Contemporary Art and Consumerism

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The consumption documentary. 5

  2. a) Study design. 8
  3. b) Instrumentation. 9
  4. c) Analysis. 9
  5. d) Validity. 9
  6. e) Reliability. 10
  8. a) Project one: picture consumption. 11
  9. b) Project two: designing ads for the environment 12
  10. c) Project three: consumption images. 15

1)      Analysis if Chris Jordan’s work. 16

  1. a) How contemporary art of Chris Jordan address the consumption idea. 17
  2. b) How Chris Jordan queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce 21

2)     Analysis of Barbara Kruger’s work. 25

  1. a) How contemporary art of Barbara Kruger address the consumption idea. 26
  2. b) How Barbara Kruger queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce 29

3)     Analysis of Micheal Ray Charles’s work. 30

  1. a) How contemporary art of Micheal Ray Charles address the consumption idea. 31
  2. b) How Micheal Ray Charles queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce. 33

4)     Analysis of Edward Burtynsky’s work. 34

  1. a) How contemporary art of Edward Burtynsky address the consumption idea. 36
  2. b) How Edward Burtynsky queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce. 40

5)     Analysis of Andrea Zittle’s work. 42

  1. a) How contemporary art of Andrea Zittle address the consumption idea. 44
  2. b) How Andrea Zittle queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce 46

6)     Analysis of Mel Chin’s work. 47

  1. a) How contemporary art of Mel Chin address the consumption idea. 48
  2. b) How Mel Chin queries the attitudes commonly held about consumer society, mass media and commerce 53
  3. CONCLUSION.. 54
  4. Work Cited. 55



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

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.

a)      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.

b)     Instrumentation

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).

c)      Analysis

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

d)     Validity

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 networking leads to connections of bad groups. (George 1989) commented that these groups end up sharing information that has no good 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).

e)      Reliability

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


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

a)      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

Figure 1

Artist: Edward Burtynsky

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 82 inches

Photograph shows tires and it depicts over consumption of people

b)     Project two: designing ads for the environment

From this project, the questions the essay discussed whether the media steer the general population towards market during promotion times. Getting a cut off discount on a certain amount of purchase of things. Another question is how the advertisers encourage people to buy to poverty was measured with the parameter of basic needs. Adam Smith, for instance, defined poverty as the inability 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]

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, Intervention Programs. BioMed Central Ltd, 2012. 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.

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).

c)      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

Figure 4

Artist: Chris Jordan

Date: 2007

Dimension: 60 by 92 inches

Photograph showing human consmption



1)   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 affects both the organization and its employees. The effects of culture. That is the photographs of aluminum cans, piles of cell phones, garbage and many more

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

a)   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 co.............

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