One Hundred Live And Die Analysis

Great Essays
Bruce Nauman’s One Hundred Live and Die, 1984, is an intricate piece combining the world of high art and the low art of advertisement using word play. It is a work containing one hundred words, fifty with “live” following them and fifty with “die,” in neon lights that light up individually, in rows, and then all together, creating visual patterns. The word combinations include actions, emotions, and colors. One Hundred Live and Die uses the game of language to leave the meaning of the work open for interpretation from the viewers and allows room for conversation. One Hundred Live and Die is a large wall installation that is 118 x 132 1/4 x 21 inches, consisting of neon tubing mounted on four metal monoliths. The intense neon words make it …show more content…
While there is no official definition, low art is known to be part of popular culture and can be easily understood. This particular piece shares similarities with the look of commercial neon signs, like those hanging in storefront windows or restaurants announcing when they are open or closed. In this way, it references low art that can be seen as flashy or cheap. It contains elements of the lower forms of art while also belonging to the realm of high art. One reason it can be classified as high art is because the meaning of the work is not immediately apparent, and it is more thought-provoking than an advertisement or a typical neon sign. Viewers may be caught by surprise when seeing bold words in neon while visiting gallery exhibitions, but the striking first impression brings more attention to the piece. Bruce Nauman’s work received harsh criticism from reviewers like Arthur C. Danto, an American art critic who did not approve of the “‘smartass’ word games” used throughout the exhibition. Danto thought the way Nauman played with language in his work was inappropriate, not belonging in a gallery setting, and did not think very highly of the exhibit of his similar work. The impersonality on the surface of Nauman’s work is similar to that of advertising, but when One Hundred Live and Die is more closely examined, there is a personal element evident. The personal …show more content…
Nauman was influenced by the French novelist and critic Alain Robbe-Grillet, playwright Samuel Beckett, and German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Robbe-Grillet and Beckett are both known for their use of word changes, repetition, paradox, and irony. Wittgenstein’s writings made Nauman aware of the concept of language as “a set of propositions that image the world.” Language is used like a game, according to Wittgenstein, and the meaning of language is not static, but ever-changing and interpreted differently by the members of the “game.” It is rare for two people to interpret language in identical ways, therefore different interpretations are inevitable. These writers had an extremely significant impact on Nauman. When looking at his work, language continues to have a profound role. By using these word games, Nauman creates ambiguous pieces of art that are highly open to interpretation and communication.
The use of light and language in Nauman’s One Hundred Live and Die causes the worlds of high and low art to collide. All of the brightly colored words flashing messages of human actions, which are followed by “live” and “die,” are paradoxical. Through his combination of physical actions, emotions, and colors, Nauman creates a mystery of meaning behind his work in which the viewer must determine the

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