Creating Discomfort

Art has a role to play in creating discomfort, making people look twice, reflect and in some instances, even, change their perspective. At the same time we can create discomfort through technique or processes, that while experimental, leave our viewer or audience feeling uncertain.

An audience can relate to a subject. It is something they are comfortable with or it is something they are uncomfortable with, and they can rationalise their decisions within that framework. However when we experiment we risk creating unseen discomfort. This isn’t something our audience can relate to. They just leave feeling confused.

I recently submitted an image I had created to a photographic study course forum. The subject is nice and it is interesting. My concern was with how I had applied lighting. What interested me was the feedback. Mostly the feedback wasn’t about the light, it was about how I had experimented with the rules of composition. In doing so, I drew the audience away from the actual subject, or the topic of lighting. They were confused. More to the point in attempting to be creative, and bend the rules, I had created doubt in their mind.

When people are confused, or in doubt it is easier for them to do nothing.

This isn’t to suggest we should avoid experimentation. That would be a disaster. We would end up with an art world full of vanilla and sameness. Experimentation is at the heart of artistic expression.

We do have to think about the impact of our experimentation. Why are we doing it this way? What is our purpose, and if we are an arts organisation how does it fit with our vision and mission?

Andy Warhol is credited with saying, Art Is Anything You Can Get Away With. This is true. Afterall, as artists, the image, painting or sculpture is ours to create. For our audience it is there for them to view.

Let’s remember, our audience will never be privy to our perspective, to the real motivation for creating our art. No matter how much we try to explain to the audience, they do have to apply some imagination. In there lies the risk.

Let us keep experimenting, let us keep bending, even breaking the rules, and let us create what we want to create. However, if you miss a sale or audience numbers are low, it may be worthwhile reflecting upon how you went about the creative process, and what you might change next time.

I’m John Coxon. I write on art related topics, while also providing a consulting service to art organisations and galleries in Australia. Thank you for giving some of your time to read this post. I trust you will stay with me for the journey.

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