Roy Lichtenstein’s “Finger Pointing” by Lee Rice

There is no escaping Roy Lichtenstein’s “Finger Pointing.” The screen-printed image depicts an accusatory hand gesturing straight out towards the viewer, which is placed against a stark, red background. The print demonstrates how the simple depiction of a common hand gesture is able to stop a viewer in his tracks; the gesticulation is conveyed with such vigor. The hand frames its subject in a critical manner, as if they are being personally called out. Viewers have the power to make a choice: they can either confront the hand or remain discouraged by it. It is only a matter of time until the hand pins its next victim.

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Lichtenstein was one of the forerunners of the Pop Art movement. The impersonal subjects of his iconic prints fascinated critics and American society during the 1960s. His renowned Ben-Day dot pattern, used to render the hand in this piece, is meant to recall print media images. The technique calls attention to the mechanical process of mass produced work but also highlight the impersonal, artificial quality of his prints. This specific print is titled “Finger Pointing” not because it is an image of a real person’s hand, but because his technique duplicated a sign of a person’s hand.

Signs are universal, and this one in particular is reminiscent of the sign of the hand of Uncle Sam. As a personification of the U.S. government, Uncle Sam’s job was to frame American citizens in hopes of recruiting them for the army. The artist takes this sign of a person’s hand and detaches it from its affiliations to patriotism and militarism. By replicating the sign of the hand on it’s own, Lichtenstein is able to deter away from only framing American citizens – the gesture has developed into a frame that is truly universal.

This screen-print toys with the idea of framing through abstraction because even though the image depicts a critical hand gesture, the hand’s subject remains conceptual. Technically, the suspect that the finger is pointing at may or may not physically exist. We, as viewers, assume that each and every one of us is a potential target of the hand, considering the artist has given us room for interpretation. The idea of choice now resurfaces…to be framed or not to be framed? 

By Lee Rice, Class of 2016

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