Sigman, Jill. Self-Mutilation, Interpretation and Controversial Art
2003, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 27(1): 88–114.
Added by: Rossen Ventzislavov
Summary: Sigman studies outrage and offense in the art context. The first important observation she makes is that, often enough, the public's recoiling from a piece of art comes with the assumption that the object of offense is interpretatively transparent. This is because in the absence of art-historical or theoretical wherewithal, we default to pre-conceptual reactions - fear of otherness, loss of our ethical bearings, low self-esteem etc. Since most historical offense-based arguments against art have made a claim that the particular work is demeaning to the public, Sigman carefully lays out the features of demeaning treatment - a mostly intentional act that treats persons as less than persons, usually in an abusive manner. On this description, very few artworks could be considered demeaning. Furthermore, as Sigman shows in her art-historical contextualization of artist Stelarc's performance work Street Suspension, public outrage could be tempered and/or extinguished through attentive engagement with problematic artworks.
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Comment: This is a thought-provoking text which can provide good background for a debate on controversial art. It is quite easy to read and features examples which make it accessible for beginners classes on aesthetics, art interpretation, the value of art, and modern art in general.