Transgressive art is art that aims to transgress; i.e. to outrage or violate basic morals and sensibilities. The term transgressive was first used in this sense by American filmmaker Nick Zedd and his Cinema of Transgression in 1985. Zedd used it to describe his legacy with underground film-makers like Paul Morrissey, John Waters, and Kenneth Anger, and the relationship they shared with Zedd and his New York City peers in the early 1980s.
From an academic 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. Probably the most thorough book on the early transgressive movement is Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression by Jack Sargeant.
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, Surrealists, and Fluxus-related artists, such as Carolee Schneemann – 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 have emerged, such as the Canadian artist Rick Gibson who made a pair of earrings out of human fetuses and ate a piece of human testicle. 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; and Yang Zhichao for extreme body art.
Transgressive artist Richard Kern began making films in New York City with actors Nick Zedd and Lung Leg in the early 1980s. Some were videos for musical artists, including the Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth.
During the 1980's, artists such as Dread Scott created art that was so controversial it ended up in the supreme court. In the case of Scott, United States v. Eichman, the Supreme Court ruled that it as in fact unconstitutional for the government to prohibit an artwork that desecrates the American Flag. Another artist, Robert Mapplethorpe would cause the Director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati to be put on trial for obscenity in 1990. Both cases were ruled in favor of the artists.
Subsequent transgressive artists of the 1990s overlapped the boundaries of literature, art, and music, most famously GG Allin, Lisa Crystal Carver, Shane Bugbee, and Costes. 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 including 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 comic Hate.
Newer transgressive artists of the 2010s such as Nickk Dropkick, Joan Cornellà, Aleksandra Waliszewska, DJ Magnetic Dozer, and Molg H seem to have brought about a revival of transgressive art in recent years, with some small measure of popularity.
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 deal with issues that were considered to be outside the social norms. Their characters abuse drugs, engage in violent behaviour or could be considered sexual deviants.
Among the most notorious works of transgressive art among the general public have been sculpture, collages, and installation art which offended 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.
Rock and roll music has inspired controversy from its inception. In a 2015 retrospective of Rock and Roll, the New Yorker stated Rock and Roll's "learning curve for performing the stuff is short; the learning curve for appreciating it is nonexistent."
As the music grew in popularity, some artists used controversy to make a statement, gain attention or make a profit (or a combination of these). For musical genres such as shock rock, punk rock, horrorcore and its parent genres hardcore hip hop and gangsta rap; grindcore, black metal and death metal, as well as various bands within the avant-garde rock genre, offending modern sensibilities was an integral part of their music. Musicians such as Alice Cooper, Slayer, Kiss, N.W.A, Iggy Pop, Misfits, W.A.S.P., GWAR, GG Allin, The Plasmatics, Cannibal Corpse, Tyler, The Creator, Throbbing Gristle, Marilyn Manson, Die Antwoord, Costes, The Mentors, Anal Cunt, The Sex Pistols, Death Grips, The Meatmen, Eminem, Brotha Lynch Hung and the Dead Kennedys used anti-Christian, anti-establishment, satirical lyrics that were generally considered to be evil by those who did not understand them. Some bands used the controversy to increase their popularity. The idea was, if people complained about their music enough and truly hated them, then the band's name and knowledge of their existence would reach the ears of people who would appreciate their music.
- Artistic scandal
- Black comedy
- Cinema of Transgression
- New French Extremity
- New Gothic Art
- Pink Flamingos (1972 film)
- Shock art
- Torture porn
- Transgressive fiction
- Extreme cinema
- Shock Value: New York’s underground ‘Cinema of Transgression’-Dangerous Minds
- Zedd, Nick (1985). "The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto". Retrieved 7 June 2014.
- Films by Richard Kern: Program 2 | MoMA
- Cohen, Alina (2018-07-25). "It's Legal to Burn the American Flag. This Artist Helped Make It A Form of Free Speech". Artsy. Retrieved 2021-05-04.
- Palmer, Alex. "When Art Fought the Law and the Art Won". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2021-05-04.
- Word Watch — December 1996 from The Atlantic Monthly
- Joseph Gallivan (30 Oct 2009). "Citizen Goad". Entertainment. Portland Life. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
- Transgressive Art as a Form of Protest-Art News & Views
- By Jeffrey Weiss, Artforum
- Menand, Louis. "The Real History of Rock and Roll". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2021-05-04.
- "Transcendence, Transgression, and Rock & Roll: The Music of Luxury - Christ and Pop Culture". Christ and Pop Culture. Retrieved 2017-09-09.