Flash Points

Self-consciousness around controversial issues


Jenny Holzer, WHITE, 2006. Nichia white LED’s mounted on PCB with aluminum housing, 192 1/4 x 216 5/8 x 5 3/8 inches. Installation view: Cheim & Read, New York. © 2007 Jenny Holzer, member Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

I’m interested in the idea of self-consciousness when it comes to contemporary art—around the controversial issues and artworks that we know are important to talk about and discuss with others, that we think are critical to talk about with students, but that we are terrified of dealing with poorly, worried that we may overstep boundaries, our own comfort levels, or worse—someone else’s.  As John T. says in his comment on the Flash Points introductory post

Another issue was my incredible and obvious sense of trepidation, on so many levels. Scared of getting fired. Scared of being considered racist. Filled with white guilt and pathetically trying to get some kind of pass. Feeling some guilt about “Michael Mooreing” my own class for my own personal artistic desire to make a film.

What are the boundaries that we create for ourselves around initiating these kinds of conversations? What responsibilities do we have in discussing these works of art? How have others—teachers, parents, curators—opened up discourse around controversial topics using works of art?


  1. I have often faced two little demons or spirits sitting, one on each shoulder, telling me to do this or don’t do this, as I paint,make prints,or draw.I eventually created a remedy for these two “campers”. Scared? Afraid of failure? No one will buy it? I had to erase imaginary barriers and fences – small or big. I now attempt to create for me first, not always understanding why, but enjoying the mysterious journey. As I visualize the two small demons sitting upon each shoulder I flick both of them off! Twyla Tharps book,The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life : a Practical Guide The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life : a Practical Guide was a great assist to my process. Robert Genn-another. Still working at it!

  2. Geri Montano says:

    I believe communication is extremely important regardless of weather it is controversial. We all need to communicate truth, our truth, each human being has their own valid experience and viewpoint to share. As artists we each need to be true to ourselves, and speak honestly verbally and visually. We may feel uncomfortable and others may feel uncomfortable hearing or seeing our truth but, growing and expanding our experiences is sometimes uncomfortable which is a part of true living and growing as human beings. Furthermore, the most positive changes in a community have come out of experiences that were uncomfortable. http://www.honoringwomensrights.org/geri-montano.html

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