Mayday contributors weigh in on our group question – what is your favorite depiction of rebellion in art?
Art by Katy Somerville
That’s difficult to answer because all art has an element of rebellion and transgression to it. Art shifts our cultural framework and forces us to redefine by rebelling against the status quo. Vivienne Westwood was phenomenal in that regard. The early performance art of Chris Burden still blows my mind. The Stooges are sonic rebellion to my ears.
The Problem We All Live With 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell is one of my favorite protest/rebellion art works.
And my favourite depiction of rebellion in art is Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece performance
“The fisherman & the businessman” parable lmao
One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching a fish.About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family. “You aren’t going to catch many fish that way,” said the businessman to the fisherman.“You should be working rather than lying on the beach!”The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, “And what will my reward be?”“Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!” was the businessman’s answer. “And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman, still smiling. The businessman replied, “You will make money and you’ll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!”“And then what will my reward be?” asked the fisherman again.The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman’s questions. “You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!” he said.“And then what will my reward be?” repeated the fisherman.The businessman was getting angry. “Don’t you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!”Once again the fisherman asked, “And then what will my reward be?”The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, “Don’t you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won’t have a care in the world!”The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “And what do you think I’m doing right now?”
And more people should read Marge Piercy:
All art worth making rebels against something. One of my favorite pieces of rebellion art is the song “Which Side Are You On?,” written by Florence Reece, an activist in Bloody Harlan County in the 1930s. It is simultaneously disheartening and inspiring that the same song has been taken up by so many different fighters over the last 90+ years. We shouldn’t have to be asking the same questions, but we are, so let it be a simple one. One worth asking. Everytime I hear this song, I hear all the contexts it’s been sung in over the years. Pete Seeger is cool… but here’s a video of the original Ms. Reece with her beautiful and quaky voice. 40 years after she first wrote the lyrics on a calendar that had been pinned on her refrigerator. Still fighting for the worker.
Recently, my favorite depiction of rebellion in art has to be Tanya Tagaq’s novel Split Tooth. It’s a lawless synthesis of journal, poetry, fiction, and magical realism. It challenges things like colonialism, patriarchy, western ideas of motherhood, and sexuality. I feasted on it.
My favorite form of rebellion in art has to be painting. There is so much emotion that can be invoked through images, the pop art movement with Andy Warhol in the ‘80s, the unofficial art the Russians made during the fall of the Soviet Union, idk I really enjoy that stuff.
Jeanette Winterson’s 1994 novel Art & Lies covers rebellion on the seemingly microcosmic level, but the ripples of change affected throughout the book begin to form currents as they collide. It’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
I love the painting The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Géricault! I feel like it is a rebellious painting because it tears away from traditional artworks of the time by depicting an African man as the hero who is attempting to flag down a passing ship. I also just love the contrast and how climactic the painting is!
The character Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women remains my favorite rebellious heroine. Alcott gave me a model of a successful woman writer when I was very young.
My recent favorite depiction of rebellion art is Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” which was recited at 2021 United States presidential inauguration of Joe Biden. This piece references significant sociopolitical events within the United States that preceded the 2020 election, including police brutality and the U.S. Capitol insurrection. The poem asserts that while “democracy can be temporarily delayed, it cannot be permanently defeated.” However, Gorman also urges that we, as U.S. citizens, have a choice of “inaction” or “inertia,” which will influence the trajectory of our nation over the next few generations. Unfortunately, this poem is currently facing censorship by a school in Florida, which further restricts access to artists/writers of color by children who need to hear diverse voices. Gorman’s publisher, Penguin Random House, has joined PEN America, other authors, and community members in a lawsuit to challenge literary censorship and shed light on the ramifications of book bans.
To learn more or to donate, visit: https://pen.org/issue/book-bans/.
By far, my favorite depiction of rebellion in art is the work of the Beat Generation poets of the 1950s, particularly Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” I believe that Ginsberg’s vulnerability and willingness to expose the darker, often sexual nature of a repressed society is what sets him apart as a visionary; in my own work and life, I try to emulate his candor.
In a world where we are expected to cover up every flaw, I believe that nakedness is the greatest rebellion.
Art – Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, ca. 1598–99
Film – The OA (series)
Music – “Split Stones” by Maggie Rogers
Rebellion is art. Denying the concrete dimension of the way our eyes perceive reality, denying convention, showing the opposite. Rebellion is what naked hearts scream for freedom. Art is rebellion, show me how to change ! Materiality, color, subject choice. Every piece of art is rebellious as it’s personal. Painters or installation artists, or architects deal with society. Whenever a piece of creation is true to one’s being, one’s character embracing imperfections, or accepting the inexistence of such constricting capitalistic concepts we see rebellion. We see its existence demanding space in our memory.
Forever-lasting flames locked within porcelain in this papercup world — this is the rebellious spiritI have found the seeds of rebellion in characters such as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Constance Reid in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ammu and Velutha in The God of Small Things, and most recently, Wei Wuxian in Mo Dao Zu Shi. Their rebellion is the call of the spirit within that needs to be realised at any cost that matters in the material world. These dazzling comets streak ahead with no heed to consequences nor regret. In front of that terminal velocity of spiritual desire, the biases and insignificant envies scatter away, like spots of black and white that merge into greys on the horizons of their vision.
I like the trickster myths, that’s my favorite. They are the ones who get down and dirty and make things different for the mortals. I dig Tournier’s dandy garbage man and I love the Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos , but I’d never recommend them. Those are books that a reader’s gotta seek out and then their perversion is on them.
For a more pedestrian rebellion, I have affection for Pump Up The Volume.
There was also that film about mayday with the two men in the tub together and one of them is the poor man’s Leonardo DiCaprio.
Okay, ya caught me. My kinda rebellion is sexy – let’s say we really push the limits here and make the normals uncomfortable.
I’ll I stay up at night thinking about John Boskovich’s Electric Fan (Feel It Motherfuckers): Only Unclaimed Item from the Stephen Earabino Estate (1997). A more joyful act of loving queer rebellion is Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s Blood Bunny (1997-2007).Ben “the fisherman & the businessman” parable lmao.
this painting by Artemisia Gentileschi is probably my favorite depiction of rebellion!
My defacto choice is John Carpenter’s “They Live”
As for my favorite depiction of rebellion in art, there is only one answer for all Time: THE MOTHERSCRATCHING VINES!!! Not just the greatest Australian band of them all, but also the undisputed wildest, and nothing will draw anything closer to my heart than unapologetic audio Wildflowers like those boys. 💚💚💚💚 What a fabulous question to be asked! Thank you guys so much for being so amazing. You really are the coolest.🙏🏻❤️
More people should read Marge Piercy…
I have to admit that I wince a little bit when I hear the words ‘rebel’ or ‘rebellion’ with respect to art. It seems self aggrandizing and hubristic to me especially when it’s self proclaimed. I suppose this is an extension of my feelings about society’s tendency (the art world included-maybe the most egregious offender) to appropriate concepts, empty them of any real meaning and use them as broad labels for other vague concepts or cultural movements that are loosely connected. I once saw an interview with Iggy Pop on some late night talk show from the seventies or early eighties and he was asked what the term ‘punk’ meant to him. His response was, “Punk rock is a word used by dilletantes…it’s a word based on contempt; it’s a term based on fashion, style, elitism, satanism, and everything else that’s rotten about rock and roll”. I think that might sum up my attitude towards the idea of the ‘rebel’ or of ‘rebellion’ in modern art-it’s too self conscious and too intentional, too ‘seen’ for it to effectively disrupt or cause upheaval. I’m not saying that it’s the fault of our pal, ‘The Artist’, not totally at least, but they are complicit. The mainstream world have run a most effective campaign against the free-thinking creative rebel by allowing it room to flourish, to use a male-centric and possibly antiquated term, by castrating them- rendering the community a beautiful Eunuch. I’m not discounting the possibility that somebody, anybody at all, is capable of forgetting the world enough to serve as cataclysm in the artistic world and beyond, but I think, ironically, this most rebellious of artists would be the last to vaunt themselves as a ‘Rebel’. So, aesthetics aside, my most cherished examples of rebellion in art would have to be anything where the artist has no intention at all of being a so-called ‘rebel’(I’m sure there are exceptions to this that I’m not able to call to mind right now and maybe my opinion on the matter will change tomorrow. I’m damn capricious) For now, I’ll suggest Julian of Norwich for her work Revelations of Divine Love, which you may have come across in college at some point, but which doesn’t diminish her absolute disregard for the social conventions of her day(c.14th-15th century, C.E.), by depicting Christ as a corporeal even sexual phenomenon.
Chuck Palahnuik’s 1996 novel “Fight Club.” I’m a huge fan of satire and performance art, and I love the extreme levels to which masculinity is taken within the book.
It helps that the movie is pretty good, too!
I’m not sure which piece of art depicting rebellion to choose. If anything, all art, in any form is rebellious, even the artist behind those pieces.
Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book is beloved in my house. I gave it to my dad for Christmas and I think it upset him. McClanahan’s story of a divorce that never happened is as close to a human autopsy as I ever want to get. It’s a an alcoholic love song to human suffering – and Walmart – with the capacity to absolutely fuck up any beating human heart on the planet.
(Unless you’re my dad.)
Message us to add yourself or claim the two “unknown” entries.
About the Artist
Katy Somerville was beamed into existence on a Monday night in the mid-eighties by stars, glitter, and a glorious Italian woman from a long line of very strong women. In the present timeline, she likes to drink coffee, pat any animal that will engage with her, make collages, and spend time laughing and finding moments of joy wherever she can with her partner and her goofy, lanky dog.
Katy is Cream Scene co-editor & Art Director