Art and the Media’s Influence on the Way it is Perceived

The way this kitty sees itself influences the way it feels about itself and consequently the way it treats others

“Seeing comes before words…It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled…The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe.”(Berger, 7)

The way artists present their work directly influence the way a spectator perceives it. Good artists attempt to manipulate the audience’s surroundings by providing insightful perspectives to invoke and maximize interest and understanding. The works of Chris Nolan, Nan Goldin, and Lady Gaga are shining examples of artists displaying their work in a way that manipulates the viewer’s perception to the artist’s best advantage.  Consequently, these three artists will be used to support the argument that the best way modern day artists influence the audience’s perception of their work to their benefit, is through substantial usage of the media.

Let us immediately examine the way one of Chris Nolan’s greatest works, “Inception” influences the viewer’s perception.   The movie “Inception” is one of the most successful movies of all time grossing upwards of $800 million. Nolan accomplished this by enlisting some of the best actors of our generation to portray his characters, using Hans Zimmer the most successful movie soundtrack composer of all time, stealing plots from successful movies (“Memento”, “Galactica”, “The Last Samurai”, “Hitchcock”), utilizing the most expensive special effects, using a great advertisement campaign, and lastly fine-tuning the plot for a very long period of time (10 years).Nolan’s usage of an effective advertisement campaign was a critical factor in this movie’s success. In contrast to most movie trailers, the trailers of  “Inception” stayed true to the “hype”. In fact, most moviegoers commended the movie for exceeding their expectations.  The advertisement campaign maximized the publicity garnered by the film, the number of moviegoers willing to venture out to the cinemas, and consequently the profits and sales made by this movie.

Inception

Now let us focus our attention on analyzing the underlying psychological concepts present in “Inception”. There is parallelism between Nolan’s role as the film’s director and the roles of the architects of the film’s dream realms. Instead of performing “inception” on Fischer, Nolan performs “inception” on the audience by effectively planting the idea that this movie was worth spending money to see in theaters. According to the film’s protagonist Dominic Cobb,

“ Inception is successful when the dream-trapped target adopts an idea from an external source as his/her own and then changes their behavior based on that idea.”

Similarly to film directors, Cobb and his crew disregard senses of touch, smell, and taste, concentrating solely on recreating visual and aural features.  They work tirelessly to conceal the fact that the worlds they create are finite sets in a mental studio lot.  When they need to shift scenes, they do so with discernible musical prompts.

The soundtrack of “Inception”[1] is critical to Nolan influencing and effectively performing “inception”[2] on the audience.  The soundtrack amplifies the viewer’s emotional attachment to the imaginary realms created over the 2-hour course of the movie. According to Hans Zimmer, “the soundtrack of Inception is filled with nostalgia and sadness to match Cobb’s emotions…”The soundtrack of “Inception” composed by Zimmer, takes the audience on an expected emotional journey that carries the audience through a climatic cartharsis of emotion and leaves it complacent. In contrast, a soundtrack composed by Bertolt Brecht would shock the audience by alienating and influencing it to adopt an analytical outlook. This outlook would alert the audience to be aware of the director’s attempt to “incept” them by highlighting the constructed and variable nature of the movie’s reality.

Of particular importance, the musical piece played towards the end of the film when Cobb and his crew complete their mission entitled “Time” is worthy of discussion. Simply put, this piece sounds like something found on God’s I-pod. “Time” begins with violins playing, then it progresses with violins and the piano, finally at the climax of the song the electric guitar plays in unison to create a beautiful crescendo with the piano and violins. The song’s building tempo is created with the increased number of instruments played paired simultaneously with the decreased intervals heard between the notes.  After the song’s climax the music slowly dies to a peaceful serene halt.  Based on the context upon where “Time” is played in the movie and the mood that “Time” creates, it is safe to conclude that “Time” is an encore[3]from the director dedicated to the cast.

The film ends ambiguously with the totem[4] spinning and shaking uncontrollably leaving the audience on a cliffhanger, left to draw assumptions on the actual outcome.

“The last shot isn’t directed at Cobb. It’s directed at us. Cobb isn’t watching the top. He spins it and leaves it behind.  If this is a dream, he doesn’t want to know. The decision of whether he finally finds happiness or whether he has merely retreated once and for all into his own memories is ours to make.  Nolan builds the structure, but he leaves us to fill in the detail [like a Gestalt image]…” (Adams)

Nolan does this on purpose as a final and last attempt at “incepting” any remaining audience members that managed to resist the alluring charm of this movie. For a brief moment in time the viewer is absorbed in distinguishing not only between the reality and fantasy within the movie, but also in distinguishing between their own and the alternate reality created. Though, we cannot share dreams in real life this movie comes mighty close to achieving this feat. To the ordinary spectator this fantasy appears no longer to be a dream but an objective to aspire to achieve. To summarize upon seeing this film Nolan makes it nearly impossible for a spectator to perceive it in a negative light.

Nan Goldin presents her photography in a manner that causes her to be perceived by the viewer as bold and endearing. Goldin treats her photographic style almost biographically by using her camera like a journal to capture the people she encounters throughout her life every day. For Goldin the camera is not a prop or even a tool, it is an extension of herself. Sherryl Garratt mentions in an interview with her for the “Guardian”,

“…by pointing her lens at the people close to her…she has managed an intimacy few others have come close to, burrowing beneath the surface to show the feelings which     lie beneath.”(Garratt)[5]

For Goldin the camera helps her forge stronger relationships and learn hidden things about her friends.

Goldin’s imagery is often noted for being colored with liberal and avant-garde qualities.  The Lower East Side provides a great backdrop for the themes found throughout her imagery like death, drug use, domestic violence, love, gender, and sexuality. A majority of her photograph’s subjects are hipsters/ nonconformists from the Lower East Side. The liberal and avant-garde characteristics of her photographs often compel media critics to heavily discuss them. The “buzz” created by these critics often convinces many people to see her photography in person.

Phillippe and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia

Phillippe and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia

Upon first inspection of the photograph “Phillipe and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia”the viewer is immediately puzzled by the identity of the subjects. It is not clear if this is a photograph of two males kissing, two females kissing, or even of a male and a female kissing. This confusion is created by the subjects’ lack of gender indicators[6], short androgynous haircuts, unisexual clothing, and the imbalanced angle at which this photograph is captured. The imbalanced angle at which this photograph is captured causes one to question if it was done deliberately in this manner to arouse a subtle curiosity and to perhaps dispel the ‘taboo’ created around the LGTBQ community during the early 1980’s when this photograph was taken. Furthermore, this imbalance creates the unequal portrayal of both subjects’ status. The viewer can conclude that the person on the right is dominant while the one on the left is submissive. This photograph is polarizing; it possesses the ability to produce two possible outcomes upon viewing it, either the embracing of the new or the refusal to accept and change one’s beliefs.

Continuing to look at this photograph one will notice not only the subjects’ passion for each other, but also the fact that both are amidst a French kiss.  This is evident by both subjects’ closed eyes, full focus, and the slanted positions of their heads angled against each other’s faces.  One can conclude that the two are probably lovers or have (or will become) sexually active, since the French kiss is generally reserved for lovers.  Furthermore, the suggestion of a French kiss between the two coupled with the bottom halves of both bodies not being depicted, makes the viewer query whether or not the two in this photograph are already amidst sexual intercourse.

Upon a second more in depth inspection of this photograph paired simultaneously with the discovery of the photograph’s title[7] (“Phillipe H. and Suzanne Kissing at Euthanasia), a viewer at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) will be able to deduce that this photograph is of a male-female couple kissing.  In retrospect, Goldin probably used an androgynous heterosexual couple instead of an androgynous homosexual couple to control the degree of controversy that would translate across to the viewer of the time.  In other words, Goldin wanted to be controversial enough without actually getting into too much trouble with the public. As mentioned earlier this is a tactic used by Goldin to garner publicity and “buzz” from the media, it is only successful if the media creates a “buzz” strong enough to convince people to come view the photograph in person.

“…the image is at the very edge of being recognizable, at that liminal point where the information it contains could be read in any number of ways and the mind must struggle to create a whole, or pictorial Gestalt, out of the diffuse, ill-defined contours…” (Richter, 49)

The photograph’s background is very dark and blurred to focus the viewer’s attention on the subjects’ actions. These two qualities create the gritty feel that dominates the image. The blurred image technique was probably used intentionally by Goldin to convey her message; behind every image there is always something at stake. In the case of this photograph, the moral values of the viewers’ are at stake.

Though Goldin started off her photography as a hobby initially showing her photographs only to her friends, her hobby eventually blossomed into an enduring and reputable career. Goldin is successful at manipulating the viewer’s emotions to cause him/ her to feel the intended emotions and question their concept of a “normal” relationship.

Lady Gaga on the cover of V Magazine

Lady Gaga on the cover of V Magazine

Lady Gaga presents her music in way that has caused many people to refer to her as a innovator. She is unafraid to be unexpected; she often portrays herself in an androgynous way through her choice of make-up and clothing. She is frequently seen wearing avant-garde outfits like a pyrotechnic bra, a dress made of Kermit the Frogs, a bubble dress, and attached prosthetics that give the appearance of horn-like ridges on her cheekbones, temples, and shoulders.  Lady Gaga calls her fans “little monsters”; super fans that live, breathe, and worship her music. Gaga combines art, fashion, and technology to produce glam pop. These are all ploys that contribute to Gaga’s mass manipulation and successful marketing of her persona to the media.

Lady Gaga first stepped into the spotlight with her smash hit single “Just Dance”. After achieving mild fame with “Just Dance” she continued the circulation of her name in the media with the utilization of a bad press rumor that questioned whether her sex (male, female, or transgender).  At the height of this horrible rumor Christina Aguilera upon being compared to Gaga in an interview commented on the ambiguity of Gaga’s gender. This whole situation provided even more press for Gaga to utilize to promote her music.  Consequently, in a later interview Gaga thanked Aguilera stating,

“… if anything I should send her flowers, because a lot of people …didn’t know who I was until that whole thing happened. It really put me on the map in a way.” This rumor gave Gaga enough time to release her second smash-hit single, “Poker face”, which topped the charts around world. Though Gaga portrays herself as a trendsetter there is much leeway for her image to be misconstrued by an audience. A skeptic or non-supporter could easily label her as a delusional fame obsessed individual. In her music video for “Marry the Night” she describes the metamorphosis of her persona,

“…it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened, it’s just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way…It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting and as the artist of that painting, I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again…”

Contrary to the way this quotation depicts Gaga, she is far from crazy, in fact she is both a genius and a master strategist. Every action, picture, outfit, magazine cover, tweet, comment, video, interview, and dance move she executes is planned out to acquire maximum coverage, attention, and sales of her music from the media and general public. Moreover, this quote was another cleverly devised ploy by Gaga to garner maximum attention from the public.  In actuality, Lady Gaga is very talented musician with a solid foundation is piano playing, opera singing, and song writing. Before becoming famous she sang mainly soulful jazz, however she made a career decision to shift to singing and writing catchy electro-pop beats with skillfully worded one line hooks to gain a broader audience.

Lady Gaga’s accomplishments before her rise to fame are remarkable.  Most people are surprised when they hear that Lady Gaga was a childhood musical protégé. At the tender age of four she began playing piano; by thirteen she was composing her own songs, and by fourteen she was performing frequently at public venues. During high school she was studious, disciplined, and dedicated to the performing arts. Her avid love for musical theatre brought her lead roles in her high school’s musical productions and a minor role in a 2001 episode of The Sopranos. When her high school career ended she successfully applied and gained early admission into the Collaborative Arts Project 21[9] (CAP21) at N.Y.U.’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. While at Tisch she refined her songwriting skills and composed analytical papers on art, religion, social issues, and politics. Upon her sophomore year she decided Tisch was not allowing her to reach her full potential as a performer so she withdrew from school to focus on her music career.

Around September of 2005 she began a band called the Stefani Germanotta Band (SGBand) with some friends from NYU. The band played a combination of self-composed and classic rock songs. Playing in bars around the Downtown Area, the band eventually developed a small fan base to which they were able to sell their extended plays.  SGBand reached their career peak in June at the 2006 Songwriters Hall of Fame New Songwriters Showcase where a talent scout for music producer Rob Fusari saw her performing. Upon being notified by the talent scout of Gaga’s vocal abilities Fusari immediately contracted her, resulting in the immediate split of SGBand. Soon enough Lady Gaga was travelling daily to New Jersey to work on songs she had previously written while simultaneously working on new material with Fusari. Together they recorded unusual and provocative tracks that were able to garner the attention of the head of Def Jam Recordings “L.A.” Reid.  Reid was so impressed that he signed her to the label in September 2006 with the intention of having an album ready in nine months. Sadly however, after only 3 months of being on the label she was dropped.

Devastated, Lady Gaga returned home to the nightlife of the Lower East Side. There she met performance artist Lady Starlight, the woman who helped her mold her on-stage persona and musical niche. The two began performing together while Fusari continued to modify the songs he created with Gaga. He then redistributed these modified tracks throughout the music industry.  His friend, a producer and executive at Streamline Records (a subdivision of Interscope Records), upon hearing the tracks was quick to sign her to the label. At Interscope she initially wrote songs for artists like Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block, Fergie, and the Pussycat Dolls. However, one day while she was working at Interscope, singer-songwriter Akon noticed her vocal abilities upon hearing her sing a vocal reference for one of his tracks. He then convinced the Chairman and CEO of Interscope to form a joint deal signing her to Interscope and his own label, Kon Live Distribution.  As 2007 came to an end, she was introduced to songwriter and producer RedOne. Eventually she collaborated with RedOne on her debut album; which winded up producing chart-topping singles such as “Just Dance”,” Poker Face” and “Love Game”. The rest is history.

After a star reaches a certain point, it’s easy to forget what they became famous for and concentrate solely on their persona. Lady Gaga is such a star, she is successful not only in the way that she presents her music but also in the way that she presents herself. She is now one of the most successful musicians of all time. Since her arrival into the spotlight she has acquired a status as a role model, fashion icon, and self-esteem booster for her fans. She cranks the unexpected up to 11 on a scale from 1-10, and the audience loves it.  Moreover some people are even calling her the new reigning Queen of Pop. Is she worthy of this title?

Publicity is the livelihood of the modern-day artist.  Publicity plays a vital role in the widespread success of these artists’ (Chris Nolan, Nan Goldin, and Lady Gaga) in their respective fields.  It is through substantial usage of the media through which artist’s such as Christopher Nolan, Nan Goldin, and Lady Gaga are able to successfully manipulate the audience’s surroundings and its perception of their work.


[1]Inception: the film

[2]inception: the act of performing inception defined by the film’s protagonist Cobb as the “successful when the dream-trapped target adopts an idea from an external source as his own and then changes his or behavior based on that idea.”

[3]Encore: A piece of music played at the end of a show responding to the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to the performance, shown by continuous applause.

[4]Totem: is an object that is used to test if one is in reality and not in a dream. A Totem has a specially modified weight, balance, or feel in the real world but in a dream the characteristics of the totem are off.

[5]Garratt, Sheryl. “Interview: Nan Goldin | From the Observer | The Observer.” Guardian. co.uk. Guardian.co.uk, 05 Jan. 2002. Web. 08 Nov. 2011. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2002/jan/06/features.magazine27&gt;.

[6] Gender indicators include but are not limited to make-up, facial hair, and earrings.

[7]The title was discretely placed out of the way on the distant left of the photograph in very fine print, to not detract attention away from the photograph.

Follow the link to the Bibliography

Thanks for reading,  you can follow me on  Twitter at DemelioU or  you can subscribe  to my RSS feed the little orange button in the left hand menu.

Demelio U.

Signing OFF

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