Pop Quiz: Creative, Controversial, or Clueless?
What makes an artist creative, commercial, controversial or clueless? What kind of artist are you? There’s an interactive Pop Quiz at the end, so read on, and please answer honestly, so we can have a fruitful discussion.
Today’s post is inspired by a recent article in the NY Times about the controversial Chinese artist and social activist, Ai WeiWei’s latest work. In this video called “Dumbass”, he graphically recreates scenes from his illegal detention, set to heavy metal music.
Love it or hate it, Mr. Ai’s work usually provokes some kind of emotion. His work is often a staunch commentary on the Chinese government, which has landed him in jail on more than one occasion. So there’s definitely some ‘juice’ to his opinion, that seriously rocks the status quo in his environment.
So it got me thinking about what it means to be a controversial artist, and what’s controversial in the aerial arts world these days.
What’s controversy anyways? According to Merriam-Webster:
con·tro·ver·sy — noun
1: a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views : dispute
2: quarrel, strife
I used to shy away from controversy. I was too afraid to be on the ‘wrong’ end of a discussion, to be disliked or to be ridiculed. I’ve grown to learn, however, that controversy is positive. In fact, it’s a key component to the entire democratic system. Discuss, listen, agree to disagree, and perhaps change your mind or someone else’s. Controversy shakes us out of our complacency and helps us to evolve, personally, professionally, artistically, however painful that may be.
While my art is still far from controversial, I’m OK with that. I’m not ‘the disturber’, nor do I wish to be. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But as I’ve found my creative voice, I contribute to my art form in the realm of fusing aerial and dance and character for the WOW factor with beautiful lines and pointed toes for my corporate gigs, and emotion and humanness expressed inventively for my more artistic gigs. I’m creative and I’m commercial – a combination that keeps me busily employed at a high level and providing work for other artists.
Many aerialists are intensely creative and are really moving the art form along by fusing diverse art forms, media, props, incredible virtuosity, new apparatus, costuming and music. But how many of us are truly controversial, with a capital ‘C’? I’d love to hear from you about who you think is controversial in the aerial world, and what discussion or opposing views that artist brings forth with their work.
As a point of comparison, I found this list of 10 Controversial Artists of the last Century by Annemarie Dooling (God, I love the internet, sometimes). The list includes artists like:
-Georgia O’Keefe, who painted nature is ways that were interpreted at the time to be racy representations of the female anatomy,
-Pablo Picasso, who once stated, “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”, and
-Christo Javachev, whose work “The Gates” covered part of Central Park with orange banners. Art to some, a waste of fabric to others.
So, aerialists, do you have to get yourself arrested like Ai Weiwei to be a controversial artist? No. Does getting arrested mean you’re controversial? Not necessarily. Did your act lead people to consider the world differently? Were you challenging existing norms, commenting on the current state of society, the government or it’s people? Or did you just want to create a stir on Facebook, and gain some notoriety?
The aerial controversies I’ve come across lately have more to do with whether aerial instructors should be insured, and whether teacher certification is good for the industry or is elitist. But these are controversies for a subsequent post. And is bad rigging controversial, or is it simply bad?
I’m not suggesting you have to be controversial to be a respected artist. But I am suggesting that if you want to call yourself a ‘controversial aerialist’ you probably want to challenge the status quo in more ways than safety and creative costuming.
Here’s our Pop Quiz to keep the conversation going: We will tabulate all results.
1. NY Times Article “Prison Was Awful, but He Likes the Video Version”, page C1, May 22, 2013. Full article here
2. Ai Weiwei website: AiWeiwei.com (accessed May 22, 2013)