The Changing Context and Viewpoints of Art

Art can be shown in a variety of contexts to appeal to very different audiences. From the time people are born, they begin to learn from consequences presented to them in their environment. This form of social learning prepares people to respond to their environment in the ways they learned. One way people react to their environment is how they respond to art. When individuals view something they have learned is aversive, they will respond in a negative manner. This concept of social learning and its impact on reactions to environmental stimuli is presented in a variety of ways. With a change in time and popular beliefs, comes a change in behavior and the way people are taught to react to their environment. Overall, the idea of cultural context and social learning effecting the behavior of a viewer is demonstrated through the use of art theory, and comparisons of historical and modern art.

The comic that I chose to represent one understanding of art, is entitled, Foran Abegrotten, or In Front of the Monkey Grotto. This comic illustrates a very important message of how viewers perceive art work. Throughout life, people are raised with different ideals about what is appropriate and acceptable. For instance, in this comic, the kid is very amused at what he sees in the grotto throughout the whole scene. His parents, on the other hand, see something that embarrasses them, and promptly move the child away. What is happening in the grotto isn’t depicted, but it can be inferred as something that we socially deem as unacceptable. The different reactions from the younger versus the older generation, suggest that the parents have learned something that the child has not yet. In this interaction, the child is just beginning to learn from his parents what is seen as socially acceptable behavior both in what the monkeys are doing, and how you should respond to such behavior. Artist’s work are depicted by the monkeys in this comic, and the onlookers are representative of the viewers of the artwork. If an artist creates something that is deemed inappropriate to their viewing audience, then they will react aversively to their art. This cartoon can also be used as a means of understanding art from a different period of time. Although it may not be considered socially acceptable, at one point in time, it was seen in a very different cultural view, and was accepted as great art. While society dictates what is wrong and right in the art world, these views have changed throughout time and context.

One piece that exemplifies the theoretical art message from the cartoon, is Krater, c. 515 B.C., in page 10 of the textbook. This artwork shows a fallen warrior, both nude and bleeding from several places, being carried off by two individuals under the supervision of another. While, at the time, this concept was not a novel idea, nudity and violence are not seen as frequent staples in art today. Even in modern media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, there is a lot of censorship that goes into the images and messages shown. Nudity is not allowed and is against the terms and conditions of media posted on their sites. According to Facebook, they “restrict the display of nudity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content – particularly because of their cultural background or age,” (Gibbs, 2016). This censorship can affect the type of media that viewers consider to be socially and culturally acceptable. Another influence on modern society’s views of nudity and violence in art comes from the style and direction of contemporary art itself. As Cottington, a researcher on modern art, describes; “modernist painting’s common denominator, through most of the 20th century, was a recognition that a picture was not a window onto the world but a constructed image of it, one that used devices and conventions of representation (such as one-point perspective, or modelling with shadows, or geometrical systems of composition) whose meanings were no longer as secure as they were once thought to be,” (2005). As art has progressed, images and symbolism have evolved to express artist’s ideas in less direct and more complex ways. Images are not shown as straightforward as the Krater is a nude and wounded soldier, but have taken on more abstract and sophisticated representations. This change in art along with the censorship in popular media effects our current standards of what is appropriate to portray in art. At the time in which the Krater was created, a majority of the art depicted similar scenes. In society today, the reaction to the work presented would be completely different if it were considered to be a part of contemporary art, because it does not fit in with our societal norms. As a whole, this change in context is what gives way to new art ideas and helps form the opinions of the viewers.

Another work that can be well interpreted by the same theoretical art message, is the Gero Crucifix, c. 975, located on page 48 of the textbook. This art piece is large scale sculpture representing Jesus being crucified without the cross incorporated. The proportions of his body are not to scale, and he is shown with many bodily imperfections.  This depiction of Jesus is far from what is seen today. Most images of Christ in modern day artwork show him in an idealized manner. In fact, images that go against this norm, are reviewed in a very unpleasant manner. For instance, in 2007, an artist named Cosimo Cavallaro made an artwork depicting Jesus without a cross and in a similar pose, body shape, and size to the Gero Crucifix. This work was made entirely of milk chocolate, and was considered to be “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever,” (Brodsky, 2014). The public outcry was so bad, that the creative director of the gallery who housed the artwork was asked to resign. This goes to show that with the passage of time, art can transform from a relevant and significant light, to be seen with disgust and outrage. While the two artworks look strikingly similar, the context and perceived messages were completely different. Society and the views and beliefs of the people have a great impact on what is depicted by artists. From insight on modern art, “art’s status is more dependent upon social and institutional custom than upon the people who actually make it – individual artists – however innovative they may be,” (Cottington, 2005). If crude images of Christ are seen by society to be a taboo subject, then art will be shaped by those beliefs. As suggested in the cartoon, society and learning what is appropriate influences the opinion of people viewing art. While the style of art remained the same, the change in cultural ideals effected the ways in which people perceived the art.

As a whole, socially accepted ideas of art and representation have changed with the passage of time. Things that were once commonly depicted, may now be seen as socially unacceptable. Individuals learn these ideas through the people and media they interact with in their environment. As times and opinions change, so do the representations of art. As the theoretical cartoon suggests, society dictates what is and what is not appropriate for audiences to see, and this influences their reactions to the environment. What was once viewed as a master piece in a historical context, may not be seen as appropriate in a modern day setting. Through the change in time and context, art can provoke a variety of responses in the viewers that have been socially influenced.

Brodsky, J. (2014). See the most controversial depictions of Jesus in art. Artnet News. Retrieved from
Cottington, D. (2005). Modern art: A very short introduction. Retrieved from
Gibbs, S. (2016). Nudity and Facebook’s censors have a long history. The Guardian. Retrieved from

By Ashley Andersen
Major: Psychology
Expected Graduation Date: Spring 2017
Hometown: Meridian, Idaho

In writing this paper, I really wanted to focus on topics that I have sufficient amount of knowledge on, and could support that knowledge with evidence. As a psychology major and a fine arts minor, my understanding of those topics really fell into place. I have always enjoyed writing, especially about psychology, and this essay was no exception.