The Audience and A Subtlety, a paper by Sadie Yanckello

We’ve asked ARAD students to share more about their academic work with us. Sadie Yanckello, ARAD ’20 volunteered to discuss a paper she wrote for Arts In Context, taught by Dr. Jennifer Lena in the Fall 2018 semester. 

By Sadie Yanckello, ARAD ’20


The Audience and A Subtlety is a paper I wrote for Arts In Context with Dr. Lena, a class our whole cohort took in our first semester. The paper topic was to use the cultural diamond as a resource to write a paper about anything we wanted related to art. I chose to write about Kara Walker’s installation at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn that occurred in 2014.  I argued in the paper that Kara Walker uses a collection of visual cultural references and multilayered tropes to examine how historical, racist and sexist mythologies were portrayed, reproduced and performed by the contemporary audience. The laden history represented in A Subtlety is not Walker’s idea alone, but a collection of mythos continually reified and produced by audience interaction. This paper first broke down the cultural object (the visual components that make up A Subtlety) by tracing historical (social world) references to point out the assumptive ideologies enmeshed in each piece of the artwork. Then, the paper unpacked the relationship between A Subtlety and its audience (receivers), as the audience played a major role in the performance (receival) and re-production/production (production) of this artwork.


I loved this class and paper because I am passionate about working with contemporary artists. Much of the contemporary art I am struck the most by is large scale, temporal works, focused on social justice issues in unorthodox settings. This piece checked all of those boxes. To me, art can be a powerful way to shift mentalities and open people up to new ideas, new thoughts, and new powerful ways of thinking. Art can be a means to laying the tracks for social change. I believe this piece is an example of that. Furthermore, it was wonderful to think about artwork through the sociological lens of Griswold because Griswold’s cultural diamond gave me a great format for unpacking the layers of this artwork as well as the layers of the audience’s social responses to the artwork…which were themselves a part of the art!


While many of the courses we took our first semester were practical, this class was very theory heavy and after working for three years I really enjoyed getting to actively use that more scholarly side of my brain again on a daily basis. I still think about many of the concepts discussed in Arts in Context and I know they will stick with me through my working career!


Thanks for sharing your work with us, Sadie!


Check out images of Kara Walker’s first prominent work in sculpture: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby: an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant, installed in May 2014.

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List of Illustrations described in Sadie’s paper, with corresponding images above.

Jason Wyche via Creative Time, Kara Walker’s, A Subtlety, 2014.

David Allee, Raw Sugar Warehouse from Domino Sugar Refinery Series, Jan 2013-March 2014.

David Allee, Untitled from Domino Sugar Rerfinery Series, January 2013-March 2014.

David Allee, Untitled from Domino Sugar Rerfinery Series, January 2013-March 2014.

Andrew Burton, Detail of Child Laborer, May 10 2015, New York

Andrew Burton, Detail of Child Laborer with viewers, May 10 2015, New York

Blackamoor figurine, Early 19th century, Italy. 1stDibs Antique Market

Fred Wilson, Sculpture from Speak of Me as I Am in the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, 2003, Venice.

Aunt Jemima Advertisement in The Plaindealer Newspaper, 1926, Topeka Kansas.

Leon De Wailly, Full length frontal nude of Saartjie Baartman,1826, PARIS., Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.

Leon De Wailly, Full length nude in left profile of Saartjie Baartman,1826, PARIS., Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle.

Julien-Joeseph Virey The Great Chain of Being doctrine, 1824, reprinted from Histoire Naturelle de Genre Humain, Paris; Chrocard.

Various Instagrams that were stored on the digital sugar baby model, 2014.

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