Is Art That Shocks Still Getting Attention?

by | May 20, 2009 | Blog | 8 comments

We’ve had many years of shock art getting all the attention. You know what I mean by shock art – just look at what’s been canonized in major international art magazines, and elitist Biennales. Shock Art is work that uses shocking imagery (usually sexual in nature) or bodily fluids combined with religious icons (sound familiar?) Now this trend is finally losing steam and allowing a deeper art to shine through. In fact, I believe the entire era of shocking, mysterious, incomprehensible, and elite art is coming to an end. Let’s get real. How many decades can something that was once shocking still have the power to create any emotional response except boredom? There has always been throughout history a human need to make art, to share it, and to experience it. Art has always been important while trends come and go, circle around.

Great art for me, is work that offers an experience – an experience that goes deeper than intellect, deeper than a surface shock, evoking emotions that connect to the human experience. When I look at an artwork, my immediate response usually tells all. The work, if successful, will draw me into it deeply, invite me to peruse its elements, enjoy it on many levels, and keep me rooted in my viewing spot. I hesitate to leave it, like a new lover. Work that has these qualities is usually work created un-self-consciously, with no agenda to report, with joy and a certain ease – not trying so hard. Great art is hard to find, and takes guts to make.

At recent artist gatherings, this topic seemed to come up quite frequently. One of my friends recently wrote about this phenomena in her blog:
Then only days later, a curator friend wrote something very similar on her blog:

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  1. Imogen Skye

    I think that you may be expressing a false dichotomy, actually. It can be shocking, AND meaningful, experiential, story-telling, healing, repulsive (which is a good thing- to know that one is repulsed by what is deplorable, evil or otherwise not beneficial), and also come honestly, authentically from the inner workings of a creative artist.

    Art of all styles can be lacking in substance, and be boring to those not within its intended audience.

  2. LAD

    The need to shock in art comes from two needs:

    1) The universal youthful need to be noticed

    2) The need for the contemporary artist to again seem "relevant" in a society where art's primary usefulness has been displaced by photography, video, etc.

  3. Mike

    Hey There, Girl!! Been thinkin' bout you and your art! You are sorta right about shock art, but there is one thing that isn't being considered; the power of press. Just ask Madonna: Good or bad, press is press. Shock art will remain for that reason; to gain attention from the press (read as "free marketing.")

    Sure do hope that you are doing well and having fun!

  4. It's just a painting

    I think shock art may have had it's place and maybe still does but that is only one faction of the art world.Thanks for reminding us that things change

  5. Chas Hathaway

    I can't help wonder if the drive for shock art comes from the powerful drive that our society has to be moving forward as quickly as possible – culturally, technologically, socially, etc.

    You might say it was a phase society was going through (all be it a rather ridiculous one), but since it's no longer new, it has lost it's appeal.

    Styles and genres have to pass the test of time, and it already appears that shock art has failed.

    Thank heaven!

    – Chas

  6. Kim Hambric

    “. . . evoking emotions that connect to the human experience.”

    So well put.

    Art is the connection between the artist and the viewer. Until there is that connection, the art is just a thing, a product. If so, I just walk away.

    I am so very tired of the promotion of this type of work.

  7. Tesia Blackburn

    Hi Nancy;
    Although I do agree with you that the level of shock art is skin deep, I’m not sure it will fade quietly into the night. I think there will always be that element in the artworld and in a way I’m thankful. Thankful that I don’t have to do it, that someone else is taking care of the “dark side” of the creative process. Because after all, we can’t have the light without the dark can we?

  8. Chris Chalk

    Hi Nancy, I couldn’t agree with you more. ‘Shock art’ is not for me either. Let’s hope it’s day has come and gone. Although I suspect as long as it grabs attention for the artists concerned it will continue to produced. Keep creating, Chris


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Professional fine artist Nancy Reyner’s blog about art, painting and creativity. Her career spans over 30 years. She lives in Santa Fe in the US. Subscribe below for free tips on art and painting.

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