Meeting a piece of art (I am defining ‘art’ to mean literature, music, painting, sculpture, photography, dance; in fact any creative endeavour) for the first time it is an introduction to the artist and his/her work, the rationale and purpose behind the work and what it means to the artist.
Here’s a thought to bounce around with you: art is an introduction, then a conversation, a relationship, an understanding, a sharing.
A tangent to start with: I suspect much of the reaction to an artist’s work stems not from an offence created by the composer (unless that is the specified intention) but more from the responder’s own set of values, attitudes and beliefs.
In the media an artist is forced to apologise for an artistic statement they have made regardless of their intention. In the past week, recording artist Sia has issued an apology about the content of her most recent video clip featuring Shia Labeouf and a young girl engaged in interpretive dance. The complaints focused on the age of the girl, allegedly 12, and the state of undress of Shia.
This article is a good summation of how people react without understanding. Even the writer of article shows his lack of understanding. Sia Sorry Over Pedophilia Upset
It didn’t take in to consideration the content of the song, the purpose of the lyrics or the meaning of the video clip itself.
A glib summation: TRIGGER WARNING – it’s your fault I’m offended.
An artist’s work should be questioned, interrogated, debated. But we have to also confront WHY we are offended and feel uncomfortable.
I remember the controversy surrounding the artistic work, Immersion (Piss Christ) when I was in my late teens/early twenties. The art was a small plastic crucifix immersed in a yellow liquid.
It was exhibited in Australia and two attempts were made to vandalise the artwork. There were threats made against the artist and the gallery.
It is a significant religious icon and thus, hold supreme importance to Christians and Catholics. I can’t find the reference now but a friend had done some research into the artist’s intention, and it was not to be sacrilegious. Crucifixion, as a Roman form of punishment, was barbaric and intended as an act of humiliation. The artist had made a parallel in the modern age to another act of humiliation: to urinate on someone is to denigrate and proclaim that person worthless.
It also means having an understanding of the significance of the icon, why it is important and how it is used. The New Testament writer of the Book of First Corinthians understood the complexity, and controversy, of crucifixion: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Therefore, as an act of salvation it is contradictory.
Therefore art is an introduction.
Then it is a conversation between the artist and the responder, coming to a common ground. The first thing you do at a party when you are meeting new people is to ask for their name, what they do, find out what they are interested in or passionate about. Once you have established commonalities, a conversation begins.
From there it develops into a relationship. Aside: you can tell if a conversation is going nowhere as you run out of topics, lacking a connection. And it’s ok to not like a piece of art, to have no connection with it. But know why you don’t connect with it.
If there is a connection, you seek to develop it, leading to an understanding of the artist, his/her worldview, purpose, intention, vision. You see out other works, attend other performances, read more novels, and even if it confronts you, there is still a point of understanding.
And all of this leads to sharing. When you have taken the time to cultivate a relationship, to understand the artist’s vision and purpose, you can eloquently share your love of the artist’s work.
Art can, and indeed should, offend. The right to free speech entitles that. My caveat on that is offensive, racist, sexist bollocks should not be tolerated. Call it out for the garbage that it is.
It is the conversation we engage in with the art that makes it beneficial, even if we do not like it. Saying “I’m offended” reveals more about your own insecurities, values and attitudes than it does about an attempt to understand the art. You have every right to be offended but have a sustained and logical reason to defend your proposition.
Art is an introduction, then a conversation, a relationship, an understanding, a sharing.
Have you been introduced to any great art lately?