01. A Song.
02. A Melon.
06. George Harrison.
10. Wish you were here.
12. When things explode.
On March 13, 1964, Catherine "Kitty" Genovese is murdered in Queens, New York. Her assailant attacks her 30 meters from her apartment door and stabs her in the back two times. Kitty screams for help and that she has been stabbed, but to no avail. One neighbour shouts to “let that girl alone”. The attacker flees from the scene, only to return ten minutes later. He searches for his wounded victim until he finds her, barely conscious, in front of the locked door of her apartment building. He stabs her several additional times, rapes the fatally wounded woman and steals $49 from her purse. The attack lasts for half an hour. Investigations by the police reveal that approximately a dozen neighbours heard or observed parts of the attacks, but nobody took action.
Two weeks after the attacks, the New York Times publishes an article with the headline “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”. The public responds with an outcry, shocked by the apathy and callousness of the witnesses. Though exaggerated, the story rises to fame and ignites a fundamental discussion on the pervasive failure to help those in critical need.
Bibb Latané and John Darley term this issue the bystander effect. While we would assume that an increase in witnesses also increases the likelihood of help, in fact the opposite is the case. Individuals within a crowd experience a diffusion of responsibility, expecting “the others” to take actions. As each individual focuses on the group behaviour as a reference, particularly in ambiguous situations, none act on their own. This issue is further facilitated by increased anonymity in a crowd, which drastically reduces perceived moral obligations to intervene. The awful irony is thus, that the more people are present in a critical situation, the less we should expect to get help.
One solution to this problem is to turn the focus back on the individual. Addressing bystanders as individuals (“Hey, you with the black shirt!”) and requesting concrete help (“Call the police!”) brings back a sense of individual responsibility and diminishes anonymity.
One of the most essential aspect of human civilisation is the formation of groups. Yes, you are absolutely right, you totally could beat up that mammoth all by yourself. But wouldn’t it be easier if you were part of a team?
Groups are with no doubt the foundation of our cultural and technological rise. the inevitable consequence of group formation, however, is a distinction into in- and outgroups - groups you belong to and groups you are not a part of. As group affiliation provided essential information on whom to trust and who was most likely to reciprocate assistance, group distinction provided a valuable evolutionary advantage in survival. Nowadays, groups form for a wide variety of reasons, as sports clubs, political parties, those who love star wars and those who are wrong, or peer groups.
Groups give us a sense of identity, they provide safety, support and appreciation. But they do not come without drawbacks. Ingroup favouritism describes a preferred treatment and evaluation of ingroups compared to outgroups and does not even require a reason: The mere categorisation into a group evokes a preference towards it. Contact to an ingroup increases perceived similarity to oneself, and dissimilarity to other groups. Actions of outgroups are attributed to personal factors (“it’s because they’re a bad person”), whereas actions of ingroups are attributed to circumstances (“they had no choice, it was raining”). Perceiving resources to be finite increases intergroup-competition, and outgroups can be considered a threat to personal goals and gains. This in part can explain why some people have reservations regarding refugees, Muslims, homosexuals or others who are perceived as different to oneself and one’s ingroup. But it is not an excuse. It simply highlights how deeply rooted this framework is in our minds, and how important it is to find ways for us to free from these innate distinctions.
You are assigned to a team of ten to develop a new system for.. Frankly, you don’t even know what it’s supposed to do. All you know is that it will take weeks of tedious efforts and most likely will never be implemented anyway. Nobody in your group has a particular task, you are just supposed to throw something together and hand it in it as a group-effort. The conscientious person you are, you go and make yourself a coffee, open up some funny cat videos on your phone and lean back. Someone will surely come up with something presentable.
Social loafing is the tendency to work less when in a group than when working alone. It is the result of several factors that are often ignored when designing tasks. As usual, an increase in group size also increases the diffusion of responsibility. It also means that the individual effort most likely will neither be essential nor noticed. If individual contributions are not considered in the grand scheme of things, why would the individual care to work hard? The result is a large group of individuals who each rely on “the others” to fix up the task, and a tremendous decrease in productivity.
The key to maximising group efforts is thus to 1. keep groups small, 2. make tasks meaningful and 3. individual contributions identifiable and accountable, and 4. convey that individual efforts matter.
The Köhler effect describes the opposite of social loafing: An individual works harder in a group than alone. It is based on 1. an upwards comparison to group members that perform better than the individual, and 2. the dependency of the group on each member. A classic example describes a mountain-climbing team connected by a rope. The team can only climb as fast as their least proficient member. The weakest member, aware of this, will try harder than they might when climbing alone. The effect is increased if the group can monitor individual efforts and works in close proximity. It also increases when the superior comparison is a member of an outgroup. Interestingly, a less-capable man will work harder when teamed with a superior woman than with a superior man.
In 1971, Philip Zimbardo conducts an experiment on depersonalisation and deindividuation at Stanford university. 24 psychologically stable and healthy middle class men are assigned to take on the roles of prisoner or guard over the course of 2 weeks in a fake prison in the psychology building’s basement.
On the second day, the prisoners revolt. The guards subdue them with fire extinguishers and punish them by taking away their beds, clothes and access to toilets. Prisoners have to defecate and urinate in buckets, which soon makes the entire basement smell of faeces. After three days, one prisoner exhibits such extreme stress reactions that he has to be released. One third of the guards exhibit genuine sadistic tendencies, especially at night when they assumed the security cameras to be offline. Four prisoners suffer from a nervous breakdown, one exhibits severe psychosomatic stress symptoms, the others become fully submissive to the guards to avoid punishment. The now famous Stanford Prison experiment is aborted after only six days.
Deindividuation describes the loss of self awareness and individual accountability in a group. It is the result of individuals within a group creating a collective mind that replaces the individual, shifts attention towards the group, and decreases the salience of personal identity. Through this reduced self-awareness, individuals no longer observe and evaluate themselves and neither act in line with their personal beliefs and values but base their actions on the group imperative. This is facilitated, again, by anonymity, which causes a diffusion of responsibility, less concern with evaluation by others, and less internal inhibition. Behaviour can become more impulsive, emotional, irrational and even anti-social. For this very reason, armies wear uniforms. They facilitate deindividuation by stripping away personality and attached norms and values, while simultaneously increasing group identification and anonymity within the group, making it easier to follow orders and less likely to question actions.
On the 15th of April 1961, eight CIA-bombers set out to destroy the entire Cuban Airforce. On the 17 of April, 1500 CIA-funded and trained counter-revolutionary cuban-exile paramilitaries invade the Bay of Pigs to spark a revolution and overthrow the increasingly communist government of Fidel Castro. They are greeted by a militia of over 200.000 men. On the 20th of April, all paramilitaries are either dead or captured. Following the coup, Cuba strengthens their ties to the Soviet Union, culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis that almost annihilated the entire human civilisation as we know it. If Hannibal Smith loved it when a plan comes together, this would be his worst nightmare.
The Bay of Pigs fiasco is the result of an interplay of both group think and Abilene paradox.
The term groupthink describes a psychological phenomenon within a group that strives for conformity and consensus at all costs and thus results in irrational and oftentimes terrible decision making. Flaws, alternatives, criticism and conflict are suppressed and outside influence blocked.
Consequently, the group believes to be in total agreement, morally and rationally right in their actions and invulnerable in their doing. The group even establishes so-called mindguards that protect group and leader from opposing information. As no arguments against arise, the group heads right into their doom.
The Abilene paradox takes this issue a step further. It describes a situation in which each member opposed what they believe to be the group consensus but nobody speaks up and thus the false consensus remains in place.
Much information indicated that the CIA operation was known to be doomed to fail and several officials considered the approach dangerous. Yet, no critical evidence was considered, instead the group considered the plan infallible and proceeded, infatuated by a sense of false invulnerability. Following the incident, President Kennedy changed the entire decision-making process of his staff. Informal settings, devil’s advocates and emphasis on counter-arguments were established and criticism explicitly demanded.
You participate in a study on memory and learning at the Yale University. On your arrival, you are randomly assigned to the role of a teacher, another participant becomes the learner. Your task is to teach a list of word pairs to the learner and subsequently test if they can remember the pairs correctly. If the answer is right, you proceed with the next pair, if the answer is wrong, you are to administer an electric shock to the learner. The voltage increases by 15 volt with each wrong answer. The learner is placed in a different room, but after a number of voltage-level increases, you start to hear sounds. He bangs against the wall, complains about his heart condition, and ultimately screams of pain. You ask to stop the experiment, but the experimenter tells you to continue. He assures you that you will not be held responsible. He says that the experiment requires that you continue. That it is essential that you continue. That you have no choice but to continue. The volts rise with every mistake. On the display, 300 volts is labeled “Danger!”. You continue. The maximum, 450 volts, is labeled “XXX”. You continue.
Prior to the experiment, a survey asks Yale psychology majors and teachers to predict the outcome of the experiment. The respondents believe only a small fraction of teachers to inflict the maximum voltage.
The results show otherwise. 2/3 of the participants administered a potentially fatal electric shock when urged to do so.
The Milgram experiment investigated the willingness of participants to perform actions that are not reconcilable with their conscience but are encouraged by authority figures. The experiment was set to find an explanation for the crimes against humanity in Nazi Germany. The learner was an actor who was not harmed in any way.
To the researcher’s surprise, most participants were willing to obey orders, even when they apparently caused serious pain and peril to the learner.
The controversial findings suggest that obedience to authority is deeply embedded in all of us and can cause ordinary people to commit actions they would firmly reject under different circumstances.
What creates intergroup conflict? How does prejudice develop? Muzafer Sherif proposed the essence of group conflict to be a competition for limited resources. To test his theory, he went to summer camp.
In the now famous Robber’s Cave study, 22 twelve years old boys were randomly assigned to one of two groups and spent their time separately on two campsites. Their group-identity was strengthened and they developed their own group norms and activities and gave their group a name - the Rattlers and the Eagles.
Next, the existence of the other group was revealed to each group respectively. They competed with each other in several activities and received prices if they succeeded. The loser got nothing.
The conflict between the Rattlers and Eagles increased more and more. Verbal threats were followed by burning the Rattler’s flag, which was answered by ravaging the Eagle’s cabin. The well-adjusted middle-class boys had established firm in- and outgroups and faced each other with hostile rivalry.
It is easy to discard the boy’s quarrel as child’s play. Yet, much of our world is built on the premise that one man’s loss is another man’s gain. The realistic group conflict theory proposes that resources such as money, political power or social status can be seen as limited and groups will compete over their acquisition. Depending on the value and shortage, the conflict may escalate tremendously.
A solution is provided by Gordon Allport. The Contact hypothesis describes how to effectively improve intergroup-relations following conflict and prejudice. The hypothesis states that the interaction with the opposite group and effective communication enables both groups to understand and appreciate each other’s point of view and thus resolve conflict. Key elements for this interaction to be successful are:
1. Equal status of both groups
2. Common superordinate goals
3. Cooperation between both groups
4. Approval of authorities
5. Personal interaction
It is Monday morning and you are late for work. The street is empty and nobody is looking - so you cross the street, ignoring the red light. On the elevator you meet your coworker. He still has toothpaste in the corners of his mouth. What a slag!
The fundamental attribution error suggests that our evaluation of actions is biased: While we explain our own behaviour in situational terms, we consider the behaviour of others to be the result of dispositional features. While our lateness to work was due to traffic, our co-worker is just lazy. While we forgot the birthday of a friend because we were on vacation, everyone else is just a bad person.
The group-serving bias extends this model to in- and outgroups: If friends, family or co-workers fail, we attribute this failure to external events, if they succeed, it is due to their personal qualities. Outgroups, on the other hand, i.e. another clique or the opponent in a football match, are judged the other way around. Failure is due to disposition, success the mere result of a situational advantage.
You walk down the narrow passage of a moroccan bazar. You smell the spices, the smoke. There, on a table with a ruby-red cloth, lies the object of your desire, an ancient artefact that tells the tales of the past.
How much, you ask. 200, he says. You have no idea what it’s worth, but 200 seems a lot. No way, you answer. 150! He pauses. 180, he says. 160, you respond. He accepts. You smile. You are a master of bargain.
And also a casualty of anchoring.
The anchoring heuristic is well known amongst car salesmen and advertising experts. It describes the insufficient adjustment from a prior given value, such as the price of a car. The initial price tag for the car may be 15.000€. The salesman then negotiates with the customer until an agreement is reached for 13.000€. Actually, the car is worth only 10.000€. But the customer, unaware of the exact price, is influenced by the anchor - the initial price tag - and thus assumes it to be worth more than it actually is.
Anchors decrease our ability to adjust from these initial values. We might knock down the price a bit, but not as much as we would have without that initial offer.
The effect works for all kinds of values. Every time we are in need for an estimate, we take any hint we can get, even if it comes from a source that is most likely biased. The only antidote is knowing the actual value.
Why do you draw? Or knit? Or cook? Why do pay your bills, brush your teeth, or eat broccoli?
Motivation has many facets. Two primary motives are extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation lies in the pursuit of reward or the avoidance of punishment. It means working harder to get a raise, doing homework to pass a class, working out to look great. Our daily life is filled with extrinsic motivation. Whether it’s getting up early, bringing out the garbage or ironing shirts, the motivation is boiled down to a gain/lose-dichotomy.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It is the motivation to do things for their own sake. It is the backbone of personal interests, goals and ambitions. And it is difficult to reach. While eating chocolate may be personally rewarding, it is much harder to evoke intrinsic motivation in a workout.
There is nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation per se. The promise of rewards can introduce interest in previously uncharted territories. However, the introduction of rewards also establishes a dependency on such and further rewards are needed or the motivation diminishes. This can even affect intrinsic motivation: Both forms of motivation are mutually exclusive, thus a shift towards one inevitably diminishes the other.
The theory of cognitive dissonance describes a state in which attitudes and/or behaviour are in contradiction to each other. What sounds confusing at first is actually the very reason for why you still smoke despite knowing that it’s bad for you, for why you have a good reason not to eat less fast food and for why you never liked your ex girlfriend anyway.
A dissonance – the smoking habit that is pleasurable on the one hand but on the other hand might kill you – leads to anxiety and negative feelings.
A way to alleviate these feelings would be to change the behaviour – and quit smoking. But maybe you don’t want to change your behaviour. Or maybe you can’t. Another way to relieve yourself from the dissonance is thus to change the discrepancy itself. Behaviours and attitudes can be rationalised or trivialised. It’s not that bad after all. You’re still eating vegetables, after all! There are worse things out there, after all!
We have an inherent need for order and predictability. We need to be able to explain the world around us and the actions that take place in our life and that of others. We need to know that everything happens for a reason.
Sometimes, however, bad things happen. Things that are hard to explain and even less so can be justified by our concept of how the world works. The just world hypothesis describes the bias that can occur in these situations. We assume that every person gets what they deserve. And if something bad happens, then it is because that person deserved it.
This bias has tremendous consequences. An accident, an assault, anything that even outsiders can hardly bear, is explained by presumptions and thus diminished. We assume that the driver must have been drunk, that the guy must have provoked it, or that it was not as bad as it sounds. We diminish what happened or even blame the victim for our own sake. This leaves us with a still intact world. But it may shatter the world of others.
Psychology is everywhere. It's in your head, your shoes, your breakfast cereals.
Psychology is what drives every human being, every interaction, every thought and feeling. It is why you never forget your first kiss but always the essential stuff when you go to the supermarket. It is why you go to IKEA to buy two cups and a lamp and leave with a whole new bedroom. Psychology is you promising yourself to work out more and smoke less this year and it is also you having a very good reason right now for why you didn't. It is why you care for your friends in hard times. Why you fall in love even when it hurts. It's why you smile when you see a cute cat video, why you crave burgers at 3 a.m. and why you are hopelessly in love with Emma Watson.
The Universe of Psychology is an endeavour to grasp a few of these ideas. It is a collection of theories, anecdotes and insights, to better understand ourselves and the world around us.
The big five personality traits are composed of Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, often abbreviated by the acronym OCEAN. Each trait is correlated with certain personality attributes.
Openness to experience: Appreciates novelty, adventure and variety.
Conscientiousness: Is organised, dependable, disciplined, dutiful and achievement-oriented.
Extraversion: Outgoing, excitable, assertive, social and stimulated others.
Agreeableness: Is friendly, compassionate, cooperative, helpful, trusting.
Neuroticism: Sensitive, nervous, prone to unpleasant emotions, such as anxiety, depression, anger.
Individuals are described on dimensions from low to high in each trait.
Sigmund Freud structured the human personality in three parts: The Ego, which is the conscious and psychological component, the Id, the subconscious and biological component, and the Superego, the social component.
Much of the restless conflict between the three different parts happens without our awareness. The Id, focused on instinct and pleasure, and the Superego, representing the moral and social imperatives, are rarely in agreement. The Ego's task is to mediate between the two, bringing balance to intrinsic needs and social responsibility.
To consider Freud's theories controversial might be an understatement. Much of his work has been criticised, advanced and discarded, infuriating his followers and relieving his opponents. And yet, his ideas remain important today.
Abraham Maslow proposed the hierarchy of needs in 1943 as an approach towards the ideal being. The most fundamental physiological need of survival provides the foundation for any further steps. Only if the current need is fulfilled, one will strive to complete the next step on the ladder to self-actualisation, the theory’s ultimate goal.
Research indeed indicates universal human needs but the content of those needs is highly debated. Maslow also does not account for collectivistic cultures, which emphasise the need for belonging far beyond the need for self-actualisation. To this date Maslow’s theory inspires a great many people. Yet, it also should be taken with a great many grains of salt.
The attachment theory is an endeavour to describe the foundation of interpersonal relationships. At the core of each of the four relationship styles is the matter of trust in the caregiver and the self. The theory considers it crucial for later social and emotional development that infants develop a healthy relationship with a caregiver at a very early age.
A caregiver can be a mother, a father, a nanny, anyone who acts as a primary caregiver to the child. Caregivers provide a safe base for children which they can rely on as they explore the world around them. Parental interactions with their children are seldom flawless. It is natural and inevitable that they do not always meet the current expectations of their child. They might be working, on the phone or simply not sure what the child wants. What matters is not that parents never make mistakes, but that they care for their child with an unexceptional warmth and empathy and make it feel save. Consistently responding to the child’s needs leads to more secure attachments, whereas as a frequent lack of consistency or even disregard can damage the parent-child relationship and impact later development.
Secure: The infant has formed a secure attachment to its caregiver and knows it can rely on them. It thus can explore freely in their presence, even engage with strangers, cries on the caregiver’s departure but rejoices on their return.
Resistant: The infant is uncertain about the relationship to the caregiver. At time the caregiver is caring and loving, at other times insensitive and neglectful. The infant can't trust the caregiver but at the same time is desperate for their love.
Avoidant: The infant has learned that its caregiver does not respond to its needs and it needs to rely on itself. It avoids or ignores the caregiver, shows little regard for their departure or return. It becomes independent but distant.
Disorganised: The infant has a fearful, disruptive relationship to the caregiver, it seeks safety but is scared of the unsafe base they provide. Its emotions and behaviour are ambivalent, contradictory, odd and misdirected.
Based on the work of Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna further developed the idea of defence mechanisms. These proposed unconscious processes shield us from unpleasant memories or inappropriate drives and urges, which can lead to feelings of anxiety or guilt and an inner conflict. As the Id and the Superego clash, the Ego needs to balance urges and norms in an adequate way. The Id’s response to a conflict, for instance, may be to attack, but social norms condemn such actions. The ego thus has to redirect the urge.
However, memories and urges are not eliminated, but banished to the unconscious, from where they still impact our behaviour. There are several different defence mechanisms, each with their own particular function and effect.
Repression: Disturbing and threatening thoughts are repressed to keep them from entering the conscious mind. However, the repressed content remains influential from the depths of the unconscious and, ultimately, leads to anxiety.
Projection: Own negative thoughts, feelings and qualities are projected on another person. The individual’s deficits or oddities are thus trivialised, as others are thought to display the same features.
Denial: The individual refuses to acknowledge a threat. Smokers may deny the consequences to their health, a fearful patient may reject a threatening diagnosis.
Identification: By identifying with an aggressor, the individual conquers their fear by becoming more like who or what they fear. An example is the Stockholm Syndrome.
Displacement: An emotion or impulse is shifted from one target onto a (weaker) substitute target. A person may shout at their kids instead of their boss after a bad day at work, as they are a less likely to retort.
Sublimation: Destructive impulses are channelled into constructive, admirable actions. A depression is turned into a love song, aggression relieved through sports.
Rationalisation: Distorting the facts to justify wrong actions, i.e. by stating that everyone else would act the same way or that it was the “logical” thing to do.
Reaction formation: Emphasising the opposite of one’s desired actions. Love turns into hate, shame into disgust. The classic example is the homophobe who actually has homosexual desires himself.
*Cooking art details the life and work of the greatest artists of the 20th century. It provides the reader with both biographical details and visual representations of the artist's style, wrapped in crucial culinary instructions for an amazing meal that is both tasty and a clever way to avoid copyright infringement.
*Ingredients: 300g chicken, 500g canned tomatoes, 1 onion, 1 lemon, 1 cup yoghurt, 250 ml cream, 3 tbs butter, chili, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp garlic, salt, 1 1/2 tbs tandoori masala, 2 tsp cardamom, 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 2 cloves, 1 tbs garam masala, 1 tbs honey.
Marinade: Combine chicken with lemon, salt, chili, yoghurt, ginger, garlic, tandoori. Leave for 1-12 hours.
Keith Haring is born on may 4th, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania. He grows up in Kutztown, a small, old-established ivory tower of a town, detached from the seething novelties of the progressive hubs.
His father Allen, an engineer, also is an amateur cartoonist. He draws for Keith, and introduces him to Disney and Dr. Seuss. Already at that early age, Keith falls in love with drawing.
In 1976, Haring graduates from high school. He is still in love with art but as so many others, his parents are scared of him living the live of a breadless artist and beg him to study commercial art. He enrols in the School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh. It takes him less than six months to realise that he wants everything but to become a commercial artist.
“The people i met who were doing it seemed really unhappy; they said that they were only doing it for a job while they did their own art on the side, but in reality that was never the case- their own art was lost. i quit the school.”
Seeing Pierre Alechinskys’s retrospective at the Carnegie Museum of Art displaying both a vaguely similar style to his own and the potential for its success, Haring experiences a boost in confidence and the affirmation to risk it all. He is inspired by the late work of Jean Dubuffet and Alechinsky but wants to transport the style of the latter into much bigger shapes and patterns of ink that are completely spontaneous and independent.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Running Fence, a veiled fence that stretches 40km across the hills of Sonoma and Marin in northern California, further underlines his belief that art should reach and be accessible to everyone, not just the small elite of the art world.
When an exhibition at the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center is canceled last-minute, Haring gets the spot. At the age of only 19, he shows at the best place in Pittsburgh besides museums. But his world is already too small. Beginning his first relationships with men and feeling the limitedness of his environment, he decides to break out.
New York is the only option.
Sauce: Melt butter, add cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, onion, chili, tomatoes. Cook for 20min on medium-low heat.
1978, Haring moves to New York and enrols in the School od Visual Arts. He Finds a thriving art community that has developed as an alternative to galleries and museums and blooms in the streets, subways, clubs and former dance halls. The boy from Kutztown dives into the multicultural urban world of New York City and emerges in an entirely new environment that both inspires and shapes him. The east village gifts him the freedom to uninhibitedly explore a vibrant social world of likeminded creatives and his gay identity.
He befriends Kenny Scharf and Jean-Michel Basquiat and finds himself in the midst of musicians, performance artists, graffiti writers. He organises and participates in performances and exhibitions at the Club 57, experimenting with videos, installations and collages. But the fast, spontaneous art of graffiti writing most perfectly fits his awe and aim for channelling all his impulses into the bold expression of a line. He admires the creative and authentic street work of graffiti writers with their technical mastery and calligraphic style.
In 1980, he finds his entry to their world as he sees a blank black advertisement poster on a subway station.
“One day, riding the subway, I saw this empty black panel where an advertisement was supposed to go. I immediately realised that this was the perfect place to draw. I went back above ground to a card shop and bought a box of white chalk, went back down and did a drawing on it. It was perfect–soft black paper; chalk drew on it really easily.”
The blank posters, placeholders soon to be covered up by new advertisements, are everywhere in the city. And as Haring sets out to conquer them all for their finite time of availability, he develops the distinct style that will make him famous.
To Haring, the subway drawings are both drawing and performance. He draws in front of people, both those that despise his vandalism and those that stand in awe and watch him create. He thrives on the interactions and reactions and is fuelled and excited by the feedback, criticism, interest and resentment from such a broad variety of people that ride the subway – old and young, rich and poor, from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of minds.
Between 1980 and 1985, Haring creates thousands of public drawings, up to forty drawings a day. His style is shaped by speed, simplicity and rhythmic lines and soon becomes famous to New York commuters.
The subway serves as his laboratory, exploring and refining techniques and ideas and narrowing down his style to art that is perceived and understood in the blink of an eye but shaped into entirely different interpretations by each individual beholder.
The simplicity of the lines does not replace but enhance the depth and distinction of their meaning to the audience.
The Subway drawings are followed by a rising international recognition throughout the 80s. In 1981, he has his first Solo Exhibition in New York at the Westbeth Painter Space. In 1982, the Tony Shafrazi Gallery follows with his first gallery debut with tremendous response.
He creates drawings, painted tarpaulins, sculptures and on-site work. He transforms the entire space into a club-like environment. International exhibitions follow at the Documenta 7, the Sao Paulo Biennal, the Whitney Biennal. Haring designs for the Spectacolor Billboard on Times Square, Coca-Cola, Swatch, creates advertising campaigns for Absolut Vodka, paints Murals around the world.
His incredible success brings an infinite extent of money and opportunities but also new issues. By 1984, his subway drawings are stolen within hours of their creation and sold on the art market. A single painting he would create in just a few hours sells for tens of thousands of dollars.
But his rise to fame does not stop his artistic ecstasy, it only increases his reach.
“I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art."
The 1986 opening of the “Pop Shop”, a retail store in Soho that sells t-shirts, toys, posters, buttons and other merchandising bearing his images is both criticised and celebrated. The entire interior is painted by Haring as a black on white abstract mural. The low prices make his art accessible to almost everyone and are met with incomprehension, shock and anger by the art world.
“My work was starting to become more expensive and more popular within the art market. Those prices meant that only people who could afford big art prices could have access to the work.
The Pop Shop makes it accessible.”
Him circumventing the art critics and going straight to the public, making his work available to as wide of an audience as possible, is the exact opposite of how the art market works and demands to work. Haring creating a massive amount of artworks basically “for free” is the ultimate suicide for an artist's value. Asked for autographs, he doesn’t just sign, he draws, for every fan. While the art world condemns his move, his friends, fans and mentors, including Andy Warhol, praise him and give him the strength and confidence to persist.
Finish: Add chicken (with yoghurt) and cream, cook till chicken is done.
Serve with rice, naan and love.
“i suppose even just from the time of when i was a little kid i had this tremendous guilt about, you know, from learning of all the things that white people had done”
“i felt a much closer affinity to culture and people of color than i did to white culture."
In the mid-80s, Haring uses his work increasingly to highlight socio-political issues. He designs the Free South Africa poster in 1985 and paints the Berlin Wall in 1986. He creates more than 50 public artworks between 1982 and 1989 all over the world, for charities, hospitals, children’s day care centres and orphanages. He fights for AIDS awareness and the crack cocaine epidemic with his world famous CRACK IS WACK mural along New York’s FDR drive. For the 100th anniversary of the statue of liberty in 1986, he creates a mural with over 900 children, he gives workshops for children in schools and museums all over the world and provides imagery for literacy programs and a variety of other public service campaigns.
“Thats one reason why i really like working with children more than anything else, because they still really have that freedom and that imagination to just .. to just do it.”
“I like the idea of things lasting longer than you last and.. being somewhere where lots of people can see them for a long time”
While giving rise to an environment that enabled Haring to pursue his uninhibited creative identity, the 80s also give rise to AIDS. Haring watches his friends die of the disease and is deeply troubled by the experience. Knowing his own risk of being infected, he avoids the diagnosis for years, yet he is very aware of his inevitable fate.
"I'm scared of having to watch more people die in front of me ... I refuse to die like that.
If the time comes, I think suicide is much more dignified and much easier on friends and loved ones. Nobody deserves to watch this kind of slow death."
In 1987, Haring becomes aware of the symptoms. In 1988 he is diagnosed. Knowing his days are numbered, he works even harder, to “do as much as possible as quickly as possible” before the end. His themes shift towards the male sexuality, wit the symbol of the horned sperm often regarded as a symbol of the virus. While the public considers aids the “gay cancer” or a “divine punishment”, Haring addresses the discrimination and oppression of those that suffer. His work gives the affected a voice and the deadly disease a shape.
In 1989, he establishes the Keith Haring Foundation with the goal to provide funding and imagery to aids organisations and children’s programs and spread his work to a wider audience.
What makes an artist great? What is it that elevates a piece of art from the ocean of artwork to the apex of artistry, that burns so deep into both the memory and the heart of its viewer that but a single glance can evoke awe and admiration? Is it the stroke? The colours? The immense force both expressed and evoked by compositions so unique, so fascinating, disturbing, inspiring?
Honestly? I don’t know. It is like falling in love. There are many explanations but none that do it justice. If someone steals your heart, there are no good or bad reasons.
You can’t explain. You just know.
The man who unwittingly nullified Warhol’s style and caused him to reinvent himself with the help of a bunch of soup cans, Roy Lichtenstein was born in 1923 to a real estate broker and a trained pianist turned homemaker. His idols were Rembrandt, Daumier and Picasso and his inspiration his mother, who would introduce him to the New York art world and his love for Jazz.
His impact on the art world stretched far beyond the genius of Andy Warhol. Roy Lichtenstein has to a big part defined the idea of pop art, he has established a style as distinctive as it is enticing, and inspired generations of artists, designers, illustrators and pop culture itself.
Lichtenstein disputed the idea that one person’s drawing “was considered brilliant, and somebody’s else’s, that may have looked better to you, was considered nothing by almost everyone.” His most famous pop paintings of the 1960s were the result of choosing the “dumbest” and “worst” items he could find, and to “alter and improve” them. It was a time at which commercial art was despised and rejected by the art world. Abstract Expressionism dominated the scene and the trivial was dismissed. Lichtenstein found his fascination in the scraps of the status quo.
He studied Fine Arts at the Ohio State University. To pacify his parent’s fear of him becoming a breadless artist, he enrolled for a lectureship degree. Drafted in 1943, Lichtenstein fought in France, Belgium and Germany. He enrolled at the Sorbonne but returned home in 1946 when his father fell sick. Milton Lichtenstein died shortly after. Roy became an art instructor.
1951, Lichtenstein moved to Cleveland. He worked as an interior decorator, industrial draftsman, furniture designer, window dresser. The same year he had his first solo exhibition in New York. His style fluctuated between Cubism and Expressionism. 1954 and 1956 his sons David Hoyt (named after his most influential teacher) and Mitchell were born.
In 1957, to increase his proximity to New York, he worked as an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, teaching Industrial Design. However, Oswego turned out to be even more isolated than Cleveland. His style changed towards Abstract Expressionism.
1960 he accepted a position at Rutgers University. The closeness to New York museums and Allan Kaprow, who also taught there, influenced Lichtenstein heavily in the development of his style. He returned to proto-pop imagery and in 1961 used cartoon images and techniques combined with commercial printing techniques.
One day, Lichtenstein still on a quest to find his personal style, one of his sons challenged him as a painter. He showed him a Mickey Mouse comic book, asking if he could paint as good as that. His iconic work Look Mickey (1961) was one of the first to commence the art style that would make him famous.
Initially, he had little interest in continuing this new found style. But something would draw him back to it. “I couldn’t do any other kind of painting. […] Everything I did just looked like mush. And this thing kept looking at me.”
Having struck a chord, Lichtenstein further developed the comic strip style, producing six more paintings with pop culture characters from gum wrappers and cartoons. In the same year, Leo Castelli displayed his work at his gallery.
In 1962 Lichtenstein had is first solo show. All his work was sold already before the opening. 1963 he took a leave of absence from teaching and in 64 he resigned for good. His style swiftly developed from the rudimentary paintings of Look Mickey (1961) to a much more refined style as seen in The Ring (Engagement) (1961) and Drowning Girl (1963). In 1963, he produced his most prominent work, Whaam!. By 1963, Lichtenstein was a critical and commercial success. He was showcased in museums and galleries, grouped with Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol and Rosenquist, overthrowing the status quo and redefining the idea of originality, fine art and entertainment.
Despite his appropriations, there is a remarkable similarity between Roy Lichtenstein’s work and the templates he used. Lichtenstein considered his approach an examination of mass media and pop culture, elevating mundane everyday objects to an artistic meta level. His originality was questioned throughout his rise to fame, with Life Magazine calling him “the worst artist in the U.S.”. Lichtenstein considered the closeness to the original not a flaw but an intense critic of its content.
He “entirely transformed [his work] in that my purpose and perception are entirely different. I think my paintings are critically transformed, but it would be difficult to prove it by any rational line of argument.”
“I am nominally copying, but I am really restating the copied thing in other terms. […] The original acquires a totally different texture.”
Lichtenstein did not credit the original artists. He did not pay them royalties, he did not ask them for permission to use their work.
In his comic strip Bottle of Wine, artist Russ Heath (DC Comics) discusses Lichtenstein “reinterpreting” his work for the paintings Blam (1962) and Brattata (1962). While Lichtenstein made millions, Heath got nothing. His resentment was shared by many colleagues that fell prey to Lichtenstein’s transformation. William Overgard, who, to his surprise, had provided the template for I Can See The Whole Room!… And There’s Nobody In It! (1961), was actually flattered by Lichtenstein’s copy. The piece would later sell for over 40 million dollars.
Most vocal, comic book artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) described Lichtenstein as a copycat, comparing the issue to the music industry, which would never have allowed this uncredited appropriation, questioning the unconditional veneration of contemporary art critics for the work of Roy Lichtenstein. Certainly, comic artists have a different idea of the man who transformed comic art into popular art.
It is ironic that, when entering the official Roy Lichtenstein Foundation’s database, one is greeted with the explicit warning that any images “may not be reproduced, downloaded or modified in any form without the express written permission of the Estate of Roy Lichtenstein”.
In 1964 Lichtenstein experimented with sculptures, with a ceramicist providing the bust made of clay and Lichtenstein painting them in his distinctive graphic style. 1965, Lichtenstein discontinued his approach of appropriation. He stopped copying comic book panels and created his Modern paintings and Modern Sculptures series, a strong departure from the previous realistic comic style towards a more abstract array of elements. 1965 also commenced the Brushstrokes series. Lichtenstein reduced the painting to the brushstroke itself, depicting expressive strokes in his iconic comic style with bold colours and thick outlines. The tool of the artist became the subject itself.
With Three Landscapes, Lichtenstein shortly ventured into the medium of film in 1970.
In the same year, he bought a house in Southampton where he would spend the greater part of the 70s in seclusion.
Lichtenstein advanced more into the abstract, reigniting his roots in Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, with surreal paintings such as Pow Wow (1979), and sculptures like Amerind Figure (1981).
Lichtenstein explored still life paintings from 72 to the early 80s and reused his own paintings in his Reflection series, which depicted his comic imagery of the early 60s painted in frames and glass cover, with the painted reflection of the glass obscuring and deconstructing the image itself. His 1996 highly stylised Chinese landscapes made heavy use of the Ben-Day dots that would shape the landscape without any of the distinctive outlines he had used in previous work.
In addition to comic panels, Lichtenstein repeatedly reinterpreted existing artwork throughout the years of his craft. Woman with Flowered Hat (1963) was based on Pablo Picassos Dora Maar, the series Girl with Tear (1977) followed the surrealistic movement around Salvador Dalí. Nonobjective II (1964) borrowed from Mondrian, The Artist’s Studio: The Dance (1974) framed Matisse in a new perspective. Portrait of Madame Cezanne (1962) copied Erle Loran’s diagram of Paul Cézanne’s Portrait of Madame Cézanne and earned him a lawsuit by Loran.
Roy Lichtenstein was hospitalised at the New York University Medical centre in 1997. On September 29th, he died of pneumonia at the age of 73.
Look Mickey (1961) (Reference)
I Can See the Whole Room and There's Nobody in it... (1961) (Reference)
Girl with ball (1961)
The Ring (Engagement) (1962)
Woman with Flowered Hat (1963) (Reference)
Drowning Girl (1963)
In the car (1963)
Torpedo ... Los! (1963)
Whaam! (1963) (Reference)
Head of Girl (1964)
Nonobjective II (1964) (Reference)
Oh, Jeff ... I Love You, Too ... But ... (1964)
Head with red shadow (1965)
Big Painting VI (1965)
Modern painting I (1966)
Modern Sculpture (1967)
Pow Wow (1979)
the white tree (1980)
Dr Waldmann (1980)
Amerind Figure (1981)
Still life (70s-90s)
Reflection on Girl (1990)
Landscape with Scholar's Rock (1997)
Roy Lichtenstein (1991) Documentary
Roy Lichtenstein: Diagram of an artist (Tate)
Roy Lichtenstein Biography
Warhol on Lichtenstein
An Artist's "original" provokes questions
The Principality of Lichtenstein
Russ Heath's comic about being ripped off
Deconstructing Lichtenstein: Source comics revealed and credited
I asked friends to think of the one thing in life that makes them happy.
“My little brother”
A thank you..
to Chris, Eddie, Edwina, Ekta, Faya, Laura, Leah, Leonie, Peter and Tjorven,
I asked friends to think of the one thing in life that makes them happy.
The one thing, that one feeling, that one person that fulfils them,
that makes them smile, every time, with all their heart.
Here is what they thought of.
“My little brother”
to Chris, Eddie, Edwina, Ekta, Faya, Laura, Leah, Leonie, Peter and Tjorven,
for your trust, your patience and for smiling as bright as the sun!