Culture | The emotion of art

I would like to begin this blog by introducing an unusual video. In this post and future ones, I will try to contextualize various online discoveries and relate them to what is going on not only at McGill, but also in that scary wider world out there. I also very much welcome further links from you, sparked by (or railing against) my own musings.

Last Monday I attended professor Jennifer Doyle’s (University of California at Riverside) excellent talk entitled Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art. She began by discussing controversies in contemporary art and recalled a recent example from the exhibit “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Gallery in Washington D.C.. Last December, the video piece “Fire in my Belly” by David Wojnarowicz was removed from the gallery due to the protests of a small Catholic contingent (Bill Donohue and the Catholic League). The news story had caught my attention at the time, but – foolishly – I had not followed up my awareness with an investigation of the artwork itself. I assumed that the work should not have been pulled and got on with things.

Many like-minded, but more influential, folk rallied behind Wojnarowicz. As Doyle persuasively argued, however, there is a tendency in liberal academic arts discourse to defend controversial or scandalous art, which in fact diminishes the political power of that work. No, Doyle protested, let’s not lose the vital radical praxis of these works. As she put it, “controversy comes from a real place,” and it is important that scandalous works offend. They offend because they are new and disturbing, they are difficult and emotional, and they challenge the established order. If we feel like art no longer kicks up a fuss as it did when Manet made his debut at the Salon des Refusés, it is because art’s defendants acquiesce to criticism rather hail the controversy of the works. Impressionism was a term of derision. Manet did not respond by claiming his art was in fact adhering to academic convention. He had thrown out these principles for a reason and stuck to his guns. We admire him for it.

If Wojnarowicz hates the Catholic Church and expresses that in his art then let’s make space for it (I’m not sure he actually does, but still, it is worth being able to consider). Of course, the irony is that I would probably never have watched this video unless it was banned. Thank you Catholic League! I have now seen the video; it is intriguing and perhaps shocking. All the better.


Fire in My Belly de David Wojnarowicz, Diamanda Galas
envoyé par altimsah. – Découvrez plus de vidéos créatives.

On another note, it occurred to me this week that the music video has been a somewhat wasted form. In essence, it is the combination of music and short video art. The amount of short filmmakers who make stunning 34 minute pieces who do not turn their skills to creating music videos must be huge. I was alerted to one example of a fine song and video working in conjunction and I hope to discover more.

Bruce Conner’s video for Devo’s track Mongoloid

If anyone has any favourite suggestions, please make me aware. If there is indeed a serious lack, then one of you budding filmmakers, please fill this void!


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.