Self as Subject

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Artworks that take the artist as their subject, often expanding upon the traditional self-portrait's intention to capture the artist's likeness by exposing his or her inner state, body, or minutiae of daily life. The rise of such self-investigation is associated with artists like Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, and Lynda Benglis who emerged in the 1970s, a decade dubbed the "Me Generation" by Tom Wolfe and characterized by The Culture of Narcissism, the title of Christopher Lasch's popular 1979 book. In a seminal essay from 1976, Rosalind Krauss argues that the newly widespread medium of video itself engendered an “Aesthetics of Narcissism,” the essay’s title. As artist Nancy Holt states in one of her video works, "I am surrounded by me," an aesthetic and psychological state Krauss refers to as "self-encapsulation". While some artists indulge this state, others criticize it or use it as a window onto social and political issues. Eleanor Antin’s autobiographical performances in the early '70s incorporated political critiques from a feminist perspective, while Cindy Sherman's serial portraits of herself enacting female clichés offer a critique of gender roles.

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