It is a common misconception that works of art are meant to be aesthetically pleasing--give the viewer a sense of calm, happiness, or just general comfort--but this is largely not the case. There is no such thing as completely visceral art. Most pieces that seem to be shallow and crowd pleasing are actually sporting some hidden meaning. For example, much of Andy Warhol's work is a critique on consumerism during the 1960's. It's not just random objects placed on top of bright colors. However, a lot of work is openly disturbing, confusing, and unsettling, and because its meaning is so utterly conspicuous, the message becomes even more poignant.

Some Art Pieces, Each More Disturbing Than the Last

Study After Velazquez's Pope Innocent X, Bacon
Study After Velazquez's Pope Innocent X, Bacon
Pope Innocent X, Velazquez
Pope Innocent X, Velazquez


Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon, painted in 1953 (pictured above, left), is an oil on canvas painting, done during the post-World War II years. It was inspired by a painting by Diego Velazquez done circa 1650 (pictured above, right). Bacon did not have the most conventional of upbringings, in fact, most of his existence was more tortured than tickled. He was homosexual, and as a result his parents kicked him out of his home at a very young age. He was very hard on himself and in a fit of rage and frustration, he destroyed most of his work at the age of 35. A notable collection of works in his oeuvre is his series of paintings featuring "screaming popes." Bacon was bitter at the Pope's lack of attentiveness to the Holocaust, and believed he could have done more to quell the genocide of millions, so he lashed out in the form of what many considered to be a dying art form--painting. There is a continued intrigue with his paintings today, with one of his works estimated to be worth $18-25 million at auction. The intriguing subject matter and the fact that he claims to never have seen Velazquez's version of Pope Innocent X make his hundreds of versions of this painting particularly engaging.

Now, the painting itself: oil on canvas, smudged paint, complementary colors. All of these elements contribute to the fear and uneasiness that a viewer may feel upon looking at this piece. Without even knowing the subject matter, a spectator of this piece will undoubtedly feel Bacon's antagonistic depiction of the popes and his bitterness toward their actions, or in this case, lack of action. The scratched out and defiled face of Pope Innocent and the gaping black hole that is his mouth makes the painting extremely difficult to look at. The yellow bars that make up his chair cause the setting to look like a jail more than a papal palace. The pope's tense gripping of the chair he is sitting in further mimics a theme of imprisonment, and his wailing facial expression almost forces the appearance of an electric chair. His lack of feet seems to be symbolic of a lack of grounding, an underlying characteristic of depression. The blue tones of the painting are also alluding to melancholia, and are a nod to Picasso, one of Bacon's inspirations. The solitude of the figure further creates a depressing and disturbing aura around the piece, because everything is more frightening when you are alone.

Self-Portrait, Egon Schiele
Self-Portrait, Egon Schiele
The Kiss, Gustav Klimt
The Kiss, Gustav Klimt

Egon Schiele, an Austrian expressionist, was yet another very disturbed artist who made very disturbing art. He died at the age of 28 of the flu, surprisingly not by his own hand. He specialized in drawings, not paintings, and made hundreds of them over his short career, working up to the days before his death. Gustav Klimt himself, Schiele's mentor, stated that Schiele was "a much better draughtsmen than me." This piece is pencil with white paint and was a radical departure from typical portraiture of the time period. In fact, Schiele stressed that he wanted the viewer to look into rather than at his paintings further changing the way in which his work was viewed.

The painting itself is very easily dissected. There is no question about why the viewer may be uncomfortable while looking at it, because it is fairly obvious. Schiele has portrayed himself as thin, emaciated, and without hands or genitals. The color scheme of the painting makes it especially disheartening to look at, because it is very bland, yet somehow still imposing on the viewer. The lack of hands and genitals makes the figure seem much less like a human, and thus alien and disassociated. The main figure in the painting is suggestive of a crucified Christ, but it is a self-portrait, so Schiele may be suggesting his own martyrdom as an artist and deifying himself. Continued themes of narcissism are supported by the completely barren background, referring to this effect as a "dynamic estrangement". He was his own favorite model and had no problem in portraying himself as disturbingly haggard, with absolutely no regard for quelling the average spectator's appetite for the aesthetically pleasing.

My Man, Weegee
My Man, Weegee
Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Avenue, Weegee
Girl jumped out of car, and was killed, on Park Avenue, Weegee


Weegee, or Arthur Fellig, took a new approach to journalism.