Monday, April 09, 2007

Controversial Art: Offensive art is simply a reflection of our inner condition.

"Blessed Art Thou" by Kate Kretz

I've discussed controversial art on this blog in the past- it is a topic that will never go away. Thus, I will venture into this issue once again- I look forward to replying to your comments.

What makes a work of art offensive? What causes thousands to lash out against one work of art while praising another? Are people offended for what they feel the work portrays- or are they offended because it reveals the inner workings of their own lives... their psychological fears and frailties.

Controversial art has been at the forefront of many heated discussions for centuries (Many of which have stemmed from religious reasons). However, since the 1990s (with the advent of the internet) the controversy over controversial art has seemed to become more of a focus in the media and in our daily lives. More people are aware of 'controversial' works than ever before. Thus, more people are offended.

Each passing year brings with it works that are considered hateful, unjust, or morally wrong- yet these works are often created for that very reason! Created to place a spotlight on current events in order to express the changes that are occurring in our society. So, what are the offended so afraid of? The art? Or what we, as a society, have become? Are we really that bad? Or is it just some form of widespread defense mechanism working overtime?

Last time I wrote about this issue I reflected on the work of Andreas Serrano, Chris Ofili, and several others. Times have changed and with it has come new controversial works- for example, David Cordero's "Blessing," which casts Barack Obama as Jesus, Cosimo Cavallaro's "My Sweet Lord," a life-size nude male posed as if crucified and cast in chocolate like Peter Cottontail, Kate Kretz, who painted "Blessed Art Thou," the controversial image of Angelina Jolie hovering in a cloud above a checkout line in a Wal-Mart store. New works- same old controversy!
All of these works have offended thousands of observers. Why? Why are people so offended by these works? Is it because they involve aspects of religion? Or is it because of concerns that can only be discovered from within the observer who is offended?

Personally, I think the offended- more often than not- are outraged due to their own 'inner demons' or neurosis . I think it is more of an issue of self-doubt in regards to faith and the direction society is going. I honestly think that people are not so much offended by these works for what they are as much as they are offended because these works are reminders of their failure to live up to their religious or social principles. In other words (borrowing an old expression), outrage over these works is like the pot calling the kettle black.
These works are no more controversial than a guy wearing a 'God Sucks' shirt at your local mall. The offended simply take their inner frustration out on the 'scapegoat'- art makes an easy target- a painting can't talk back. What do you think?
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since you asked,
I also feel that it is a completely individual experience. You take two people and show them the same peice and they will have two completly seperate reactions. When something offends someone it is because you have tapped into something very personal to them and suddenly they feel vunerable because in some way you have exposed or brought to light something that may be a "feeling" or "thought" they have tried to cover up or supress. I have experienced that the less someone is offended they are usually the more open minded of the group. Just a thought.
Natalie

Balhatain said...

Natalie,

Good observation. What strikes me most about this issue is that so many things are accepted- or at least tolerated- in our society... yet a work of art can be attacked as if it is a direct threat to 'our way of life'.

Think of the music that plays on the radio or the movies that are opening next week- chances are that some, if not all, will be offensive to a group of people... yet you do not see mass outrage over them.

It just boggles my mind that an exhibit can be pulled while a movie or song that might be considered just as offensive is rarely pulled from being shown or heard.

I just thought I would add that.

Brian

Anonymous said...

"I am sort of amused when people think I'm evil because of the subjects that I paint.
There's no reason to believe that a person is the thing he paints.
If I paint a dog, it doesn't mean I have to be a dog."
—K.D. Matheson

Anonymous said...

reality scares people. imagination scares people.

Mike said...

Most controversies these days are the result of people who make a profession of being offended.

Bill said...

when any of us make statements or judgments about "how offensive" a piece of art is..or anything for that matter, that says much more about the one making the judgment.......than that which is being judged. It's a window into the mind of the observer....not the observed.
If one is easily offended.....they don't have to look far to find something to be offended by. Perception is reality, and self fulfilling.
I've always liked the saying "when we change the WAY we look at things.....it changes the way things look".

Bill said...

when any of us make statements or judgments about "how offensive" a piece of art is..or anything for that matter, that says much more about the one making the judgment.......than that which is being judged. It's a window into the mind of the observer....not the observed.
If one is easily offended.....they don't have to look far to find something to be offended by. Perception is reality, and self fulfilling.
I've always liked the saying "when we change the WAY we look at things.....it changes the way things look".

David Goza said...

It's been many years since I last read any of the hateful published drivel of Ayn Rand (and I'm a little embarrassed even to have to admit that there was a time during my misspent youth when I took her seriously), but I recall that she offered a slightly different perspective on the issue. For her - and I hope I'm not misrepresenting her position - art is "supposed" (as in _obligated_) to fulfill a function: to edify the viewer/listener; to supply a kind of corrective to the everyday world's banality, insipidity and injustice. So it must, on Ms. Rand's view, possess the capacity to ennoble its audience. If it fails to do so, it's at best "failed art," and at worst, "not art at all." Read _The Romantic Manifesto_ at your own risk. (The preceding does not constitute an endorsement.)

Rachel said...

I think one of the main problems concerning controversial art is that there is no standard with which to guide censorship. Because we're human, we need the guidelines for those who seem to lack common sense or simply want to cause a stir. There's nothing wrong with stating an opinion or expressing your views on social change, but I think it should be censored if it crosses the line from hateful to assuaulting. In other words, I think it should be regulated much as speech and actions are regulated: one is free to hold an opinion, but not to assault an individual.
As an art student myself, I can understand why people think there shouldn't be any censorship because it endangers free speech, but the truth is, our free speech is limited (and with good reason). It's illegal to yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre, or to specifically identify someone using a derogatory term. Perhaps it shouldn't be classified as free speech, but as free "expression" to include things like art.
lol I'm actually writing a paper on art censorship...