Is it art or is it horror?

Before we started working on The Path, we weren’t very familiar with the horror genre. And even now, after lots of research and so much work, it still feels odd to realize that we’re making a horror game.
It’s very comfortable to us to work with the strange and surreal elements in The Path. We have, in fact, always done this sort of thing. But in the past it was called art. And when people from outside the arts world happened upon our work, we invariably got the “what drugs were they on?” comments.

But if such “freaky and weird things” are put in a horror context, suddenly all objections disappear. It’s as if art, when confronted with popular culture, turns into horror. Or as if art is only acceptable in the mainstream when presented within the horror format.

The Cell or is it Damien Hirst?

Do art and horror have something in common?

I guess they both deal with the unknown. And they both contrast the familiar with the uncanny, or look at familiar things in a non-familiar way.

And if art turns into horror in a mainstream context, does horror turn into art in a museum context?

15 thoughts on “Is it art or is it horror?”

  1. I’m not sure i quite get it either.

    I have a very conceptual mind and am constantly rambling of on my thoughts on this that or the other thing. Sometimes my thoughts will bend towards the violent of the disgusting, and that doesn’t bother me. It’s part of life, the violent and horrific are something to be considered. Sometimes i’m surprised at the reaction i receive when i discuss something particularly strange, like there is something wrong with me to consider the violent or the evil, and i myself never saw anything strange about it.
    I guess it reminds me a bit of “A Modest Proposal.” The writer candidly suggests eating the children of the impoverished, but in the end the reader recognizes the satirist is really describing people ALREADY being devoured. Until people recognize how horrific human beings already are being to each other in a different context, maybe they’ll still continue to be disgusted by “surface” horrors.

    Then again (and this is the situation i currently find myself in, the situation my girlfriend grew up in), my Girlfriend’s mother works in child protective services. It’s not uncommon for one night a week for her to non-chalantly mention the “dead-babies” she had to deal with that day. She often has to go to meetings and view images of beaten, bloodied children. She deals with it, i suppose.

    Interesting bit of deconstructionalism. If Freud was right, and humans are solely driven by sex and death, then for Romance and Tragedy to be the main genre’s of Art is not surprising.

  2. In our experience, it’s not just explicitly violent and horrific themes that meet with frowns outside of the horror context, but everything that is not ordinary, a bit surreal, poetic, etcetera. But as soon as you call your work horror, you can do anything you want. Then, I guess, people can understand that not understanding things straight away is part of the experience.

  3. Yes, perhaps I presuppose violence because of the above image (what is that from by the way? it’s fascinating).

    I think your right, you are given more leeway in horror, absurdity isn’t well accepted these days. Alice in Wonderland is a classic, but who can get away writing like that today? not many people. Old fairy tales are another example. Not necasarily the mainstream ones, but bizzare obscure ones like “The Three Black Princesses” where a man drips wax on beautiful princesses heads just to do it, and then jumps out a window and breaks his leg? Things just happen in fairy tales, today everything needs an explanation, and things left without an explanation are plot holes.

  4. often people object to art because they feel threatened by it. yet horror is assumed a priori to be threatening. horror also presupposes a value: what’s depicted is evil somehow and therefore safely, even properly, rejected out of hand. art demands deeper consideration, thus the tension.

  5. Wow, I never thought of this before. But now that you mention it, I see the connection.

    I’ve never really been a fan of horror, but now I’m curious. I wonder if any of the games I’d like to make would be better received if I presented them as horror games…

    Also, Ben, I like this point you made:
    “Until people recognize how horrific human beings already are being to each other in a different context, maybe they’ll still continue to be disgusted by ‘surface’ horrors.”

    Perhaps the horror genre could be a good way to reach around these blindly followed “surface” horrors and point out what’s going on at a deeper level. Or maybe not – because as matthew mentioned, in horror, “what’s depicted is evil somehow and therefore safely, even properly, rejected out of hand.”

    I’d say it’s worth a try though. :)

  6. The picture in the post is from a movie called The Cell. Yes, that’s Jennifer Lopez next to a Damien Hirst copy/tribute/hommage/fake. In The Cell, a lot of -otherwise- very “artistic” scenes are depicted as things that take place within the mind of a (criminal) person. Not exactly a horror movie, but an example of the framework that popular art seems to need in order to justify what is simply art elsewhere.

    The horror framework makes “art” more acceptable. But doesn’t it also reduce its communicative potency?

    (then again, thanks to the qualities of its medium, The Cell was able to add an aspect to Damien Hirst’s work that the artist could never have pulled off in a museum: in the movie we see a horse being cut up and pulled apart; in Damien Hirst’s work, we only see the “end result”, never the -imagined- process)

  7. It can go either way.

    It all depends on what your view of ‘art’ is. I’ve heard art being defined as the artist expression himself/herself and I’ve also heard of art being something that puts you into thought and is meant to inspire you. I’ve heard art as being defined as both. So who is to say what makes something ‘art’ and what doesn’t?

    For example, a few months ago I had a wallpaper that was of a hospital operating room covered in blood and a hand print was smeared on the door (as if something being tested on had escaped). Personally, I loved that picture. I looked at it the way someone might look at a famous painting in a museum; it made me question what was the artists intend with it. (What were the people doing? Why were they doing experiments? What could have escaped?)

    My dad, on the hand, didn’t like it. When he saw it as my background, he looked at me and questioned if I were sane. (So I had to take it down and now that picture is lost somewhere in the sea of the internet. I’d love to find it again…) I guess it disturbed him and frightened him; he didn’t see the beauty in it that I saw and the same can go for this.

    Some people find beauty and comfort in the supernatural or things in the horror world. Others find it to be too strange. (After all, who wants to think about things like death?)

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a question with no right or wrong answer.

  8. I wasn’t trying to make any judgements. I used the word “art” in its simple common sense as the stuff we see in museums, regardless of the intent of the maker or the effect on the audience. And “horror”, on the other hand, as a genre in popular culture, cinema and literature, and also games. The question whether horror might be more artistic in some cases is an interesting one but besides the point I was raising.

    Then again, your father’s response does counter my assumption that horror is more widely accepted by the mainstream than art is. On the other hand, your father might be a hardcore anti-mainstream art lover. 😉
    (in reality, he was probably mostly disturbed by seeing the image out of context)

  9. One thing that has been particularly on my mind lately is how human beings have such a difficulty defining art when they themselves created it. It’s not the same as the difficulty defining love, because love is not “created” by humans, it’s something many of us experience. But art is something humans do, and we made it, but we don’t even know what it is.
    Perhaps that’s the sign that maybe Art is divine?

  10. Keen observation.

    Isn’t the discussion about the meaning of art as young as modernism? It seems to me that before that, people tended to agree on what was art and what was not.

  11. Yeah probably. Modernism also sought to disprove God so we could all get around to worshiping science more efficiently :-)

  12. wow this is so unique, in art i seldom see the horror its artists claim to bear, it always seem that the fact that a certain project is called art makes it not scary, so anyway i like the idea

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