What people don’t understand about provocative art


Here is a subtle rule of provocative art that more and more people fail to appreciate: extreme, politically incorrect imagery that unsettles people can be used in ways other than what said imagery was originally intended for, in order to highlight a point with greater emphasis. Certain themes carry an inherent ability to repel the majority of society because of their subversive nature as applied to the dynamics of how said society has evolved over time. By acknowledging these themes as a valid, lawful expression of individuality, society risks rupturing the very integrity on which it is built, but whoever said that this integrity carries any intrinsic worth to begin with?

The term “integrity of society” should be viewed as a structural connotation for the state of relative equilibrium that allows the world to work in concert, albeit in the ramshackle way that we see around us. Nevertheless, it is essentially still a construct devised out of conscious, and not so conscious, populist considerations and should not be ascribed positive or negative values.

Granted, this integrity based on populism is a natural product of human evolution, and is an exercise in selfishness at micro and macro levels. It is inconceivable for a species like our own to have evolved in a different manner, but where does this rigid rubric leave the disenchanted soul that seeks to challenge these universal edicts? Genuine provocative art consists of juxtaposing eminent taboos – historical or psychological – against a subject that the artist is espousing; it does not necessarily mean that the artist buys into the core of the original taboo itself, but if the artist is intelligent and if he chooses a subject that can be tenuously, even tangentially linked to the basic premise of that taboo, then the power of expression available at his disposal becomes immense.

To illustrate this, I use the universally reviled Nazi-Jew relationship to focus attention on the spineless, valueless nature of much of modernity:

Here’s an extreme, elitist thought to chew on: the opprobrium I reserve for the prideless, thoughtless, inferior sheep filth I see around me is equivalent to the contempt in which Dalits were/are held in across this country, the contempt with which Nazis regarded the Jews, and the contempt with which Nietzsche wrote of the ubermensch-untermensch dichotomy. It’s not race-based, it’s values-based, and in a “cleaner” world, they would be subjugated under the boot and not allowed to breed and create more of their kind. 

It should be obvious that it would require an attentive, sensitive mind to read between the lines, and then to read between the words, and finally to extrapolate the true intent behind the admittedly sensationalist verbage. This relationship between the one expressing and the one receiving should be tacit and has to be understood on an unsaid, intellectual level; by this same reasoning, then, it also becomes the artist’s dearest responsibility to ensure that he has a leg to stand on in the first place and that the link between intent and sensationalism isn’t a frivolous one.

Unfortunately, as a species and as an increasingly global culture, we seem to be growing farther away from these ideas, much like a satellite that has fallen out of orbit with its parent planet, steadily drifting into the wilderness of space. People are restricted by their limited understanding of good and evil, and in their zealous advocacy of the former, regularly fall into the abyss of the only real evil known to man: the evil of intellectual stultification.

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