-by Jared Adamson-

Let’s call out the elephant in the room: we all get offended. And boy, oh boy, the time we could spend on that topic! From politics and personalities to images, implications and interpretations, some things just don’t sit well with our inner being. Sometimes the offense is mild—an eye roll, a gasp, an utterance of “oh brother”. Other times, the offense is major—a boycott, an outcry, a need for consolation.

When it comes to the arts, does “offensive” mean “bad”?

  • Does the level of offense balance (or counterbalance) the level of quality?
  • Does offense mandate a call to action?
  • Does “distasteful” mean “inappropriate”?
  • What is the purpose of art? To direct? To inspire? To offend? To avoid offense?
  • To misquote Star Trek, does the offense of the one outweigh the offense of the many?

In so many occasions of my life, I have been offended. There are things that offend my political views (not just two-party system disagreements, but truly offensive). There are things that offend my faith (I am fairly conservative Christian). There are things that offend the racial profile of my family (we are a multi-racial family). Many of these offenses come in artistic/creative mediums. But when it comes to the freedom to express, where do we draw the line?

And especially in the United States where we tout our freedom so highly, we must ask the question “when does your freedom (in art) infringe upon my freedom?” What about statues of former Confederate soldiers? What about Stars & Crescents, Crosses, Flags, Rainbows, Swastikas? My point in writing is not to answer these questions (for they are for better minds than mine), but rather to present some perspective as we face the possibility of encountering art that is offensive.

First, consider that “offensive” may be the artist’s goal. Though it seems more likely they are trying to present a perspective that is different than yours, which you may find offensive. Secondly, consider that you may misunderstand or misinterpret the artist’s objective. Just because you don’t understand doesn’t imply any malicious intent. Thirdly, to truly encounter art (in any of it’s various formats/mediums) is to be engaged at some level. Maybe it’s pleasure; maybe it’s poison. But art elicits a response. And that may not be what you expected.

So now you have choices:

  • To respond or ignore?
  • To speak up or let it pass?
  • To call for removal or to remove yourself from the venue?

But whatever your choices, I implore you to seek understanding. Ask questions. Dialogue. Engage. Dig deeper. Seek causation. Establish relationship with artist/performer and audience/observer.

Art imitates life, or so we’ve been told. If that’s the case, then some art will bring smiles. Other expressions will bring about turmoil, even to the point of offending. And through the lens of that phrase, art that offends is just a part of life. And it’s OK to be offended. Will you be offensive in your response to art?

Jared Adamson 9/11/2017


Jared Adamson is the Minister of Worship and Creative Arts at Centerville Christian Church in Centerville, IN.  Studying voice, composition, organ and improv, he has a Bachelor of Music in Church Music with a double major in Bible and piano from Cincinnati Christian University where he later served as an adjunct professor in the music and worship department.


Genius of America – oil on canvas, 1858 – on display at the St. Louis Museum of Art

Adolphe Yvon(1817-1893)

—A symbolic procession celebrating the glory of the United States.  In the center, the lady Republic, in white, and the Roman goddess Minerva, robed in white and green, stand on a chariot drawn by lions.  In front of the chariot are women who represent several states including New York, Illinois, and Virginia.  To the left are European immigrants arriving in America while, to the right, an uplifted African American suggests the artist’s hopes for the abolition of slavery.  Native Americans, in the right background, observe the procession.  

Yvon was a noted official painter who taught in the French Academy for approximately twenty years.  This work represents a superior example of the traditional, highly detailed academic style.  His depiction of this scene reflects the sensibilities of his time.  Yvon’s idealized images contrast with the reality which faced African American and Native Americans in 19th century America.  —St. Louis Art Museum

DIVA has chosen to post this image to accompany this blogpost in an attempt to challenge us all to find the good, the bad, and the ugly in what was, is, and may become of the United States and of the world beyond.

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