The Art in Deliberately Making You Uncomfortable

Making someone deliberately uncomfortable for the sake of art is a concept that is not new to me. Antonin Artaud’s philosophy of Theatre of Cruelty employs tactics which are meant to shock the audience, with the idea to create a more intense theatrical experience. Jana Sterbak stitched together a meat dress in her art piece “Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorexic,” which could have very well been the inspiration for Lady Gaga’s Video Music Awards outfit last September.

In A Bright New Boise, Felipe Cabezas’ character Leroy wears shirts that display expletives to evoke a very specific response. An art major at Boise State University, Leroy describes his self-made t-shirts as art, using words and phrases such as “YOU WILL EAT YOUR CHILDREN” juxtaposed against the purchasing of cheap craft-store supplies to make a dramatic statement; to make Hobby Lobby shoppers deliberately uncomfortable.

A Bright New Boise’s Assistant Dramaturg, Cameron Huppertz, informed me that Sam Hunter’s inspiration for Leroy’s artistic statement comes from the work of Jenny Holzer and her focus on text as art. Her technique of using provocative text/language/placement to elicit a response from the viewer has been received with great acclaim, garnering her awards and landing her art real-estate in a number of different locations, from the lobby of 7 World Trade Center, New York, to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, around the corner from Woolly!

I find it interesting to think about other aspects of our lives that are specifically manufactured to make us feel uncomfortable, one aspect which is coming up very soon—Halloween. Our entire culture has been built around the idea that Halloween is a day when people want to be scared, surprised, made nervous, and/or uncomfortable. Elaborate costumes are sold in costume stores that pop up especially for Halloween. Fog machines, spooky decorations, music that will make your skin crawl are put together in Haunted Houses which can be found just about everywhere in the week leading up to All Hallow’s Eve. Is this idea about finding pleasure and entertainment out of experiencing fear and discomfort any different from Leroy and his t-shirts?

What do you think about art making you uncomfortable? Do you think it’s cool? Is it not art to you? Does it deepen your connection to the piece by creating an emotional response, whatever emotion that may be?

~ Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

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1 Comment

Filed under A Bright New Boise, Communications and Connectivity

One response to “The Art in Deliberately Making You Uncomfortable

  1. Art that makes the audience deliberately uncomfortable is a high stakes gambit. When a piece of work does this and lands, it can be very powerful. Too often, though, the deliberateness outstrips the discomfort making the piece easy to dismiss as clumsily manipulative.

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