"We only move into the 21st century on the foundation of things that have been established long, long ago."
Through their work, artists often question the customs or expectations of a society. Paul McCarthy's art investigates taboo subjects and social conventions. In his Art21 segment, McCarthy says that his work "seems to be about tearing down and opening up conventions." Watch the artist's segment, and discuss the concept of taboos and how McCarthy's work confronts and defies social convention.
What subjects, ideas, or imagery are considered taboo in contemporary society, or in particular cultures? Why do you think these taboos exist? How are social mores and conventions of social behavior established, and how are they enforced?
Make a list of your reactions as you look at McCarthy's work in this segment. What provokes the strongest reactions? Discuss which works provoke laughter, discomfort, curiosity, or other feelings, and why they do.
McCarthy says that his responsibility is to the ideas in his work and not to the audience. Describe one of the works in this segment in which McCarthy pursues an idea without considering the audience. How would you describe the idea? How has he chosen to convey it?
Distort or destroy a work of art you created, in order to make something new that conveys a different or opposing message.