Seedbed – Vitto Acconci

I’d like to preface the following post with the fact that I still have yet to understand exactly what Acconci was trying to achieve here. Maybe I should art more. However, Creepy-Man-Masturbating-Under-Floorboards seems to cut right down to questions of beauty’s propriety in art in a way that makes it very relevant to Higgins’ essay.

She writes: “Who can deny these days that the sensitive absorb more disturbance than beauty from their world?” (282). Certainly not Acconci, for whom concerns with beauty seem to be secondary, if non-existent. By narrating his sexual fantasies involving the people who walk on the floorboards above him while masturbating below, he dives into a perversion than are at odds with what is beautiful. Unless you’re the type of person that finds that beautiful.

In a letter to Michel Houellebecq, Bernard-Hneri Levy wrote: “There’s nothing to equal the drive to conquer as an antidote to these two twin poisons, the desire to please and the desire to displease.” (Public Enemies, 33)

What they’re discussing is artistic intent (particularly in defending themselves against critics) – what made me think immediately of this conversation is the contextualization of beauty that Higgins writes about. Artists like Levy and Acconci use beauty as an element of art insofar as they are aware that the two are intrinsically related. Confrontational works, in some ways, predict an audience’s appetite for beauty, for affable art, and bring the aesthetic experience to them by denying them what’s beautiful. In doing so, they create a moral choice out of the inclusion, exclusion and perversion of beauty in art.

After all, Levy concludes one of his correspondences by stating: “And perhaps we would also need to try and explore writers’ own desire. Which is? The desire to displease, to be repudiated. The giddiness and pleasure of disgrace.” (Public Enemies, 13).


Étant donnés by Marcel Duchamp


Higgins writes “Beauty where it exists at all must be contextualized and its propriety always subject to question”(283) Giving examples of beautiful things being inextricably linked with terrible things, like a mushroom cloud following the destruction of an atom bomb or teenagers being motivated to murder because of a desire for beautiful things. I thought that you could look at Duchamp’s  Étant donnés is this light because of the  unique way in which it is meant to be viewed, through two “peep holes” in a wooden door. Despite the beauty of the woman or of the scenery you cannot escape the feeling that you’re spying on and watching somebody through a closed door, it’s creepy.


Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty (page-58)

Antonin Artaud believed that civilization had repressed humanity into sick creatures and that it was through theater  that humans could regain their instinctual energy. There is no sense of beauty in this type of theatrics, as Higgins states one of the reasons being that our modern world has no time or place for such an ideal. This experimental theater was founded at the Théâtre Alfred Jarry in 1926 and was later disbanded in 1929.

“Conversions” by Vito Acconci

“Conversions” by Vito Acconci“Conversions” by Vito Acconci is a video which he performs a series of acts which emasculate him. He creates breasts for himself by pulling on his nipples, burns off his body hair, and hides his male genitalia in between his legs (Jay, pg.60). This video has a lot to do with the political statements Higgins talks about in her article. In today’s world, the transgender community is rapidly growing and becoming more and more acceptable. This video however,  came out in 1970, when being transgender was not as accepted as it is today and is defiantly an example of how beauty in political movements/issues can open people’s eyes to new dimensions of sexuality and open the door for discussion and revolution.



Martin Jay, “Somaesthetics and Democracy: Dewey and Contemporary Body Art”

Kathleen Marie Higgins, “Whatever Happened to Beauty? A response to Danto



Meat Joy by Carolee Schneemann


This is a piece by Carolee Schneemann called Meat Joy. Carolee Schneemann was considered a pioneering feminist artist using her artwork to delve deeper in to women’s lives, bodies, and roles in society. She uses her artwork to display aspects of women’s bodies that are typically ignored or pushed aside for the male demographic.

This piece brings into question women’s sexuality and revolves around sexual expression and liberation. Some feminists claim that this misogynistic and is permitted because the male gaze allows it. This follows Higgins’ idea of “political commitment,” if it cannot last in a “confrontation with beauty” and are put into question than these ideas become a fixed, guiding action but inflexible (Higgins 283). The use of nudity is to break boundaries associated with the human body and display the body in a more expressive way than a non-sexual society can show. Its purpose is not for the sake of man, but for the sake of women and giving them back control of their bodies.

Rhythm 0


This was a 1974 work of performance art by the Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramovic, the purpose of which was to find out how far the public would go, to what extremes they would take her body. She placed 72 objects (ranging from roses, grapes, and perfumes to chains, a revolver, and a single bullet) on a table and instructed the audience to use them as they wanted on her for a period of six hours. It began tamely, with a few  people shifting her arms or making her hold a rose. By the third hour, her clothes were slashed with a razor, and by the fourth, her neck had been sliced so an audience member could drink her blood.

Higgins, in the last paragraph of p. 282 summarizes the idea that the sensitive these days absorb disturbance more so than beauty nowadays, and that their art will reflect their troubled sense of the world. A world where we have destroyed our relationship with nature, what might be considered the paradigm of beauty. In Marina’s performance, I see this idea in action when the audience is given the performer’s body as a canvas. With all the options available, they chose to torture and humiliate the female form, as opposed to perhaps glorifying it or merely letting it alone for the duration of the performance.

I believe this is also a good example of George Bataille’s base materialism, where the body is a site of creaturely vulnerability, abasement and decay (Jay, 59). I only mention this because Bataille is a pretty interesting dude with some really neat ideas and he just happened to write a book titled The Solar Anus (L’anus solaire), which I felt absolutely compelled to share.


Higgins, K. M. (1996). “Whatever Happened to Beauty? A Response to Danto”. In The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 54, 3.

Jay, M. (2002). “Somaesthetics and Democracy: Dewey and Contemporary Body Art”. In Journal of Aesthetic Education, 36, 4.

Marina Abramovic on Rhythm 0

Stelarc/Chris Angel


These two stunts are from two different artists.  One was mentioned in Jay’s article, titled “Event for Streched Skin,” and took place in New York City or Tokyo. The other took place on a t.v. show, Chris Angel’s mindfreak.

I had mentioned in class that I saw a television show featuring Chris Angel, self proclaimed “mindfreak (aka magician).”  His stunt is exactly what Stelarc did, except Angel does it from a Helicopter.  Stelarc’s statement in 1976 seems to have been more important, having more meaning than Angels stung.  Is the nakedness and means by which the performances take place what qualifies one as art?


Jay pg 63- “Great art”

videos naked artSpencer Tunick’s installation at Max Joseph Platz in Munich

naked art

Body installations like this one push the envelope, questioning both ‘moral and social’ obligations. Could we imagine a world in which we roam around freely naked, the body image in society would drastically be different. Laws and regulations would have to alter to let this change occur.Contemporary artwork is no longer pretty images and showing the best of society, or what society has to offer.Jay writes “What is in any case abundantly clear is that we have moved a long way from Dewey’s sunny vision of an art that presents attractive “possibilities of human relations” prefiguring a utopian form of realized life in the future.” This work is an excellent example of, what if we live in a world without original sin? What if we are free? These collections of naked bodies isn’t holding an image of beauty and labeling this is what beauty is. This is to make you think, as human beings nudity is where we are at our most vulnerable . This installation is living modern day life without any constraints.

Nobuyoshi Araki’s Untitled (Kinbaku)

Shibari (sometimes referred interchangeably with the word kinbaku) is known as the Japanese art form of rope bondage. While the activity/performance is, perhaps, “popularized” for its eroticism, its root ties back as early as feudal-era Japan. Originally in the 1400-1700’s, the practice of hojo-jutsu was used primarily as a means of incarcerating would be criminals. In accordance to Japanese aesthetic principals, it wasn’t enough to simply restrain the offender but must also do so in a way that would not hurt the person and must also look “beautiful”. Eventually by the late 1800-1900’s, a more erotic “version” of the practice began to form which was called kinbaku-bi.

Much like the body artists who were influenced by John Dewey’s aesthetics in focusing on the human body and experience, shibari maintains this “tradition” (Jay). Using finely prepared rope, a nawashi (literally “rope master”) would carefully bind the model; like an artist applying paint to a canvas, the rope is weaved in an intricate, geometric pattern throughout the model’s body. Despite this simple framework for a typical performance, shibari exhibitions can range from solemn moments between the artist and model to full-on bombast and overly-exaggerated actions and everything in between.

Going beyond the surface value of the immediate sensual and intimate nature of the performance, shibari holds a certain beauty to it; which Danto describes as a means of understanding “what it is to be human” (Higgins 282). Ideally, shibari encapsulates the paradoxes of human condition such as freedom and restraint, strength and frailty. Higgins also adds to this definition of “beauty,” by describing its necessity as a “comforting background” to think about the “uncomfortable” (Higgins, 283). While shibari performances may lack the same political “punch” as some of the other body artists mentioned by Martin Jay, these acts can help express social issues relevant to the artist and/or the audience such as speaking out against sexual violence/discrimination, commentating on the oppressiveness of day-to-day living, or it could just be a form of expressing one’s own sexuality.


Higgins, Katherine. “Whatever Happened to Beauty? A Response to Danto”

Jay, Martin. “Somaesthetics and Democracy: Dewey and Contemporary Body Art”

Images from:

Final Paper Proposal

In my final paper I will explore how Schopenhauer and Hegel explain how art gives us truth. I will discuss how Schopenhauer in particular explain how being loss of self and being will-less gives us the ultimate truth. I will explain how Hegel discusses art as a means of giving truth through a historical context. Hegel believed that the content of the artwork is important to his theory given that drama specifically poetry is highest form of art, however the same cannot be said about Schopenhauer. For both philosophers the experience of the subject is essential to their theories. The sensory experience of the subject and the self-conscious experience of the subject explain how art gives us the truth.