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If You Hate My Art and Say So, You’re Not Censoring Me

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This post has two aims: to tell show you a couple of my latest pieces and to let you know that I’m not a hypocrite–I stand by what I say, even when doing so makes me uncomfortable.

Weirdgirl

In my last post I asked if any of you liked problematic art/entertainment. Most of you said “yes.” One poster even mentioned my art and said s/he (I don’t like to assume gender based on names) found it problematic. Do I find my art problematic? No, not particularly, but you know what? Thinking my art is problematic is PERFECTLY VALID. It is not insane. It is not silly. It is perfectly reasonable. You know what else is valid and reasonable? Finding my art banal or bad or ugly or weird or creepy. (I mean for my art to be weird and creepy, not so much banal and bad.) It is also perfectly reasonable to scream “I HATE BSPENCER’S ART!” and to not buy my art because you find it crappy or problematic. (If you hate my art, please don’t tell me to my face. It’ll hurt my feelings and I’m already filled with self-loathing, so you’ll just be beating a dead horse and everyone knows that’s Erik’s beat.)

ANYWAY, IN SUMMATION: I HAVE NOT BEEN CENSORED. Please, everyone…I’m begging you: learn what “censorship” means.

The Weight of Masks
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  • Nobdy

    You don’t say whether you intend for your art to be NOT “problematic” (in other words whether you actively seek “non-problematic” as a characteristic.)

    Let me ask you; If someone said they found your art problematic but also evocative how would you feel about that?

    Would you rather someone find your art problematic or banal/crappy?

    • I’d prefer my art not be problematic. If my art’s problematic that means I’ve probably offended someone and my preference is NOT to offend people. (That doesn’t mean I think people can and should be free of offense all the time)

      I’d MUCH rather someone find my art problematic.

      • tsam

        I’m a big fan of Saladore Dali. Your art is not problematic, nor is it banal or crappy.

        In fact it’s not overtly sexual and doesn’t have any thematic problems I can see.

        Sometimes problematic art is only problematic in the eye of the beholder, or the mind of the preacher and his obedient flock.

      • tsam

        PROTIP:

        Sing Take This Waltz in your head while looking at The Weight of Masks.

      • thebewilderness

        I don’t understand why people don’t say what the problem is that is posed. A piece could be problematic because it makes you think and you don’t want to but to a certain degree that is what we do art for so WTF do you mean when you say problematic cuz just saying it is problematic isn’t effing saying anything at all.

  • dgh

    “Would you rather someone find your art problematic or banal/crappy?”

    This not an either/or. Most of my art problems are caused by the art’s crappy banality.

  • McAllen

    I think that while “problematic” can be a useful word if we’re talking in very general terms (as bspencer has been), it’s way too vague a term to describe a specific artist or work. If you’re calling something problematic it’s problably better for you to say what the problem is.

    • To be fair, the person who made the comment (the comment which didn’t offend me in the least) did say s/he thought all my women had weird proportions–huge heads, tiny waists…which is true!

      • Yeah, and I’d just like to clarify before people get the wrong idea: I thought the comment in the other thread was a good conversation starter. I didn’t find it mean or snarky or bad in any way.

  • NewishLawyer

    I don’t find it problematic but I guess I can sort of see where the poster is coming from based on the second piece. The women look very young, don’t have an ounce of body fat, and are skimpily dressed. That being said I don’t think any artist is under a moral obligation to make their art to social consensus because there are too many groups with concerns ranging from the semi to seriously legitimate and if you try and address one group’s serious concerns, you are eventually going to step on the concerns of some other group with a legitimate grievance.

    I liked the second piece. I generally dislike stuff that reminds me of the Victorian and the Gothic but the second piece is good. The first piece is technically very skilled but does nothing for me.

    My tastes in art tend to be the old masters (especially Rembrandt and Vermeer), Romantic painters/proto modernists like Goya and Turner (Turner is divine), and then not much until the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Most of my favorite artists tend to be modern/contemporary art like Joseph Cornell, Van Gogh, Cezzane, Matisse, Cezzane, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Marc Chagall, Donald Judd, Mark Rothko, David Hockney, etc.

    The neo-gothic stuff reminds me of my least favorite period of art which basically went from the start of Victoria’s reign to until the Impressionists. A lot of net artists seem to love the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (consciously or subconsciously), I largely loathe the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They are technically very talented but I am not interested in their romantic view of a Middle Ages that never was and I am not in Victorianana at all. My furniture and home decor tastes also go more for mid-century modern or Art Decco.

    • Lee Rudolph

      A lot of net artists seem to love the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (consciously or subconsciously), I largely loathe the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

      So you wouldn’t want to see bspencer riff on The Blessed Damozel? Okay. But what about Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market?

      • NewishLawyer

        Not my taste in poetry. I do like William Carolos Williams poems based on Brueghel paintings. For poetry itself I like the Book Burning by Brecht:

        When the Regime commanded that books with harmful
        knowledge
        Should be publicly burned and on all sides
        Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
        To the bonfires, a banished
        Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
        Burned, was shocked to find his
        Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
        On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power
        Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me! Haven’t my
        books
        Always reported the truth? And here you are:
        Treating me like a liar! I command you:
        Burn me!

      • NewishLawyer

        Or the History of Soviet Organ Music by John Ash:

        The boy is in the field,
        and the new tractor is there, gleaming,
        Tears spring to his eyes. An organ sounds,
        and this causes some uncertainty
        in the audience, since the very existence
        of Soviet organ music has been something
        entirely unsuspected until this moment.
        And the boy is a marionette,
        and the tractor only a careful construction
        of blue cornflowers and straw, even though
        the corn continues golden for miles over the black earth,
        as far as Kazan or vanished Itil of the Khazars!

        The history of Soviet organ music
        is easily told: from the time of its foundation
        in the tenth century, the Russian church
        has found no use for the organ whatsoever.
        Thus the Soviet Organ is a youthful organ
        heard to best advantage in lively medleys
        of traditional Uzbek melodies-
        and, oh, how blue the cornflowers, how black
        the earth, how red the kerchief of the female comrade!
        The younger brother of the heroic youth, meanwhile,
        is having a fit of hysterics on the Ferris wheel
        which turns and turns to the accompaniment
        of Soviet organ music.

        • rhino

          Thanks for posting these, I really enjoyed them.

  • NewishLawyer

    I usually don’t get offended by art. I tend to get offended by people who try to explain and reduce all human relationships to economic terms.

    • Manju

      Yeah, those people don’t realize that their behavior is an entirely predictable outcome of asymmetric information. Study after study has conformed this model.

  • keta

    Of course it’s problematic. I like that it’s problematic. For me, art is often boring as fuck unless it’s problematic.

    • rhino

      I would even go so far as to say that it cannot be art unless it is problematic.

  • weirdnoise

    I find your work kind of creepy, perhaps even vaguely sinister — and I mean that in a good way. It’s part of why I like it!

  • joe from Lowell

    I find your art weird and creepy, but in a good way.

    I mean…you’re not exactly going for an “artist of light” thing, ya know?

  • Censorship is saying something that Sarah Palin or Jonathan Chait doesn’t want to hear.

  • efgoldman

    I don’t particularly care for your art, so I don’t comment on it. But I would never, ever suggest that you shouldn’t create it or post it, or that anyone else shouldn’t like it because I don’t.
    Create away! Post away!

    • I don’t particularly care for your art, so I don’t comment on it.

      • efgoldman

        Well, that was a specific response to a specific question. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything.

  • bargal20

    No woman depicted in Spencer’s art has ever eaten more than three bugs in one sitting.

    • Obviously they’ve never been through USAF survival school.

  • Turangalila

    Perhaps you’ve been censured?

  • DrDick

    I love your art, especially these two pieces! I do often find it somewhat disturbing, but that is a good thing.

  • Sue.K.Mabels

    Finally a post by bspencer where I’m free to hate her writing style! (har) Regarding the graphic “art”: it’s so boring and plastic, a corporate attempt at art – like a middle manager’s idea of what people want to feel when they look at a painting. Of course, PR (or attention) is really the point; I’d hate on it more since it’s pimped so often here, but the only way to kill it is to ignore it.

    Love the attitude, though!

    • Wait. Are you saying I blog and post my art for attention? WHAT? WHAT? Hold on…YOU’RE SAYING that when I put my art up at my online gallery and here I’m wanting attention? That when I write words here hoping for interaction with my audience I’m looking for attention? OMFG!!!! You’ve figured me out!!! HOLY FUCK! You’re on to me. I’m just looking for attention…and I’m the only person in the world who’s ever done that.

      Of course, I’m looking for attention, you dumb fuck. We all are to some degree, you garbage person.

      But any way…slow clap, troll. Slow clap.

    • weirdnoise

      There’s a whole thing going on there with the word “corporate” that I’m not getting. In what state was bspenser incorporated? Why do you think bspencer, Inc art would especially appeal to middle managers? Isn’t it really about ethics in game journalism?

      • Sue.K.Mabels

        It’s the plastic photoshop look, like it’s been cheaply sanitized for use in a corporate setting, i.e. a PR campaign As in, excuse me, SOLELY for attention and devoid of content. (Although I’m sure McDonalds really cares if we call our mothers, right?)

        Shout troll all you like, it’s just an opinion.

        • weirdnoise

          Heh. The “plastic photoshop look” combined with explicitly non-“corporate” elements is precisely what provides frisson for me. I don’t think you need to dig very hard into art history to find similar contrasts (Magritte comes to mind). But if it doesn’t work for you, fine, though I’d suggest terms like “corporate” and “PR” are uninformative and appear to be based on personal associations of yours. I’m quite familiar with commercial art and although the tools may be the same, there otherwise isn’t much similarity.

          As for “SOLELY for attention and devoid of content,” yeah, you’re trolling. Go look in the mirror.

        • tsam

          I think you’re looking at the wrong pictures. The ads on the right side of the screen weren’t produced by bspencer.

    • tsam

      What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I’ve been involved in numerous secret raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills. I am trained in gorilla warfare and I’m the top sniper in the entire US armed forces. You are nothing to me but just another target. I will wipe you the fuck out with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth, mark my fucking words. You think you can get away with saying that shit to me over the Internet? Think again, fucker. As we speak I am contacting my secret network of spies across the USA and your IP is being traced right now so you better prepare for the storm, maggot. The storm that wipes out the pathetic little thing you call your life. You’re fucking dead, kid. I can be anywhere, anytime, and I can kill you in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with my bare hands. Not only am I extensively trained in unarmed combat, but I have access to the entire arsenal of the United States Marine Corps and I will use it to its full extent to wipe your miserable ass off the face of the continent, you little shit. If only you could have known what unholy retribution your little “clever” comment was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have held your fucking tongue. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now you’re paying the price, you goddamn idiot. I will shit fury all over you and you will drown in it. You’re fucking dead, kiddo.

      • rhino

        +1

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    so are we to the point censorship (whether it’s by others or d-i-y) is one of the worst things ever?

  • Great stuff. Beautiful and haunting as always.

  • Roger Ailes

    Your art is intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • cpinva

    “problematic”, in art, is a term people use when they don’t like something, but they can’t come up with a “legitimate” reason for not liking it, which they feel they must, to justify themselves. however, it turns out that there is no law requiring that any individual like all art, or provide a reason for not liking it. I may or may not like something, but that’s my issue, not the artist’s, nor must I explain myself to anyone, unless, I suppose, I am a judge for a competition.

    so ms. spencer, do what you like, and if someone doesn’t like it, well, that’s their problem, not yours.

    • “problematic”, in art, is a term people use when they don’t like something, but they can’t come up with a “legitimate” reason for not liking it

      I think it’s a useful word. I think conveys concern that’s free of hysteria. It’s fine to say something is problematic. Of course, when pressed you should probably be able to come up with a reason something is problematic.

      • sparks

        I don’t recall ever using “problematic” except as a euphemism for what I really thought.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Until you’ve used the verb “problematize”, you really haven’t done euphemism.

          • LosGatosCA

            That’s a scientifical fact.

      • cpinva

        “I think it’s a useful word. I think conveys concern that’s free of hysteria.”

        I think it’s just one of the more recent buzzwords, that people use when: a. they don’t like something, but can’t articulate why., b.they don’t like something, but don’t want to specifically say why, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, or being seen as a complete asshole.

        I would agree that it’s normally free from hysteria, but I’m not so certain as to its usefulness.

    • Zipp Zanderhoff

      I think it’s more than personal dislike. If I personally don’t like the composition or color choice of a piece, then I simply don’t like it. When the word “problematic” is thrown around, it’s usually in the context of placing the artistic piece within a larger continuity of culture and criticizing an aspect of the piece that has broader cultural implications. In short: it’s a criticism of the piece’s alleged social role rather than its artistic value.

      For instance, if Suzy D. Critic is going to talk about how The Weight of Masks is problematic, she’s probably going to point out the body-type and complexion of the two subjects, and tie that to a larger artistic continuity in modern Western society that emphasizes slender white women at the exclusion of other ethnicities and body types. No, it’s probably not B. Spencer’s sole responsibility as an artist to practice affirmative action with the subjects of his/her works, but the collective works of many artists over many years has subtle influence over how we see the human body, groups of people, etc. A “problematic” piece can be considered artistically good or bad; the two concepts are independent from each other.

      • LosGatosCA

        I suppose if I understood the totality what this post was saying, I’d be less gauche than I am.

        Although I get that ‘problematic’ is this definition means not seamlessly categorized with a given genre.

    • John Selmer Dix

      It’s a terrible word. Other than the blandness of the word itself, which sounds like it came out of a business retreat, it casts aspersions on something without bringing forth an actual charge. Is it racist? Is it misogynistic? Then say so; we might even leave the conversation smarter people!
      Hearing someone use the word implies to me that they haven’t done a single jot of analysis, but that they’ve had some knee-jerk reaction to something that they feel they should disagree with.

      • keta

        Head of the class.

  • stryx

    I think bspenser is missing the point. The issue isn’t about censorship of her art.
    It’s really about ethics in art criticism.

  • BruceFromOhio

    It’ll hurt my feelings and I’m already filled with self-loathing…

    Such injustice, your imagery is just beautiful. The light and whimsy of Weight of Masks contrasts splendidly with the suggested tension, it’s alive and beautiful.

    • LosGatosCA

      Am I a bad human being to want to Photoshop myself into that piece? Give me an honest answer, please. No, hold that. I’m already overflowing with self-loathing.

    • Thanks, Bruce. What a lovely compliment.

  • KadeKo

    I don’t know much about art but I know what I like. There’s a pile of people among us semi-cultured folk who consider intent and how it matters.

    BSpencer, all I the concern I have for society’s depiction of possibly-underweight young not-so-very-clothed females is absorbed by covers and photo shoots in Vanity Fair.

  • libarbarian

    OMG! First Rule of Holes!!!

    Being cool with being Problematic is SOOOOOOOOO PROBLEMATIC!!!!!

  • rhino

    The first one leaves me cold. The second one intrigues me because, firstly I can’t decide whats going through her head and secondly she looks disturbingly very like my girlfriend when we first met, which makes me vaguely creeped out, like somehow you are burrowing in my head for this stuff.

    That second one wouldn’t apply to most people, obviously, but whatever.

    • Thanks for the comment, rhino!

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