I’ve been thinking about Discomfort a lot lately, especially when it’s triggered by Art. Why does it make me so uncomfortable? Art that makes me feel this way can be on all kinds of media, and they seemingly have no common thread that could explain that discomfort. I thought giving a few examples would help demonstrate my point.
- The Man Who Laughs, Victor Hugo
I haven’t seen any of its adaptations (movies, plays and surprisingly a comic) but I certainly felt distraught after reading it 10 years ago.
The Man Who Laughs (1928)
One of the most commonly discussed features of Hugo’s work, is how he tended to overly describe the historical context in which his novels took place.
This is also the case with The Man Who Laughs. By doing so, he made the horror of Gwynplaine’s life more tangible.
And the atrocities, we are capable of, are an uncomfortable reminder of the tendency people have to treat each other like dirt and to mock people for their differencies.
- Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, Ilya Repin
Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 (1885)
Just a few words about this painting, because I think it speaks for itself.
Guilt, despair, insanity, regret and sadness are all written on the face of Ivan the Terrible just after he struck his son on the head, mortally wounding him.
As uneasy as it makes me feel feel to look at it, I must admit I am impressed by the depiction of so many emotions on one’s face. And I must thank one of my best friends for showing me this painting since it definitely had the effect on me I was looking for, while writing this blog post.
- Disturbed Vision, Edvard Munch
Disturbed Vision (1930)
A few years ago, I went to Paris with my University to see a couple of art exhibitions. And while I really enjoyed the commentary by our guide at Orsay’s Pre-Raphaelites exhibition, I was much more taken aback by what at saw at the Centre Pompidou: Edvard Munch. L’œil moderne 1900-1944.
Munch’s paintings are often grim but I wasn’t prepared for what was at the end of the exhibition, we entered a circular room, with dimmed lights and a low ceiling. In there, were paintings from a particular period of his life. He had an introcular haemorrhage in his right eye, affecting his sight and therefore his art. I was so disturbed by such depictions of his world, that I felt like I was somehow suffocating and had to leave the room.
I believe I saw this version of Alice in Wonderland when I was about 12… The most surprising thing perharps is that I saw it with my class. I remember being so weirded out by this movie using stop motion animation of a taxidermically stuffed white rabbit and changing the little girl into a creepy porcelain doll. In the end it was perhaps the strangest interpretation of a fairy tale I have ever seen, probably because there is no moral at the end of it, and that the surrealism commonly employed by the director leaves you with sort of a sour taste in your mouth.
Then, there is art that through the years, helped me growing up through Discomfort. Art that made me challenge my opinion on certain things, or enlightened me on subjects and questions I was not really conscious about such as racism or feminism. But this is another theme, for another article, perhaps. And anyway, Kelly Sue DeConnick explained it way better than me in her speech at 99u.
I think it’s important, at least with Art, to come out of your comfort zone from time to time.
Does Art make you feel uncomfortable or make you challenge your views? If so, I’d love to read about it!