Use and Abuse

Rise of Rebellion: DailyServing’s latest week-long series

Today on DS, we look at the desire and longing for rebellion embedded in the work of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Dash Snow and Ryan McGinley. Check out how the acts captured in these artists’ work become an icon for a generation desperate for a more rebellious lifestyle.

Nan Goldin. Joana with Valerie and Reine in the Mirror, L'Hotel des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1999.

Thinking back to the days of being a rebellious teenager make me want to run the other direction. There is nothing worse than revisiting the angst and discomfort of adolescence – my mild rebellious behavior and general dislike of the world around me. Rebellious acts always seem mediocre and immature to me these days, despite living a very 20-something lifestyle. But there have always been those artists that so tactfully ride the line between a perfectly composed yet rebellious life that I inherently envy. I find it fascinating to watch the career of artists who successfully make work that is both personal and universal, unruly and conforming, attractive and disgusting – who document their own outsider world and show our distance to it.

Dash Snow. "TBT", 2008. Photograph - Digital C Print 40 x 60 inches (101.6 x 151.8 cm) + frame Edition of 3 + 2AP. Courtesy of Peres Projects.

This rebel has long been the muse of the artist. And when I consider the muse, Nan Goldin and Larry Clark‘s use and abuse of the rebellious lifestyle become both personal document and cultural reality, while assuming the roll of Art Historical mainstay in the category of the documentary photograph. But Dash Snow, a true example of both insider and outsider, straddled this relationship and found a way to make the chaos of his life appear both seductive and desirable. A hero of punk culture, Snow’s rebellious history and lifestyle was the subject and an embodiment of his work – both personal anthem and documentation. Snow sold his own context, using his life as a guarantee of credibility and reality to the outside world, by choosing to participate in the contemporary art system, yet his product was a life through the photographic document.

Both “genius” and tortured soul, Snow’s lifestyle was muse and product- and ultimately it was his rebellious lifestyle that brought him to an early death. Ryan McGinley equally rides this ambiguous line, to the point that I can’t decide if his work is rebellious or utopian. There is something about the idealized reality in his work that harks back to the personal documentation of Clark and Goldin, but successfully sells his own contemporary youthful lifestyle.

Ryan McGinley, Coley (Injured), 2007

The act of rebellion doesn’t always lead you in the opposing path of the system or lifestyles that it moves against. And, often the very thought or association of rebellion becomes so desirable to the masses because it appears to be simply out of their grasp. All of these artists have successfully depicted their own rebellious lifestyle and have offered this spirit back to a complacent public that longs for the moment to  give up the boredom that fills their normal lives and grab onto the freedom that is falsely associated with rebellion.