Anyone can revolt. It is more difficult silently to obey our own inner promptings, and to spend our lives finding sincere and fitting means of expression for our temperament and our gifts. ~ Georges Rouault
A couple of my friends recently went to the acclaimed Art Basel show in Miami, FL. Ever the social media virtuosos that they are, they posted photos of some of the most shocking and bizarre artworks that they witnessed there on their Facebook pages. I wanted to hurl. Perhaps that was the reaction the artists wanted.
I am happy to see my non-artist friends exploring the arts. I have to wonder, though, if it really enhances their cultural awareness to be exposed to the most banal aspects of human expression marketed as the “ Modern and contemporary art world's premier platform for bringing together artists and their patrons in a way that is both engaging and personal.”
I went to art school in the 1980's and was taught to be open to a variety of expressive forms and methods. I learned to excoriate Victorian attitudes that stifled artistic freedom, and I heralded groundbreaking artists who “broke the rules.” I was taught to appreciate anything that broke with tradition and was “non-representational”.
But lately, I find myself wondering, have we gone too far?
It seems that the premiere forums for visual art exhibition are full of “shock art” that is more gratuitous banality than it is message or cultural commentary. Furthermore, artists who pursue beauty or more pleasurable aesthetics tend to be bullied and pushed aside.
Don’t get me wrong — I am not an advocate of trite and overplayed themes of covered bridges and other unoriginal genres. I am not one to confine artists to any one style or aesthetic. I simply think that we have sunken to the lowest common denominator when it comes to challenging norms and pushing boundaries. We have reached a point where art that does not involve nudity and sexual themes, ghoulish death, perversion, bizarre juxtapositions and psychological disturbance is deemed unworthy.
Have we reached a point where we have conformed to our own notion of nonconformity, thereby creating a new norm that requires art to disturb the senses in order to find its place in galleries, museums and major art events?
If we have, then I am with the resistance. I won’t conform to that expectation.
I choose to silently to obey my own inner promptings, thank you.
I want to ask the same questions asked by Jennifer Schuessler of the New York Times who moderated a discussion on “Shock Art” with a group of arts critics:
But sometimes what’s shocking just remains shocking — at least to some people. What are we to make of the desire to keep fighting the same old fights over art? ~Jennifer Schuessler
Why do we feel the need to keep fighting a battle that Marcel Duchamp won back in 1917 with his satirical “Fountain” sculpture?
Call me a Fuddy Duddy if you want. I have a tough nonconformist skin. Regardless of what you call me, I won’t be cowered into accepting the value of something stamped with an art label simply because you want to push some kind of crazy envelope that was already pushed 100 years ago.
If you want to shock me, create something that turns my head to look at something differently instead of just disgusting me with something you think is titillating.
Say something with your art. Don’t just hurl an attitude at me.