MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Author: leahgenkin

Art and Commerce

One of the definitions of art according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” If we look at history, at most of those who produced art the “classical way” as defined above (such as paintings), they did not make a living from it. Instead, they lived in complete poverty. Many of those artists only became famous after their deaths, such as Vincent Van Gogh.

I never thought about the relation of art and commerce but with the above in mind it makes sense that they are closely related. Practically, everyone needs to earn a living one way or another to survive. Therefore, those who are creative take their skill and choose to apply it in an area that still will reach the public and earn them a living. Advertising and fashion are two main fields where the above can be accomplished.

However, what I find sad is that celebrity endorsements are the “big thing” today and basically the only way to make something popular.  Virgil Abloh understands the “modern necessity of having influential allies”  to shape his brand. Because of that it is hard for him to accomplish his goal of creating for kids of his demographics; he would need to leave his celebrity friends since he will not be creating products form them.  It is sad that people are only subjecting themselves to the tastes and views of celebrities regardless of quality, design, functionality and many other factors.  Today there are many ads that show the celebrity and not the actual product.  This actually hinders creativity because what becomes the focus is the celebrity and not the actual item.

On a different note, what was especially interesting to me was the way others use their creativity. I especially loved Warhol’s idea of using “leftovers” to create art. When I read that, crayon art came to mind. Instead of throwing out the old and broken crayons no one wants to use, they can be glued on a piece of cardboard and melted with a blowdryer to create art.


After looking at both Rodin’s and Michelangelo’s sculptures, I noticed that many times Rodin focused on depicting a specific idea but not the details of the sculpture. For example, in “The Thinker” (, Rodin captures well the pose and the atmosphere of a thinker, but he does not focus on the intricacies of the face, hair etc.

In contrast, it seemed to me that Michelangelo focused more on his actual sculpture and not the idea he is trying to present. He took great care to depict every detail of the human; such as the curls of the hair, the folds of the skin etc. His statues almost seem lifelike like the statue of the sleeping Eros…h/images/hb/hb_43.11.4.jpg).  In conclusion, initially when I saw both artists’ work I thought they were essentially the same, but  when I studied them more carefully, these differences became apparent to me.

Mean Streets and Ghostface

Mean Streets portrays the world of organized crime in NYC. We are sucked into the world of these gangsters and it becomes apparent that money is a central theme in their life. Friends, enemies are decided based on money and the crimes committed are somehow related to money. It’s interesting though that this film does not romanticize nor condemn their lifestyle. It just takes us into their day to day life and shows it to us specifically through Charlie and following his life.

However, Ghostface Killah raps about a specific crime.  We get a glimpse into criminal life in NYC but in Harlem – a very different culture than in Mean Streets. Furthermore, the crime he raps about  seems quite dramatic and out of the ordinary whereas in Mean Streets their criminal lives are portrayed in a no  big deal kind of way.  This  is probably because in a short song it is impossible to comprehensively portray the crime scene in Harlem so Ghostface chose to rap about a specific event which taken out of context seems very intense. In conclusion, since Mean Steets is a film and “Shakey Dog” is a short rap , the realities perceived when watching/listening to them are very different though both relate to crime.


Brooks, Womack, and Studio Museum

In Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street”  the main theme is one of survival and leaving Harlem. Womack mainly sings about the need to “break out of the ghetto” and brings up the drugs and other bad things that go on there thus, portraying well the desperate situation in Harlem in his times. I liked how he sings about it in a very matter of fact way without emotions involved.

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks portrays in a very concise manner the life in Harlem by talking about specifics. The poem tells us it is considered cool to drop out of school, “lurk late…thin gin” and so on. The last line “We die soon” conveys the hopelessness of the whole situation.  “The Weary Blues” is similar in that it also portrays the hopelessness but in an emotional way without specific examples of life in the streets.  Hughes uses words such as “drowsy”, “lazy sway”, “old piano moan” to make the mood one of depression. It is especially sad when he “heard that Negro sing….I ain’t happy no mo’ and I wish that I had died.” In both poems it seems that there is no way to escape the miserable situation in Harlem unlike in “Across 110th street” where Womack sings about such a possibility though it may be difficult.

O’Hara/Ballard Reflection

From the three O’Hara’s poems I read, my favorite is “A Step Away From Them”.  I like the poem’s rhythm  and how it matches the fast paced NYC life.  I also like how this poem gives insight into the dynamics present in NYC even today. NYC is the metropolis of America and is known for many great things. However, it is interesting that O’Hara decided to really focus on describing the mundane details of the city, such as “laborers feed their dirty glistening torsos sandwiches and Coca-Cola”.  In fact, the only “big” destination O’Hara mentions is Times Square, perhaps to orient the reader. I relate to this poem  because when I walk in the city, I also like to notice the little shops, the diverse people, and small details of the city similar to O’Hara’s descriptions.

Regarding, Ballard’s “Billenium,” I found this dystopian portrayal of a city from the overcrowding perspective very intriguing especially his descriptions of “pedestrian traffic” and the intensity of it. Before reading “Billenium” I thought the traffic in NYC was bad.  Though the short story presented the energy of the streets  in a negative view, when I read about it I thought of the energy in the streets of NYC  in positive way. There is a certain  excitement in NYC that could be linked to Manhattan’s grid.  I read on that because the layout of Manhattan is so straightforward,  it intensifies the fast pace of the city.  Photographer Joel Meyerowitz said that the streets of Manhattan “run for miles straight ahead, and so the energy on the street is funneled this way. And when you participate in that, you become part of the energetic dimension of life on the streets.”   The grids of European cities like London and Paris, are more complicated so they “are for meandering” whereas “New York is for purposefully charging forward.” The images below illustrate this.



Kara Walker

Kara Walker in her actual art does not use many colors and generally all the people portrayed are silhouettes.  We are forced to look at aspects of the person, such as shape, hair, facial features etc. Because of this simplicity she manages to portray stereotypes strongly. For example, in her art titled  “Mississippi Mud” we  have no choice but to stereotype the child. Through her use of stereotypes she also depicts racism, the south and what actually went down there, treatment of women etc. Together the stereotype and history shown makes her work stick around in our mind thus forcing one to address the stereotype and the history that comes along with it.

With that in mind, obviously there are many different stereotypes that exist today.  Often they are subtly conveyed in images.  A very dangerous stereotype is that the successful person is one who earned a lot of money and has a high power career.   In the attached image, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook is deemed “successful.” The article itself writes about her “mission to reboot feminism.” However, a glance at this cover photo and one gets the feeling she is successful because she has an extremely high position and earns a lot of money. It is true that Sheryl Sandberg is very successful. However, I think it is harmful when it is conveyed as the ultimate success. Most will not become really wealthy or have positions such as Sheryl’s. Yet, if the expectation is that earning money and having a powerful career is making it in life, and one does not accomplish that, then they will feel like the ultimate failure and become depressed. Therefore, I think that “success” in our society should be redefined.