Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Illustration & Visual Culture
Since the rise of consumer culture in the late 19th century, Americans have had a complicated relationship with decorative objects, the idea of taste, and the cycle of trends within our classist society. This essay examines some of the decorative objects in my childhood home such as patterned wallpaper and an antique chair as well as a contemporary brand name mascara. While these objects do not have major functional properties, their decoration and superficiality bring me joy. To better understand my appreciation of decoration and aesthetics, I assess how an object or fashion is considered in good or bad taste. While we inherit ideas of taste from our personal cultures and families, we can also be influenced by taste makers—politicians, celebrities, artists, designers, curators, and even social media influencers who have the power to shape, change, or wholly subvert established tastes. Those who can cleverly subvert the establishment by performing with an exaggerated ironic humor exist in the realm of camp.
Camp is constantly responding to changing tastes and trends with a proverbial high-heeled foot on both sides of the fence. The essay considers high-profile camp figures such as Warhol and Madonna, focusing on the performative quality of their camp aesthetics. My research shows that taste-makers can subvert or overturn trends and that camp and superficiality can bring not only comfort, but also empower individuals. Ultimately, I argue that taste should be determined solely by the individual and separated from popularized trends and social class. We have the power to consume what we please even if it is decorative or superficial—a value reflected in my own art.
Ohl, Jillian, "SuperFicial: An Exploration of Decoration, Fashion, Taste, Camp, and Trends" (2022). MFA in Illustration & Visual Culture. 3.