How Identity Is Represented In The Visual Arts Art Essay


Art explores many elements of life and the world. It explores and represents meanings in which are interpreted by the audience in various ways. Artists use different techniques to enhance their own individual message or perspective, whether it be distinctively clear or subtle. Artists such as Patricia Piccinini explore identity through life-like animal sculptures that resemble human characteristics. Her message is more powerful in analysis rather than first glance. David Hockney is also an artist who explores identity of the individual by representing life's journey through his technique of photo montage.

Art is the representation of the many elements of human life. It is the expression of emotion, the representation of objects or landscapes, life experiences and it can also be the representation of people and events. Identity can be represented as well as constructed in the visual arts. Many artists are able to do this in diverse and individual ways. Patricia Piccinini's controversial artworks explore the identity and contrast between human and animal life. David Hockney's photo montage illustrates a very different approach to represent and construct identity. His artwork explores this concept through a narrative based artwork that represents life's individual journey each must take in order to construct one's true identity.

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However, it is not only these two artists that explore identity. There are numerous artists who explore identity in a variety of ways. Some more subtle than others. This is because identity can be explored in so many different ways. Identity can be seen as a national identity, community identity, cultural, physical, professional, individual, sexual-orientation or marital status etc. There are many artists that explore these identities. Piccinini has explored the physical identity and relationship between human and animal. Whereas Hockney has explored the individual identity, and the path we journey through our lives

Identity can be defined as individual characteristics by which a person is recognised or known. "Art is a mirror image of a person's identity, circle of influence, and perceived worlds or realities.  Art reflects what we feel, think, practice, believe, or imagine" (Gaskins, N. 2010). Both Patricia Piccinini and David Hockney represent this in different ways by taking different approaches. Piccinini's work is known for her extravagant and controversial life-like sculptures which present a more obvious meaning than that of Hockney. Through the use of symbolism, Hockney's photo montage creates a more subtle representation of identity. It is only with more analysis that Hockney's creation can be more understood. Although the audience perspectives can vary in conclusion as each individual can perceive this narrative type artwork and relate to the journey offered and constructed in different ways.

The Young Family (2002-3)

"Apart from the image that is represented, there is often a second meaning within the artwork", (Clack, M. 2010). At a glance; the work of Patricia Piccinini is disturbing and questionable, hence the reason for the controversial perspectives. However if looked at with more depth and analysis, her artworks become interestingly engaging. The way in which she represents and constructs identity is far different to other artists. 'Patricia Piccinini is an artist who explores the frontiers of science and technology through her sculptures, photographs and video environments' (Kent, R. 2002). Within her artwork she is able to construct a powerful message; that enables her to express personal view on a topic. 'The work makes public something other than itself; it manifests something other; it is an allegory' (Clack, M. 2010).

'Personal identity and the issues surrounding it lie at the core of Piccinini's project. Her works invite the question: what is it that makes us who we are?' (Kent, R. 2002). Her artwork titled, 'The Young Family' (2003) has sparked a lot of controversy because of the many perspectives it represents. Her life-like imagery is 'about compromises - about being able to find beauty in a world which can never be perfect.' (Papastergiadis, N. 2002). This artwork explores the distinction between animal and human characteristics. The similarities of both identities are obvious, which is what Patricia Piccinini is trying to portray. In a political and scientific perspective 'the inspiration behind this work is the expectation that we have of growing human organs in other species' (Piccinini, P. 2003). In this artwork motherhood is one of the traits we share with animals; Patricia Piccinini has evidently shown this. "From synthetic landscapes to artificial life forms, Piccinini creates a world in which fact, fiction and fantasy co-exist. She begs the question: what, in our rapidly changing world, constitutes 'the real' anyway?" (Kent, R. 2002).

Pearblossom Hwy (1986)

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David Hockney's artwork, "Pearblossom Hwy' approaches the representation of identity in another way. 'Hockney's work clearly depicts his life and his love ones" (Research Paper 2008). Represented in his artworks is a timeline of individual life on earth. He identifies that individuals have many paths they need to be inevitably travelled with many obstacles on the way. The art work consists of a lot of symbolism. Hockney has used the various stop signs in order to represent the individuals own life obstacles. In life many people will stop to think, is this decision I'm about to make the right one? What path should I follow next? Who am I as an individual? etc.

One of the many perspectives this artwork offers is that "the collage is trying to say that in the beginning of life, people are unknowing of what they will do in their future or that they are lost in life. The end of the highway symbolizes certainty and strength about one's life". (Research Paper 2008). Hockney's art is created for his viewers. "His drawings are designed in a special way so that they can be animated to be in the mind of the viewer" (Research Paper 2008). David Hockney's aim is to take the audience on a journey that he has created, but one that means something different to each individual. This journey is the exploration of identity. He has captured within this artwork the similarities in life's journeys, but it is how each individual interprets the story. "Identity varies from society to society and individual to individual as variation of systems or personality" (Art. 2010).

In comparison to Patricia Piccinini's artwork, 'The young family', Hockney's artwork relates solely to each individual. It explores numerous story lines as the interpretation of his artwork differs for each audience member. The identity he explores is more easily related to than that of Piccinini. Patricia's outlook on identity explores the similarities between human and animal characteristics, very similar to the evolution theory, the apes' transition into human form. "Ideas about nature and its simulation are central to Piccinini's works, inviting us to question what is 'real' and what is not" (Kent, R. 2002). Whereas Hockney's, 'Pearblossom Hwy' explores the concept of 'what will the individual's future bring? Who am I? Who will I become?'. It is more an intimate reflection of one's self.

In conclusion, there are many artists who explore and represent identity in many forms and techniques. So in evaluating what is art. Many believe that it is the representation of the many elements of human life such as emotions, objects or landscapes, life experiences, people and events. Patricia Piccinini and David Hockney, while they both explore identity, their ideas and perspectives are entirely different. Patricia Piccinini's controversial artworks explore the identity and contrast between human and animal life. While David Hockney's photo montage illustrates a narrative based artwork that represents life's individual journey each must take in order to construct one's true identity.