“Social Commentary and Art”

I have finally found a door into a world of social commentary through art.

Most modern and contemporary art leaves me feeling somewhat puzzled, wondering what point the artist was making, if any. I “get” that renaissance art as a visualisation of nature, religion and history; I “get” that Impressionism is a record of what the artist saw, with lots of play on light. What I haven’t been “getting” are any messages for me in modern or contemporary art. That is, until I found “Sex Change In Vitruvian Man” and discovered Australian artist Susan White!

Sex Change Vitruvian Man by Susan White

Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man is based on the Roman architect Vitruvius’ description of the human body as providing the ideal proportions for building a temple. The drawing combines art, science and geometry, as well as demonstrating da Vinci’s interest in proportion. It is one of my favourite pieces of art, yet there has always been a part of me that didn’t quite connect with it.

The original Vitruvian man

Then I found Susan White’s “Sex change in Vitruvian Man”. Not only did I relate to it as a woman, but I could enjoy the subversive messages. Much of Susan White’s works are commentaries on social issues such as human rights, the status of women, and the environment, but she also draws on her own personal experiences. The humour and irony in her work often lies in the detail, and that’s something that gives me real joy. This is why another favourite of mine is “The First Supper”.


The First Supper

She painted it for the Australian bicentennial celebrations (did I mention she is Australian?), and showed it in a religious exhibition. It was apparently quite controversial in Australia. The central character of Jesus is replaced by an Australian Aboriginal woman. Check out the detail then read a transcript of a radio interview with the artist at:

Another favourite of mine is “The Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times” and its twin “The Seven Deadly Isms”

Seven Deadly Sins of Modern Times by Susan White

Some of her work is whimsical, and I would love to be able to touch some of her sculptures, like “Stretching The Imagination”. Is that Albert Einstein’s face?  He said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” …

Susan White says that she is inspired by anything that she feels passionately about – human rights, the environment, family, art and music. She also draws on her own personal experiences, from the naturalness of menopause to the personal trauma of having a brain tumour removed. I concede that probably I “get” her art because we share many cultural experiences –  middle aged women of european heritage with similar interests, a love of family, and sense of social justice. I am delighted that I can enjoy her art, her social commentary, her irony and her humour.

I’ve bookmarked her web site so that I can look at something beautiful, clever and witty, or be inspired by her social values whenever I want or need – its quality may be reduced on the internet, but it is accessible social commentary and art …

2 thoughts on ““Social Commentary and Art”

  1. I don’t think I’ve commented here before, but my husband directed me to your blog after seeing something on the Handmirror. I really enjoyed these pictures, especially the nude woman one at the top – thanks for sharing them 🙂

    1. In response to your comment I visited the site that you and your husband share. Your story is inspiring. I am far more mobile than you are, but I understand, like you, the joy there is in doing the things you can do. There is a plaque in the Burwood spinal unit that says “Don’t let the things you cannot do stop you from enjoying the things that you can do.” You reminded me of all the blessings in my life. Thanks.
      I also found your comments about what to do in an emergency evacuation very useful.
      I wanted you to know that you have gifted something to me today. 🙂

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