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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Beyond provocation : how viewers make sense of transgressive taboo art Winn, Miranda Susan


Transgressive taboo art refers to a controversial visual art genre that deliberately discomforts its viewing audience by provocatively questioning commonly held values and widely accepted socio-cultural constructs. Within this provocation lies the potential for transformative critical reflection, as viewers recursively examine personal acceptance of socio-cultural constructs. But just as this art genre can enlighten, it also can outrage. To unpack the diversity of viewer exchange, the research presented here investigates circumstances in which novice viewers experience a pedagogic interplay and circumstances that cripple the meaning making process. As this contentious genre has largely been avoided by art educators, these findings are then used to make recommendations for optimal inclusion within an educational context. To investigate this complex process, 19 participants were extensively interviewed before, during and after they viewed three transgressive taboo artworks. Transcribed data indicates that viewers approach transgressive taboo art as both an artwork and a problem position. While most participants react with responses similar to traditional art such as comments on colour and composition, they may also engage emotionally and intellectually to the dilemma that the work presents. Often this intellectual engagement begins from an established self-position, then moves outward to the consideration of alternative perspectives. Circumstances that optimize a meaningful viewer exchange include willingness to engage dialogue openly examining intra and interpersonal values and beliefs. Circumstances that thwart engagement include an unending pursuit of artist message, anger due to a significant and specific breach in personal values, cynicism towards the artist/art world, and/or lack of knowledge. Strikingly, strong negative emotional responses and/or traditional art preferences do not necessarily impede viewers from having a meaningful exchange. Recommendations for the inclusion of transgressive taboo art within an educational context include: choosing pieces with pedagogic potential, an emphasis on sincere open dialogue, student self-awareness of personal hot points, exploration of related art history and providing students with guidelines for interpretation and a framework to facilitate art criticism. Recommendations also include two additional steps to the traditional interpretive process of description, interpretation, and evaluation, which include acknowledgement of emotional response and critical reflection of personal/cultural value set(s).

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Attribution 3.0 Unported