Monday, February 16, 2015
Stealth Art - Creating Beautiful Art With a Message
Some artists consider themselves to be activists also. They create art that is often angry and full of loathing. It hurts the eyes and the heart in its harshness and in that harshness it gets its message past our biases and occasionally makes an impact on someones life. I have undying respect for these artists.
There is no doubt that I am both artists and activist. I believe that some art is created to each us something in a way that words cannot always do. But since I began as an artist, I started creating art in a distinctly different way from most activists.
I call this "stealth art". I've seen the term before, but I've not seen it applied in quite the same way I use it. Basically Stealth Art is the ability to create a piece of art which is beautiful and engaging, but which holds a deeper message often masked by that beauty.
I often talk about the theory of abstraction versus purpose. The same rule of thumb applies here. Engage them with abstraction, beauty, eloquence, but shock them by the revelation that behind the beauty lies more sinister"purpose". And sometimes that purpose can be ripe with multiple meanings.
In my studio is the completed "Mark of the Beast" sculpture (seen below)
During this past Mardi Gras season, there have been a lot of casual visitors to the studio who just see the place from the road and want to come closer. The 8 foot canvas on one side the room always catches their attention. The reactions are much the same. First there is awe by its shear size. They see the abstraction first. The colors and layout remind some of a circuit board found in a computer. Then they look closer and they realize "woah, there is a whole city in front of them". They sometimes take a step backwards. You can tell by their body language that something just clicked into place for them. They want to touch it. They follow the streets with their eyes and look at the wide variety of buildings and structures. And they shake their heads in amazement. The abstraction has them in its grasp, but for most, that's where it ends. They move on to the next sculpture, asking polite questions about how things were made and whether I show my work in a gallery. But most totally miss that their is another message staring them in the face. They miss the giant cross in the center, black and menacing. They miss the buildings at the core which are dark with the exception of a few tiny twinkles of light coming from a few windows.
At first I would let it pass. It was easier to avoid and let them just think it was a cool abstract piece of art. But others, you can tell will stop for a moment in confusion. Its subtle and its fleeting, but something else caught their attention. Its those folk I pay attention to the most. I casually mention the cross and they turn back and gaze it further. I try to explain to them that the cross represents extremism. When they seem receptive to that message, I go on to explain the whole story of what the piece represents and the concept came about. For those of you not familiar with it, I wont detail it now, but if you'd like to know the full story, check out the piece and its narrative here sometime (THE MARK OF THE BEAST)
Its then, and only then that the giant cross and the name of the piece merge together and snap into perspective for them. Most walk away, decidedly concerned. A slight frown on their face. Others shake their heads and thank me and ask if they can see more of my work online. A few even asked me to send them links regarding the historic data behind the theme.
The point is, they were caught by the abstraction and for most that was all it will ever be. But for a few, the purpose slammed home and made an impact on them. Stealth Art.
Mark of the Beast is subtle. Its easy to miss the message without some kind of information to explain what the artist intended. They make up their own stories and that is fine. Art is about making stories. But for those few, I hope it changes them in some subtle way.
Another piece that often gets attention is called "A Hell of Their Own Making". This is a monster piece, stretching 6 feet across and 6 feet high. It is 36 feet in surface area and I've had it described back to me as if the person viewing it could walk straight into hell through it.
The wax work flames and distant volcanoes catch the eye and hold it. The ghoulish faces surrounding it are like a haunted house. The figure in the center seems inexplicable. Most think its just some Gothic horror painting. They smile politely while at the same time feeling vaguely disturbed deep down inside. Their is a message here. Its more direct than Mark of the Beast. It climbs out and taps you on the shoulder but most just ignore it. But this one is harder to ignore. There are things within it that make a person just have to ask about. Why is there a man in one corner without a head? Why are their skeletons on crosses? What is this?
Then I explain, simply and gently so they do not run off in horror, that the faces staring out number 12 and represent the twelve apostles who were with Jesus at the last supper. For some, this is enough to clue them into the bleeding reclining form in the center. The stiffened corpse who they suddenly realize come complete with a penis stiffened also in death. They blood is coming from hands and feet and drips slowly down the sculpture. I often leave the narrative at that point, especially if the viewer seems particularly disturbed. A few ask quietly "But whats it mean?" And I remind them of the title of the peace and how we all have the ability to create a hell of our own making, even twelve men and a wise prophet. They usually walk away at that point. I'd love to know what they are thinking and whether they ever thought about it again, or more pointedly decided to stay far away from the heretical artist who would subvert what so many believe. Again...Stealth Art.
I could give many more examples. but I think these two serve to make my point for me.
Sometimes beauty can serve a greater purpose and message. Angry art that is immediately shocking can turn a person away far before they ever learn anything from it. I prefer to lure them in with a bit of honey before I spike their art experience with Tabasco sauce.
You can view "A Hell of Their Own Making" and many others at the following link. I'd love your opinions on this, so feel free to tell me I'm full of crap. We'll get on famously!
at 10:56 PM