Big Rowan Ackison (greensh) wrote,
Big Rowan Ackison

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The Controversial Artist

Artists are not always about light and love. Some artists produce works that are shocking and downright disturbing to the masses. I am thinking specifically of graphic artists, writers, and musicians. This topic has come to mind because of three recent events:

1) I saw a shared posting that compared the reading of Fifty Shades of Grey (50sog) to viewing of pornography
2) I saw a movie preview for Fifty Shades of Grey (50sog)
3) I saw a shared posting that states that 50sog is the outline of an abusive relationship

What is this book 50sog? Wikipedia says the following about the book:
“It is the first installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM).”

The notable thing about 50sog is that the book, and the series associated with it, have been incredibly popular. The subject material is controversial. It is not surprising that there have been push back from groups. Why would an author produce material like this? This is what I want to look at.

Please note that my comments are not mean to be an attack on 50sog. The book, and upcoming movie, are symptomatic of a larger situation. 50sog is incredibly tame compared to other books of the same genre (i.e. Anne Rice’s Beauty series) that have had mass market appeal. Because it is tame(r), 50sog is a good starting point for talking about why artists create works that shock their audiences.

The works of artists are not meant to be textbook statements of life or how to live life. Artists are not historians. An artist’s world should not be mistaken for “real” reality. The artist uses our shared reality as a jumping off point for their personal presentation of life. These presentations, be they photo, painting, story, or song, are the artist’s personal vision. This vision may be incredibly disturbing. Does this mean that artists that present disturbing visions are disturbed themselves? Ah! I don’t believe all of artists are bad in the brain because they present upsetting vision. Artists are slightly touched, but there are reasonable motivations for their presented views .

Artists are incredibly purposeful. They can create controversy for a reason. The reasons for creating controversy range from the self-serving to the altruistic :

1) Generate interest though shock and awe – artists want to stand out from the crowd
2) Make the $$$, “I was young and needed the money”
3) Raise awareness of an issue by creating “devil’s advocate” perspective
4) Reflect personal or societal issues / demons

A lot of controversy stems from the accuracy of an artist’s vision. 50sog is a world populated by BDSM adherents. Is this avoidable? Controversy occurs because the artist focuses on a singular vision. Big life is messy. The artist’s focus forces them to simplify material. A story is reduced down to the size of a song, painting, novel, or movie. Thus the vision is exaggerated.

So what is the summary of this article? I suppose I am saying that controversial works, and 50sog is a good example, are purposely made so. They are not meant to be a historical, documentary account of our larger reality. The outcome of an artist’s vision is incredibly personal. This personal vision may be made purposely controversial for a variety of reasons. These range from making the $$$ to the unintended outcome of simplifying a very big picture. Where does this leave the viewer of the artist’s output? How should people react to material like 50sog? You can choose to participate or not participate. You can choose to emotionally react as a victim, enjoy the material as a vicarious experience, or walk away from an author’s disturbing personal vision. You can even use the controversial material as a jumping off point for discussions, but don’t mistake the material for a documented reality in and of itself. The artist should be honored for their efforts, as shocking as they may be, and you have the responsibility to honor yourself with an action correct for yourself.
Tags: 50sog, artist, controversial

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