The grotesque as a concept is so big I find it difficult to know where to start. I just started reading the book mentioned above, and finished the first chapter dealing with – what is the grotesque?
There is no short answer to that. The term contains so much, ranging from ridicule/laughter, to monstrous, to insanity, to upside-down, to disgust, to… It’s a neverending story, really.
What this book does in this very first chapter, is to present various perspectives on what they call “grotesquerie”. This includes a long line of descriptive words, which then continues with a number of ways to look at this wide range of expressions of the grotesque.
Art Grotesque is an artistic style not confined to any century. It does have a certain aesthetic to it, and the meaning behind it always looks to the darker side of the moon. The grotesque has many, many facets and reflects the entire idea of what hides in the dark.
A grotesque piece from the earliest eras (traces can be found as early as ancient Egypt, followed by Athen and Rome) can be seen as social criticism, taking the shape of comedy in various forms. Over time, the concept of the grotesque widened to incorporate tragedy, the monstrous, the abnormal, the uncanny, and much, much more.
What is typical for art grotesque, regardless what form or shape it takes, is to shift our perception of reality and normality. This can happen through many means, and these are best understood if and when we have an understanding of the period they were created in.
peculiar, odd, absurd, macabre, depraved, perverse, abnormal, dreadful, hideous, comical, distortions, vile, unnatural, chaos, uncertain, contrast, hybridization (human/animal), disorientation, confusion, bewilderment, uncanny, insanity, unfamiliar, disorder, inversion, strange, carnevalesque, et cetera.
Something that I personally really appreciate about the grotesque, is how it can be used for social criticism. It does ask questions about familiarity and normality, which effects us in contemporary society.
Examples of this;
The idea of the grotesque can be used as a powerful tool to create a sense of I/you, we/them. It divides our perception and forces us to choose what is normal.
This was very effectively done by the Nazis, and how they viewed and presented (among others) jews and the disabled – thus also changed the normality in what was accepted to do to these people.
The grotesque is indeed a wide array of ideas, perspectives and questions. It is not only an aesthetic that has been present through the ages, it is most certainly an active discourse in present time.
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