There is something that we tend to forget in our modern world of safe, mass consumptive art. Our world of art for the masses. We forget that art is dangerous. That at its heart, art is barely restrained chaos. Is a thing with teeth that, while usually tamed, can bite.
I need to bring up the wilder modern art such as works like ‘Piss Christ’ when you can look at something as simple as the work of street artist Banksy, who lays claim to public space that are owned but taken for granted by the average passer-by. Banksy stakes out these spaces and creates art that is as clever as it is challenging. Rubbing your shoulder as it slaps your face. And these are but two examples of what could be hundreds, hundreds to counter the thousands of pieces of art that are ‘safe’ in comparison.
But is any art safe?
Even the most mass produced art can find its way to controversy. We forget so easily how something as simple as the rock and roll of Elvis was considered lewd and overtly sexual. Or the controversy of a song as silly as ‘Louie-Louie’. What we may not find offensive or intrusive can be quite the opposite to someone else. Me, I fancy horror art, which would turn the stomachs and haunt some people because the images are too grotesque and macabre. Or heck, take the world of Thomas Kincaid, who is a household name, a rarity among artists. He is literally hated though by many artists because of how popular and how measured and deliberate his art is. He is a professional artist, and one who makes quite a living creating art that is for sale. Not something many higher thinking artists appreciate.
The list can go on and on and all it does is show how anything, everything can have an edge. Can be a blade. We forget how dangerous it is because we prefer to surround ourselves with things that please us, that comfort us, that make us feel good, which makes good sense. Why would you surround yourself with things that upset you. But there’s the rub, while the art we love soothes us, it doesn’t challenge us. It doesn’t force us to examine and re-examine our views, the views of others, and issues we sometimes choose not to face That is the power of art – to make us see issues we otherwise overlook. Even the simplest image can have layers to it, hidden at first but there to be found, for those willing to look. And that is why art is so important, and dangerous – because it challenges us, and that is dangerous.
We cannot control art.
We cannot contain art.
We cannot confine art.
And when it comes to the art of other people, we can never hope to love or appreciate all of it.
And that is where we get so many problems – taste.
We are all so different, our tastes, our interests, and our thresholds and when someone impinges on our space we get angry. We don’t like someone pushing in on us and forcing us to see and do things we don’t like. The thing is though that if you are going to love art, accept art, and advocate for it you need to do it with open arms and an open mind. You won’t love it all but you have to respect it all, at least the passion behind it. This isn’t easy. It won’t be easy. But if you are asking someone to accept your passions then you need to do the same.
In saying that though you need to understand the power of what you are doing and creating. Even the simplest and silliest thing can have an impact, both negative and positive. I know this first hand from when some people decided to target an indie art show some friends and I put together when they took offense to our use of the term ‘guerilla’ to describe our show. Instead of speaking to anyone they invaded the show dressed as zombies and disrupted the art, the artists, and the patrons and almost started a fight. While I can appreciate their intention it was their actions that bothered me because none of them cared about the art they bumped into and knocked over, or the people they bumped into, or the chaos they created, no, their message was too important. And that’s something that can’t happen. The message is never more important than the people in front of and behind it. Life is not a message. The world is not a message. And we are never fully aware of every side to the story, whatever it may be. It is one thing to be passionate, but another to wield that passion as a weapon and to use it against people.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our vision and passion that we forget that what we do may impact other people. We feel so right in what we’re doing, what we’re trying to say, that we disregard any feelings of empathy for other people who will have to deal with the art.
And it’s all a shame. As artists we are underfunded, misconstrued, and are often put into boxes that don’t quite fit us and that’s why we need to band together and work together and support one another as much as we are able to. It won’t always work that we can, that we have the same vision. I am not naive. Yet, we can work together more than we do, and when we do things to simply be outrageous, to shock people, with no further meaning, it starts to alienate both artists and patrons of the arts. And if outrage is what we’re after then by god we need to own it, to revel in it, and to try to explain why we want it. Because if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, from something as base as wanting to paint a pretty picture to something as lofty as trying to examine the roots of poverty then how the heck will anyone else take us seriously?
There is a divide in art and between its artists because art is dangerous, and it thank goodness for that. It is this dangerousness that challenges us, that challenges the public and forces all of us to look at the world in new ways. While we may prefer the comfort of art when we pick it for our homes and public spaces, we must never shrink from the power of art and the danger of it, we must just always be mindful of what it is we’re trying to say and why, because if we don’t know, how will anyone else. And that’s not dangerous, that’s just waste.