"I wanted a shark that's big enough to eat you, and in a large enough amount of liquid so that you could imagine you were in there with it." —Damien Hirst, on The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, (1991)
Used to describe artworks that arouse strong feelings, whether because of their subject matter or technique. In perpetually challenging artistic traditions, artists have confronted issues of sexuality, race, politics, and religion, and incorporated surprising materials such as dirt or bodily fluid into their works, often facing a backlash of rejection and fierce criticism from the public. To take examples from the history of Western art, in the mid-late 19th century Gustav Courbet and Édouard Manet shocked a conservative public with paintings that irreverently combined incongruent imagery with modern painting techniques. In the 20th century artists like Marcel Duchamp continued to defy established notions of what constitutes “art” by deeming everyday objects suitable for inclusion in sculptures, or as art objects themselves. Shock value is inherent in many provocative works—take Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexually-charged photographs from the 1970s and Andres Serrano’s depictions of homeless people, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and cadavers, as well as his 1989 Piss Christ.