Blog: Object Culture Part I

Christine Alfery

Posted on February 15 2021

Blog: Object Culture Part I

Featured image: Lacy

As a little girl I can remember collecting cereal box tops and eating corn puffs until my mom said, “Don’t you want a variety in your cereal?” To which I replied, “As soon as I get enough box tops to send in for…… whatever object it was I was eating those corn puffs for.” My mom would not let me, when it came to the last box top, just take the top and then eat the cereal after. She said that the cereal would get stale without the top. She knew me. I would never have finished that box of cereal.

Mom felt that it was a good lesson. I was learning to earn/work for something I really wanted, even if it meant eating cereal. This philosophy has its downfalls, of course. She would frequently give me a cookie when I took a good nap because I “earned it.” Giving stars to kids has the same effect. I remember creating a star chart and posting it on all of the school bulletin boards during my first teaching job in the Chicago school system. Different classes earned a star if they were ready on time and cleaned up on time. There wasn’t an art room during those days. I had an art cart and went from room to room teaching art. I was highly reprimanded for the chart and asked to take it down by the school principal. I never understood why even though at the time he gave me reasons which didn’t register with me.

Today his comments do register with me. When I was a child, saving those box tops or buying a box of cracker jacks and getting the prize inside really meant something to a kid. It could have been a magic ring or some bent wire that allowed a child to imagine being a magician in which they could magically twist the wires apart. These examples were just the beginning education to teach young people about desire and wanting particular objects that were part of also purchasing a particular product. The Cracker Jack prize transformed into a McDonalds Happy Meal with a prize inside. to today's object culture prizes. Psychologists call this, label this object culture. The object is the prize. . They give examples. I personally like the examples detailing women and how they have become objects to be prized because they have hourglass figures, beautiful long hair, nice legs, big….. well, you know. Their lips are red, their nails are red, their skin is shaved and smooth. They are objects.

Some other examples of object culture today include: rising to the top of the work ladder, buying that new object, trinket or motorcycle. I remember my kids always had to have the most recent educational toy or they would miss out on something.

Now I am older, and I realize what the principal was trying to say to me. I wonder about those who are part of the “object culture.” Are they really alive? Are they “real” like in the Velveteen Rabbit? Do they have an aesthetic moment every day and allow themselves to stop and smell the roses? Today some roses do not even smell like roses because they have become so a part of the object culture.

I felt the wind bite at my cheeks.
I saw the wind sculpt the snow.
I was amazed at the artful drifts and cliffs,
I watched the sun touch the treetops,
with golden light.
I took a deep breath and enjoyed the morning.
Warm coffee steaming in the cold.

When I paint I ask myself, “Is this an object of art or is it an aesthetic moment to enjoy for myself?”

The answer is that it is both. It becomes an object after I have finished my aesthetic moments with it.

It is what happens to my artwork after that, that needs to be questioned. Is it trendy? Did I make it for its object appeal? An excellent example is the heart I made for Valentine’s Day to be posted on my website. Yes, it is handmade, an original - but it was not created for its aesthetic value. Rather, it was created for its instant gratification. It will become part of object culture. And if my work ever becomes an object while I am working with it, my heart always says, “It is not real.”

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