Contemporary Agreement: Redefining Visual Principles (without commentary)

1. Appropriation in the arts is the use of pre-existing objects or images with little or no transformation applied to them. It can be understood as “the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work.” In the visual arts, to appropriate means to properly adopt, borrow, recycle or sample aspects (or the entire form) of man-made visual culture. Most notable in this respect are the Readymades of Marcel Duchamp.

Inherent in our understanding of appropriation is the concept that the new work recontextualises whatever it borrows to create the new work. In most cases the original ‘thing’ remains accessible as the original, without change.

Kenny Scarf was one of the suggested artists that fit under the concept of appropriation.  His style and subject matter are quite new to me. My instructor stated something along the lines that, “one must have a certain type of taste for this sort of art”.  I suppose that Kenny has borrowed aspects from our visual culture and produced something that is his “own”.  The approach is quite different, of course, compared to Marcel Duchamp.

Artists and Work

Romare Bearden, Kenny Scarf’s Junkie, Marcel Duchamp

2. Juxtaposition is the act or placement of two things (usually abstract concepts) near each other.  The term is useful in helping students discuss the familiar shocks of contemporary life in which images and objects from various realms come together.

Artists and Work

Robert Rauschenberg, Meret Oppenheim

3. Recontextualisation is a process that extracts text, signs or meaning from its original context (decontextualisation) in order to introduce it into another context. Since the meaning of texts and signs depend on their context, recontextualisation implies a change of meaning, and often of the communicative purpose too.

Artists and Work

Hannah Hoch’s Die Braut,

4. Layering

As images become cheap and plentiful, they are no longer treated as precious, but instead are often literally piled on top of each other.  Layering effects can be achieved through collage, painting, encaustic,  Adobe Photoshop, transparencies, etc.

Artists and Work

David Salle, Sigmar Polke and Adrian Piper, Kari J Young

5. Interaction of Text & Image

The text may not describe the work, nor does the image illustrate the text.  The interplay between the two elements has the potential to generate rich and ironic associations about various subject matter.  Students who make and value art in the 21st century must learn that there may not be a literal match of verbal and visual signifiers, but rather to explore disjunction between these modes as a source of meaning and pleasure.

Artists and Work

Barbara Kruger

6. Hybriditity involves the use of various new media in an art piece to explore subjects. The concept also explores the cultural blending of many works. Presently, human beings are immersed in a hybridized environment of reality and augmented reality on a daily basis, considering the proliferation of physical and digital media. Many people attend performances intending to place a digital recording device between them and the performers, intentionally “layering a digital reality on top of the real world.” For artists working with and responding to new technologies, the hybridization of physical and digital elements has become a reflexive reaction to this strange dichotomy. 

Artists and Work

Mariko Mori, Sara Ludy

7. Gazing 

Of all the Postmodern Principles that Olivia Gude presents, the gaze has enticed, pursued and horrified me the most.  Realizing that objectification and dehumanization occurs daily…dumbfounds me.  Whether this be through advertising, people watching or posting intimate pictures publicly on the internet.  There are endless pieces in the art world which successfully comment on this issue in a subtle and intelligent manner.

Gude suggests that the traditional meaning of an image can be challenged through shifting the context within.  Does it change the way that we perceive an image?  Who creates and controls imagery and how does this imagery affect our understanding of reality?  The term gaze is frequently used in contemporary discourses when talking about the act of looking.  It is important to consider who is being looked at and who is doing the looking.  Gazing, associated with the issues of knowledge and pleasure, is also a form of power and of controlling perceptions of what is “real” and “natural”. Much critical theory in art history and film studies make use of the term to investigate how our notions of “others” are constructed through proprietary acts of looking and representing.


Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, Robert Doisneau’s An Oblique Look, Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

8. Representin’

Describes the strategy of locating one’s artistic voice within one’s own history  and cultural origin. Students should be able to express themselves as they explore the potentials and problems inherent in their own cultural and political setting.


David Wojnarowicz, Tracey Emin, Shirin Neshat

If you recall an artist that is associated with these contemporary principles,  leave a comment below and I will add them to the list!


Gude, Olivia. (2004) Postmodern Principles: 7+7?  Art Education.

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