July 3, 2018

"This is the definition of art that has always most excited me: the feeling of being taken to the boundary of the universe, then beyond that boundary..."

"... into the surrounding darkness, and you’re the first person to ever be there. It’s not an experience that happens very often, but I’m willing to wait. I’ve never been someone who’s enjoyed music in general, or contemporary fiction in general, or films in general, or theater in general. I feel I’m standing on the runway waiting for the next big one to come in, carrying some of that outer darkness with it."

Said the writer Mark Haddon, commenting on the liner notes to the Miles Davis album "Bitches Brew," which read: "it’s not more beautiful, just different. a new beauty. a different beauty. the other beauty is still beauty. this is new and right now it has the edge of newness and that snapping fire you sense when you go out there from the spaceship where nobody has ever been before."

Haddon (the author of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") is quoted in "Art Should Be Uncomfortable/For the writer Mark Haddon, Miles Davis’s seminal jazz album Bitches Brew is a reminder of the beauty and power of challenging works" (The Atlantic, May 2016). The liner notes were written by Ralph J. Gleason.

I'm reading that article after googling "art should make you uncomfortable" — which is a phrase I wrote at the end of the post "The brown spot." I was moved to google my own words because my statement was challenged — "So that is a crucial component of art: making the viewer uncomfortable?" — and because I didn't think what I was saying was at all original. Perhaps I thought I could find some authority to back me up.

My challeger, the commenter Loren W Laurent, added "A conveyance of joy is thus outside of what art should do?" I answered: "Joy should make you uncomfortable. After a short while, you need to come down and want to move back to normal. If your brain doesn't work like that, you have a problem. You can't go about your life in a state of ecstasy."

Additional "comfortableness" topics I just got into a long conversation about:

1. Comedy. Should comedy make us uncomfortable? Doesn't the best comedy comedy make us uncomfortable? One criticism I have of the Kathy Griffin concert I saw in Chicago last Thursday is that the audience was treated as an in group, with shared values, and Griffin never challenged them. She only attacked people out there beyond the enclave of the theater. She had been exiled, so I understand her motivation, but she asked nothing from the audience except that they commit to her and be on her side, against those others out there. The audience adulated her, and she dished adulation back at them. It was a rally. I thought it was ironic: She hates Trump, but her show was like the stereotype of a Trump rally (more than an actual Trump rally is like that stereotype). I prefer comedians who makes their own fans uncomfortable. Andy Kaufman. Lenny Bruce. Etc.

2. Religion. I thought of Jesus:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
3. Politics.

144 comments:

rhhardin said...

The food connoisseur in _Candy_ (Terry Southern) did in the art reaction meme.

rhhardin said...

A hostile workplace makes women uncomfortable.

Nonapod said...

Art Should Be Uncomfortable

To quote Dwight Schrute: False!

Art can be uncomfortable, but it sure doesn't have to be.

Bob Boyd said...

One time in the greenhouse I accidentally overheard my boss Laslo telling Natalie Portman, "A cucumber in the ass should make you uncomfortable."

Gahrie said...

When I am considering purchasing art, I look for these things that please me to look at.

chickelit said...

Politics: “The Art Of The Deal” makes the right people uncomfortable.

Two-eyed Jack said...

I think that saying that art should make you uncomfortable is a cliché used to justify the notion that art that is discomfiting is "better" art. That ugliness leads to truer truths. That beauty, in music, architecture, sculpture, is somehow false and merely ornamental, while ugliness gets at something profound.

The Taj Mahal does not make me uncomfortable. It awakens feelings of the sublime.

Roughcoat said...

Oh dear. She's quoting Christ again.

Henry said...

After a short while, you need to come down and want to move back to normal. If your brain doesn't work like that, you have a problem. You can't go about your life in a state of ecstasy.

Reminds me of this.

If your brain doesn't come down, you may be a saint. Saints are not sane.

joshbraid said...

I do not see how your fascination with "comfortableness" intersects with art. Yes, I know, "get out of your comfort zone". In Christianity there are the concepts of "consolation" and "desolation", which can be related to "comfortable" and "uncomfortable". There is also this theme of "getting out of oneself". This silly metaphor of "boundary of the universe" probably means becoming aware of something out of one's neurological awareness since that is "looking into the outer darkness".

Really, either you think of beauty as some objective Platonic form or else one returns to the hedonistic sphere of positive stimulation which distracts me from my emptiness. I think Haddon is referring to the later and not really to beauty, to a sense of escape rather than to an experience of an objective truth. To sum it up, I think you are mixing up an encounter with beauty with the relief of escaping from the boredom of one's self that is radically part of a hedonistic life.

Carol said...

I like Miles up until and before Bitches Brew.

Fernandistein said...

No workplaceart pichers for you:

"To monitor the situation, Garvin suggested taking screenshots, saving emails on your personal computer and keeping a file of everything that makes you uncomfortable".

Christopher said...

Should comedy make us uncomfortable? Doesn't the best comedy comedy make us uncomfortable?

Why?

I see what you're saying about the event turning into a mirror image of a Trump rally, but this idea that the best comedy should make us uncomfortable and that art should make us uncomfortable, do you not have enough pain in your life or something?

Great art can do that but where is it written that it must? Art can be sublime without inflicting pain. Does Beethoven's Fifth make you uncomfortable? Why should it?

Bizarre.

Richard Dolan said...

Surely, a poem, painting or musical work, if it's any good, should cause the viewer/listener to have a reaction, to feel or experience something differently. But why uncomfortable? That has a bit too much of the romantic/heroic artist about it, and seems a bit dated.

Roughcoat said...

Concerning Christian theology in general and scripture in particular, your knowledge is limited and your depth of understanding is shallow. You should keep this in mind when considering whether to use Bible quotes to make a point or support your arguments.

madAsHell said...

Joy should make you uncomfortable.

I disagree. It seems that you embrace your joy with a side of guilt. I believe this to be a female characteristic.....or at least the women in my orbit.

gspencer said...

"into the surrounding darkness, and you’re the first person to ever be there"

Isn't that the very experience being visited upon those 12 boys and their errant 25-year old leader inside a cave in Thailand? From all reports no one is happy that this near tragedy happened.

Unknown said...

I nearly commented on the previous post to make the same point, but I think the idea of art's purpose being to make people uncomfortable is responsible for some of the most execrable "art" of the past 100+ years. It's relatively easy to make someone uncomfortable - just push the boundaries of taste. To create something transcendent or that changes your perspective on the world is hard. And these don't have to make you uncomfortable to do this.

And with comedy, I find Brian Regan absolutely hilarious yet I don't think his comedy makes me uncomfortable in any way.

Art may make you uncomfortable, but I just don't see why it has to be a requirement.

Fernandistein said...

"A happiness unthinkable in the normal state and unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t experienced it… I am then in perfect harmony with myself and the entire universe." -- Dostoevsky

Robert Cook said...

Of course, Haddon is talking about art, while most Americans only know "art," (if that).

Nonapod is right: art doesn't have to be uncomfortable, but the greatest art often is simply because it is so unlike anything that came before it. Everyone loves the Impressionists now, but when they first appeared they were excoriated for desecrating painting! No one had seen anything like what they were doing. The audience at the premier of Stravinksy's "Rite of Spring" rioted in the theater in outrage!

As for literary art, aside from the stylistic experiments of a James Joyce or Virginia Woolf or Gertrude Stein, a writer who writes truthfully about what goes on inside and among human beings will often produce very uncomfortable work, as is seen in the demand even today for certain books to be banned or bowdlerized.

Mike said...

So maybe Althouse sees discomfort as a necessary component of Art, not as an absolute requirement of Art. Maybe I'm different. I like comedy like Steve Martin's classic "let's Get Small" because I get off on absurdity. I like Kevin Hart's stand-up because he's just damned funny (and maybe a little absurd). Others might be uncomfortable with absurdity. (My Dad comes to mind.) And yet others might be inspired by the uncomfortable feeling of absurd statements and acts.

"My girlfriend has the best pussy!" [audience erupts] "You people are sick man. I'm talking about her cat!" [giggles] "That cat was the best fuck I ever had." [audience erupts again]
###

Does that discomfort you? Maybe the discomfiting aspect is like spice in relation to food. I like food. Sometimes I like really spicy food, which can be uncomfortable. Sometimes very painfully so, but it also comes with the endorphin rush (runners high) that chile-heads seek. So maybe discomfort is an under appreciated aspect of art (I see art in food too) that I will now consider.
Does that riff from early Steve Martin

Kevin said...

"art should make you uncomfortable"

Only if you are comfortable. If you are afflicted, it must bring you comfort.

In today's climate not even a cigar is allowed to just be a cigar.

grackle said...

Should art make us feel uncomfortable? Sometimes, sure. But shouldn’t art make us feel a variety of emotions? Sometimes joy, sometimes sadness, sometimes nostalgia, etc., sometimes all at once, depending on the context of the individual work of art and the culture of the society that produces the art.

My opinion is simply that art should make us FEEL. Period.

Mike said...

I have no idea how that post ended up disconnected on its way to discomfort.

Robert Cook said...

"That beauty, in music, architecture, sculpture, is somehow false and merely ornamental, while ugliness gets at something profound."

What is "ugly?" What is "beauty?" What may come to be perceived as beautiful in time can be first taken as ugly by those unprepared to accept or understand something new, as per my comments about the Impressionists and Stravinsky. There are many more examples.

Ann Althouse said...

"When I am considering purchasing art, I look for these things that please me to look at."

I'm not really talking about residential interior decoration! Of course, you don't want to be continually challenged in your personal abode. I'm talking about what museums and other "high art" places should be presenting to visitors.

hiawatha biscayne said...

Miles Davis in the 50s was more normal kinda music, in my estimation. By the late 60s and on, it was just noise by pissed off black guys - an ordeal to listen to.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Some people interpret Matthew 10:34-39 as anti-family, but as a practical matter becoming a Christian during the 1st century would have meant going against your family, who would have been perfectly content pagans who would think your conversion to this weird cult was "odd" at best and often dangerous. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned for preaching the Gospel. Paul had his "road to Damascus" moment while heading to Damascus to arrest Christians and take them back to Jerusalem to be killed. In a patriarchal society where the father and or husband and other male relatives had absolute authority over the women, there would have had to been conflict.

Kevin said...

Even Trump's rallies are about how far he can push his base before they begin to push back.

Should he keep pounding on the media, or has it run its course? Start off every rally by pointing at the cameras in the back and take note if the intensity of the boos start to drop off.

The CNN people see these sessions as lovefests.

The Fox viewers know they're televised focus groups.

Henry said...

One criticism I have of the Kathy Griffin concert I saw in Chicago last Thursday is that the audience was treated as an in group, with shared values, and Griffin never challenged them. She only attacked people out there beyond the enclave of the theater.

That answers the question, does it not? People will laugh in complete comfort.

But what about "the best comedy". No true Scotsman laughs loudest at comfortable comedy.

This isn't uncomfortable. This is funny.

Ann Althouse said...

"I disagree. It seems that you embrace your joy with a side of guilt. I believe this to be a female characteristic.....or at least the women in my orbit."

No. I wasn't thinking about guilt at all. I was thinking about getting stirred up and agitated into an emotional state beyond neutral. The brain will adjust and back you down to neutral. If the excited condition persists and your brain doesn't regulate you back to normal, I think you'd have a mental disorder, like mania.

Kevin said...

“I sense great vulnerability. A man-child crying out for love. An innocent orphan in the post-modern world.”

“I see a parasite. A sexually depraved miscreant who is seeking only to gratify his basest and most immediate urges.”

“His struggle is man's struggle. He lifts my spirit.”

“He is a loathsome, offensive brute. Yet I can’t look away.”

“He transcends time and space.”

“He sickens me.”

“I love it.”

“Me too.”


^^^Trump as art, or the portrait of Kramer? You decide.

Robert Cook said...

"I like Miles up until and before Bitches Brew."

Another example. Many of the critics and fans who had adored Miles for years hated the turn his work took with Bitches Brew and the albums he made up until his temporary retirement in 1975.

Today, many look to those works as among the greatest of his career. I'm not a huge Miles fan, in general, but I do prefer Bitches Brew and all that came later much more than I like what came before.

Ornette Coleman was reviled by most of his peers in the jazz world when he arrived on the scene. He is now considered one of the great artists of the form.

joshbraid said...

Of course, if I really encounter "art" I am left desolate because I become aware of the inadequacy of my own sphere of existence, of my so limited, impoverished world. This does connect with "uncomfortable" but only as a side effect. Really, art brings me into awareness of beauty which challenges me to discard my blinders of "comfortableness". If I embrace the "uncomfortableness" rather than run from it, I change for the better, I am more open to beauty.

Ann Althouse said...

"I have no idea how that post ended up disconnected on its way to discomfort."

Good point. You are reminding me that what I'm saying in this post applies to my blogging.

Gahrie said...

I'm not really talking about residential interior decoration! Of course, you don't want to be continually challenged in your personal abode. I'm talking about what museums and other "high art" places should be presenting to visitors.

Well in that case.....

I guess I would prefer "challenging" to "uncomfortable". I want art to expose me to new ideas and new ways of thinking or feeling...but I must confess to being a traditionalist. (I know shocking coming from a conservative)

For instance..I sorta get Andy Warhol. But the Jackson Pollack/Maplethorpe stuff just doesn't do anything for me. I find most modern art, especially "performance art" to be self indulgent at best. I would rather look at a Bob Ross painting than a Pollack any day of the week.

tim in vermont said...

One criticism I have of the Kathy Griffin concert I saw in Chicago last Thursday is that the audience was treated as an in group, with shared values, and Griffin never challenged them.

You’re shitting me! You mean liberal comedians are just an update on the old “minstrel shows” except that the outgroup that is being mocked is different, but the same base emotions are exploited? The Devil, you say!

tim in vermont said...

You know who was good at pushing boundaries? Democratic Senator from New Jersey Bob Menendez. He should just use the old “performance art” defense.

Grant said...

One characteristic of art that strikes me as “great” is that it makes me think and ponder and reexamine. This may or not be uncomfortable. The production of discomfort isn’t in itself a mark of great art. I used to have a very low opinion of Pollock’s drip art paintings. Then I saw a couple of them side by side with some of his earlier works at the National Gallery, and it was obvious: in comparison with his earlier work, those drip art paintings are superb. They might even be great. That was a relief, not a discomfort.

tim maguire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim maguire said...

I suppose art should make you uncomfortable if you define uncomfortable as something you should be made by art. Otherwise, no. It's too big a claim, the word can't handle the responsibility thrust upon it.

Robert Cook said...

"I would rather look at a Bob Ross painting than a Pollack any day of the week."

Yeesh! Like I said before, most Americans know only "art," and not art.

Pollack's paintings are beautiful, and Mapplethorpe, simply from the point of formal considerations, is a masterful photographer. The subject matter in Mapplethorpe is not always for everyone, to be sure, but that's because it depicts things that many of us are not familiar with in our lives and find distasteful to see. However, look at Mapplethorpe's photographs of flowers: no one can say they're not objectively masterful and beautiful.

tim in vermont said...

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;...,

Now there is a great quote. I don’t think that people who claim that anybody who resists the SJW takeover of Hollywood are “insecure” The latest word for ‘reactionary,’ realize how aggressive an act it is to take, for example, a franchise that men really liked, like Star Wars, and repurpose it as anti-male propaganda. It’s delusional to not thing that a move like that isn’t a transgressive attack on an out group whose power you want, and whose accomplishments one has seized for one’s own purposes isn’t an outright appropriation, in the old sense of the word as ’taking.'

Grant said...

Comfortable art: how Thomas Kinkade had a career.

Gahrie said...

Yeesh! Like I said before, most Americans know only "art," and not art.

Yeah, we're kind of deplorable that way. Just what we need , another lecture from a self perceived high brow to tell us all how ignorant and uncultured we are. The great unwashed always fucking things up for our betters.


But on the bright side, most of us don't support an ideology that has murdered and enslaved hundreds of millions of people, so we have that going for us.

tim in vermont said...

Re Maplethorpe: Hemingway once said that “All artists die, but it’s just that the corpse of artists who get political stink more.”

Loren W Laurent said...

Althouse posted her response to my comment here, so I'd like to re-post part of my answer to her comment from that conversation:

So you shouldn't enjoy joy because it is temporal.

I would argue that joy provided from art is magical because joy is fleeting. It is easy to make people uneasy, in the way that farting in church is easier than making a stained-glass window.

"If your brain doesn't work like that, you have a problem.": Sure. But that is the problem of gluttony, separate from the issue of what art can achieve (or, more narrowly put, should achieve).

...So: I still think you wrote your statement without thinking through its limitations, and are now redefining joy to fit around your thesis. Or perhaps you can explain how your photographs of flowers are intended foremost to make the viewer uncomfortable.

I would rather say that negating the possibility of joy through art makes much of modern art Hell.


Althouse says: "Sorry to step on your dream of heaven."

To which I say:

I would call that sentence Cruel Neutrality Bullshit.

I am enjoying this topic, and I was needling Althouse on the finality of the breadth of her statement.

There is great art that can certainly make you uncomfortable; I simply disagree with the idea that art "should make you uncomfortable", moreover, it seems like the discussion has shifted the definition of "uncomfortable" to mean any feeling except joy.

Darkness without light is Alaska in the winter. But Alaska experiences summer, too.

--LWL

tim in vermont said...

It would be a lot easier to listen to Cook if he ever showed the tiniest shred of critical examination of his own beliefs, rather than his declamations of truth from on high shtick.

Charlotte Allen said...

Why is art supposed to make people uncomfortable? Isn't are supposed to be about making something beautiful? What have I missed?

Sebastian said...

"because I didn't think what I was saying was at all original."

Exactly. It was a cliche. It was also false. Unlike you.

"Perhaps I thought I could find some authority to back me up"

Seeking validation for the use of a cliche? This descent into conventionality makes me uncomfortable.

tim in vermont said...

The difference between art and craft is that art is explicitly political. It’s when art becomes partisan that it falls over. That’s where Maplethorpe failed as an artist, he lowered his art to be part of the moment in a fit of pique against his fellow human beings.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

years ago, at an exhibit at MoMA, I watched the interaction between a father and his young daughter viewing a painting- a terrified horse with an attacking lion on its back. The girl asked her dad what this was about. He read the placard to himself- the lion represented art's responsibility/role to be the agent that aggressively keeps the horse-society- from being comfortable.
He then, when explaining, suddenly dug his fingers menacingly into the girl's neck and shoulders, startling her. Her fear and bewilderment at her father's violent action was sad to see. It was odd and disturbing to see in public.
He could have got his point across without causing discomfort. It isnt the only vehicle by which we are moved to a better place.

madAsHell said...

I was thinking about getting stirred up and agitated into an emotional state beyond neutral.

That's not uncomfortable. I find it euphoric. That moment when you realize the artist has found your lost chord, and made that statement that you couldn't articulate. The French impressionists, Beethoven......hell.....Keith Richards.

Uncomfortable is Robert Mapplethorpe.

rehajm said...

No other form of writing can match the unanimous pretentiousness of album liner notes.

Robert Cook said...

"That’s where Maplethorpe failed as an artist, he lowered his art to be part of the moment in a fit of pique against his fellow human beings."

I don't know a lot about Mapplethorpe, but I don't think he was expressing any fit of pique against his fellow human beings. He was making art that expressed his notions of beauty, and that included subject matter that was too intimate and too distasteful for many. But that doesn't mean his intent was to offend anyone.

Loren W Laurent said...

"Uncomfortable is Robert Mapplethorpe."

Uncomfortable is trying to emulate one of the models in a Mapplethorpe work.

Most people are not adept at comfortably inserting a bullwhip into their own ass.

--LWL

tim in vermont said...

But that doesn’t mean his intent was to offend anyone.

That’s what I meant by the other comment, your bullshit detector doesn’t seem to work on your own posts.

Martin said...

The idea that art should make us uncomfortable was a new thing in the early 19th Century, and part of the rise of modernity. Before then, and as far back as we can tell, art--whether plastic, musical or literary--was about beauty, describing life and nature, imagining the transcendent, and to a large extent glorifying or enhancing the status of the people and institutions who paid for it.

While "uncomfortable" art certainly has its place, I am not convinced the world is a better place when artists think it their duty, rather than just an option, to tear things down. Comparing today's art with that of 18th Century Europe should make any mentally healthy person weep.

tim in vermont said...

I am a lot more interested in art that shows me a new way of seeing something than art that is little more than another telegram from lefty la la land.

Robert Cook said...

"'But that doesn’t mean his intent was to offend anyone.'

"That’s what I meant by the other comment, your bullshit detector doesn’t seem to work on your own posts."


I have no idea what point you're trying to make here.

Henry said...

It’s when art becomes partisan that it falls over. That’s where Maplethorpe failed as an artist, he lowered his art to be part of the moment...

I don't think distinction applies very universally. The same accusation could be made against Jacques Louis David, Daumier, Michelangelo, Pythokritos of Lindos.

What is always interesting is what happens when the political gilt sloughs away.

Two-eyed Jack said...

Mr. Cook asks "What is 'ugly?' What is 'beauty?'"
I don't care. What I care about is facile inversions that promise the high road to greatness. Art is, more or less, communication within an aesthetic framework. You can communicate with many or with few, immediately or across a thousand years. What you communicate can be profound or dumb. It can be intentional or unintentional.
I have felt moved by seeing the thumbprint of an Egyptian potter on a vase made 3,000 years ago and by spotting a brush hair embedded in the paint of a John Singer Sargent portrait. I have been bored by Ornette Coleman and thrilled by Alban Berg. I like Chicago's Bean and dislike Chicago's Picasso. Some art makes me uncomfortable, some makes me serene. "The best art" does not command me to one particular reaction.

Loren W Laurent said...

Althouse writes "I prefer comedians who makes their own fans uncomfortable. Andy Kaufman. Lenny Bruce. Etc.".

I have made this comment before, but I am not sure if Althouse appreciates Lenny Bruce's comedy, or the idea of Lenny Bruce and his comedy.

I do not see this as an unusual dynamic: for instance, I believe a lot of people like the idea of Jack Kerouac's writing -- the freedom, the rush, etc -- more than they like the actual writing itself.

This can be mere self-flattery -- the 'opera-lover' who is mostly in love with the idea of loving opera -- but it can also be that an idea can transcend its messenger.

Indeed: the "an idea can transcend its messenger" framework could apply to some Trump supporters: for instance, they may not like him personally and his Tweets, but they like the idea of someone going hard at the current media and political society.

As such, Trump is the imperfect messenger, but sometimes imperfect works well enough.

And Trump's Tweets DO make a lot of people uncomfortable, so in that regard they function as Art.

Trump is to Social Media as Miles Davis was to Jazz, perhaps.

-LWL

Ron Winkleheimer said...

The idea that art "should" make you uncomfortable is bullshit put forth by talentless hacks whose shtick is creating "art" that offends some out group's social norms and then, when they protest, denouncing them as philistines.

Tell me, who was made uncomfortable by Piss Christ? If you weren't made uncomfortable by it, does that mean it isn't art? Does art have to make everyone uncomfortable? What about Mapplethorpe's perv pictures? Should they make pervs uncomfortable too?

Robert Cook said...

"'The best art' does not command me to one particular reaction."

Of course not.

Henry said...

All the pleasant portraits and still lives of the Old Dutch Masters were painted in the historical shadow of the Beeldenstorm

But in their way, Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, De Witte, et al, were engaged in an art of comfort. Once they eliminated the religious art of awe and excess, how could an iconoclastic, mercantile people pursue beauty? Portraits, city scapes, and genre scenes.

Two-eyed Jack said...

The starting point of this thread was Althouse's statement about what art "should" do. Art can do all sorts of things. There is nothing that it should or must do.

rightguy said...

Bitches Brew is great stuff. And for all the reasons Haddon gives. I can only feel sorry for him as he says that now can't enjoy jazz that came before BB. Haddon's sense of aesthetics seems both exclusive and destructive.

Rusty said...

The first requirement of comedy is that it should be funny. Not funny? Not comedy.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

I'm not saying that art shouldn't make some people uncomfortable. I'm saying that the claim that it "should" make you uncomfortable if it is, in fact, art or "great art" is risible and illogical. Nothing makes everyone uncomfortable. The artist who creates a piece of art is presumably comfortable with it. Its not challenging their perception of the world. John Podesta's private art collection makes me extremely uncomfortable, but since he displays it in his private residence I have to infer it isn't making him uncomfortable.

MayBee said...

The idea that art *should* make you uncomfortable was foisted upon us by the plethora of artists who (sadly) suffer from depression. They are sad, they see the world through a sad filter, they think that's the way the world should be seen, and they show that through their work.

Don't give in to it. Humans can experience a wide range of emotions, and art should be able to feed any one or any number of them.

rhhardin said...

I never enjoyed jazz and don't now. Though whatever the fusion jazz song was with piano sax and voice in In A Day (2006) was nice, in context.

Listening to repeats of only the audio isn't so great; it has to have been unexpected.

Great movie. An away-from-the-form romcom.

rhhardin said...

When I used to ad-lib on the piano it was always classical fragments stitched together into endless classical piano.

rhhardin said...

I could also ad-lib Elizabethan lute on the lute.

rhhardin said...

Weinstein's art of seduction made women uncomfortable. That's the art.

rhhardin said...

According to Kant the only pure aesthetic judgment is disgust. Everything else is contaminated with cliches and false truths and theory.

The critical machine can't process disgust. No theory.

rhhardin said...

And Elizabethan lute on the viola da gamba. It's tuned the same as a lute so all you have to master is bowing.

tcrosse said...

Weinstein's art of seduction made women uncomfortable. That's the art.

Entartete Kunst.

mockturtle said...

1. Comedy. Should comedy make us uncomfortable? No. I should make us laugh or at least chuckle inwardly.

2. Religion. Yes. Being a Christian means being at odds with the World.

3. Politics. Not necessarily. It depends on the era and whose particular ox is being gored.

Art should [and does] evoke a response in us but it shouldn't necessarily be discomfort.
Monet's work, for example, invites us to see the world through a beautifully subtle lens that shows us more about the subject than a photograph would. But it's always a pleasant truth. Never any discomfort looking at a Monet.

Otto said...

Ann fits the mold of Scrutons classical liberal " In all its variants and at every level liberalism embodies the question "why should i do that?" " . His summary is " If at no point at the liberal can rest with what is given and find value immanent( i hate that word) in the world, without course to transcendental illusions, then the liberal will never rest- not at least until he has torn down every law and every institution with his exterminating why".
I didn't know that Ann was a follower of Jesus or is that just an Alinsky move.
I agree with Scrouton that most liberals after you peel back the onion and see that they really replaced something with nothing are just plain radical skeptics.

Sebastian said...

I confess that, whether it should or not, art has often made me uncomfortable--my eyes, my knees, my feet.

Annie C said...

As I understand it, Althouse is discussing works of art in a museum, or otherwise on public display. These pieces should be important. That's the best word I can seem to narrow down to. Important.

Comedians and playwrights are on public display and should thus be important. They should take you outside your own self and transport you elsewhere. The painting over your sofa does not need to be important.

Visual and audio arts are important if they move you. Movement in any direction outside yourself is uncomfortable.

Sometimes people want to be moved elsewhere. Often people yearn to be moved elsewhere. Still you are being moved, not moving of your own volition or under your own steam.

Constantly being shoved elsewhere can also be exhausting. Thus the painting over your sofa is dogs playing poker.

Getting out of your comfort zone (and I hate that term) is important to grow as a human being. But staying there is mania.

Sebastian said...

"If at no point at the liberal can rest with what is given and find value immanent( i hate that word) in the world, without course to transcendental illusions, then the liberal will never rest- not at least until he has torn down every law and every institution with his exterminating why."

But if I may channel Althouse, it is the kind of question that, once asked seriously, cannot be unthought.

Not even by conservatives: "just because" won't fly. The answer has to be justified.

The right conservative approach is to prevent the why from exterminating.

James K said...

I like what Proust says about art, or more precisely, what Alain de Botton says:

For Proust, the great artists deserve acclaim because they show us the world in a way that is fresh, appreciative, and alive… The opposite of art, for Proust, is something he calls habit. For Proust, much of life is ruined for us by a blanket or shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters. It dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work and our friends.

That's a lot better than "Art should make you uncomfortable."

Angle-Dyne, Angelic Buzzard said...

"Joy should make you uncomfortable. After a short while, you need to come down and want to move back to normal. If your brain doesn't work like that, you have a problem. You can't go about your life in a state of ecstasy."

I think "joy" describes a different state of being than "ecstasy". Certainly in the Christian sense of "joy". And while I'd never use "comfortable" to describe the state, neither would I use "uncomfortable". Wrong category of experience.

Has anybody who ever used a variant of the phrase "X should make you uncomfortable" ever demonstrated any interest in making *themselves* uncomfortable? (With their own work, or, more to the point, the other guys "challenging" Y?) Is it ever about honestly and bravely examining their own reactions to X, or is it about getting a frisson out of other people's reactions? A frisson, by the way, that requires a pre-fab explanation for those other people's negative reactions, not any serious engagement with them.

tim in vermont said...

I have no idea what point you’re trying to make here

Broken bullshit detector. You don’t think that immersing a crucifix in piss was intended to offend anyone. What you really think is that it wasn’t intended to offend anyone who mattered.

Angle-Dyne, Angelic Buzzard said...

mock: Monet's work, for example, invites us to see the world through a beautifully subtle lens that shows us more about the subject than a photograph would. But it's always a pleasant truth. Never any discomfort looking at a Monet.

Really? I don't find, for example, the Rouen cathedral series to be a subtle lens to a pleasant truth. Much more interesting to me than that.

Otto said...

Any schlep can ask why or make you uncomfortable. The real genius is the one who has figured out how and who gives you a more comfortable life.

Robert Cook said...

"Monet's work, for example, invites us to see the world through a beautifully subtle lens that shows us more about the subject than a photograph would. But it's always a pleasant truth. Never any discomfort looking at a Monet.

7/3/18, 11:18 AM"


mockturle, in his own time, Monet wasn't always so appreciated. Early on, he and his fellow Impressionists were rejected by the French Academy. Their work looked so new and strange that traditionalists couldn't get it.

In time, their work became appreciated.

tim in vermont said...

I think maybe all art is propaganda in an effort to gain or assert power. Anything else is just decorative craft.

Michael Fitzgerald said...

Your words of discomfort are not at all original or unusual. Art to make people uncomfortable has been a standard for assholes for generations. Piss Christ and Elephant Shit Mary come to mind. The attitude expressed seems to me similar to the journalists trope about afflicting the comforted. It's much easier to be a contrary shithead than it is to be artful and excellent. It's much easier to create discomfort than it is to comfort. Plus the audience of these assholes encourages inflicting discomfort among people they hate and envy. Like the snotty faggots who love that Kathy Griffin is an asshole, their asshole.

Yancey Ward said...

"I like Miles up until and before Bitches Brew."

I love listening to Kind of Blue and Bitches Brew back to back. I have done this dozens of times over the years. I do have to admit, the first time I listened to Bitches Brew I absolutely detested it, but it has grown on me over the last 20 years.

Robert Cook said...

"Broken bullshit detector. You don’t think that immersing a crucifix in piss was intended to offend anyone. What you really think is that it wasn’t intended to offend anyone who mattered."

Um...Piss Christ isn't by Mapplethorpe, but by Andres Serrano.

I don't know if Serrano intended for Piss Christ to offend people, though I'm sure he knew it would.

I think it is the most beautiful depiction of Christ on the cross that has ever been made. I say this not because I appreciate its desecration of Christ or insult to Christians, as I don't believe this was an intention of Serrano's and I don't think it is a desecration of Christ. I say it because it is simply a beautiful and mysterious image. The only thing about it that bothers people is knowing how the image was made, that the yellow haze around Christ on the cross is urine.

Henry said...

@Robert Cook -- Well there is the title.

Henry said...

Tang Christ would have been funny.

Freeman Hunt said...

"I'm not really talking about residential interior decoration! Of course, you don't want to be continually challenged in your personal abode."

Or maybe you do, but it's best to do it subtly. I am a big fan of Thomas Cole's Course of Empire. I have a print of the third painting of the series in the living room because it reminds me of the fourth which cannot hang there. Similarly, a print of "The Fighting Temeraire" hangs in the same room.

Robert Cook said...

"@Robert Cook -- Well there is the title."

Yes, but this was one of a series of photographs Serrano was making with small statuettes immersed in various liquids, including blood, milk, and semen. I think the title simply noted the particular liquid employed in this image, and was not meant as a provocation to Christians.

rightguy said...

Art is a lie that is the truth.

Two-eyed Jack said...

I must agree with Robert Cook that "Piss Christ" is an arresting image, a strange and beautiful, and therefore disturbing, image. I saw it in NYC. Other art in the show was simply vile and intended to insult Christians and conservatives. Serrano required you to think.

buwaya puti said...

Cook, whatever Serrano intended, its exhibitors certainly did intend it as an insult.

You would get a denial of course, very much along the lines of your argument, but if you were to peel back the onion layer of rationalization inside those skulls you would find something very ugly.

buwaya puti said...

Its no longer about being a contrary shithead.
The shitheads took over many decades ago.
Its simply shitheads, plain and simple, who get their jollies smashing helpless people over the head, those who are in no position to smash back.
Its not being contrary, it is simply public torture.

buwaya puti said...

In other words, the satisfaction of this art is in the shared spectacle of public torture on the part of an elite caste, as a sort of bonding ritual or status signal for them - "see how we make the proles upset?".

This is a very, very sick system.

mockturtle said...

Really? I don't find, for example, the Rouen cathedral series to be a subtle lens to a pleasant truth. Much more interesting to me than that.

Pleasant, to me, does not equate with uninteresting. The books I've been reading, for instance, please me greatly and yet they are both fascinating and exciting.

mockturtle said...

Two-eyed Jack bleats: Serrano required you to think.

Think what? "Gee, this guy is a fucking idiot"?

mockturtle said...

Cookie asserts: I say this not because I appreciate its desecration of Christ or insult to Christians

No, of course not, Cookie! ;-D

mockturtle said...

And if somebody draws Muhammed, well....

mockturtle said...

BTW, Angle-Dyne: When you asked about books I gave you a couple of titles but no author. Mushashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era by Eiji Yoshikawa, Taiko: And Epic Novel of War and Glory in Feudal Japan, also by Yoshikawa, and The Way of the Christian Samurai by Paul Nowak.

mockturtle said...

An orgasm is pleasant, is it not? But certainly not dull.

tim in vermont said...

All of this time I. thought it was Maplethorpe. Learn something new every day.

tim in vermont said...

I think the title simply noted the particular liquid employed in this image, and was not meant as a provocation to Christians.

See, broken bullshit detector.

Mark said...

"Art should challenge you and make you uncomfortable."

Must progressive/nihilist ideology infect everything?

Enough with crap masquerading as art.

Two-eyed Jack said...

Two-eyed Jack bleats: Serrano required you to think.

Think what? "Gee, this guy is a fucking idiot"?

I thought this guy is talented, but decadent. He is not a no-talent bum like the guy who painted the stupid picture of Jesse Helms in the same show. I didn't think Serrano is an idiot, because he clearly was not. Still, my thinking does not bespeak agreement with the artist. The decay in art is there for all to see.

Two-eyed Jack said...

mockturtle: I think you recommended Endo's Silence. I would second that.
Also, if you are interested in the backstory of the book Shogun and other things Japanese, I would recommend "More Queer Things about Japan." There are a lot of interesting things, including William Adams letters that inspired Shogun.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OV581B0/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

rcocean said...

There's a difference between "making you uncomfortable" and being interesting.

As for Lenny Bruce, he never made his liberal/Left crowds "Uncomfortable" - he was telling jokes that "challenged" the conservative main street not the Liberal so-called hipsters who loved him.

You know the kind of people who were "blown away" by Lenny Bruce?

Steve Allen, Alan King, and Bob Fosse.

Aka Liberal squares.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

Comedy that makes us uncomfortable is merely another kind of comedy, one of many kinds of comedy, but not necessarily "the best" (whatever that means). Comedy is subjective, so I'm told.

mockturtle said...

Two-eyed Jack writes: mockturtle: I think you recommended Endo's Silence. I would second that.

It was not I but thank you for the suggestions. What I prefer about the Yoshikawa books is that they are Japanese whereas Shogun, while a really great read, is from a Western POV, and, though it characterized the structure of feudal Japan fairly well, it missed much of the deeper implication behind the culture.

Brian McKim and/or Traci Skene said...

Unknown commented:

"And with comedy, I find Brian Regan absolutely hilarious yet I don't think his comedy makes me uncomfortable in any way.

"Art may make you uncomfortable, but I just don't see why it has to be a requirement."

Exactly.

I would say that Regan is as much of a great comic artist as any "serious" comic like Lewis Black or Kathy Griffin or anyone you might wanna name.

(Full disclosure: Regan took in the show Saturday night when I opened for Norm MacDonald. And I had the pleasure of hanging with him. In addition to being a great comic, he's an upstanding and exceedingly pleasant guy. As is Norm.)

William Chadwick said...

The Kathy Griffin show as you describe it sounds like another one of those "two-minutes of hate" that "liberals" are so fond of, extended beyond two minutes (like the Tony Awards ceremonies have become).

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Some people interpret Matthew 10:34-39 as anti-family

Yes to everything you said, but I would also add that to me it's anti-attachment. I find the Buddhist methods of counseling against attachment to be extremely helpful in my Christian walk. It's the same renunciation of ego/self and of looking to earthly concerns to bring happiness.

Paddy O said...

Art can disturb and confront people, but if that's all it does it is just as limited and myopic as any kitsch. Art should engage the passions, drawing out of us that which might be negated or stifled, and give space for our emotional interaction. In this way it's a compliment to rational discussion, which primarily address the intellect.

My frustration with so much art is that artists really only know how to confront, and disturb. There's so very little artistic embrace of beauty, truth, joy these days. It's like our clown dilemma, where clowns used to have a lot of range, but now all clowns are scary creepy clowns.

We've lost the sense to speak and experience substantive beauty and speak deeply about our positive passions. I think we need artists who can speak of integration and joy and beauty and hope a lot more these days that we need disturbing, dis-integrating artists. The art world is flooded with the latter types.

Darrell said...

I think it is the most beautiful depiction of Christ on the cross that has ever been made.

Good. Now I can safely disregard what you think.

Ken B said...

If cooking is an art I dread dinner at Meadehouse.

William Chadwick said...

"(Full disclosure: Regan took in the show Saturday night when I opened for Norm MacDonald. And I had the pleasure of hanging with him. In addition to being a great comic, he's an upstanding and exceedingly pleasant guy. As is Norm.)"

I have been thinking of Norm (I'm using his first name like I actually know him) a lot lately, due to Gay Pride week. I've always thought being proud of being Gay was kind of strange: if being Gay is not a choice, but something one is born into, how can you have pride in it? It would be like me being proud that I have brown eyes. (Which I do, and women tell me they melt hearts.) There was an interesting article in "The Federalist" blog, which Instapundit linked to, from a Gay libertarian who pointed out that Gay Pride and such have become basically the province of the Gay Left. But beyond that I think of Norm's bit about Gay Pride.

He says he saw a manand a woman holding banner at a Gay Pride parade, and the banner read "We are proud of our Gay son." Norm imagined the proud mama and poppa showing photos of their kid and saying, "There's our boy! He just graduated with honors and is doing great in law school. And oh yeah . . . he likes cock!"

Robert Cook said...

"Cook, whatever Serrano intended, its exhibitors certainly did intend it as an insult."

How do you know that? Why do you think that? The purpose of any art gallery is to sell the works on display. The exhibitors who showed Serrano wanted to sell his work no less than any business wants to sell its wares. Do you think they exhibit work they know will antagonize their customers,ensuring that they do not make any sales? The gallery owners represent artists they believe they can sell.

Ann Althouse said...

“Why is art supposed to make people uncomfortable? Isn't are supposed to be about making something beautiful? What have I missed?”

Great beauty should make you uncomfortable.

Why is the beauty that incites tears?

mockturtle said...

Great beauty should make you uncomfortable.

WTF???

Bob R said...

Any sentence that begins "[All] art should ..." is probably wrong. Lots of examples above of great art that provoked discomfort initially, and then drew people in to explore them further...and the discomfort disappeared. They didn't cease to be great works of art when we got used to them. If you leave out horror and thriller movies, I can't think of a work of art that I like that I find uncomfortable after repeated experience.

The liner notes of Bitches Brew lean a little heavy on how groundbreaking it is. Doesn't really seem like that from the perspective of 48 years. Put a Fender Rhodes track and Miles horn on "A Love Supreme" and it would fit in there pretty well. It's a new direction for Miles, but noting really radical. If you haven't listened to it in a while, put it on and think about how many movie soundtracks have been "inspired" by it (not to say ripped off from it.)

Bob R said...

Great beauty should make you uncomfortable. Why is the beauty that incites tears?

I see what you are saying, but I think that bringing reactions like awe, wonder, joy, gratitude, and surprise under the umbrella of "uncomfortable" is a lot farther than most people (and most dictionaries) would go. On the other side you are relegating "comfort" to a small, mundane set of reactions. Certainly farther than I would go.

Two-eyed Jack said...

You know what else makes people uncomfortable? Nature.
Oscar Wilde said that the worst cabinetmaker in London could make a better chair than all of Nature.

Char Char Binks said...

Most women don't get/appreciate comedy, and aren't good at it. There are a few comediennes who are brilliantly funny, but they're exceedingly rare. True, the very best in any art form are necessarily few in number, but when it comes to comedy, men definitely outshine the other 51% of the population.

Griffin WAS funny, maybe second-tier when it comes to brilliance, but she seems to have chosen to preach to the choir. Many formerly funny men have done the same -- Stephen Colbert and John Stewart spring to mind. I wouldn't be surprised if Griffin took the Margaret Cho tack of eschewing comedy for affirmation sessions for gays and fat women, or in her case, gays and skinny ginger women.

Robert Cook said...

"The liner notes of Bitches Brew lean a little heavy on how groundbreaking it is. Doesn't really seem like that from the perspective of 48 years. Put a Fender Rhodes track and Miles horn on "A Love Supreme" and it would fit in there pretty well."

That's part of the reason new art seems difficult or challenging or even ugly at first...because it so new compared with what preceded and surrounds it. Through repeated exposure to it over time, and by its spread to artists who are influenced by it and who incorporate the new approaches and techniques into their own work, what is first radical and strange becomes familiar and welcome.

"A Love Supreme" was also radical for its time.

Robert Cook said...

"I've always thought being proud of being Gay was kind of strange: if being Gay is not a choice, but something one is born into, how can you have pride in it?"

That's an aspirational and affirmative credo. People who have felt ashamed (or been shamed) for being gay, for being "not normal," "perverted," "dirty," etc., are encouraged to feel pride in themselves as people, to accept and embrace that which makes them "different" as, in fact, nothing to be ashamed of.

It's just saying, "Be proud of who you are, as you are," or, more succinctly, "Accept Yourself."

The point of there being gatherings of others celebrating their differentiating aspect, (sexual orientation, race, culture, etc.) is to show each individual that there are many others out there who are like they are, that they are not alone.

mockturtle said...

It's just saying, "Be proud of who you are, as you are," or, more succinctly, "Accept Yourself."

Unless, of course, you're a straight white male. Then self-loathing is not only appropriate but is required.

Robert Cook said...

No, straight white males should also accept themselves. This does not equate to disparaging others for not being like oneself. In the end, we should all Live and Let Live, applying this credo to ourselves as well as to others.

mockturtle said...

Great beauty should make you uncomfortable.

Actually, profound ugliness makes me uncomfortable.

Gahrie said...

In the end, we should all Live and Let Live, applying this credo to ourselves as well as to others.

But what if my neighbor is a Kulak, or worse, and is hoarding his wealth so he doesn't have to share it with me?

Rusty said...

"great beauty should make you uncomfortable."
No. Great beauty should fill you with awe.

MikeD said...

No wonder I flunked "art appreciation" in 1960. BTW, in podunk library in Chester, CA (google it)1962 I read Vincent Price's "I Like What I Know", best book ever on "art Appreciation"! Out of print but:
https://smile.amazon.com/like-What-Know-Visual-Autobiography/dp/B0007DMN82/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1530670701&sr=1-1&keywords=I+Know+what+I+Like%2C+Vincent+Price
From the reviews: "The title is from the saying: I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like. To which Price comments, ‘There comes a time in life when you know what you like and have to make up your mind to like what you know.’"

wildswan said...

I doubt if the thought "Art should make you uncomfortable" would last if it began being applied to members of teacher's unions, retro-socialists, Antifa beating up people, Hollywood liberals who accepted Harvey Weinstein, purveyors of fake news. It wouldn't be art if it showed the truth about Cuba or Venezuela or the Soviet Union.

But yet reading this blog I can see that there is another version "art makes you see something surprising" such as the true colors of shadows at different times of day or the thoughts that are running through people's heads, the things they are noticing, the way they are ordering the world, the way they put things each of us knows about. I dislike that Lanny Davis and his show intensely; but it is sort of fascinating now and then to watch and see how much it is like Seinfeld yet how different it is. Is that a more artistic experience than just enjoying Seinfeld? The show Atlanta makes me very uncomfortable quite frequently - why are you laughing at THAT? I ask myself, just because the show suggests it's a joke? You can laugh at the middle class but you can't laugh at blacks but can you laugh at the black middle class especially if it means laughing at new unvetted jokes? Steve McQueen in shorts and being black?

Jeff Brokaw said...

The ideal purpose of art is the pursuit of beauty, it seems to me.

This "art should make you uncomfortable" concept can, and does, serve the purposes of dangerous and unpleasant people who demand things from the observer. Too political, too "in your head" instead of in your gut.

Exhibit A is modern art since the decline of French Impressionism. Mostly garbage, no?

Exhibit B is the compiled works of Van Gogh, my all time favorite artist. Almost 100% pure creative genius with great visceral and emotional impact.

To the extent that creative genius does challenge the observer/listener by pushing boundaries while still striving to pursue beauty as the primary goal, that works too. But too many of these challenger types just abandon the goal of pursuing beauty, and therein lies the problem.

Robert Cook said...

"Exhibit A is modern art since the decline of French Impressionism. Mostly garbage, no?"

Not anymore than ever. Most art is always bad; the art we still look at, listen to, or read from prior eras is the art that has survived, the art that rose to the top. There certainly were more playwrights in Shakespeare's era than just Shakespeare. Most of them are forgotten; even the few other than Shakespeare that are remembered and valued are not known to the public at large.

And Impressionism was the modern art of its time and place, dismissed at first by the critics.

Kirk Parker said...

"I don't like it when people come up to me after my plays and say, "I really dug your message, man." Or, "I really dug your play, man, I cried." You know. I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, "I saw your play. What happened?""

--Some character in Tootie

Kirk Parker said...

On the other hand, the sublimely uncomfortable "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" definitely makes me uncomfortable.

Kirk Parker said...

Althouse:

"

Why is the beauty that incites tears?"

Go read C.S. Lewis' essay "Transposition". It opens with a fascinating, relevant observation on an item from Pepys' diary.