Transgressive art  

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"Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814), Henry Fuseli (1741 – 1825) and Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757 – 1826) are the originators of transgressive art." --Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Transgressive art refers to art forms that aim to transgress; i.e. to outrage or violate basic mores and sensibilities. The term trangressive was first used by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985.



From a collegiate perspective, many traces of transgression can be found in any art which by some is considered offensive because of its shock value; from the French Salon des Refusés artists to Dada and surrealism. Philosophers Mikhail Bakhtin and Georges Bataille have published works on the nature of transgression. .

Transgressional works share some themes with art that deals with psychological dislocation and mental illness. Examples of this relationship, between social transgression and the exploration of mental states relating to illness, include many of the activities and works of the Dadaists and Surrealists and, in literature, Albert Camus's L'Etranger or J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Changes in movement

Since the late 1990s a new group of transgressive artists has emerged. In China several artists became well known for producing transgressive art, including Zhu Yu, who achieved notoriety when he published images of himself eating what appeared to be a human fetus, Yang Zhi Chao for extreme body art, and Peng Yu for killing animals.


Perhaps the most famous transgressive artist of early '80s, Richard Kern began making films in New York with infamous underground actors Nick Zedd and Lung Leg. Some of them were videos for artists like the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth.

Subsequent transgressive artists of the '90s overlapped the boundaries of literature, art, literature and music, most notably GG Allin, Lisa Crystal Carver, Costes and Dame Darcy. With these artists came a greater emphasis on life itself (or death) as art, rather than just depicting a certain mindset in film or music. They were instrumental in creating a new type of visionary art and music, and influenced artists like Alec Empire, Cock E.S.P., Crash Worship, Usama Alshaibi, Liz Armstrong, Lennie Lee, Weasel Walter, Andy Ortmann, and the later work featured in Peter Bagge's Hate.

However, the term can also be applied to transgressive literature as well. Recent examples include Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, and J.G. Ballard's short story The Enormous Space. These works dealt with issues that were considered to be outside the social norms. Their characters abused drugs, engaged in violent behaviour or could have been considered sexual deviants.

Among the most notorious works of transgressive art among the general public have been sculpture, collages, and installation art which self-consciously sought to offend Christian religious sensibilities. These include Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, featuring a crucifix in a beaker of urine, and Chris Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary, a multi-media painting which is partially made of elephant dung.

Probably the most thorough book on the early transgressive movement is Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression by Jack Sargeant

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Transgressive art" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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