Transgressive or subversive art

There is a common misconception among most people who are not themselves artists or musicians, that the arts must be pleasing to be considered art, and that it must be palatable, and easy to digest, but this is simply not true. Art is in fact subjective to the viewer and some of the truest expressions have come in the form of difficult, emotional pieces, or even pieces that would be considered countercurrent to societal standards of acceptability or decency. Let’s begin by examining what the words “Transgressive,” and “Subversive,” mean…


  1. involving a violation of accepted or imposed boundaries, especially those of social acceptability.
    “her experiences of transgressive love with both sexes”
    • relating to fiction, cinematography, or art in which orthodox cultural, moral, and artistic boundaries are challenged by the representation of unconventional behavior and the use of experimental forms.



  1. seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution.

Therefore we can ascertain that transgressive or subversive art is art that steps outside of the boundaries of, or is intended to go against the established system of social normalcy. If you’ve ever seen a piece of art or heard a song that made you gasp or feel uncomfortable, you may have experienced transgressive and/or subversive art in some form. There is no cookie-cutter methodology to art, there are also no boundaries and as such, transgressive and subversive art pushes the limits of what art is and can be.

Without these art forms, art would solely be decidedly blander and drier, which doesn’t dare deviate from acceptability or offend anyone. Music such as hip hop, heavy metal, pop, and even rock n’ roll wouldn’t exist, and honestly, within every birth of new music, there have been people who have taken offense to it. Every new form of art begins as transgressive and is later accepted more widely by swathes of the populace, this has been the case for as long as humankind has made works of creative expression. 

Those who embrace the more extreme forms of art and music are often the same individuals who aren’t widely accepted into the whole of mainstream society. The outcast, the loner, the forgotten, those whose sensibilities often go against the grain, those who are different and who feel as if they do not fit in, are who often embrace and create these mediums of artistic expression. Some would be appalled by these pieces of art and music, and it’s because the works were not created for them, and they would not understand the expression or context of the transgressive artist’s work. 

Often, the transgressive artist is creating their works for themselves, to get out that which is inside of them, not for acceptance or acclaim by anyone. When individuals enjoy the art, the artist is often overjoyed because they are understood, but if no one at all likes it, the artist will often continue, because again, they are creating it for themselves. When transgressive art begins to be understood by more people, it becomes more widely accepted, this can be seen for example, in the mainstream acceptance of punk, some death metal, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the works of H.R. Giger. 

Regardless of the staunchest and most well-established art critic liking or disliking a piece of transgressive art, it doesn’t change the fact that it is still art. Transgressive and subversive art is a staple of all creative mediums, and without it, art would seldom transform and mutate into new and beautiful (or grotesque) forms and would essentially stagnate and lose relevance. Music, poetry, art, and stories, just all about creativity house a subversive element that can be explored by the adventurous. 

Those who do not give this media a second glance or try to understand transgressive art, are truly missing out on experiencing something outside of their comfort zone, which in essence can lead to personal growth. This is not to say all transgressive art should be for everyone, in fact, most truly transgressive or subversive art is for a select audience, however, if it’s not given a genuine chance, you’ll never know if that audience is you. 

In closing, whether or not it is palatable or pretty, subversive and transgressive art, is art, and is often overlooked by those who cannot comprehend it or the expression the creator of it intended. This style of art is often deeper and more misunderstood than any other, namely because the individuals creating it are deeper and more misunderstood.