Offensive Art

There's an interesting debate going on over at MSV over an image.

The image is a mosaic of human beings plummeting to the ground from the Twin Towers on 9-11-01.

Some folks are repulsed, others defend the work.

And it is a work. Of art. Someone assembled those images in exactly that way to evoke an emotional or intellectual reaction from you. Just because the topic is one so personal and the images so familiar, doesn't make it anything else. It's been constructed for you.

In my opinion, the artist is trying to shock and repulse us, to grind our noses in the brutality and inhumanity of the acts performed by 19 sociopaths. To not only force us to remember the day, but to experience it in the horror of the subjects' final moments.

Do I like the piece? No. I hate it.

And I'm repulsed.

Am I offended? Well, yes.

I don't care for 9-11 being repackaged as art (visual or music or theater) for public consumption. Which doesn't make it wrong. These are my feelings.

I respect the right and freedom of anyone to create the art they choose. And to display it.

I (GA) had my own personal experience producing a piece of 'art'- a political graphic, branded 'offensive' for which I was pilloried. You know what I mean.

The image I created was supposed to be repulsive as both pun and metaphor for some really bad ideas espoused by a slate of School Board candidates. Well, it was pulled out of context off this site by a rabid political partisan to damage my reputation and score a political hit, but in fact ... he put GA on the map. So to speak.

Such is the power of offensive art.

But what is offensive? And offensive to whom?

It is completely subjective.

As food for thought, here are a few pieces of art labeled 'offensive' for your viewing displeasure.

Information noted as available.

Artist: George Schneider, April 2008

Behold an actual dying person. On the floor of an art gallery. From

Currently, he’s seeking already-dying volunteers to lay in an art gallery, alone, in view of uneasily curious onlookers who anticipate nothing more than for the subject to take his or her last breath, so Schneider can simply capture what he calls, “the beauty in death.”


Artist: David Cerny, Title, "Shark"

Here we have a representation of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein floating in a tank of formaldehyde. From

David created this art with his philosophical belief in the “impossibility of death in the minds of something living.” Which only strikes one thought within me which is: is he really trying to keep Saddam alive? At any rate, Shark is a realistic depiction of that despotic dictator we all have grown to know and view in obscurity so well.

Another piece by the same artist:

Artist: David Cerny

This fountain is in Prague. And what you don't see from the still image is that the privates of these 2 gentlemen oscillate from side-to-side. Okay...

Next one:

Artist: Kate Fretz, Title "Blessed Art Thou", 2007

A divine Angelina Jolie with her children hover over a checkout line at Walmart. I found this piece on on a blog where the blogger muses on the nature of offensive art.

What makes a work of art offensive? What causes thousands to lash out against one work of art while praising another? Are people offended for what they feel the work portrays- or are they offended because it reveals the inner workings of their own lives... their psychological fears and frailties.

Good questions. I suppose one answer does not fit all.

On the topic of religion,I found a collection of works deemed "offensive religious art" but won't post them here. Because...

OK, one more:

Artist: unknown

How do you like this table? Does it go with your decor?

Well, there are thousands of examples of so-called 'offensive' works of art available online if the subject interests you.

Now, if you ask me, "what is offensive art?" I'd answer, "I'll know it when I see it."

Though you may not agree.


  1. I can't really look at much related to 9/11. I don't watch shows, never saw that movie, etc.

    However arranged, a depiction of the last terrified moments of essentially faceless others seems callous to me. It tells me nothing except there is a point at which heat is too much to bear and the option of a last few seconds in the open air will be taken together with type of death it guarantees.

    I doubt the artist meant to make a point about politics, al Qaeda, homeland security. If he did, he's a fool.

  2. That's true for me too, Info.

    Would these people have wanted their death plunges depicted in a mosaic artwork? The artist used still images of their last moments of life, filled with terror, for his/her message or point or whatever.

    As I said, not a fan of 9-11 art.

  3. GA

    You know how I feel. I doubt that the person(s) who jumped, or their loved ones, had no intention of becoming the object of curiosity. I am sure that it may not matter at this point, but to me it trivializes the horror of that day. Would be so willing to look at a collage of people actually going into the gas chambers? I often am sickened by the imagery of the Holocaust - even though it is removed by time. To see those images and to realize that there are humans suffering, it is often hard to take. I am aware that such images of human atoricites exist, such as the kiloling fields in Cambodia, the of the images, I know that they exist. I understand and appreciate the need to preserve them to enable future generations to appreciate the horrors. But using them as an art project. No.

  4. There are iconic images of war with non-voluntary subjects. Nick Ut's picture of the girl running from the napalm attack. Dead soldiers in trenches at the Marne. But there are two differences.

    They're photographs. If they rise to the level of art in someone's estimation, they are still primarily journalism. And the photo-journalist accepts risks into the bargain that the arranger of tragic images does not.

    They always ask the same necessary question. Are you still on board if this is part of the price? As such, they insist on the humanity of their subjects as a starting point.

    The collage does not ask that question. It has no context for it. All such art asks a correlary question - are you still on board for freedom of expression if this is part of the price? And, yes, I am.

  5. There's no question photo-journalism can be artful in transmitting a narrative or a subject's emotions, such as the iconic images mentioned. The angle of the shot, the lighting, the shutter speed, the type of film, etc... but when it comes down to it, there is no one, nothing standing between the subject and the camera, inserting a point of view.

    Plugging shots of the soon-to-be-dead into an image quilt is another matter.


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