To the Slack-Jaw Art Critics of all political slants,
There seems to be two distinct categories of adverse political resistance to this provocative photo by Kathy Griffin: A) the political left argues that it is in poor taste and side-rails conduits of reasoned political discourse and B) the political right also argues that it is in poor taste, but also that it demeans and degrades the institution of the President of the United States. The outcry of response forced Kathy Griffin to apologize and to claim ‘she went too far’ with this artistic work that I simply call, a work of art.
The philosophical question of ‘what is art’ is obviously a long-winded and contentious history and I certainly will not resolve that debate in this post. Nonetheless, art is, as I see it — in both the act of creation and the act of patronage — the highest and most transcendental state of human experience and, in this sense, art is the highest form of symbolic engagement in society. With that said, on what terms and respective to what grounding shall we judge any art as profane?
As Nietzsche once said, “we have our Arts so we won’t die of Truth” and never has this quote been more true. It could be argued that the decline in decency that is reflective in this work is a response to the standards of decency set-forth by Trump. Moreover, it could be argued that the act of demeaning and degrading the institution of the president has been in overdrive as of January 20th, and it is of no surprise that art will be reflective of this trend. So as ‘truth rallies’ rage from coast-to-coast against Trump’s arbitrary dismissal of the Paris Accord, it seems quite apparent that society — en masse — will feel ill from this perceived suppression of truth. And, it should be expected — and honored — that when bold and radical acts of violent art bubble to the surface, it will impress upon us imagery that jerks and buckles both our aesthetic paradigm and our discordant moral compass.
As Adorno said in response to the Holocaust, there cannot be poetry after Auschwitz, as to argue that we cannot ever fully appreciate beauty with the holocaust as a persistent background that forces us to reshuffle the axiological deck and wholly reassess our strategies. But, as Zizek retorted, it is rather the opposite that is the case: it is because of the Holocaust that art will exist and flourish. Art is the language of culture that can speak beyond the limits of our words and when our culture becomes toxic, chaotic, violent and stranger than fiction, then art moves from a sufficient mode of cultural discourse to a necessary mode of discourse. In other words, art is the only medium to adequately explicate reality in the era of Trump. Maybe the resistance is because deep down we all know I am right and the ego yearns for me to be wrong — say it aint so.
Maybe this work by Kathy Griffin poked at a very sensitive spot deep inside your psyche, maybe it is a part of you that wants to roam and rule over your domain like a ferocious beast. Maybe our latent violent tendencies are eating our souls from the inside out, because as much as society says to suppress, ignore and to be better angels of our nature — we know this is a lie.
If narrowing in on the violent implications of this art is worthy of censorship, whilst people worlds away suffer from the material and existential consequences of our foreign policy, then surely you should reassess your ethical priorities and understand that art speaks for all of us. Regardless of your politics, it is in disservice to all members of society to ban art and stigmatize artists.
Trump has inverted the ratio of rhetoric to reason in politics with his throw-back to the “politics of the aesthetic” and, with that said, the only act of social depravity that I will qualify as profane is any and all action that tries to suppress and reject the beauty that grows from our own — intentional or not — cultural destruction.
The true reason people repulsed and rejected this art is not because it is in poor taste, because it is not. It is not because it demeans the institution, because it does not. It is because it spoke to a Truth we do not want to hold. A truth that screams to the depth of our broken culture and a truth that casts a stark light on the disease of modernity. The sickness unto us to which we decry, is the disease of our own hubris — this is the place that true art grows.
Passion — as the embodiment of ontological suffering — is the origins of beauty.
And beauty — as the sensible unfolding of ontological suffering — is the origin of Truth.
And, it is for that, that I appreciate and thank Kathy Griffin, for this wonderful work of art.