Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On Transgression

Hiya, kids! Today I'm going to talk at'cha about transgressive art.

Transgressive art can be a sticky subject because, well, subjectivity. What some find to be offensive and surreal could just be a Tuesday morning for someone else who leads a perfectly normal and productive life but just happens to have different values. That said, most people can probably agree on the definition at least: transgressive art is art in any medium that challenges social mores, whether to provoke thought, or simply provoke. "But Worlock," you say, "isn't that technically what 'art' as a general concept is supposed to mean?" Well, yes, but transgressive art takes that concept and runs like a goddamn maniac with it. It can be cruel, disturbing, disgusting, nightmarish, nihilistic, and utterly, hopelessly perverted. There can be deep meaning behind it, or none at all. It can be solemnly and pointedly making a statement (one example being Peter Sotos in his notorious sound-collage record, Buyer's Market, or maybe the lyrics of Swans and Angels of Light frontman Michael Gira) throwing standards and 'normality' out the window with manic glee (the films of John Waters, the lyrics of Frank Zappa, or Mike Diana's notoriously nefarious "Boiled Angel" comics) or, most effectively of all in my opinion, finding a middleground and swinging between the two extremes (such as the writings of Chuck Palahniuk or the lyrics of Marilyn Manson). The important thing is that it takes an outsider's point of view to some logical conclusion.

And that is where many people misunderstand (or especially pick up disdain for) transgressive art; in most cases, it doesn't think everyone is going to enjoy it. Best case scenario, it hopes that someone out there will understand where it is coming from. The idea, no matter what of those 'fighting styles' it adopts, is to present a viewpoint, belonging to its creator, of the outsider looking in (or in some cases, wandering around looking for something, no matter what it is.) Whether it's about the middle-of-the-bell-curve members of society, or about fellow fringe-minded folks, they are looking at them and reporting back with their own interpretation of it all - disgust, amusement, or even just morbid fascination.

"But Worlock," you say again, an incredulous tone to your voice. "Couldn't it easily be said that a great number of these so-called 'artists' are only pseudo-intellectuals and/or are just trying to make a quick buck off the rebellious set?" Well, pay extra close attention, because this part will be on the test: even being part of that culture myself, there is not a doubt in my mind that pseudo-intellectualism and cheap, gratuitous thrills are probably a dime a dozen within this field. However. However. It does not change the outcome. If the creator's heart is not in the work, then its value may be suspect, as with most mediums. However, misanthropy is an acquired trait, and the people who have it and are able to take some personal significance away from the art still gain something. Value can be salvaged even from shit. And not just in the case of transgressive art, but in a very general sense.

Not sure what my ultimate point is, really; I just felt like expounding to the wall about something I enjoy and am frustrated at seeing frequently blasted by people who dismiss anything that isn't life-affirming. Probably will talk more on this later. As you were, citizen.