By: Gigi Hume
You may have seen the popular Brandy Melville “Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way” tee flaunted around the school halls promoting the ever-growing feminist movement. I myself have the shirt. When I initially saw it in stores I fell in love with the concept and wanted to know the name and story behind it, which ultimately lead me to find conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. Holzer, who today creates “text art” about current issues regarding the government, politics, and injustice on a global basis, has gained great popularity over the years, but like most other artists, had humble beginnings.
At the start of her career, Holzer didn’t have a set path of what art form she wanted to pursue, but she did have background in painting and somewhat of a style, from which she took inspiration from Mark Rothko and Morris Louis, to go with it. With that, she began taking basic art courses at Duke University, but instead of finding the “love of paint” she originally anticipated, she went on to University of Chicago in 1970 and it is there where she actually began considering turning her art style to turn into a potential career. Keeping with this mindset, Holzer, as a new post-graduate participated in Manhattan’s Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program, where her style of printmaking art was actually encouraged, and painting, coincidentally, frowned upon. It was also here where she became an active member of Collaborative Projects or more popularly known as Colab in which, just as the name implies, was a group of roughly 150 artists who collabed and discussed inspirations and ideas.
It wasn’t until one year after Whitney’s Independent Study Program in 1977 when Holzer released her Truisms piece which was essentially a series of lists of facts, much different from her early work. Holzer said it was,”…the result of of exacting craftsmanship.” Truisms to this day are very well known amongst the art savvy for their bluntness and ability to promote thinking amongst the observer. Soon after, she went on to create many more pieces, most notably The Inflammatory Essays, similar to Truisms in the style of text art, but instead of keeping it objective and purely factual, Holzer wrote in the first person. She later went on to state,”There are lots of I’s and You’s in the ‘Inflammatory Essays’, but they’re not me. They’re many different voices on a host of unmentionable subjects. I’m present in the choice of the subjects addressed in the work, in the form that they take, and the places they go.”
Around the same time these works were published, Holzer began experimenting with different materials and outlets as seen in both her Living and Survival texts where she carved her notorious truisms and frank statements into plaques and stone benches, both elements seen widely in the Manhattan area. This was also around the same time technological innovations began expanding and particularly in Times Square, New York the use of electric sign boards and projectors, something Holzer used (and still does) to enhance her art in the hopes of making it more attention-grabbing. She continued with this and just as suspected it grabbed the attention of everyone from the high profile art museums like Guggenheim and Venice Biennale to the angsty teen art blogs across Tumblr, both ready and willing to spread her work.
Today, Holzer is continuing her use of LEDs, but has since stopped lighting up her own words saying, “…I’m a half-baked writer at best and find the process painful, and I wanted to be able to include a greater range of subjects and emotions and all those good things than I could muster. In short, I like the art part better,” and has since begun using the words of others like poet Henri Cole still keeping with the theme of “pulling no punches” and reaching the masses. By doing so, she has earned a place as one of the most notable female artists by crushing “normal” social bounds with her strong political views, and shaping the conceptual art world forever.