Art is a visual representation and reflection of society and its structures. It often raises controversy with in society and can cause great discontent. Art is controversial because it reflects such a variety of aspects of society and what is and is not socially acceptable. It is, in a sense, a social commentary. The controversial nature of art and its contents in relation to society often inflicts social indignation upon the creator. Many artists are chastised for threatening of the social norm. The threat that their art imposes labels them as deviants in their society, or those outside of what is socially acceptable.
Deviance is conduct that a community perceives as so inherently baneful to society that action must be taken against the act and those who demonstrate it. People can be labeled as a “deviant” if they display characteristics that he society views as unacceptable or detrimental. In the Wayward Puritans by Kai Erickson, Erickson explains that, ” The difference between someone who earns a deviant title in a society and those who go their way in peace is largely determined by the way in which the community filters out and codes the many details of behavior which comes to its attention. “i
Thus, according to Erikson, the artist or the deviant must not only generate controversial works of art but be controversial in nature. Those labeled deviant have to have tendencies recognizable to a group of the community as outside the social norm. Once the indications are made a degradation ceremony must occur with in society to illustrate and demonstrate what is not socially allowable. This processes thus removes the threat of the deviator from society and confirms to the members of the community that they are not like the deviant, that those types of people are against the grain and that there is no place for them in there society.
One course of action made on deviants and their actions is the process of social degradation. Social degradation is a process where social indignation towards a deviant reaches a level where action is taken. The deviant is degraded socially or looked down upon by the community for his actions. This process of putting down the deviant is a socially exhibitionistic method for illustrating social boundaries when these boundaries have been exceeded. The Artist, Egon Schiele is a prime example of the social castigation of an artist for his threat of controversy to the community.
Egon Schiele was an Austrian Expressionist in the 18th century. Expressionism was an art form of the extremes. It was a vivid and intense way to express feeling and emotions concerning the self and society. In most societies anything in the extreme is often viewed as a threat and/or deviant in nature. Schiele was one artist who who’s life often resided in the extremes and thus got him into trouble. Schiele was a prodigious Austrian artist. He was accepted into the school or Arts and Crafts of Vienna, Austria at the age of 16. Many aspects of Scale’s life were rather controversial for the era (and even still today).
At age 16 Schiele had an intense and incestuous relationship with his twelve year old sister Gerti. This was not the only controversial aspect of Shciele’s life. Scale’s art is incredibly sexually charge. His art is an illuminating insight to Scale’s own sexuality and society’s issues with sexuality as well. Many of Schiele’s paintings are of delinquent pubescent children, particularly the young girls, or prostitutes. Many of the troublesome youth of the small town Krumlov gravitated to Schiele’s studio and were willing models for Schiele’s works (not to mention that many were very willing towards Schiele in other, less innocent aspects).
Schiele’s highly erotic art is an adequate reflection of the sexuality of European society at the time. Prostitution was more or less common place and widespread. By portraying the abundance of prostitutes Schiele exposes and issue that society would rather not confront. This bold statement made by Schiele’s art fostered a high amount of social indignation towards him, his art and the scandalous activity that occurred at his studio and flat. The social indignation rose to such a level that action was finally taken.
Schiele was arrested for seducing a girl under the age of consent and for displaying “pornographic drawings” where it could be availed to children. By taken action the process of social degradation is initiated. By arresting Schiele the community is indicating that the artist was a deviant and a threat to the safety of society. The town magistrate took further social action in the steps of degradation by burning several of Schiele’s drawings publicly. This action publicly degrades the artist by making an example of him.