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Richard Hamilton’s Concepts of Consumerism

What Makes Adam & Eve so Different, so Appealing?

Richard Hamilton’s work is considered by critics and historians to be among the earliest works of pop art. He chose to include a man and a woman in his 1956 collage “What is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” in order to draw a comparison to Adam and Eve, and the evils of consumerism in the mid-century. “Hamilton introduced the idea of the artist as an active consumer and contributor to mass culture” (The Art Story). Up until then, the prevailing view was that art should be separate from commerce (The Art Story). Hamilton differed because he gave other artists permission to consider all visual sources, especially those generated by the commercial sector when creating their art. There is no more influential idea in art to this day. He’s had an everlasting effect.

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Hamilton’s collage: “Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?”, included a range of images of advertisements and domestic consumer products that showed how advertising and commercialism dominate our daily lives. He included amongst others, images of a vacuum, a tape recorder, and even the Ford logo. Most of the images were highly recognizable. Since they were so popular at the time this piece came out, it helped further his point that advertising and commercialism dominate our daily lives. Advertising and commercialism were commonly seen in newspapers at the time, but this is really one of the first times it was seen in art.

The two images that were not as known at the time were the images of the bodybuilder Irvin “Zabo” Koszewski, winner of Mr. L.A. in 1954, and the image of a burlesque model. Even until this day, people are unsure who the woman is in the collage.

Koszewski and the model are the only two people in the piece. They (the man and woman) are referred to as “Adam & Eve” surrounded by the temptations of the post-War consumer boom (The Art Story). Hamilton offers a  modern portrayal of them, by portraying them sitting still amongst all the new inventions at the time. This portrayal was a huge departure from other portrayals of Adam & Eve, which until then had been primarily religious in nature.

For example, in one of their most famous portrayals, they are in their biblical setting in Masaccio’s fresco The Expulsion, which was completed in 1425. This famous piece is located in the Brancacci Chapel inside the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. The Expulsion portrays the scene from the book of Genesis when Adam and Eve eat from the fruit which God has forbidden them to eat (Italian Renaissance). Adam and Eve are portrayed rather differently, Adam is covering his face as he is spiritually ashamed, and Eve is covering her body as she is more physically ashamed. Both are portrayed in motion, in order to show they are moving forward from this sin. This sin resulted in them getting banished out of the Garden of Eden and into the world where they are forced to labor and suffer the consequences.

Similarly, Consumerism can be compared to the story of Adam and Eve, using the phrase  “low hanging fruit”. Each product advertised may seem so nice and promise to make your life better, but in reality, when buying so many new things constantly there may be some underlying negatives in doing so. They may not seem like negatives at first, but depending on the product advertised they may be. Some examples may include buying unhealthy products, or products you simply have no use for.

Consumerism can be explained as the theory that spending money and consuming goods is good for the economy. The ending of World War II began a new era of steady economic growth in the United States. The United States was still recovering from the impact of the Great Depression and the unemployment rate was around 25%. Our involvement in the war soon changed that unemployment rate to around 10%. As more men were needed to fight, women were hired to take over their positions. This led to more women being employed and more importantly, earning a salary, which ultimately led to a new high for consumerism (Iowa Public Television 1).

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Hamilton’s collage included a range of images of advertisements and domestic consumer products that showed how advertising and commercialism dominate our daily lives. He included the Ford logo for example, which was the first automobile. The economy had gone through exponential growth, largely due to the number of cars manufactured and houses built. At this time many people became wealthier,  and they were able to buy many of the newly invented goods in the market, such as the refrigerator, the radio, and especially the much-coveted car. Americans did not care about the price of the new car; they just had to have one. The average new car in 1945 only cost $1,020. Today in America, we’re faced with a similar issue, although it’s more serious. Each day, we are bombarded with around 1,600 commercial messages. And that’s just advertising alone. Different types of advertisements include products such as the latest in technology (iPhones), new clothes, travel (airfare) and more.  Each advertisement suggests that having them will make your life more fun and interesting, and will bring some other positive change to your life. All these enticing options come with issues that are slowly ruining our society. One major growing issue Consumerism is causing is Pollution/Resource depletion.  As the demand for goods increases, the need to produce those goods also increases. This, unfortunately, leads to more pollutant emissions, and increased land-use/deforestation (“The Problem with Consumerism.”). Another issue is consumerism is growing at such a high rate, that it is getting more and more difficult to control Pollution/Resource depletion.

Hamilton included a man and a woman in his collage in order to draw a comparison to Adam and Eve, and the evils of consumerism in the mid-century.He introduced the idea of being an active consumer and contributor to mass culture, and only included one man and one woman intentionally to refer to as “Adam & Eve”. He portrayed them as surrounded by the temptations of the post-War consumer boom. Just like Adam and Eve ate the fruit which caused their own demise us Americans buy many things as part of consumerism which ultimately causes our demise.

 

 



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