Rooster Motif In Modern Art Term Paper

Length: 5 pages Sources: 4 Subject: Sociology Type: Term Paper Paper: #39760091 Related Topics: 19th Century Art, Age Of Enlightenment, Masculinity, Protestant Reformation
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Rauchenberg and Shochat

Shochat and Rauschenberg: Challenging Taboos

Rauschenberg's "Odalisk" (1955-58) and Shochat's "Johanan and the Rooster, 2010" are separated by half a century and yet both works reflect one another artistically, in terms of style, theme and ideas. "Odalisk" is a parody of the 19th century portrait "La Grande Odalisque" by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, which depicts a nude Turkish concubine reclining on a bed peering over her shoulder at the viewer. Rauschenberg's composition (a collaged box standing one-legged on a pillow, a rooster perched atop the box, almost peering over its shoulder at the viewer) is a satirical glance backwards at the art which came before it -- and a comment on the sexual themes and intonations of the modern world. Similarly, Shochat's "Johanan" is a biting commentary on modern sexual mores -- a semi-nude man holding a rooster (i.e., cock) in an unabashed pronouncement of masculine sexuality (a counterbalance to the assertion of female sexuality as found in such works as Georgia O'Keefe). This paper will compare and contrast these two works and artists and show how both put forward a social critique of past and present to serve as a portend of the future.

Modernism in art triumphed from the 19th century onward and in the early 20th century virtually changed the way art came to be perceived. From the Abstractionists to the Cubists to the Surrealists to the followers of Dada, the modernists continually reinvented themselves with newer and wilder movements, firmly rejecting tradition and all its preoccupations. It was only fitting, however, that modern artists should break so completely with the past: modern society had split from the old world with the Protestant Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, and the Romantic Era, all of which followed one on the heels of the other. As European society sought to understand itself according to new Romantic/Enlightenment ideals, many artists sought to reflect the societal revolution around them by initiating artistic revolution. The Classical, the Baroque, the Realistic and the Romantic all fell away. The Impressionists delivered the first blow -- but their works still reflected an objective vision. The modern world emphasized subjectivity. Thus, the modernists would create art that would reflect nothing objective but rather something abstract, subjective or (in the case of Duchamp) downright absurd.

What one sees in "Odalisk" is this same rejection of the past: by satirizing Ingres and emphasizing overtly (albeit in a dehumanized way) what Ingres coquettishly hides (showing only the backside of the reclining concubine), Rauschenberg delivers a raucous blow to complacent attitudes. Rauschenberg's composition is satirical in more than one way, though: it also bites at the Puritanical obsessions of American society by offending sensibilities without "showing flesh." The composition is deliberately phallic, and the cock (rooster) perched at the top provides the leering sentiment. If art acts as a mirror (Wolfe, 1975), this piece reflects a 1950s society that is so uncomfortable with its sexuality that it cannot tolerate any public reference to it: all such matters have to be dealt with obliquely -- not straight on. Rauschenberg, here, is anticipating the sexual revolution of the 1960s, for in looking backward and laughing at the past (and present), he is making a statement about the future. In this case, the statement is: this cock knows what's coming more so than you social prudes do -- watch out! As firmly as this piano leg sits upon this pillow, a new virility is going to step on your easy, complacent worldview and shock you with what it reveals! Such is what Rauschenberg's composition suggests.

Shochat's is the same way, predicating what is to come by reflecting and commenting on the past. But while Rauschenberg's composition divests sexuality of its humanity, Shochat's invests sexuality with a startling reminder of its masculinity. Where Rauschenberg subverts the conventional by breaking the taboo via arrangement of fleshless images and forms, Shochat subverts what is conventional half a century later by breaking the taboo through unexpectedly suggestive flesh. The flesh in this case is that of "Johanan," who poses with a fierce, almost iconic scowl on his face. Dressed only in a pair of boxer briefs, he holds a cock (rooster) in front of his abdomen. The cock's clawed foot dangles in front of Johanan's (hidden) genitals, completing the innuendo that Johanan is (literally) holding his cock in his hands. The rooster's plumage is reflected in the gray hair which flares...


His identity is defined by his masculinity.

But what is masculinity? This question is raised the more one looks into Shochat's portrait -- for upon closer inspection, Johanan appears to be wearing red lipstick and his fingernails are painted red as well. This seemingly virile-looking man is suddenly feminized via the application of feminine products (lipstick, fingernail polish). Couple that with the fact that his boxer briefs match the tapestry before which Johanan stands, and one is left with composition that at first appears to subvert modern conventional sexuality by (rather than feminine assertion of sexuality) masculine assertion of sexuality. However, this masculine man has painted lips and painted nails. What little clothing he is wearing matches his surroundings. Are not women more traditionally known for "matching" apparel with setting? Yet, here is a man holding his cock, bare-chested and grim -- asserting his masculinity -- but also asserting his femininity by wearing makeup! The subversion is total: not only does Shochat stare down O'Keefe but she also stares down conventional masculinity. In this way Shochat is reflecting the satirical edge of Rauschenberg's "Odalisk" by breaking taboos through innuendo rather than straight-forward assertion.

Both works also stand convention on its head by deviating from the classical pictorial illusion model (Johnson, 2003). Both concentrate mainly on middle-ground, not utilizing either foreground or background. Everything that is to be seen is there front and center. This helps both pieces to be as "in your face" as they can be, without shouting: it is a subtle exclamation, one that is felt more than heard.

The two works contrast with one another in the sense that the earlier piece by Rauschenberg is more figurative and allegorical than the latter by Shochat. Rauschenberg depends upon the power of suggestion to convey meaning. Shochat does as well, but the suggestions are less oblique. Whereas Rauschenberg undermines 1950s mores by attacking them sideways, Shochat undermines modern mores head-on. One does not have to decipher the images or their arrangement in Shochat's piece; one merely has to look more closely at it to see what is really there. "Johanan" does require interpretation -- it's message is loud and clear, once one actually looks: sexuality is not just gender -- it is identity, it is orientation, it is choice, it is what one makes of it. That is the idea that Johanan holding his cock and wearing lipstick and nail polish conveys to the viewer: old Johanan, the subject of the piece (no longer looking over his shoulder like the subject in Ingres or like the cock in Rauschenberg, but staring the viewer directly in the face) represents the past in his age. His scowl represents his judgment of the past, his gaze is at the present, and is disapproving, and the sense of what is to come is apparent: the future will hold no definitions that dare to restrict. Everything will be open, accessible, allowed, flagrant. Johanan says, "Try to stop me." This is the challenge of Shochat's work.

As both artists are of different backgrounds, their challenging compositions may be ascribed to their "outsiderness" reflecting on life "on the inside." Rauschenberg was born to fundamentalist Christian parents but "found himself" within the neo-Dadaist movement -- the complete opposite of fundamentalism. Shatov was born in Netanya and eventually resided in Tel Aviv, Israel -- an outsider country within the Middle East. So each understands the perspective of the outsider. They bring fresh eyes to a world so wrapped up in itself that it cannot see what it is actually all about. Thus, these two outsiders can criticize what is plain to them -- the sexually awkward mores of their own time. They come from outside the world of convention and upon looking in see that the conventions are hiding something underneath -- that is an unconventional current. Rauschenberg begins the "cock" theme in "Odelisk" and Shochat picks it up again fifty years later, showing how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

In conclusion, these works by Rauschenberg and Shochat reflect one another in terms of motif and ideas. In looking back they are looking forward: the past tells us where we are heading (Weaver, 1984). Both works challenge the viewer to realize this course, this direction. Neither gives any guidance -- only the assessment of the situation, scathing as it may be. Both challenge the…

Sources Used in Documents:

Reference List

Johnson, Paul. Art: A New History. NY: HarperCollins, 2003.

Rauschenberg, R. (1955-58). Odalisk. Comines. Retrieved from

Shochat, T. (2010). Johanan and the Rooster.

Weaver, R. (1984). Ideas Have Consequences. IL: University of Chicago.

Cite this Document:

"Rooster Motif In Modern Art" (2014, December 08) Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

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"Rooster Motif In Modern Art", 08 December 2014, Accessed.18 January. 2022,

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