THESIS ABSTRACT 2004
Throwing a Spin in the Work(s): A Curated Exhibition and Accompanying Catalogue
Historically, the working class has been represented in the visual arts as a unified, homogenous group. In truth, it was and is a diverse demographic. Since the 1970’s there have been artistic movements that have formed around issues of identity—race, ethnicity, feminism and sexual orientation—that, in essence, replaced this singular manifestation of a working class sensibility. In this shift from economic identification to that of social difference, in what ways are contemporary artists representing issues around labor that differs from historical models?
Throwing a Spin in the Work[s] is a curated exhibition that provides an environment in which contemporary artists mine this idea of the working class; addressing common threads of experience while respecting and engaging differences. The accompanying exhibition catalogue will discuss both personal experiences as well as compare/contrast representations of the working class in the visual arts historically and contemporarily.
The working class has historically been defined in the writings of Karl Marx as a group of economically disadvantaged laborers alienated from the fruits of their labor by a capitalistic system. Although a diverse group, the main symbol came to be that of the male, Caucasian, industrial worker. As time has progressed this definition has expanded, and in some ways disintegrated, with the aforementioned introduction of the importance of difference into the discussion about identity. It became increasingly less important to identify one’s self through economic affiliation and instead to represent one’s self in terms of racial background, gender or sexual preference; in this case, why has the working class identity been pushed to the background? What does it then mean to be working class today and are there new definitions to be considered?
A survey of the history of labor art will be undertaken to compare its evolution against the changing historical ideals of what constitutes a working class. Then, using that model, the catalogue will explore in what ways a new visual language has been developed by contemporary artists to mine the complexities of working life today.
Jennifer Breckner received her BA in art history and studio art from Youngstown State University in 1994. Prior to attending SAIC, she was the director of Trumbull Art Gallery in Warren, Ohio and has worked for The Cleveland International Performance Art Festival. Jennifer interned with the Development Department at The Art Institute of Chicago and was co-curator of the exhibition Plastic Fantastic at SAIC.
Thesis Advisor: Nicholas Lowe Visiting Artist, Arts Administration
Thesis Reader: Gregory Sholette Assistant Professor, Arts Administration,
Second Reader: John Russo Co-Director, Center for Working Class Studies, Youngstown State University