In the 20th century, probably under the influence of the industrial revolution, artists used manufactured objects as subjects of art. These objects were extracted from the artificial environment and converted into art. An example of this is Marcel Duchamp’s piece known as the ReadyMades (1915). More recently, Rachel Whiteread made use of this trend in some of her last works of art. Over time, her works have been the subject of inquiry. Her earlier works underlined an interest in absence and shadow of things. She made sculptures by creating casts of the space around objects. In recent works, she ushered human life into her work with more decisiveness. In the “untitled mattress”, she makes the mattress a subject. The bed though iconic and monumental, looks vulnerably soft and ready to be worn and torn even though it has marks of experience from past usage. People’s assessment of what art is depends on what they already know or think they know as presented by particular society at a given time. This paper provides arguments that Rachel Whiteread’s untitled “mattress” may be termed as art.
The untitled (Mattress) by Whiteread is a work of art because of several reasons. First, this is so because manufactured items may be regarded as works of art when interpreted as visual metaphors. Visual metaphors may be rearrangements of manufactured objects which create a natural image. This perception may be reinforced by looking at Picasso’s Bull’s head (1943), which was made out of a bicycle seat and bicycle handlebars. In this case, the Bull’s head serves as a visual narrative which may give a glimpse into the life of the artist. The creative process may be characterized as “a leap in one’s imagination”. The leap in the imagination creates the relations of the metaphor. The viewer’s imagination is necessary for the work to be deemed as art. The metamorphosis takes place when the viewer stops seeing the “mattress” as an everyday item but begins to develop a narrative about it.
Secondly, the “untitled mattress” is art a piece of art which develops in the viewer’s mind. Art comes from an innate human impulse to develop or create. This is as seen with children who, when given materials, will make varying works of art. Rachel Whiteread’s “mattress” (1991), is a piece of art because Metamorphic translations, coupled with the metaphorical capacity of the mind are necessary for the creation of art. This creation happens in the viewer’s mind. Humor and play are necessary elements of art. The nature of the mind enables the perception of the “mattress” to make a transition between playfulness to adult creativity which is perceived as art.
Another way to judge art is through aesthetics. This is the notion that for something to be called “art,” it has to be beautiful. There is a long tradition in association art with beauty. Rachel Whiteread’s “untitled mattress” may or may not be said to be beautiful depending on the observer . The concept of aesthetics involves generalization which is hard to apply in this case.
One may also argue that Rachel Whiteread’s untitled “mattress” is not a work of art because it is not an individual creation and does not express individual ideas. Art has to express either individual or cultural ideas. This argument is drawn from the premise that the creations of organisms such as spiders and ants may not be defined as art because they are genetically programmed into the species. The “mattress” by Rachel Whiteread is a manufactured item and not her creation. However, it may be argued that the arrangement of the mattress and the fact that it is used make it a work of art.
The definition of art is a subject which has lent itself to numerous attempts by philosophers and artists alike. From the very first definition of “imitation”, art has taken many forms over time to an extent that it has outgrown initial definitions. Most people determine whether something is art or not based on what is presented by particular society at a given time. Rachel Whiteread’s “untitled mattress” provides a challenging task in determining whether it is an art form or not. First, manufactured items may be regarded as works of art when interpreted as visual metaphors. The mattress may be interpreted to mean different things. Secondly, the fact that art comes from an innate human impulse to develop or create renders the “untitled mattress” a work or art. This means that the artistic quality is developed in the minds of the observer based on their interpretations. However, the fact that the mattress is a manufactured means that it is not an individual creation.
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