Of Modern Art and Cannibals

Of Modern Art and Cannibals

Helmut Sander


"I am afraid our eyes are bigger than our bellies, and that we have more curiosity than capacity; for we grasp at all, but catch nothing but wind."

In "Of Cannibals", Michel de Montaigne questions Europe's judgment of the Native American cannibals, for if they are barbarians, so is Europe. The accusation of barbarism backfires, applying to the accusers too. That which disgusts Europe as a display of spiritual poverty and cruelty beyond compare has been constant in European history.

This blog's first entry was a set of notes on an episode of Vinos & Conservas in which we had discussed, among other issues, the conservative attempt to set objective artistic standards and institutionally enforce them.

Performative art is one of the most often disqualified disciplines. And, by denying performance art of its status, one is refusing the possibility of art as ritual.

On the other hand, the rejection of blood, feces, and other repugnant elements is also, somehow, the rejection of art as ritual, and the rejection of the display of limit experiences, it's the enshrining of safe, meek art that doesn't pierce the spectator where it hurts, that doesn't argue, that doesn't provoke, it's the proposal of art without teeth.


When tracing this link between the ritualistic and the contact with bodily fluids, I'm inspired by Cynthia Freeland's "Very short introduction" to Art Theory, which begins with a section on blood, feces and the art-rituals of aboriginal tribes around the globe. Taking us back to the Western canon, she notes:

"Such rituals are not altogether alien to the European tradition: there is a lot of blood in its two primary lineages, the Judaeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman. (...) Renaissance paintings showed the blood or lopped heads of martyrs; Shakespeare's tragedies typically concluded with swordplay and stabbings."

Nothing's as Western as pornography & violence.


This is the last available version of a post originally published on The God of Noise, on the 8th of September, 2019.