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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Art and Design - or, How to Impose Your Opinions Upon Others

I never thought myself a particularly prudish person… in face, I think myself quite open minded when it comes to the human body and animal nature… however, a suggestive depiction of nudity in a gallery can quite upset me. Going to see Helmut Newton’s work in Berlin a few weeks ago was something of an assault on my sensibilities;

just the twenty-foot high images in the main hall of women standing defiantly in nothing but their shoes made me feel uneasy, let alone the more suggestive poses displayed deeper within the museum.

Ghada Amer’s thread-drawings of naked women in erotic poses was what sparked my priggishness. Not knowing the context of her work at the time, I found myself suddenly accosted with multiple pornographic images after having been in a totally innocent state of mind beforehand. The effect was (as intended) upsetting and vaguely sickening and has quite spoilt nudes and sex within art for me since.
Kudos for the effectiveness of your work, Amer!

But it’s not only naked people that I really don’t want to see. There are messages everywhere that I never wanted to see. In October I wrote about the then new Atheist Bus Campaign which assured everyone that "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life", a sentiment that I agreed with but wasn’t sure that it was right to insist to people who believe otherwise. Last week I saw an almost identical bus poster which said "There is definitely a God. So join the Christian party and enjoy your life".
I laughed out loud. Getting me some strange looks from my fellow bus passengers.
But much as I appreciated the wit of the visual comeback, I didn’t want to be told that, either. I cry for the trees that die making millions of religious leaflets that are handed out on the street by a person saying “God bless you” to everyone who passes by… it’s not even that I don’t think that people should impose their religion on others, it’s mainly because those leaflets are ridiculously ineffective.
“You don’t believe in hell. But you should and you should believe in God, because otherwise YOU’LL GO TO HELL! Ahhh, you’re scared now, aren’t you!!” is the gist that I get from these leaflets.
Maybe I’ve just been handed the wrong ones.

But the fact of the matter is, as an art and design student, this is exactly what I intend to one day do to other people… so in the hope that karma exists, I say to these people, THAT’S RIGHT! PHOTOGRAPH YOUR NUDES AND PROMOTE YOUR BELIEFS (disclaimer: so long as it doesn’t promote hatred and violence) BECAUSE ONE DAY I WILL BE MAKING THE SAME ATTEMPT TO MAKE YOU THINK WHAT I WANT YOU TO THINK!
My graphic design teacher shocked me once in a conversation about Banksy. When one of my classmates pointed out that if Banksy’s identity was discovered, he’d be in major legal trouble. “Good!” my teacher remarked, “You shouldn’t impose art on people.”
Surely he was being ironic? A man who specialises in designing adverts and promotional material intended to infiltrate the public’s daily visual information? Perhaps he was referring to the use of other people’s property as a canvas, rather than the use of public space to display the work, but that was the point at which I decided that I was never going to condemn any art (other than bigoted propaganda… call me fascist but I’m not gonna put up with that…) even if it makes me feel vaguely like I want to throw up. It would just be far too hypocritical...

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