American Art and National Identity

I Approve of Myself

Fig 10. Lauren Greenfield, b.
I Approve of Myself, 1995,
cibachrome, 1/25
Brauer Museum of Art, Gift of the FRIEND OF Art
1999.3

If Benton's prodigal laments the stark loss of the self and Hopper's lonely figure suggests that there is no possibility of reversing this loss, Lauren Greenfield may hold out hope as she focuses on the mass-culture sources of the modern self and how they are used to construct personal identity in the ordinary lives of working people. Greenfield's cibachrome print (fig. 10), tinted in the warm, orange hues of women's magazines, documents a woman's daily manufacture of herself in a series entitled "Show Girls." Fascinated by the irony of the impersonal mechanics of personal identity construction, Greenfield explores how identity is donned for display.
Assembled from fashion photos and applied with cosmetic brush, hair spray, and eye liner, feminine beauty cloaks the self beneath a mantle of hyper-feminine spectacle. "I approve of myself," a therapeutic note of self-encouragement, adheres to the vanity mirror, but problematizes the "I" by pairing it with the looming, blurred reflection of the subject's eye. The hand of the photograph's subject holds a cut-out face that looks at the viewer through the mask of fashion. Importantly, this small image is overlaid by yet another image. At the center of the photograph resides an ambiguity that no self-approval can resolve. And yet one wants it to be resolved. This woman's fate is our own, for each of us looks to the mass-produced world around us for cues to the identities we assemble and perform on the social stages of work and play. In the flurry of commercially-generated identities, there is the longing for an "I" to be accepted and affirmed.

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