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Sunday, May 26
The Indiana Daily Student

opinion

OPINION: Art should make you uncomfortable

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I recently stumbled across a post claiming to state the “objective” differences between good art and bad art. As an ardent lover of art in all its forms – and who isn’t – I was very interested in seeing how this user quantified an inherently subjective topic. 

What I saw made me laugh. The user claimed that good art “improves mood,” “boosts energy” and “clarifies the mind.” Bad art, on the other hand, “makes you feel weird,” “confuses the mind” and “is whining, coping, seething and a waste of time.” 

In short, what he calls bad art is my kind of stuff. 

All of this talk about what’s good and bad art misses the whole point of art completely. Art isn’t meant to make you feel comfortable. It isn’t meant to be watered down for any audience to enjoy. It’s so much more than that. 

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I’m making an assumption that most of what this poster was referring to as “good art” is classical art pieces, seeing as he makes a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s infamous modern art piece “Fountain” – a literal urinal – in the thread

But much of classical art doesn’t improve the viewer’s mood. One classically-trained painting, “Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan” by Ilya Repin, makes me feel horrendous every time I see it. The look of sheer horror on the elder Ivan’s face doesn’t necessarily boost my energy. 

You can even look at one of the greatest producers of art for centuries – the Catholic church. How many depictions of Christ on the cross, with pain etched on his features and blood dripping from his body, hang on the walls of Catholic churches across the globe? Like, a lot, right? 

All of this art is spectacular beauty-wise, but doesn’t necessarily act as a mood-booster. But even uglier art – art that isn’t objectively beautiful and makes you crazy uncomfortable – is still art. 

A great example is the films of David Cronenberg. He’s one of my favorite artists of all time – but not because his films uplift me. If anything, my enjoyment of his films comes from the fact that they make me feel so bad. 

Does it make me feel good to watch someone shove a VHS tape into a huge yonic gash in James Woods’s abdomen? Does it make me feel good to see Peter Weller massaging a living, bug-shaped typewriter to write? Does it make me feel good to witness a myriad of people violently crashing their cars into each other for pleasure? 

Solid no for all of those. 

What makes Cronenberg so amazing is his mastery of the uncomfortable and the weird. I end up liking his films, even loving them, even though they often make me feel very bad. 

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Art, whether it takes the form of film, painting, sculpture or none of the above, is a personal reflection of the artist. As all of us know, not every feeling we have is good. There is a place and a purpose for exploring both the dark and light sides of humanity. 

If you don’t enjoy a piece of art, that’s fine! Just because it is art doesn’t mean you automatically have to enjoy it. Art is, objectively, subjective. If you don’t like a piece, it doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong. It’s just not for you. 

When I see a piece of art that I question as being “really art,” I stop myself for a moment. I think of the two qualities I’ve boiled down as being good art to me. 

One: it is a medium transformed or redefined by an artist or group of artists. Two: it evokes an emotion in the viewer – even if that’s anger at how non-art it is. 

The vast majority of pieces will check off those two boxes, because art is a very expansive idea. You don’t have to follow my guidelines, though. Make your own boxes! Defining what art is for yourself is the beauty of creation. 

Trying to boil down what’s “good” and “bad” in the world of art is like trying to pick where one color turns into another in a gradient. It’s nearly impossible. What’s bad to you is great to another person, and vice versa. So be the bigger person – and keep making “bad” art. 

 

Danny William (they/them) is a sophomore studying media. 

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