Discussion Controversial Art in Context

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Is it art? Or is it obscene? That was the question an Ohio jury had to decide regarding the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. These photographs included images of homoeroticism that shocked many people. In an interview shortly before his death from AIDS, Mapplethorpe said he regarded sex as the most important human activity.

Mapplethorpe often combines elegant black and white photographs of nudes and flowers, creating a context from the view to consider the beauty of similar forms. During the obscenity trial, Mapplethorpe’s photographs were looked at individually, outside of their intended context.

Take a look at some of Mapplethorpe’s work at: http://www.mapplethorpe.org/portfolios/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

  • Pretend you were on the defense team representing Mapplethorpe in the Ohio obscenity case, make the case for art viewed IN context.
  • Use the language of form, scale, tone, composition, narrative, and the rest of the visual elements of art and principles of design.
  1. Choose one of Mapplethorpe’s six folios (self portraits, male nudes, female nudes, flowers, portraits, and statuary) on the website.
  2. Describe how the images relate to one another within the context of the group.
  3. Describe why seeing these images in a folio contributes to the meaning or artistic value.
  4. Why would the artist group these images together intentionally? What relationships can you see between the images?
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