Dealing with shock art and the “progressiveness” of the minds of the people

What offends the senses: is this bad art? There is no proper way to objectively determine good art from bad art (though one might argue that by using the “Golden Mean” as one way, but that’s not the point). Art, for the most part, is highly subjective in nature. So is “taste”. A person’s judgment is dependent on biases and influences from his surroundings, upbringing, from everywhere and anything he or she has access to.

One of the thing people have learned is that art is a great way of expressing your ideas, at the risk of becoming controversial though, but I suppose that risk is well known. Artists have for years been pushing boundaries and testing the limits of society’s patience and tolerance for these things. I remember when there was an exhibit here in the Philippines, back in 2010, that featured petrified cadavers. Each cadaver (yes, they were real humans) was preserved and stripped in some areas of tissue, revealing bones, muscles, and even nerve fibres. The entire exhibit was advertised as a “science meets art” kind of thing.

To the more religious people, this did not fly. I remember my mother commenting on how it wasn’t right that the bodies were used as that, and I remember something about it being ethically wrong, that the bodies of the dead were not supposed to be defiled like that. I thought that it was probably okay, since there was consent in handing the bodies over, and that it was probably an interesting exhibit of the human anatomy. I didn’t buy much into the souls of the deceased haunting us. Needless to say, we did not go and see the exhibit.

It did however reveal to me some part of this country that is still held firmly by religion. Something like the Piss Christ would definitely and greatly offend their conservative Christian sensibilities. I, on the other hand, upon seeing the picture for the first time, knowing full well what it was a picture of, thought of how interesting the color of pee was under certain lighting and how the cross was neatly framed, how the composition wasn’t so bad, and that there was a lot of pee in that container.

Maybe I’m not as deeply religious as those other people to be offended by it? I don’t know. Maybe I can just look at it in an objective manner without letting the controversy get in the way of the appreciation of a nice looking picture.

I understand it’s blasphemy, and I’m not disregarding that fact, but if you try and cause an uproar and start flipping tables then you’re falling into the trap of the shock artist.

The shock artist’s purpose in his or her creation of art is purposely to provoke a response, usually that of outrage or disgust. Intentionally gross, sometimes calculatedly indecent, the works of these artists—shock art, as it is—constantly make news headlines and are often subject to protests of certain groups of people like Christian extremists and the government of China.

This generation of mine, I believe, is mostly jaded and apathetic. How does that make us feel? Meh.

Honestly, I’m sort of fine with what they do. Though, while freedom of speech is something I value—and I understand if expressing your opinions and protests against certain beliefs and ideologies requires a certain manner that is deemed inappropriate for many—I still acknowledge that there still needs to be some respect in regard to other people’s beliefs. In the meantime, shock art does what it sets out to do. It gets their attention. The purpose is fulfilled. Although, eating a Corgi might be too much, even for me. PETA supported it though, so I don’t know what that says about me.

One thing is clear though, while I do allow for these things to happen, I won’t actively participate/watch/visit any of their exhibits. I’m all for freedom of speech, just don’t have me eat Corgi meat as well.

When that whole thing with the Jesus dildo art exhibit blew up, Mideo Cruz, the artist, received death threats and threats of excommunication from the Church. And as if that wasn’t enough, the gallery was even exorcised. Denounced by religious groups, the exhibit was taken down and the artist “stained”, in the sense that he might not be making any more art any time soon. Like I said, some respect is indeed called for.

But we’re missing the point here. It’s shock art. Isn’t that the point of what his art is supposed to be? Shocking? Understand though that there is a clear difference between “pure shock value” and “real art”.

So when is bad art good?

“Progressive thought” is highly subjective. You cannot qualify it. You can describe it, but the word “progressive” carries with it extra meaning. The idea behind this is that the sensibilities and ideas of a group are capable of moving past the “old” views, refusing to let themselves get trapped into “outdated” ideas like what is “morally” sound and “ethically” proper. My abuse of the quotation marks isn’t just for show. I am treading lightly with the usage of these words. People have their own meanings and understandings of lexical definitions that sometimes people argue about the littlest things that spring form word choice. This country is especially touchy about things that offend its people and its religion. The Church is very outspoken over issues that, I must admit, not a lot of them really understand.

“Progressive thinking” is such a stupid thing. The idea that one must be able of forward thinking to appreciate things that offend is like an artist who decides to shock people with a gruesome exhibit, marketing it under the pretense of art, but is actually a horrible excuse to have sex in public.

Bad art, good art; where does the line start and where does it end? Will the Philippines ever be ready for scene-breakers and countercultural artists? I don’t know.

Robert Mapplethorpe once had an art exhibit of a series of photographs called the X Portfolio. During the exhibit, “police began ‘pushing away the art-goers and knocking down velvet ropes as if chasing some deadly criminal’.” The museum’s director was almost convicted after being charged with “pandering obscenity”. Two decades later, the series, along with two others, named the Y Portfolio (still-life shots of flowers) and the Z Portfolio(photographs of nude black men). And while it still faced some persecution, the exhibit stayed up and wasn’t demolished by the cops.

I don’t know what the reactions will be like if Cruz’s dildo exhibit were to be shown again in twenty years. In this country, it is becoming more and more acceptable to show off homosexuality. Gay parades, gay marriage, gay celebrities; essentially the celebration of gay culture has slowly but steadily increased in intensity over the years. The Church, a strong antagonist to these people (though the protagonists from their perspective), see this as a threat to culture and society. I only digress into this to make my next point clearer.

This country is deeply religious. I’m not even counting the many other religions (and lack thereof). How long this religion is going to hold itself up against countercultural acts such as shock art is a mystery to me. I for one would like to be there to see the day when the country “progresses” into something that is altogether offensive and acceptable. I wouldn’t endorse it, nor would I take any steps into promoting shock art, but I just want to see the look on every conservative Catholic’s face as their senses are assaulted and their beliefs molested, with the knowledge that they can’t do anything about it anymore.

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(Author’s Note: I do feel kind of evil, wanting to see the looks of disgust in their faces, but I just thought that it might be funny watching their reactions. Perhaps if it is offensive enough, you might want to laugh at my disgusted face, just to even out the karma)

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