How the Pictures Generation Challenged the concept of Originality and Authenticity

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In the era of social media, it seems that every content and image we see is constructed, showing a mix of cultural tropes, pushing people to consume products and, nowadays, content. While the rise of social media such as BeReal is going against the grain by promoting an authentic sharing of life without fake settings, this sentiment is not new, even before the success of social media.

Specifically, a loose group of artists grew disillusioned with the political and social changes of the '70s, and the counterculture movements of the time, which became inglobated into commercialization and consumption; it was the so-called "Pictures Generation."

This young group of artists took inspiration from the world of advertising and the consumerist culture of the US. They showed a critical analysis and view of US culture, demonstrating the dominance of consumerism in the population. This started a process of cultural and social criticism of these tropes, a shared sentiment in the younger generation of the time, saturated by mass media.

These artists weren't just a group of anti-consumerist who challenged consumerism in the western world; they were young people who grew up in that environment, always surrounded by pop culture, music, movies, television, and magazines, so they were themselves consumerists, but, developed a critical view of this phenomenon.

These artists were deeply influenced by cultural critics philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Julia Kristeva, with their most significant influence being the 1967 essay "The Death of the Author" by french philosopher Roland Barthes.

In this essay, Barthes explains how any communication, text, or image doesn't have a fixed meaning but is always influenced by the reader or viewer's interpretation of the work, which derives from an infinite mix of references, cultural symbolism, and hidden characteristics.
This argument deeply questions originality and authenticity and, in a way, how artist work and conceptualize their art.

The name "Pictures Generation" comes from a 1977 exhibition held at Artist's Space in New York, featuring the work of Troy Brauntuch, Jack Goldstein, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo, and Philip Smith. Still, the loose group continued to grow with many artists that, even if not featured in the original exhibition, became part of this group, such as the legendary John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Richard Prince, and many others.

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