has necessary excess.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 28

Figure 28

Artist: Andrea Zittle

Date: 1993

Dimensions unframed 30 by52 inches

The photo shows the A-Z living units

Analysis of Mel Chin’s work

Mel Chin has influenced many generations of curators and artists since 1970, who are interested in political awareness and conceptual art. His artistry encompasses a wide range of media including performance art, land art, painting, drawing, video and sculpture (Chin & Lash 39). Avoiding a trademark style, chins practice common thread is his thoughtful historicisms, conceptual rigor and concern for the social justice. Chin, Chong, & Albers observed that Chin challenges the traditional definitions of authorship and ownership by creating artworks that are collaborative and site-specific often, and involves many community members and artists (123).

The land based works of Chin such as “the Revival Field” and the “Operation Paydirt (Fundred)” gained international attention for presenting the soil remediation science as a form of art (Chin, Stroud & Mcevilley 296). Apart from his site specific works, Mel Chin has created an independent body of drawing and sculpture based on the legacy of surrealism and Dada, specifically the strains of chance, social critique and eroticism.

Despite the fact that Mel Chin is classically trained, his artistic works are both poetic and analytic and evades simple and easy classification. Some of the disciplines that intersect in his work according to Codrescu et al include ecology, botany and alchemy (401). Furthermore, Chin insinuates art into most unlikely areas such as popular television, toxic landfills, and even destroyed homes, and investigates how artworks can provoke greater social responsibility and awareness. Politically engaged and unconventional, his projects challenge the artists’ idea as the exclusive force of creativity behind the artwork. Chin said that the survival of his own ideas may not be as significant as a condition I make for others to be achieved (Huerta, Chin & Lippard 110). Furthermore, he often enlists groups of students or the entire neighborhoods in creative partnerships. For instance, in “Knowmad,” Mel Chin worked in collaboration with the software engineers to design a video game based on the nomadic peoples rug patterns facing persecution (Chin 191).

According to Chin & Lash, Mel Chin also promotes artistic works that has the ultimate effect of rejuvenating economies or benefitting science of the inner city neighborhoods (209). Similarly, Chin, Chong & Albers noted that in the “Revival Field,” Mel Chin worked jointly with the scientists create hyperaccumulators sculpted garden. These are plants that can absorb heavy metal elements from the areas that are contaminated in the most polluted zones in the world (189).

How contemporary art of Mel Chin address the consumption idea

Mel Chin addresses the issue of land consumption from a number of his artistic projects he performs. Chin, Stroud, & Mcevilley indicated that artists have used land in many different ways as a medium since 1970s during the Earthworks movement (261). While creating geometric minimalist forms, earthworks artists tend to focus on formal issues. On the other hand, contemporary artists use land often as metaphors and also comment on the pressing current societal and environmental issues. The land artists of the current day use land in variety of ways, that is for tackling social and political issues (Codrescu et al 24).

Mel Chin, for more than a decade has embodied the land artists new generation while embracing many ways to use the land to provide inquiries of land consumption and the modern day living. In addressing land consumption issue through his collection of interest, his work blends the lines of social activism, sciences and land use. Huerta, Chin, & Lippard pointed out that Mel Chin’s multilayered artistic work of addressing land consumption crosses through many mediums including the re-purposing works of the abandoned homes, video games, soil analysis research, toxic earth and many others (144). This is generally classified as activist art, because his work confuses critics and writers (Chin 120). Similarly, Chin & Lash asserted that Chin’s work is a poetic cross media change expression for himself, others and also the transformation towards the change (591). In analyzing how Mel Chin’s artistic work addressed the consumption idea, the essay will examine “the Revival Field,” an artistic work of Mel Chin.

The Revival Field

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 29

Figure 29

Artist: Mel Chin

Date: 1990

Dimensions unframed 16.75 × 22 × 0.25 inches

Materials: color Xerox on paper, mounted on foam core board

The Revival Field was an artistic work of Mel Chin and featured a polluted field under experiment using plants whose seedlings and future offspring might be the cure of decontamination due to excessive human consumption and wastage (Chin, Chong & Albers 391). Despite the fact that the Revival Field was seen as a science project, the assertion of Chin that t is an art piece was strategic. Furthermore, Revival Field was categorized as an art by Chin so as to assert several possible art mediums as change generator, which is the core aspect of chin’s artistic work.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 30

Figure 30

Artist: Mel Chin

Date: 1990

Dimensions unframed 16.75 × 22 × 0.25 inches

Materials: color Xerox on paper, mounted on foam core board

Chin, Stroud & Mcevilley explained the multiplicity of mediums and topics in Chin’s work in that his work takes ecological and political dilemmas, and expresses the topics in symbolic forms (70). Furthermore, Codrescu et al stated that Chin is interested in ideas mechanics, that is, he explores ideas and how people live, the kind of society people have and then look for a possibility or a game plan (63). The quest of Mel Chin to explore possibilities produce similar works in that they all pertain to the society of today, and has no limitations. By the works not having any limitations, the artistic works of Chin crosses several disciplines. However, the root of the artistic work of chin lies in the idea that is new to the society and the artist in general. This results in a work that provide unseen possibilities before (Huerta, Chin & Lippard 159). In addressing the land consumption issue, he applies his art which possess many mediums, ideas and statements. All in all, the common thread in all his works is the metaphor of transformation and change.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 31

Figure 31

Artist: Mel Chin

Date: 1990

Dimensions unframed 16.75 × 22 × 0.25 inches

Materials: color Xerox on paper, mounted on foam core board

Artistic use of transformation and change is accurately displayed in the artistic work of “Revival Field” by Mel Chin. The project was a circular polluted land field which featured planted crops, they are maintained and when they reach maturity they are harvested (Chin 61). This was a project aimed at addressing the problem of human land consumption and destruction of the land resources. Chin & Lash explained that the key to toxicity elimination lies in replanting of the plants (103). This is because the hyperaccumulators roots absorb the contaminating metals in the soil, and the harvested plans are then incinerated at low temperatures. The process of planting is repeated until the toxicity level of the site is acceptable and safe (Chin, Chong & Albers 46). The change in the art project of Revival Field literally happens as purification of soil occurs through the process of growing and then replanting. This way, Mel Chin as an artist addressed the land consumption problem as a result of soil pollution and degradation of land due to harmful wastes. The successes of his work Revival Field, is measured in real change terms, and not metaphoric terms (Chin, Stroud & Mcevilley 89). Well documented results that display change, if the portray purification process success, could ultimately lead to change in the manner people handle waste sites that are hazardous.

The Intersection of Contemporary Art and Consumer Culture 32

Figure 32

Artist: Mel Chin

Date: 1990

Dimensions unframed 16.75 × 22 × 0.25 inches

Materials: color Xerox on paper, mounted on foam core board

How Mel Chin queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce

There are many attitudes that are commonly held about the consumer society, the mass media and commerce. Mel chin addresses these attitudes in different ways using his art works which expresses transformation. According to Codrescu et al, change is a way in which thinking occurs and it is an important condition in when addressing attitude amongst different groups of people (11). In the current world, unpolluted land has become scarce. Huerta, Chin & Lippard observed that Mel Chin uses Revival Field to present a change in thinking ways of a person (161). In querying the attitudes, he pursues it in the context of himself and also for the viewer. Mel Chin asserted that if an individual approach everything with a critical mind or eye, then the revelation of the world would be shown as something that is very much impossible to change. The ecological track record of human beings is so horrific that there is no trace of hope in it, but the moment that a person is captured by some possibility and discovers that art is new to them, that is the moment that transformation occurs (Chin 113).

Change played a central role in Mel Chin’s artworks as displayed in the Revival Field. He further goes ahead to try and make a change on his societal topic s and outlooks as he tries to question the attitude of the consumer society. Eventually he tries to share the possibilities with other people. The process is seen when Chin was planning for the Revival Field after studying pollution nature. The outcome was new method of viewing the land consumption rate through the possibility of purification of the previously unworkable land. Chin & Lash stated that the new way of thinking to the artist is first new, and then it becomes a possibility when it is shared to the public as an artwork (99).


In conclusion, the artists have indicated how American culture has been pervaded by consumerism. The paper has discussed how people respond and explore consumption idea. Culture has been identified that it plays a great role on what people purchase to give sense of self to them, with nothing that is that is off limit. The repose of art to the consumerism of people has been addressed where different contemporary artists have shown their creations, their art perceptions and the creativity processes. For individual analysis of the artists, how they address the consumption idea had been analyzed in addition to how they query the attitudes of mass media, the consumer society and the commerce. The contemporary artists analyzed with their art works include Barbra Krugar, Edward Burtynsky, Micheal Ray Charles, Mel Ching and Andrea Zittle

Work Cited

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  1. Several litrary works indicates the consumption habits in the society. See Kruger Barbara 21-126, Jordan Chris 31-201, Edward Burtynsky 11-81, Micheal Ray Charles 3-110, Mel Ching 21-202, and Andrea Zittle, 13-67
  2. See the video by Kruger, Barbara, Blumenthal, Kate Horsfield for more collection of Krugers Art works
  3. On the images of Jordan that that deals with consumerism, see Jordan 120-261. The books has a collection of his artworks
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