Although controversial art is not a topic exclusive to the 20th century, the distribution of information regarding controversial art has increased with the proliferation of media. Please discuss an example of a 20th century controversial work of art from any discipline of the humanities (music, literature, sculpture, film, etc.) and an accompanying statement from the artist(s). Based on your example, to what extent does controversial art make a social contribution? Are governments ever justified in censoring art?
Class, this could be a very exciting thread, considering that it covers controversial art and artists. I think that we are all very familiar with these situations--think of the movies that have been controversial, the once "banned books" that kids are now required to read in school, etc.
  • Controversy and censorship in arts is not new. Freedom of expression be it in speech, art has always bumped against subjective norms of decency and good taste. Throughout history art works have been altered, silence and erased due to unacceptable content. The motives for such censorship can be religious, political, social. One must also admit that artist have pushed the boundary of their imagination from presenting cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist {Charlie Hebdo] and portrait of vulva. Of the latter one can ask is it art or pornography. The Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo depicting unclothed human souls rising or falling to their fate was thought of as immoral. A student of Michelangelo later added loin cloth on the nude figures, after Pietro Aretino wrote this of Michelangelo’s art work: “is it possible that you, so divine that you do not deign to consort with men, have done such a thing in the highest temple of God? Above the first altar of Jesus? Not even in the brothel are there such scene as yours…”

    In 1866 Gustave Courbet painted The Origin of the World, below is a link please be advised [WARNING] it is very graphic depiction of female sexuality do not click if you are not comfortable: https://www.art.com/products/p29941759489-sa-i8757762/gustave-courbet-l-origine-du-monde.htm?RFID=547509&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgNCr9emh2QIVmovICh2t7AL6EAAYAyAAEgKk6_D_BwELinks to an external site.

    Of Courbet’s one can honestly ask is it art or pornography. It is no wonder that the piece although in 1866 did show publicly until 1995; before then its whereabouts was reported shrouded in secrecy.

    Another controversial art work is the “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano dipping a plastic crucifix in a cup of his own urine.

    There are pieces that are revolting and in this modern era anything can be called art.


    1. A Brief History Of Art Censorship retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/16Links to an external site./artcensorship
    2. Sayre, H. (2013) Discovering the Humanities 2nd Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson


      I enjoyed reading your post. I think that many times art can push the limits as to what is acceptable keeping in mind that this definition varies from individual to individual. People deserve the choice and freedom to decide on their own what they view in the way of art. Government should not have this power. In some cases government funds art. If they are the ones providing the funding then I guess that gives them the power to chose what is acceptable to them and what is not. 



      Follow the prompt and discuss an example of a 20th century, controversial work of art from any discipline of the humanities.

      If you already have one in mind, go ahead and use it! If not, browse through your textbook; a great deal of 20th century art was controversial when it was created.

      Also give a statement from the artist, if possible. How did he/she/they justify the work? What was the purpose of the piece, according to the creator?

      One note of caution: art is often controversial because it challenges our most cherished beliefs and values. As a result, it is easy to be personally offended by them. Let’s, if possible, keep our own feelings about the works out of this discussion and focus on tackling these questions from a detached, academic point of view.

      Thanks and have a great week!

      Professor and Class,

       When I think of controversial work in music, I automatically think of the one and only Madonna. She aims to entertain and also shock as well. She has done that many times before but this one is the one that stands out for me. The video for the highly controversial music of “Like a Prayer.” When this song came out, I was a young girl but still remember how much commotion surrounded this video. This song came out in 1989 with a video that caused a stir. In the video, the character that Madonna plays witnesses a crime not involving an African American man but one is shown to have been arrested for the crime. She then escapes to a church after that where there is an African American figure that seems to be either Jesus or a saint who comes to life and kisses her on the cheeks and walks away. There is also a moment where she picks up a knife, and then they show marks on her hands similar to a crucifixion marks. At some point, she started to dance and sing in front of a burning cross. In the end, they showed that she identified those responsible for the crime because they showed the innocent man go free. Needless to say, Religious groups, family sponsored groups, and the Vatican condemned the video.

      At the time, Madonna was interviewed by the New York Times where she stated that this “is the song of a passionate young girl so in love with God that it is almost as though he were the male figure in her life." She also believed that “Art should be controversial, and that's all there is to it," She makes no apologies for her art or how she chooses to express it.

       I believe that art imitates life. What better way to address a situation and have people discussing it in such a constructive manner. Madonna is an artist that has been ahead of her time. Here in this video, she brings up an issue that today is still being dealt with such as injustice. Most artist whether they paint or sing is looking to connect with their audience. Their art is their way to communicate with their audience. According to Sayre (2013) a painter by the name of Mark Rothko stated that “I am interested only in expressing the basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on—and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate with those basic human emotions” (p.469).

      Regarding the government censoring art, I think that question can be tricky. We have a lot of information out there that I think may be hard to track. Some art such music literature and movies or sculpture are essential and necessary, and others have no value. How and who gets to decide that for us is the problem. Our leaders sometimes do not focus on doing what is right for society but what is popular.


      Sayre, H. M. (2013). Discovering the humanities (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


      Hi Barbara,

      I must say that this week has been one of the most enjoyable journeys till date. The controversies that we are reading about in this week's posts are opening up newer perspectives on art and artists. The best part is that we are having an in depth idea of what disastrous allegations these artists had to go through in order to make these immortal pieces of art possible. Great work, Barbara.

      Hello Professor and Class,

    Art becomes controversial when it goes Against the accepted norms. Art allows us to give form and meaning to emotions and allows us to focus on certain issues of a social or political bearing. A controversial image is a piece of Artwork, which is emotionally stimulating and contradicts traditional methods of interpretation; it allows the views of the audience to be challenged by the notions of shock or surprise. Often it is difficult to determine what relevance controversial Art has to Society due to the compelling nature of the work. Artists throughout History have produced controversial Artworks, which have tested limitations and the audiences’ thought processes.

    My bed (1998) by Tracey Emin

    Tracey Emin constructed “My Bed” in 1998, this was a graphic representation of conception, sex, loss, illness, and death – The piece was installed at The Saatchi Collection, London, UK. This piece caused a storm of interest due to the controversial content. The Bed was unmade and appeared to be used as the sheets looked stained and crumpled, the bed was surrounded by dirty underwear, condoms, and cigarette packets. Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” was described as “Representing vulgarity and lack of skill of contemporary artists”.

    Dadaist, Duchamp’s work belongs in that crazy genre of stuff that looks like other stuff but actually is an art. His most iconic piece, 1917’s Fountain, which features a urinal turned upside down, turned heads as one of the first instances of “found art.”

    Marcel Duchamp

    When it comes to censorship, it assumes a different dimension altogether. There should be a balance between what we can allow in the name of art and self-expression so that it has no harmful effects on the overall mental health of the society and what we should not allow. Once we talk about censorship, the government or the powers to be and its involvement comes into the picture. Most of the times censorship is used to suppress voices against the functioning of the government. If censorship is done with the right perception in deciding what is harmful to the society there should not be a problem. But unfortunately, censorship is used as a tool to suppress criticism.


    Tracey Emin – My Bed and J.M.W. Turner @ Turner Contemporary image retrieved from https://astrofella.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/tracey-emin-my-bed-j-m-w-turner-turner-contemporary/Links to an external site.

    https://youtu.be/Bg7wQWN23foLinks to an external site.

    Marcel Duchamp image retrieved from https://flavorwire.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/duchamp_fountaine.jpg


    Very interesting post. Prior to reading it I would have never pictured Madonna to be in this subject but after your reasoning I have to agree. Madonna has always been a risk taker I feel and because of that many new artists have been discovered based on her. One artist in particular is Lady Gaga, she has been getting a lot of back lash for her costumes etc. I do agree with you in this situation where they are using art as a form of expressing themselves. Madonna is a very powerful figure and I feel her intentions are good even they are not always addressed in the right way.

     Hi Jean Latouche,

    Well written post. I enjoyed reading it. Rothko's painting style changed due to the influences of WWII. Specifically, his painting style went from smaller images to large bold colors without any clear definitions.  The reasoning behind the change was that painting smaller images didn’t allow you to be part of the painting; painting with a couple colors and no figures or forms allow you to be part of the picture.  He went on to say that his primary interest was in human emotions and that when someone viewed his painting and he was convinced they experienced the same thing he felt when painting the picture. According to Sayre, (2013) Rothko’s paintings continue to get darker throughout the 1960’s and in his studio, he took his own life in 1970. What a terrible loss?

    Thank you,



    Sayre, H. M. (2013). Discovering the humanities (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


     I completely agree that Madonna was a topic of controversy in the music arena. She was powerful, influential, and created music outside of social norms. The Son “Like A Prayer” combined spirituality and eroticism where she was highly criticized. I agree that the release of this song caused a stir even with the Pope. I believed he banned her from entering the Vatican because of the spiritual and sexual overtones. Great post!


    Hi Jean,

    I am glad that you have brought up the issue of Madonna in your discussion. She has been a heartthrob and at the same time a bold ideal for a generation altogether. Her activities have attracted controversy but at the same time her personality has been creating edgy instances in Hollywood time and again. She is actually an ideal for every feminist today.  

     Hi Jean,

    I remember that video so vividly. My family are devout catholics and I remember my mom being so angry at that video. Keep in mind that I am from a foreign country and my mom did not even speak English at the time so she had no idea what the song was about. All she knew was that the video was blasphemous and forbid me to ever watch it again.

     Hi Jean-

    I agree that art imitates life and do believe that Madonna was ahead of her time as an artist. Her provocative music and imagery in her videos were a true expression of herself and she has continued to push the envelope throughout her career. 

     You have an interesting point in that our leaders do sometimes side with popular opinion versus what is right for society. What is "right" is relative, however, and is difficult to measure. I have found that based on individual experiences, demographics and exposure, varied viewpoints are to be expected on government censoring. All things considered, I stand by my belief that certain sanctions should be set to protect sensitive material from children and adolescents but I do not believe that the government should be able to censor adults. 

    Thank you,


    Hello Barbara, I enjoyed reading about what you wrote, and what you chose as controversial art. It is very interesting, that many people have different views on what is considered art or pornography. In my own opinion, art should not be excluded as a freedom of speech. Yes things are controversial, but so are things out side of art, that get published every day, and take no type of heat for it. I think some people take art too literal, and become offended by what they see, because they were taught to see it as obscene. Art is just a way to express ones self, and at times I do not agree with certain types of art, because they can be shown as disrespectful; but I do not believe that nude arts, such as the one you referenced "The Origin of The World" should be censored. I think it takes certain minds to understand what the artist was going for. It just happened to be a nude woman as his center piece. How do you feel about "The Origin of The World"? Do you find it obscene, or something that goes into a deeper meaning? Again great post.

    I agree that controversy and censoring art in all forms is not new, and will continue to be a constant battle.  Ever since the Enlightenment, artists portrayed their new ideas via artwork and I feel that this has carried through to modern day society.  But who is to determine which pieces of art require censoring?  The government, society, or someone else?  I feel this matter is very subjective, which is how art becomes controversial. 

    -Megan Lesniak

     Hello Jayanthi,

    Great post. When art goes against acceptable norms of society it can garner more attention. Things that are controversial or have shock value get people talking. This can be good and bad for an artist. The art work that you shared by Marcel Duchamp "Fountain" from 1917, pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time and was rejected for exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists due to it's indecency. By today's standards I don't think anyone would find this "indecent". Because of it's shock value I think that this is why this piece is talked about today. Otherwise I think that people would have forgotten about this piece long ago.

    The White Cube Diaries. (2013). Shock factor: Controversial art throughout history. Retrieved from https://whitecubediaries.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/shock-factor-controversial-art-throughout-history/Links to an external site. 

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