Category: When Art Makes You Sick

When Art Makes You Sick: Pt II Tracey Emin

ArtDNA®: Cheeky, Assertive, Challenging MEETS Emotional, Searching, Authentic

Musing about the artist’s ‘job description’ or lack thereof in my introductory blog, (insert link to blog post), I questioned both the role and purpose of the artist. Ultimately I believe it’s twofold: first to push boundaries, and second to remind the rest of us to be who we are and say what we feel.  I also questioned the role of the viewer, which is equally as important, especially when confronted with works that, well, make us feel sick! After all, all art is not created equal, nor are our feelings. And there are some artists who love making sure we never forget it.

Cue Tracey Emin. Considered one of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists, and self described “most mad” of the Young British Artists, Emin has never been one to censor herself. She is known for her poignant works that mine autobiographical details through a variety of media that includes painting, drawing, photography, video, sculpture, and neon text. Amongst her most controversial works are My Bed, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, which was created between 1963 and 1995, Every Part of Me Is Bleeding, and Feeling Pregnant III.

Most people don’t do something seminal. I’ve done it twice: with my tent and my bed. Picasso did it with Cubism.


Tracey Emin

My Bed

My Bed… was born from the survival of a mental breakdown in 1998. After four days of being almost unconscious, and highly intoxicated on vodka and cigarettes, Emin left the bed and saw what had been created during that moment in her life. There was no hiding from the debris field she had created: the empty bottles and cartons of cigarettes, blood-stained underwear, used and unused condoms, packets of contraceptive pills, waist belts and an array of other personal items only highlighted her total breakdown.

The ‘average’ person would have perhaps set about cleaning it all up in an effort to forget and move on. Emin opted to memorialize the experience rather than sanitize it. She immediately set about turning the bed and its debris field into a conceptual art installation piece.  

In Her Words

Public Reaction

At the time, the work was universally condemned as obscene and “slutty,” by art critics and the general public alike. Two and half decades later, critics and experts like Paul Hobson (then Director of the Contemporary Art Society, now Director of Modern Art at Oxford) describes Emin’s ability to channel “[…] experiences, loss, betrayal, vengefulness and abuse, and makes them available to the rest of us. She transforms them into something incredibly powerful.” Emin’s works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the Goetz Collection in Munich, among others.

Posted on February 13, 2020

When Art Makes You Sick: Pt I Mark Quinn

ArtDNA®: Authentic, Emotional, Original MEETS Challenging, Independent, Theoretical

Have you ever seen or tried to make a jello mold? Well in 1991, Marc Quinn did just that. Except instead of jello he used blood, his blood to be exact. Self was produced during a time when Quinn was an alcoholic and deals with notions of dependency. For instance, Self requires roughly 10 pints of the artist’s blood, which is drawn over the course of 5 months. The completed work is kept in special refrigeration units to prevent melting, further speaking to ideas of dependency. Since 1991, Quinn has continued to make a sculpture every 5 years. He considers them to be part of an ongoing conversation about life, death, ageing and all that jazz. 

[…] the artwork has to be like a magnet for your eyes and emotions so you are sort of hypnotized and don’t want to look away, after all we all spend most of our time trying to avoid feeling anything at all.


Marc Quinn

Posted on October 18, 2019

Art is Also Despicable /Odd/Uncomfortable/Disgusting, etc.

Art elicits myriad feelings, welcome and unwelcome — excitement, passion, discomfort, disgust. Art is weird like that, and so, this series is dedicated to unpacking THE STRANGE. Hold on to your butts, you’re in for a wild ride!

What's the role of the artist?

An artist requires neither a job description nor a boss. I’d argue that courage is the only thing an artist truly needs — courage not to create a work of art, but to show it and be judged by it. In truth, the job is a little masochistic. Yet despite this tendency towards masochism, or perhaps because of it, humanity has been provided a visual tale of the human condition that lays bare our greatest triumphs, losses and darkest moments. To create this narrative tapestry is the real job of the artist.

But what about the viewer?

Understanding the role of the viewer has been a hobby of mine. Some, like my husband, may argue that it is a border-line obsession. I’m willing to admit that my enthusiasm has grown slightly since founding Mona Loves Gustav. That said, if you believe that:


…the main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live,

Auguste Rodin

then how could you want to be anything but ‘obsessed’? Much like the artist, being a viewer also requires courage — courage to recognize works that speak to who you are, even when you question who that actually is; courage to feel the emotions, whatever they might be and know they are valid.

As much as it is the artist’s job is to push the boundaries, his or her true purpose is to remind the rest of us to be who we are and say what we feel. Not all art is created equal, nor are all of our feelings about art. Art has the ability to elicit from us a mixed bag of emotions: some pieces will pleasantly remind us of a first love or adventure while others will evoke uncomfortable, potentially suppressed childhood traumas of Batshit Crazy Aunt Betty.

So, sometimes, art makes us sick! Aunt Betty may be a special breed of crazy, but she likely has something important to teach us, despite and because of it. This series is my personal tribute to all the crazy Aunt Betties of the art world. I may not want any of them as permanent fixtures in my house, but maybe I can’t stop staring at them, either. Cheers to THE STRANGE!

Posted on October 11, 2019