Is controversial Art necessary and does it contribute to society?

Hi everyone,

I’m writing this post to explore controversial images within modern Contemporary Art, are these images necessary and do they contribute to society?

As a society, our exposure to controversy in all forms of mass media is forever growing. Artistic freedom of expression is often exploited and sometimes abused for purposes of commercial gain. There is a direct correlation between the acceptance of contemporary controversial Art in Society, and the Artist’s production of it. In the hope to generate interest, some Artists are perpetually trying to push the boundaries in tireless pursuit for their next great piece of controversial work, as opposed to just searching for their greatest possible creation.

Art throughout history has often been used as a tool to shock an audience; some of the most innovative images have gained Media notoriety, representing many different controversial themes, which are not always discussed openly. Art allows us to give form and meaning to emotions and allows us to focus on certain issues of a social or political bearing.

A controversial image to me is a piece of Artwork, which is emotionally stimulating and contradicts traditional methods of interpretation; it allows the audiences views to be challenged through the notions of shock or surprise. Often it is difficult to determine what relevance controversial Art has to Society due to the compelling nature of the work.

Artists throughout History have produced controversial Artworks, which have tested limitations and the audiences’ thought processes, the idea of thought interruption I think is the most important part of making a piece of artwork so notorious, it’s about making the audience think and interrupting their normal thought patterns. I think society naturally criticize an image and do not necessarily see the intention that lies behind the image, due to this criticism, the audience are unable and often unwilling to appreciate the Artist’s original vision or intention.

Tracey Emin constructed “My Bed” in 1998, this was a graphic representation of conception, sex, loss, illness and death – The piece was installed at The Saatchi Collection, London, UK. This piece caused a storm of interest due to the controversial content. The Bed was unmade and appeared to be used as the sheets looked stained and crumpled, the bed was surrounded by dirty underwear, condoms, and cigarette packets. Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” was desribed as “Representing vulgarity and lack of skill of contemporary artists”.

Tracey Emin’s work is autobiographical and directly emotional, I particularly admire her sense of honesty through intimate subjects that are about her life. “I can make loads of things that look good but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about how I feel” She is able to engage the audience both positively and negatively. Emin’s Art is confessional and is about coming to terms with traumatic experiences, I feel that this is an important part of dealing with personal issues, to share them with others. If personal issues become more commercialised then maybe they wouldn’t be classed as taboo. Text on The Saatchi Gallery Website states “Tracey shows us her own bed, in all its embarrassing glory. Empty booze bottles, fag butts, stained sheets, worn panties: the bloody aftermath of a nervous breakdown. By presenting her bed as art, Tracey Emin shares her most personal space, revealing she’s as insecure and imperfect as the rest of the world”.

Surely showing the world that it’s ok to be flawed should be considered a positive trait within the Art World. We our surrounded by false ideologies within Mass Media which ultimately give us all an unrealistic view of how we should all look, act and feel. To me this kind of Art is an important part of society and allows us to not conform to the stereotype dictated by the world Media.

Banksy – “Can’t beat the feelin” was created in 2004, this was originally formed in stencil and then mass-produced in print. The image contains one of the little girls featured in the iconic photograph entitled “Napalm Strike”, this shows villagers fleeing from a Napalm attack in Vietnam, taken in 1972, this was one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century which caused tremendous amounts of controversy upon release. The photograph actually shows young children burning by Napalm; the look of terror and desperation in their faces makes this image extremely difficult to look at.

Banksy’s version “Can’t beat the feelin” shows the young girl burning to death, with Children’s iconic figures, Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse clutching both her hands. This is making a political statement referencing the Vietnam War, this photograph was taken in the early 70’s, a time when the Western world was experiencing phenomenal growth with corporate companies such as McDonalds, this was due to successful advertising campaigns and marketing material aimed at children. Ronald McDonald was created in 1963 as the official mascot for McDonalds; he is easily one of the most recognisable figures in the world. Both characters in the image are smiling and appear to be a complete contrast to the little girl in the middle, who is screaming for her life. The girl appears to be running while Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse have their feet slightly raised from the floor, which indicates they are taking a casual walk. I think this image is intended to alarm the audience and make us think about what we see as importance, this questions our views on society, social and political issues.

Banksy’s work often contains Political messages, which react to what is happening in the world today. I feel that some of Banksy’s work is intentionally witty; he is successful at making light of some dark situations. “Banksy’s stencils make a point about life and art from their being placed in a real space rather than within a picture from” . I feel his talent alone contributes to an occasionally rigid society, it encourages people to have an opinion on mass media and political cultures, Banksy states “They say graffiti frightens people and is symbolic of the decline in society, but graffiti is only dangerous in the mind of three types of people; politicians, advertising executives and graffiti writers”.

Damien Hirst’s – “For The Love of God” is the most expensive piece of Artwork ever made, reports suggest it cost £14 million to construct and is worth in excess of over £50 million, this would have been the highest price ever paid for a single work by a living artist. The work is a life sized Human Skull “cast in platinum and encased entirely with diamonds – some 8,500 in all”.

The Skull gained instant iconic status when first exhibited in 2007, this was a truly innovative idea that had never been done before, and it was responsible for great interest in the Art world. This piece of work is in a different category of controversy to the other two images, although the subject matter is still potentially provoking, I think the controversy derives mainly from the expense of production, even though I admire the Artist’s revelation, I can’t help but feel cheated. It made me question the significance of Art in its entirety.

I fail to understand the morality and justification of spending that amount of money on a piece of Art, when there are much more serious, pressing issues in the world that require lots of money to restore, issues that could of potentially benefitted from this money – to me, that would be more worth while than a diamond encrusted skull. However whilst watching The South Bank Show – Addicted to Art (an interview with Damien Hirst) Hirst states, “I think Art is more important than money, Art is more powerful than money,” This made me re-think what I contemplated previously, maybe Hirst produced this expensive piece of Art with creative intent, and not considered the cost of production.

In summery, I feel that controversial images within modern contemporary Art are definitely a significant part of society, freedom of expression should be upheld and Artist’s should be able to express their selves through thoughts and ideas. I think that Art is all about communicating an idea to an audience, irrespective of the subject matter, as an Artist, it is important to show how you feel about issues. All these Artists have inspired me in various ways; Emin has motivated me into making my Art more autobiographical, Banksy has encouraged me to add political messages into my work (something which I’ve never done before) and Hirst has inspired me to not take my Art work so seriously, to have fun and experiment. I believe we can all learn something from controversial images within modern contemporary Art; there is a lot to discover and to take in. I intend on utilising what I have learned within my own Artwork, with the hope of making my work stronger and more refined.



One response to “Is controversial Art necessary and does it contribute to society?

  1. Good post. There is a place in society for controversial art, so long as it expresses an important stance or message of significance. Controversial art for the sake of controversy or for pure visceral reaction and no real thought provocation, however, we could all do without.

    I’m a big fan of Banksy.

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