MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Author: Sarah Taj

A Bridge Between the Many

Glen O’Brien and Virgil Abloh both stressed on the ever dwindling gap between fashion, advertising, commerce and art. The space between these concepts, in recent years, has been melting into one. Although the ultimate purpose of all fashion advertising is to sell clothes, brands use their seasonal campaigns to do more than purely push product. When done right, an ad can convey the essence of a label’s identity, from the type of consumer it’s courting to the general vibe each label is looking to project. Each element of the final image is chosen with the goal of creating a succinct visual representation of the brand’s message: Casting is only one part of the puzzle, but when used effectively, it can speak volumes—a lineup of youthful waifs conveys a different message than the use of a sole, seductive supermodel.

Casting celebrities in campaigns is not new, celebs are equipped with their own built in audiences and character associations, which makes it an easier sell, provided they line up with those of the house, and over the years Oscar winners, athletes, and pop stars alike have been called in to represent fashion brands. Stars make money selling pieces of their glamorous personas to luxury corporations, and tapping into the next marketable personality, which more often than not includes the promise that they’ll wear the designer’s wares for all of their big red carpet appearances, a coup in and of itself, has become a competitive sport.

The Sacramento-based clothing company All Good completely sold out of one of their hats just because the Cavaliers superstar wore it before and after Cleveland’s 104-101 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday. The hat, which says”All Good Never Better” on the front, was quite visible during James’ postgame conference and caused All Good to sell out of their entire stock in three hours. The hat sold out simply because it was placed on a famous head, the simplest trigger for to initiate “consumer habits”.

In this picture, you see Mila Kunis’ outfit deconstructed with a few “inspired” pieces for others to copy and emulate. The power of advertising fashion and its commerce is so impactful to the point where viewers, if they are unable to attain the exact article, are willing to wear something similar, as long as it remains related to the model (actress/singer/influencer)


In this piece by Rodin, the passion and romance of The Kiss is undeniable, the figures are so involved with each other that their faces can barely be seen. The total embraces with which they hold each other make the tragedy of their love even greater and Rodin draws on themes which all audiences can appreciate in a way which is both romantic and sensual. Although both figures are nude, Rodin’s skill as an artist made sure that the way the figures were rendered was in a classical way and one which was not overtly sexual.

As with many of Rodin’s sculptures The Kiss is designed to be viewed from every angle and Rodin wanted the piece to be believable and real. The artist certainly creates this and by making a sculpture which is visually stimulating from 360 degrees the dedication and skill of Rodin is successfully demonstrated. The contrast between the smooth skin of the lovers and the rough marble of the rock they are sitting on adds further sensual elements to this piece.

This is the last marble sculpture upon which Michelangelo worked during the last weeks of his life in 1564. This sculpture is fascinating for its minimalism, even suggesting the possibility that Michelangelo purposely left it “unfinished,” thereby making it, in some art historian’s view, the earliest piece of “modern art.” The Pieta Rondanini was ignored for centuries, but this is the kind of quality you get in the work of old artists who are skillfully great. They can simplify; they can leave out; in the Rondanini Pieta there’s a whole of Michelangelo’s 89 years’ life somewhere.

Mary stands elevated on a stone platform and bends over the full length corpse of Christ, supporting it with difficulty, from behind. Mary is holding up the slender Christ with her outstretched arms as if offering his spirit, but with time and through nearly three different stages, Christ sank down, now emerging from Mary’s breast and exaggerated in his slender form. Finally, Michelangelo drew the heads of the two figures closer and closer together, dissolving the barrier between mother and son.The two figures have virtually melted into one, with a rigidity that only heightens its emotional appeal that has found admirers in our modern times.

In this piece titled Ajitto by Robert Mapplethorpe, it does not picture two bodies, but it emphasizes on the one in great detail. With a simple glance, the viewer can easily spot every form of muscle definition present in this man and, even without his face on display, his apparent internal turmoil is evident. Sitting on such a stool in the form he is presented in exhibits a level of pain and discomfort, but the feeling of comfort in coiling into himself may be strong enough to overpower the physical torture.


Mean Streets and Ghostface

The concepts portrayed in both the Mean Streets and Ghostface’s songs highlight lives lived through organized crime. One has an hour and a half to portray the complexities of “mafian life” while the other is limited by three minutes to only display the negatives of the gangster living. In Mean Streets, the movie followed the life of a morally and spiritually young mobster named Charlie who’s future was more than uncertain. The film did capture the essence of the “mafian life” but it softened the harshness of its reality. In one of the bar fight scenes, the director decided to play a rather up beat song, as if to distract the audience from how violent that way of life truly is.

Image result for mean streets pool table fight

The film also threw a comedic perspective into every element of the mafias. With the obsession over money, loyalty and power, the movie deliberately failed to display the blunt truth. When Charlie was asked for the money he had owed, he nonchalantly failed to give a care and slyly removed himself from that position, even able to persuade the men to have drinks with him afterwards.

Image result for mean streets bar

Ghostface in his song, Method Man states,

You know the gun show off, whips is gleaming, clean as a fuck
In dirty hallways, the ninas’ll cluck
This is crime station, my obligation is to look raw as ever
Feed my little sons and patients
Cause they hungry, shining, bullet fly right through the lining
Catch me on the plane, humble and wining

Here, there isn’t any romanticization. Here, you have what Mean Streets failed to deliver, the exact truth. Without blurring lines, Ghostface paints the harsh realities of living in this style. He describes violence, death, drugs and sex as it plays in daily life.


Womback states, “Because of how the situation was for black people in America at that time, there were a lot of struggle songs around. It seemed to be something that really moved the people around me. I felt the power of music to raise people up; to make them angry or proud.”. This song, and Womack, has a vision to highlight what Harlem was and may always be regardless of the movements it may undergo. In the song it notes,

Across 110th Street
Pimps trying to catch a woman that’s weak
Across 110th Street
Pushers won’t let the junkie go free
Across 110th Street
Woman trying to catch a trick on the street
Across 110th Street
You can find it all in the street

This form of visualization Womack provides is what many assume Harlem truly is.  With “Woman trying to catch a trick on the street”, Harlem is shone under a negative light, one that is engrained in American’s minds whether gentrification succeeds or not. Womack, however, accepts this image and embraces what it represents. He confirms that Harlem’s negatives exists and it shaped Harlem and its citizens in to what they are now.

The Weary Blues exposes another, more heart wrenching view on the people of Harlem. It states, “With his ebony hands on each ivory key. He made that poor piano moan with melody.” Hughes displays the extreme pain these people go through using a medium that captures their gloom well. With the melancholy sounds of Jazz, it gives Harlem a softer edge; that not every one is a criminal, but people in torment.




O’Hara’s New York

While reading Frank O’Hara’s short poems, one can easily understand that he had a painterly eye and a silvery personality. O’Hara in a limited number of lines has the literal power to paint an image of New York many New York agree with. In his piece, “Having a coke with you”, he displays a peaceful, more serene impression of New York. With the lines,

it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

I imagine, the picture and video placed below. Among the city’s clamor rests a humming silence. In between the filing of masses from one location to another lives hushed composure. New York, because of the effect this one being has on him, is painted with a different lens. For O’Hare, with this person, he finds beauty in the chaos. He finds joy in the simplest things. Even the leisurely act of sharing a coke becomes sensuous. This concept is fortified when he states, “which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet…”. O’Hare has not experienced anything yet even when he has. He wishes to relive his life once again with this person, and only then will they haven meaning to him. He has visited the Polish Rider in the Frick multiple times, but has not seen it with eyes swayed by this one person.

O’Hare’s descriptions of life in New York is romanticized by his delicate descriptions. Phrases like “move so beautifully” and “like a tree breathing through its spectacles” highlight the purity in New York that many fail to realize exist. With buildings soaring into the sky, it becomes difficult to see the clouds beyond it. With the blaring sounds of cabs honking, it becomes nearly impossible to hear the Gray Partridge’s chirping songs. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, zooms out of the city and shows the grander scheme of things. Looking at New York in all its grandeur, one truly appreciates its hidden charm.


O’Hare’s poem “A Step Away from them” enticed me as well. It takes an entirely different approach as the aforementioned poem where it exposes the multifaceted workings of the city, as apposed to blurring the noise to make the silence louder. It speaks of one man walking through the city, and by the end of his journey, he takes note of the different people and cultures he comes in contact with in a short amount of time. O’Hare demonstrates the epitome of a diverse state when almost every stanza illustrates a different element that is only one cog that helps build what New York is. He sees laborers eating their lunch, girls trying to keep their skirts from flipping over the grate, cats playing in sawdust, a negro standing in a door way, Puerto Ricans, etc. This creates the perception that New York is disorganized with different people doing different things (something like the picture below). But what many must realize is that New York is just that. New York is an amalgamated system with every kind of person from every race and any culture. That is the beauty behind it, and it always will be.


Kara Walker Post – Blog # 4


With Kara Walker, the message resonating through this single piece is only one in a kingdom of millions. Walker, with most of her art, uses silhouettes and plays with the limits of ambiguity and everything but. She paints a scene with enough detail to understand the concept she is trying to convey, but leaves space for detailed interpretation. It sometimes become difficult to decipher which limb belongs to which character, but this becomes a clever tactic that feeds personalization. In the image above titled, Cover of my Negro Novella, it resonates a feeling of exhaustion, It pulls the viewers into its time and place, and allows them to physically feel the torment of the past. Walker often tampers with landscapes and this is the prime example. The man (below the other), seems as of he is trudging up an exponentially steep slope. The man above him, also black, pulls his arm back, as if to remind his fellow negro that the only position they must remain in is to be inferior than the whites. His face speaks volumes; he looks up through the crack of the walls to something grander. The very idea of autonomy keeps his soul alive, as if enslavement fails to trouble him if he’s still connected to something bigger than both the prisoner and the jailer.




Edwin Forbes was an extremely influential artist during the American Civil War. In order to portray the time objectively as possible, he was known to draw anything and everything in its most natural state. In the image above, Edwin sketched the shabby exterior of a southern cabin used by the house servants and farm-hands. The house looks as if it will collapse, as if it lacks a proper foundation to support its weight. This, however, is contrasted by the spirt exerted from its inhabitants. Thousands of soldiers recalled with immense pleasure the kindness they received from the blacks in the south. The sick and wounded soldiers would receive not only love but pies and pastries from the old ‘aunties’;no one would be turned away. The liveness of the enslaved would be so impactful, where the town depicted above would radiate, not from eloquent houses or architecture, but from the dense souls living in it. Both Forbes and Walker speak about similar times using two drastically different art styles and manners. They, however, uniformly project the concept of breaking stereotypes and bringing the truth to light.