Monday, October 16, 2006

The Road Less Traveled: The Benefit and Pitfall of Creating Controversy. Buckle Up!

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Take a trip down Controversy Lane. It can be a bumpy ride.

Through the years we have seen a variety of art created with controversial materials. Everything from feces to aborted fetuses has been used as a medium. Some artists create these works simply to shock a response out of their viewers. Others see the use of such materials as an experimental process that is just as important as using traditional materials (Some even view it as a science.). However, collectors, critics, and the general public will note the controversial nature of the artwork no matter what the intention of the artist.

The public will form an opinion about the work based upon the materials used. In a sense, the materials become more important than the visual aspect of the piece.These collective opinions can either be of benefit to the artist or they can cause a pitfall for his or her career. The question at hand... Is the end result of creating controversy worth the risk to the artists career (though it could benefit it.)? Is it an acceptable path to take in order to attempt to get your message out?

"Controversy hasn't been a fast track to success for me in the art world." - Kate Millett

An artist 'creates controversy' when he or she decides to use materials that others deem obscene or absurd. It goes without saying that using blood, semen, or even mud may cause people to question the validity of the artists work. People generally avoid the subject matter of such pieces and instead focus on the materials at hand. However, one must remember that the artist chose the materials that he or she knew would cause dispute.

We can't blame the public for making a judgment call when the artist made the judgment for what materials to use. It is a shame that the artists message (if he or she had one) is clouded by the medium. However, he or she should be fully aware of the implications of the medium. In other words, some 'social roads' were not meant to be crossed.

In general, people are aware of the social norms that are accepted in their communities or culture. We all have some understanding of what actions will be accepted and what will be rejected. For example, you know that it is not acceptable to smear the blood from an open wound upon the bathroom wall... so what makes it any different if you do it on canvas? Yet year after year artists come up with new work using materials that go outside of the norm.

While often fully accepted in other careers, thinking 'outside of the box' in such a manner can have a positive or negative affect on the career of an artist. There is not much of a 'middle road' to travel down once the pieces are exhibited and the public has made up their mind.

There is no doubt that the artist can benefit from traveling down 'the road less traveled'. Using a controversial medium can open new paths for his or her career. Remember, 'art stars' have been made over night due to the materials they have used. Public controversies and the censorship that often follows can make the artist into an 'underdog' figure or place him or her into the role of 'underground hero'. While the artist may not be accepted by the general population, he or she may be supported by various sub-cultures (Which is a form of success unto itself.).

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"I've refused to become a prisoner of "Piss Christ"." - Andres Serrano

These labels may affect the artists career in a positive manner by making his or her name the 'hot topic' of the day. However, the artist runs the risk of being connected to the pieces that his or her career sprang from. He or she may be remembered as the 'piss artist', 'blood artist, or 'mud artist' long after he or she has moved on to different ways to 'shock' or experiment. In a sense, the road ahead is wide open, but many obstacles await for the artist who has built his or her career driving upon 'Controversy Lane'.

We have talked about controversial work before on this blog. Different opinions have been stated and we have all had time to reflect upon them. We know that controversy and the censorship that follows can either benefit or damage the artists career. So, the trip worth it?

Would you consider driving down 'Controversy Lane'? Would you do it if you knew you could obtain some degree of 'art world' status or infamy? Do you know anyone personally who has? Discuss.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Hi Brian,

This was truly fascinating to read. To think of all the creative ways humans can express themselves with. Great ponderings here. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I like your art I'm also an Artist check out my work @

Art Is very Important To society
keep Up the Good work!!!