The Art of Cruelty

Artists’ fixation on violence, brutality and depravity has always bothered me. Seeing audiences line up to look at art of this nature bothers me even more. The appeal of popular films, even critically acclaimed movies such as Pulp Fiction, for example, I take to be a sign of deep cultural sickness. So, I started this book with a feeling of real gratitude that someone was addressing the subject in such a sensitive and scholarly way and I was really hoping to come to a more informed understanding of, to use an appalling term, “torture porn” and to get a better handle on my overwhelming aversion to it. The author proves at the outset to be a trustworthy guide and makes you feel that your own reactions are OK, whatever they are.

Somewhere in the middle of this journey, through avant-garde art galleries and basement performance spaces, I began to wish I’d stayed home. As much as I want to better understand the subject of violence and cruelty in art, there is only so far into the muck I am willing to wade. Nearly every single work she cites seemed to me so sordid and vile, I just couldn’t look anymore nor hash out the politics of viewership. Whatever demons the featured artists are exorcising are not my demons. I don’t have to look at any of it, I have the power of refusal, I can walk out. The author asserts that right for herself, and in so doing, gives her readers that power as well.

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