Zhang Huan: An example of shock art is found in this contemporary work of the Chinese-American artist; it is named 1/2 Meat.
Source: Smith Klein Gallery
An article, by John Armstrong, in City Journal, a New York publication, examines and questions the value and purpose of art, including whether it holds some therapeutic value.
For decades, Western culture has been reluctant to assign an inherent value or a purpose to art—even as it continues to hold art in high esteem. Though we no longer seem comfortable saying so, our reverence for art must be founded on a timeless premise: that art is good for us. If we don’t believe this, then our commitment—in money, time, and study—makes little sense. In what way might art be good for us? The answer, I believe, is that art is a therapeutic instrument: its value lies in its capacity to exhort, console, and guide us toward better versions of ourselves and to help us live more flourishing lives, individually and collectively.
Resistance to such a notion is understandable today, since “therapy” has become associated with questionable, or at least unavailing, methods of improving mental health. To say that art is therapeutic is not to suggest that it shares therapy’s methods but rather its underlying ambition: to help us to cope better with existence. While several predominant ways of thinking about art appear to ignore or reject this goal, their ultimate claim is therapeutic as well.
Art’s capacity to shock remains for some a strong source of its contemporary appeal. We are conscious that, individually and collectively, we may grow complacent; art can be valuable when it disrupts or astonishes us. We are particularly in danger of forgetting the artificiality of certain norms. It was once taken for granted, for instance, that women should not be allowed to vote and that the study of ancient Greek should dominate the curricula of English schools. It’s easy now to see that those arrangements were far from inevitable: they were open to change and improvement.
When Sebastian Errazuriz created dollar signs out of ordinary street markings in Manhattan, his idea was to jolt passersby into a radical reconsideration of the role of money in daily life—to shake us out of our unthinking devotion to commerce and to inspire, perhaps, a more equitable conception of wealth creation and distribution. (One would completely misunderstand the work if it were taken as an encouragement to work harder and get rich.) Yet the shock-value approach depends upon a therapeutic assumption. Shock can be valuable because it may prompt a finer state of mind—more alert to complexity and nuance and more open to doubt. The overarching aim is psychological improvement.I agree that such shocking art does have a purpose, in much thew same way that early Greek tragedies had a purpose in eliciting a catharsis, to immediately and forcefully bring an audience out of its stupor or doldrums. Admittedly, this is becoming harder to do with humans, many whom say they have “seen it all,” but it is doubtful they have “felt it all.”
Leaving aside this for now, art’s purpose (outside of the painter’s need for money) are, to a large degree, many and varied. Some love to view art for its aesthetic appeal, others for its historical appeal, and yet others for what its reveals or does not reveal. Then there are the wealthy who want to own original paintings by long-dead painters, seeing these as an economic investment; some do not even display it on their walls, but hide it away in storage vaults for safe-keeping. This is also telling; the value is in the hiding.
You can read the rest of the article at [City].