Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Inspiration of Paper

A good deal of time has passed since my last post, which was painfully long winded and complex. If anyone persevered to its end, you would have found that I promised to post the finished painting of "Second Loves First" which the story inspired. So here it is.


Carey Corea, "Second Loves First", Encaustic and mixed media
 on cradled panel, 48"x 72"

An interesting discovery occurred in the process of creating this painting. When the last post was written the painting was only in the preliminary sketch stage. Where you see the large rectangle of dots in the finished piece, I had sketched a grid containing marks and gestures. The following is the story how this portion of the painting evolved.

In preparation for this work, I needed to purchase a large amount of Titanium White encaustic paint at Rochester Art Supply. The owner, Mike Lesczinski, asked me if I had seen this new paper that just arrived. It was Amate paper made by the Otomi Indians of central Mexico. Its origin dates back to the ancient Aztecs. It came in different forms and colors, but the variety that interested me most was the one that was full of holes! The paper is made from the bark of wild fig trees which is stripped from the tree, softened, woven together, and pounded into a beautiful textured paper. It was a perfect substitute for the grid that I originally sketched. In fact, it was 100 times better – it had a link with ancient culture and religious rituals. It resonated with the spirit of the painting. 

Cortes in his conquests burned almost all of the writings and designs made on Amate paper believing it had something to do with witchcraft. The paper was ultimately banned in Europe for the same reason.

I bought more Amate paper. Actually, I bought a huge 4x8 foot sheet – better holes in the large size. This "holely" paper became the inspiration and foundation for a new series of paintings titled "Portals of Wonderment." Here a few paintings in the series:


Carey Corea, "Portals of Wonderment No. 1"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 30"x 30"



Carey Corea, "Portals of Wonderment No. 2"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 30"x 40"



Carey Corea, "Portals of Wonderment No. 3"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 16"x 16"

It recently dawned on me that this is not the first time an under lament of paper has influenced my painting. In 2013, I unpacked an urn which was wrapped in corrugated cardboard. That corrugated material became the inspiration for a series of paintings. Here are a few examples of that series:


Carey Corea, "The World Turns Eighteen"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 16"x 16"



Carey Corea, "Boiling of the Sea"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 16"x 16"



Carey Corea, "False Door"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 16"x 16"



Carey Corea, "The Immolation of Ivory Black"
Encaustic on cradled panel, 16"x 16"
Permanent Collection, Museum of the Encaustic Art Institute  


As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Prejudice, Spray Paint, and Graffiti

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with Rick Muto, director of the Axom Gallery in Rochester, NY. We were sitting in my studio in front of a large painting I had just begun. On it I had inscribed a heart-felt graffiti I had found from the excavation of Pompeii (see below). Our conversation turned to the sources of inspiration for this nascent work. Fortunately, Rick is a good listener and he let me drone on. This morning, I felt compelled to retrace my conversation and to elaborate upon it. So when someone inevitably asks the question, “what was your inspiration?” I can refer him or her to this blog entry.

The fabric of the above conversation is woven with strands of historical observations and personal reflections that stretch from early man to present day art movements. Running through this pattern is a connecting thread of the interrelationship of artistic expression with art media, specifically spray paint. And one more thing, there is a stain of prejudice on this fabric that has fortunately been blotted out years ago.

Let’s begin with the metaphoric strand – the inspiration for this story. The year might have been 1968, I was an art student attending R.I.T.. Standing with my friends outside the Bevier building we noticed the unloading large abstract canvases of Bob Taugner’s work for a retrospective exhibit. Bob was one of my painting teachers and a real character! Eager to get a glimpse of his paintings, we approached to get a better look. Our eyes scanned the canvas and there at the bottom of one painting was a gesture of color made with spray paint! What! Spray Paint! Sacrilege! How could he defile his oil painting with spray paint? It wasn’t even an art supply. Now, I wasn’t alone with this ridiculous prejudicial reaction. Years later, I checked with my friend Jerry Infantino and he felt the same. To this day, I am unable to understand our response. It was totally illogical. I loved Franz Kline and he used house paint. I loved Rauschenberg even more and he used everything he could find or get his hands on. We must of caught this prejudiced perspective somewhere, but I’m clueless as to how. Taugner’s painting was probably done in the early 1960s. If we were thinking right, we would have considered using spray paint to be an innovation at that time. It was not until years later with the rise graffiti art that spray paint would become recognized as important art medium.

Side note: When I was in school, Rochester Art Supply was where we purchased all our paint. At that time they sold everything but not spray paint. Stop in today and you’ll see an impressive display of paint stretching the width of the store of, you guessed it, spray paint!

Here’s where this story meets a fork in the road. To the right it explores graffiti and to the left, spray paint. Let’s turn towards spray paint.

We think of the aerosol propelled paint as a modern invention of the 1950s. It is quite possible that my painting instructor may have been one of the first to apply it to fine art. The speed and portability of spray paint made it the common medium of the graffiti/street artists of the late 1970s. However, spraying your identity (tag) on a wall isn’t that new. 



Examples of graffiti tags or logotypes identifying the writer.


In fact, artists were also expressing themselves with spray paint 40,000 years ago. In Patagonia, Argentina there is a cave called Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) where early man sprayed their tags. These innovators combined colored natural pigments with unknown binders in their mouths, used their lungs in place of fluorocarbon propellant, and through bone pipes sprayed their handprints on cave walls. And what is more amazing, they were not the only ones. Prehistoric hand images, mostly created by a spray paint method, can be found on cave walls in Egypt, Spain, France, and even on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi! Some may refer to these forms of expression as the oldest known graffiti.




Cave of the Hands, Patagonia, Argentina


So let’s segue to graffiti.  

A common view of graffiti is associated with vandalism, self-aggrandizement, and bathroom walls. However, it would be a mistake to superimpose this mindset onto all graffiti especially ancient graffiti. Ancient graffiti held a completely different position in the minds of the public. It had a level of respect, and was at times interactive. The culture of that age did not see it as a defacement of property. In fact, it was the accepted way to communicate public notices, political discourse, art and poetry, prayers and insults, as well as a means of self-expression and many times the sharing of goodwill. The excavation of Pompeii has focused light on the graffiti in ancient times. The work of Rebecca Benefiel, professor at Washington and Lee University, has added a new measure of illumination to the wall scratches of the ancients. 


Graffiti scratched on a wall in Pompeii


Not only has she revealed the diversity of the content of graffiti but the actual process of painting or incising on the plastered walls. I find that there are parallels between today’s writers of graffiti and their ancient counterparts. In some cases the content is ageless but what caught my attention is the process of mark making on walls and how it influenced the letterform.

Today’s graffiti artists have produced innovative letterforms probably due to a combination of factors. First, applying spray paint on a large format space. Aerosol propelled paint facilitates large sweeping gestures made from the shoulder not the fingers. And you need a large “canvas” such as a wall to accommodate such strokes. Second is speed. For obvious reasons, the letterforms had to be executed rapidly. Many letterforms designs bordered on illegibly – giving them a feel of asemic writing. Graphic designers can now purchase fonts based upon these street artist’s letterforms. This relationship between surface and media may have had its creative effects on writers of graffiti in Pompeii.



Examples of letterforms and designs that the medium of spray paint influenced.



One of many new fonts based on graffiti 

Back then, sharp metal tools were used instead of aerosol paint and most of the time messages were scratched into the walls (easier and faster than painting). However, it turns out that incising the stucco on the walls of Pompeii had its problems. Rebecca Benefiel discovered that for some reason making vertical marks in plaster was much easier than making horizontal ones. Therefore, the letter “E” sometimes became a new letterform of two vertical lines. This was a typographical innovation created by the relationship between artist, medium and wall surface! Isn’t this the same interrelationship that produced the new letterforms by today’s graffiti artists?

Most graffiti from the ancient world has been lost or erased. However, almost 11,000 examples still can be found in Pompeii (more than it’s estimated population). They were written by virtually everyone: male, female, slaves and the free. And, contained almost every subject and intention, from the sacred to the profane. Thereby transforming ancient graffiti into social and cultural artifacts. Here’s a copy of the inscription that inspired my painting:


The inscription might be read:
"Secundus greets his Prima wherever she is: I beg you, lady, love me." 
It is assumed that Sucundus (Second) and Prima (First) may have been slaves and their names were cognomens. This graffiti is one of six found in Pompeii where Sucundus expresses his love and yearning for Prima.

Here’s the fascinating part, the majority of all of Pompeii’s graffiti is not found on the exterior walls of the city but discretely incised on centrally located interior walls in most of the homes. These inscriptions were less than a centimeter tall and were poetic, welcoming or uplifting in their content. Walls everywhere had an accepted utility for messaging for the ancients. Maybe like the electronic Facebook “wall” of today.

So there you have it, my convoluted weaving of thought that began during my college days: the recounting the prejudicial reaction to the use of spray paint for fine art, which lead to contemplating its application in the graffiti art movement today, in Pompeii, and prehistoric times. Overlay all this with my interest in daily life in the ancient world and a career of creative attachment to the power of mark making (see blog dated Dec. 2014) and letterforms, and we end up with a pattern of inspiration that finds expression in my abstract painting entitled “Second Loves First.”

I’ll post a photo of the painting when it is completed.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Paint and the Abstract Painter

I just wrote an article for the Enkaustikos Newsletter. I wanted to express a distinctive dimension of abstract painting that may be overlooked or unappreciated by the casual observer. Plus, take the opportunity to communicate to my fellow artists, not familiar with encaustic paint, a few personal reasons why I am such a fan. Here's what I wrote:

I belong to a segment of painters that may be labeled pure abstractionists. One way to define this category is to focus on the artist’s primary source of inspiration. Before I begin, it is important to note that no one can really be conscious of the mysterious wellspring from which inspiration flows. Nor, can one type of painting be considered to be superior to another. However, the point of inspiration is instructive when distinguishing between abstract and other types of painting. Pure abstractionists do not rely on the direct observation of nature as their primary source of inspiration. Unlike plein air or figurative painters that turn outward to the natural world around them, many abstractionists draw upon the world within. By doing so, they abandon external relationships such as the ability to study how the light plays upon the haystacks. They have no means to confirm proportion, color, and shading of a subject. They swim in a shoreless sea of spirit, history, aesthetic harmonies, and unconscious symbolism. The abstract painter’s work seems to be generated through the interplay of acquired knowledge and intuition. Their compositions rely mostly on feelings evoked through color, texture, shape, line, gestures, etc. that represent the tangible expressions of an invisible reality. Paint is the primary medium for this expression.

Painters have many paints to choose from. I like the word “medium” because it means something “in-between” that communicates between things. To me, the act of painting is the intermediary between the painter’s heart/mind and their creation. Most often, it is the response to this action that guides the painter to the next step of their journey. Therefore, the relationship between the painter and their paint is highly intimate and crucially important to the creative process.

I love all paint. Each has its own character and some even play well together. Since attending art school I have experienced all types of media and felt the most comfortable with oils. That is, until I discovered encaustic paint over a decade ago. Encaustics changed the way I paint. It dramatically opened up a new aesthetic and means of expression that could not be imagined with any other paint. Encaustic paint is the most versatile medium ever created and it’s only 2,500 years old! Why is versatility desirable? If you create by visually expressing a multitude of feelings and complex ideas your paint and materials must be aesthetically aligned with those expressions. Or said another way, abstract painters are translating emotion into language. It is helpful if their paint speaks their language and even better if it speaks many languages. Encaustics are multilingual!

It is beyond the thrust of this article to list all the virtues of encaustic paint, not to mention all the related art supplies and techniques. However, I’ll share a few of the paint’s salient characteristics that have kept me a devoted admirer all these years.

• Luminance. Encaustic paint is one of the most heavily pigmented paints available and possibly the most luminous. Its binder is a combination of purified beeswax and tree sap, which has the capacity to hold loads of brilliant color. And, it can be polished to further enhance its luminosity.

• Opacity. Encaustic paint is truly opaque. Plus, it hardens in seconds making one-stroke color adjustments possible. Because there is no bleed-through repeated paint-overs are a snap. This is a very empowering capacity. Of course, encaustic paint has transparent qualities as well, and many artists are drawn to these qualities. But for me, real opacity is a wonderful thing.

• Sculptural. The capacity to build up of surface texture is perhaps encaustic paint’s most spectacular quality. No other paint can produce the variety of dimensional surfaces –ranging from glass-smooth to highly textured organic forms that defy description. Marks or lines can be carved or incised into the surface effortlessly. If you want to remove a layer, just scrape it off. You won’t need an electric sander. Encaustics allow the shaving off of thin layers of paint producing a wonderful distressed effect by exposing the under-painting. Furthermore, you can cut deep to remove many layers of paint – right down to the substrate. This is especially desirable for mixed-media artists since photographs or collaged elements can be attached to the substrate at any stage of the painting.

• Compatibility. Encaustics and oils (tube or stick) are lovers. Oil paint can be combined with encaustics in many creative ways. All kinds of amazing techniques have been discovered. I found that a few oil colors (i.e. Alizarin Orange) have the ability to stain certain encaustic colors creating beautiful and subtle color variations. Oils also produce contrast when washed or rubbed into surface indentations formed by brushstrokes. By the way, acrylics are the enemy of encaustics – keep them separated.

• Forgiving. Much of abstract painting is experimental. You are dealing with the unknown, so you try something and see if it works. No matter how bad the idea is, with encaustics it can easily be corrected. In my experience, the correction takes you to a solution that is surprisingly exciting. Making mistakes seem to be a virtue with this paint.

• Substrate. Some paints are linked with their support medium, e.g. watercolors with paper. Encaustic paint requires an absorbent substrate. Wood panels work best and can be purchased in a variety of sizes and styles. I prefer the cradled type (they don’t require framing). Working on a panel instead of canvas has expanded my realm of expression. As a mixed media artist, I can adhere, affix, and encase all kinds of things, drill and hammer into the wood, and carve into the painted surface without concern.

No matter what kind of painter you may be or aspire to be, there is no doubt that paint is dear to your heart. As with all the things that you love, there is a desire to know all about them. I am still learning new techniques and continue to be captivated by encaustic’s latent potentialities. Manufacturers like Enkaustikos help sustain enthusiasm by creating innovative new colors. Colors based on historical pigments that approximate ancient formulas or exciting new colors – begging to be tried.

I would be happy to respond to any questions or thoughts – please contact me through my website.

Carey Corea is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, living in Rochester, NY. His work can be viewed at careycorea.com or his blog read at careycorea.blogspot.com.




Thursday, April 7, 2016

Naming a Painting

I recently finished a new painting entitled Naw Ruz. The title has nothing to do with the content or inspiration of the painting. It was on the festival of Naw Ruz (March 21st) when I happened to complete the work. Naw Ruz is an ancient Persian holiday (celebrated throughout the Middle East) as well as one of the Baha'i Holy Days (ending the period of fasting). Naw Ruz means "New Day."



Carey Corea "Naw Ruz" 
Encaustic on cradled panel, 30"x 30"



 Detail of "Naw Ruz"



Detail of "Naw Ruz"

I name paintings in an enigmatic way. Sometimes if the painting coincides with a holiday, like Naw Ruz or Memorial Day, it takes that event as the title. However, that doesn't happen that often. Most of the time the title is a hidden mystery that probably doesn't make sense to anyone but me. Sometimes one of the painting's concepts and form suggests a name. For example, "Odalisque and the Virgins" has to do with purity of isolated colors (the virgins) detached and floating above the surface of the painting . Whereas the surface is characterized by multiple layers of built up paint that has been textured by over-painting and scraping – revealing its exotic complex beauty (the odalisque). It is painted with abandonment utilizing splatters and drips, bold brush strokes, and the juxtaposition of harmonious colors. The base surface tells a different story from that of the 25 individual solid colors (like orderly angels) suspended in the air above it. Picasso once said, "all art is sexual." Maybe he meant "paradoxical?" In any event, this painting seems to contain a little of both dynamics. It is up to the viewer to feel it and possibly to think it.



Carey Corea "Odalisque and the Virgins" 
Encaustic on cradled panel, 16"x 16"


Other titles come directly from Holy Texts. "Jake's Dream", "Ark of Fire", "Possessors of Circles", "Beauty of Joseph", "Twins", and "Dry in the Sea" all have their origin in the Bible, the Quran, and primarily the Baha'i Writings. Sometimes a particular graphic element in the painting suggests its name. "Red Square", "Seven", and "Patterns" are examples. Once a painting was named after its source of inspiration – "Crow's Pond." Some titles are deeply personal and will be kept that way.

Well, I intended this post just to quickly share my latest painting, but it turned into something else. Isn't that indicative of the mysterious creative process?





Saturday, March 19, 2016

Why is art like a seafood dinner?


We live in a confusing and polarizing age. Almost every social arena is weathering the winds of negation and disunity. The art world is not spared from such forces and may at times reflect them. Conversation regarding the nature of art seems to take on the qualities of discussing religion or politics – where reaching consensus is nearly impossible!

Undeterred by controversy, I am moved to consider the dynamics surrounding the subjective and/or objective nature of art. The paradoxical nature of this age-old1 conflict revolves around two seemly opposite positions. The subjective view that “art, quality, and beauty are in the eye of the beholder” – making them entirely personal, therefore indefinable. And, the objective view that “art and beauty has ideal qualities, independent of the beholder’s eye” – suggesting a universal reality. These two perspectives are usually viewed dichotomously. However, they may be viewed as a continuum where each perspective has polar positions and equal validity.

As I contemplated this polarity, a number of familiar questions surface: Is it possible to define art and beauty? Does beauty and quality possess spiritual dynamics? Does intent affect art? Do principles such as “moderation in all things” apply to art? I will not attempt to address these questions directly. My focus here is to explore the ramifications of subjectivity and objectivity in art. Furthermore, I am not interested in the usual surface discussion where subjectivity is simply defined as the viewer’s unique emotional response, and objectivity is seen as mastering techniques and composition. What interest me is how these two perspectives actually impact our lives and how deeper reflection may stimulate introspection of one’s personal conceptual framework of reality. But let’s focus on art for now.

I have a tendency when attempting to unravel complex issues to explore the extremes. Therefore, I embarked on a traditional dichotomous approach to subjectivity/objectivity in art. I confess that I am opinionated. I hold the view that the orientation produced by subjectivism divorced from the beneficial affects of objectivity has contributed to strains of art not worthy of critical assent.

As I began to formulate ideas on how to articulate this view, a crazy idea popped into my head. Would it be instructive if we applied the dynamics of dining out to that of attending an art exhibition? And by doing so, we substitute chefs for artists, and assess the quality of art like we would with food – with our actual sense of taste! There are those that will immediately challenge this notion by proclaiming there is no way to tell how anyone perceives anything therefore everything is relative – classic subjectivism! But let’s set that reality aside momentarily so we can have some fun. It is clear that the art world enjoys operating on the subjective end of the scale, while the food industry prefers a more objective approach. However, there are obvious parallels between the worlds of art and food.  

On the consumer side, people’s palettes vary, but possibly to a lesser degree than with art. As with art, one’s taste may be influenced by habit, culture, acquisition of taste, and personal perception (my young children loved the taste of fried calamari until they discovered it was a sea creature with tentacles). Although our personal ideas as to what is palatable vary and evolve, they should not dramatically affect the reality of a food’s taste. The sweetness of a Fuji apple doesn’t change because of one’s preference for tartness or one’s superstitious belief that apples are evil. Generally speaking, taste sensibilities may be more universal than individualistic, thereby providing a more empirical metric for quality. This assumption can be supported by the well known fact that, “everybody likes Italian food!” Furthermore, our tongues act as a universal detector for under or overly seasoned food.

On the creation side of the equation, a chef can easily be compared to an artist. He is able to combine a variety of ingredients in a proper balance and proportion to create a flavorful and nutritious meal. A good chef has talent, experience and skill, knows how to harmonize diverse spices and ingredients, and can sense a perfect state of doneness. Regardless of skill level, most cooks attempt to operate within the bounds of health safety and wise practices.

Lastly, restaurants like art galleries and museums want to be known for excellence.

What happens when a chef/artist’s conceptual framework is exclusively built around the subjective orientation derived from “beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” In today’s art world, this mindset translates to the prevailing view that art can be anything2! Operating within this paradigm, which can yield either positive or negative results, the chef/artist is liberated from any authority or objective definition. In such a paradigm, the possibility of overstepping the bounds of moderation and perverting art's higher purpose becomes inevitable.

Let’s suppose we visit a respected restaurant/gallery, where the chef/artist is now free to pursue any form of self-expression. We order the chef’s new entre, which we have been told was inspired by his recent experience at the beach. The creation of this new seafood dish involves substituting sand for salt, and features washed up fish on a bed of beached seaweed. Having tasted this dish, would we praise the chef’s artistic passion and insight? Would we applaud the meal for its new textures and aromas? Or, moved by metaphor, donate to preserve our endangered shorelines? I don’t think so! One bite and we would instantly detect the meal’s inappropriateness and self-indulgent expression.

Actual taste sensibilities are not transferable to making, exhibiting, and viewing art. And if it were, the world would be less interesting place. And, most contemporary art is not self-indulgent or extreme as suggested by the above parable. However, some unfortunately is. In an environment where devotion to unbridled freedom is coupled with fierce competition, we get Shock Art2! No respectable chef would consciously set out to create an uneatable meal. Why should an artist intentionally create works that abase the nobility of man?

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating inhibiting or censoring artistic expression. More important, no one should be allowed to force his opinions upon another person. The axiom that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is not debatable nor is it without its mystery. However, acknowledging the reality of individual perception does not negate the existence of universal compositional principles and a profound natural order that surrounds art as well as of everything else. By the way, this last statement drives those that are fearful of any form of an objective standard crazy.

My whimsical notion of exchanging food for art suggests that personal perception can be part of a reality that also admits to universal truths or ideals. These polarized points of views can be harmonized. However, without this unity, we will continue to experience art that shocks and degrades rather than benefits and uplifts.

In my experience, most artists and viewers of art will adamantly profess that they can determine beauty and truth for themselves. No one will tell them what is right. Many will also acknowledge that there are universal forms that apply to creating quality art. Still fewer will identify these universal forms with natural law or have the desire to contemplate its profound and mystical nature. I have the suspicion that there may be an unconscious avoidance of reflecting too deeply on this subject. One reason could be that many artists relate to the idea of laws as a restriction of freedom – “laws are made to be broken.” On the other hand, there is a wide acceptance of the invisible forces of intuition that effect an artist’s creative decisions. These feelings and spiritual forces are employed to achieve excellence and quality. Similar feelings are what viewers use to detect and appreciate beauty.

The reason we can discuss these is dynamics is because our hearts have been given the power to respond to beauty and excellence in art and in the world. Although art and beauty may be challenging to define, one thing is true: “no one adverts their eyes from beauty.”4 ­­One reason for this truth may be that beauty is a sign of the Creator. Likewise, attributes such as perfection, moderation, unity, symmetry, and harmony delight the heart because of their mystical connection to the laws of the universe. When art corresponds to natural order it affects our nerves, heart and spirit. Art in conformity with these laws inspires noble thoughts and becomes a source of comfort and tranquility for troubled souls5.

It is my conviction that these powerful dynamics of natural order exist both outside and inside the realm of individual perception. It is the stuff of art and deserves reflection. I believe that the “beholder’s” inner eye can be developed to perceive beauty in higher degrees and in unlikely places. And, that it can penetrate the mysteries that surround art and life. As an artist, I strive to operate within the mystery of natural order and the spiritual realities that surround it. My goal is to create work that attains a level of resonance with this mystical reality. And hopefully when it does, the human heart detects it and it is filled with joy. These are some of the reasons making quality art is so difficult, and why experiencing beauty in art is so wonderfully mysterious and magical.

I welcome your views and thoughts – for ultimately the conscience of the artist and viewer must wrestle with the paradoxical nature of subjectivity and objectivity in art. Or conversely, not want to think about it at all and just let the experience of art waft over you.

1. Philosophers throughout the ages have viewed the nature of art or more precisely beauty somewhat dichotomously. Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus connect beauty with the objectivity of ideal forms. Plotinus attributes spiritual responses such as love and unity to the nature of beauty. Aristotle acknowledges a degree of objectivity but differs with his teacher Plato on the nature of the artist. On the other hand, Kant and Hume are hardcore subjectivists. Kant basically expounds that reality is a product of personal perception.

2. Today, art can be anything and anyone can be an artist. Art is art by just saying that it is. Contemporary views constituting what is art are fuzzy at best. Some art seems indistinguishable from pornography, while conceptual art may resemble protest or crime! There are those that seek clarity and desire to define art as something that is noble, possessing merit and having lasting value. In my mind, these defining characteristics may be better attributed to the degree of quality in art rather than art in general. Art forms, like all created things, possess both its own heaven and hell. How either characteristic is manifested may depend on the spirit or intention of how it was created and how it is perceived.

3. Examples of performance (shock) art from Dazed magazine (warning: descriptions may be disturbing):

At Art Cologne 2014, Swiss artist Milo Moiré stood naked on a pair of stepladders outside the German art fair, proceeding to squeeze paint-filled eggs out of her vagina. Each egg smashed on the blank canvas below, creating a supposedly colorful expression of fertile creativity. Moiré explained: “I’m interested in pushing boundaries through art, living and expressing my art with my body and mind while opening mental doors.”

"No religion forbids cannibalism,” argued Chinese artist Zhu Yu. "Nor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it." Zhu Yu recorded himself in his own kitchen eating a six-month old dead fetus, which was supposedly stolen from a medical school. It led to a global outcry, and as a consequence, China’s Ministry of Culture cited it as a menace to social order and the spiritual health of the Chinese people.

In a performance piece that caused fury amongst animal rights activists, Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas tied a starving dog just out of reach of a pile of food. The animal was supposedly captured in the alleys of Managua – near to the exhibition space Galeria Codice – by some children paid by the artist. Meanwhile, the statement “eres lo que lees” - “You are what you read” - was written on the gallery wall in dog food. Vargas received dozens of death threats, but it merely proved his point: take a stray dog off the streets, put it into a gallery, and it suddenly becomes an ethical phenomenon.

4. Kiser Barnes

5. Paraphrasing 'Abdu'l-Baha