If Postmodernism raises low art to the level of high art, it also allows folks who control the media to cash in on subcultural trends: Rap, grunge, vogueing, whatever. Andy Warhol made a joke of it, but Keith Haring turned the... [more]
If Postmodernism raises low art to the level of high art, it also allows folks who control the media to cash in on subcultural trends: Rap, grunge, vogueing, whatever. Andy Warhol made a joke of it, but Keith Haring turned the tables. When this Graffiti artist lifted his brush to the walls of subways and plastered canvases with cartoonish figures, he made a mint to be sure, but he also made a point: art is for everyone; you can pay big bucks if it makes you feel hip, but at its greatest, art is both social and accessible.
Haring's work put social issues at the forefront while celebrating love and the love of life. In 1979 he designed, printed, and distributed 20 thousand posters for an antinuclear demonstration in Central Park. His vibrant compositions, which are instantly recognizable to anyone who lived through the 1980s, feature heavily outlined figures with no race or gender, who come in a variety of bright colors. His figures seem to dance despite the downfall of civilization and Reagan-era politics (which still pointed the finger at the Soviet "Evil Empire" and completely ignored the rising epidemic of AIDS). Celebration for celebration's sake became a very political message.
Haring began drawing cartoon figures at an early age, but he felt "a separation between cartooning and being an 'artist.'" In an attempt at responsible citizenship, Haring attended commercial art school, but soon realized that sign painting could mean the death of his own art, and so quit. His early works are small compositions of interconnected abstract shapes; after seeing similar art by Pierre Alechinsky in a retrospective, he began to compose much larger drawings. Haring became inspired by the possibilities of public art as an alternative to object-making after he attended a lecture by the Environment artist Christo. He realized that "art could reach all kinds of people, as opposed to the traditional view, which was art as this elitist thing."
Haring was committed to making his art available to as wide an audience as possible. He painted antidrug messages on buildings and subways, and mass produced novelties that featured his ecstatic figures. To Haring, there was no difference between the drawings he did for free and the art he sold for thousands of dollars. Shortly before he succumbed to AIDS, he cashed in on his cache, using his funds and notoriety to create the Keith Haring Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to provide assistance to other nonprofits through the sale of his work. [show less]