Updated: Apr 20, 2020
This past Saturday, I attended the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby in Philadelphia, PA and I’ll be honest, for the most part the actual sculpture part of the derby was kind of underwhelming. It was basically just people who slapped some “sculptural” elements to their bikes and rode the course. However, there was one participant who was bold as hell! At its core it was just another bike addition, but his bike was pulling a coffin that held a skeleton holding a giant hypodermic needle and a grim reaper standing over top of it, obviously commenting on the Kensington/Philadelphia heroin epidemic. This was obviously a little shocking because this was a family oriented event and seeing this brings up some things people often don’t want to talk about but the more I thought about it, the more I was totally with this guy. This was an art event after all and this guy had something to say, it might not have been super glamorous and it might have been a little dark, but he felt he needed to say it and it certainly stood out.
This brings me to the point of this article and it’s that as artists we can’t be afraid to say something, especially if we’re passionate about it. Be bold, people are often afraid to say what they feel, especially in an increasingly more offended era, and as artists we can’t have that fear. Modern art and abstraction has always been produced by going against the norm, being different, doing something that people may not like. But whether people love it or hate it, if people are talking about your art then it’s a success in some way. Art is a conversation, is it not? We just can’t be scared as artists, your works success can often be measured by the amount of people ranting and raving about how much they hate it as well as how much people love it. Just starting a conversation about your work gives it some merit. Think about it, the Paris Salon held a show of paintings they rejected in 1863 meaning to show works as a joke or laughing stock compared to the academic art they showed, they even continued the tradition for many years. But this, in turn, ended up helping to promote a lot of painters we now consider masters and gave life to a lot of painting styles we revere today. The work may have been displayed as a laughing stock, and painters knew that when they were submitting their work, but just being on display started a conversation, suddenly people started seeing merit in the work, suddenly it wasn’t bad art, it was just art.
Now I’m not saying be deliberately shocking, because I think there’s a lot of stupid work out there that just tries offend or scare people for the sake of it. I think our society is incredibly diluted in terms of what we think is shocking anymore anyways. Your work might shock or offend some people if you go for it but it’s not going to gain any traction. We’re not in an era where being shocking is going to get you anywhere, so whatever you’re going to say make sure you say it with conviction. If your work is passionate, true, and holds a meaning beyond just the shock then it will matter and people will see that. But if you just try to see what will push people’s buttons, I think that’s going to be overwhelmingly transparent and people will recognize that your work isn’t a real message. We’re certainly tip toeing along a line as artists and if you stumble over it with something meaningful and real then that’s ok, you can’t be afraid to do that. There’s a reason why cliche ass sayings like, “my haters are my motivators,” exist.