By Jacklyn Janeksela
Art was not always linked to rebels. During the Renaissance, being an artist meant one had a career and a decent one at that. After all, the best of them were rubbing elbows with kings and queens, the state, and religious figures. Artists were getting compensated to create – for them, it was a step up on the old social climbing ladder. Highly praised and highly paid, it was a huge shift from the former low laborer, or even slave, status. Called artisans and craftsmen, they focused more on the commissioned tasks at hand – back then, art didn’t have anything to do with self-expression.
The notion that one could become an artist out of sheer desire, talent, or even an anti-establishment attitude is directly linked to the Romantics who were later usurped by the Bohemians. Their motto was: “Break free of norms and give into self-exploration!”, something like that, anyway.
When the surrealists came on the scene, they threw on cloaks and whisked themselves out the door and into the dream realm. Meanwhile common humans (obsessed with reality) and the elite (still preoccupied with tangible wealth) ohh-ed and aww-ed at the surrealist canvas. The surrealists were the ones who took romantic concepts and woven them with Dada images, essentially giving birth to the rebel art that became a movement in itself.
1. Rebel art reminds us to be true to self: Marina Abramović
Being true to self is a tough path to walk, but Marina Abramović was born for the rebelliousness. From her art to her lifestyle to her persona, she personifies rebel art in its entirety. It appears that early on Abramović knew she would take the artistic path less traveled by subjecting herself to physical pain and emotional criticism. Her decision to stay steadfast is one of integrity and conviction.
Abramović uses self as a canvas. It feels genuine to her. And as a result, the art world is in debt to her unwillingness to stray from her vision. She has revamped art. Despite her meandering, her artistic goal seems to always be the same –experiment, feel, and understand the human experience. Her art breaks down humans as a form of art. This can be witnessed in incredible raw footage and film where she refuses to negate her inner voice. She is an artist that sacrifices for the sake of truth, her own truth.
2. Rebel art reveals perspectives not be easily perceived by others: Wangechi Mutu
Take anything apart, a concept or a figure, and be shocked and amazed at all the bits and pieces that make it whole. Wangechi Mutu is the queen of pulling apart and piecing back together. When breaking down a subject, any subject, the trick is to detach from conventional thought and Mutu excels here. She dissects, she sews, she sows, she dissects again.
Looking that deeply at a subject matter is an act of rebellion in and of itself. Socially, we are trained to skim, or surface read. Rarely are we asked to go where no one else has gone before. Artists like Mutu prove that uncovering one’s own truth allows the viewer to mentally and spiritually expand. In this regard, art is a religious experience that follows the goddess and god dwelling inside each of us, the ones that ask us to peer in a little deeper, to look a little longer, and to recreate without rules.
3. Rebel art embraces the other, the marginalized, the maladapted, the naughty: Basquiat & Dali
Any discussion of rebel art would not be complete without these two humans. Two pillars of the rebel art movement, their marks were made and will forever be felt.
Their art stems from feelings of rejection. Both Basquiat and Dali were rejected several times over; by the art world and the world in general: by friends, lovers, and family, and by critics. They even rejected themselves on many levels, too. However, by facing their rejected selves, each found solace in art. Because rebel art allows humans to be humans, complete with blemishes, artists can find refuge in the process and the lifestyle of the creative sphere. Inside the paint bubble, the likes of Basquiat and Dali foraged spaces. And these spaces supported their eccentricities, where freedom was everything and rejection became a platform. No other art embraces the wayward as warmly.
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4. Rebel art delves into other spaces that are too often ignored: Duchamp
When Duchamp hit the art world, he hit it hard. It was art that went against conventions, norms, and creative stereotypes. It was both artistic and humble. Duchamp took the ordinary and made it extraordinary. He reminded us that art is found in everyday items, in simple forms.
By approaching subject matters with a rebellious set of eyes, Duchamp set the tone that anything and everything is or, at least, can be art. Surrealism and Dadaism were predicated on mixing several concepts at once. This is done by pairing the unpairable, by building something out of items meant for something else and calling it something entirely new. Offering this novel perspective is the foundation of rebel art.
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5. Rebel art goes against the grain which helps shake up social constructs: David Cerny
If anyone knows about liberating self from the chains of social constructs, it’s David Cerny. He’s committed himself to art that makes others uncomfortable, so good for him. It’s this attitude that heightens rebel art, propels it forward, and ensures that it will be around for a long time to come.
Most of Cerney’s work will stand the test of time, not only for what they represent but also for their size. Almost all of his statues are larger than life and made of resistant material. Surely, Cerny knew what he was doing. His art critiques the world in which it has been formulated, almost offering exaggerated and vulgar forms that are both hard to look at and hard to look away from. And this is what makes him stand out among many of his contemporaries.
6. Rebel art gives new voice: Ai Weiwei & Banksy
Rebel art is a branch of the same tree as political art, just ask Ai Weiwei and Banksy. Had Weiwei not been incarcerated for his artistic creations, you might just consider him eccentric. Had Banksy shown his face, you might be disappointed. Weiwei is willing to put himself on the line for the sake of rebel art while Banksy crafts a barrier between himself and the public, ensuring a focal point.
Political art produces pieces that speak to the wounds we all bear as a result of social norms and political unrest. Rebel artists display works that make us cringe and call for action; they make us question everything. Both remind us to be human and go against not just the grain, but the entire machine.
7. Rebel art does what it wants which teaches us more about ourselves: Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama is the epitome of someone in touch with themselves. When asked why she paints dots, she says, “Ask my hand.” The universe seems to have brought her to planet Earth to make art and it shows. Her entire life is a reflection of her calling. Pushing herself so deeply inward, she fell victim to exhaustion and later psychological trauma. However, that didn’t prevent her from relishing in her madness, one that has been described as controlled, even professional.
When studying Kusama’s work, one feels like she was, indeed, meant to paint dots her entire life. She goes not only beyond boundaries of art, but also self. In promising herself that she would impact the art world, Kusama teaches us that perseverance can make any dream come true, no matter how sane or insane.
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“Art cannot be contained or categorized by one set group of people or ideas – art is whatever you want it to be,” this is the surrealist mantra, paraphrased, of course. It was the surrealists who led us down the rabbit hole, never again to resurface –falling, always falling deeper, ever deeper. Since their arrival, rebel art has been a staple in the creative world. It calls us to action in several ways and we need today more than ever. Rebel art reminds us that art goes beyond the canvas and into the vital force, the ether – an inner calling that should not be ignored.
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Jacklyn Janeksela works in the fields of healing arts, manifestation work, and creative conjurings. The majority of her time is spent writing about art, culture, the human body, sex, magic, and astrology. She lives between Prague and Paris.