Art on Trial: An In-Depth Analysis of Controversial Art
EN 1500 Writing & Inquiry
What is controversial art? This is a matter of opinion, but generally, controversial art provokes something drastic
in the viewer — discomfort or unease.
When is controversial art censored? Art may be censored by a gallery, institution, by government entity, or
lambasted by the press or public. Art has been censored for decades because of obscenity, politics, religion, or
simply being in “poor taste.”
Why should we examine these works? Like our critical and textual analyses, controversial art can be examined in
a similar way. We can decide for ourselves what about them is controversial, and why.
Choose a controversial work of art and closely study it. Research the history of the image and its creator.
Research the history of the controversy surrounding the image. Form an opinion about whether the image should or
should not be be censored, weaving together supporting information. You will compile this information in the form
of an advocating letter to a person relevant to the case you are studying. Compile all information in both written
form and visual form, and present to the class.
1. Expository Brief (200 words+) – Short report on the background of the piece
2. Advocating Persuasive Letter (1000 words+) – Essay in the form of a letter, written to real and relevant person
of choice (government official, art critic, judge, gallery owner, artist, etc.)
3. Slideshow Presentation (10 slides or more)
Monday, – Rough draft of Brief due, letter addressee selected
Monday, November 27th – Final Presentation, Brief and Letter Due
The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), Chris Ofili
My Bed (1998), Tracey Emin
Piss Christ (1987), Andres Serrano
Tilted Arc (1981), Richard Serra
Cut Piece (1964), Yoko Ono
Yo Mama’s Las Supper (2001), Renee Cox
The Dinner Party (1974), Judy Chicago
My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love (1990), Dimtri Vrubel
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), Damien Hirst
Do women have to be naked…? (1985), Guerilla Girls
1. Expository Brief
300+ words, Chicago Style
In Law, a Brief is a short written document that is presented to a court stating why one party to a particular
case should prevail. An expository piece of writing is generally one that investigates the components of an issue or
idea, evaluates all the evidence and sets forth an argument concerning the idea. With this expository brief you will
be summarizing the important information of the case (mentioning the arguments on either side), and by the end of
the brief you will establish which side of the argument you support. Think of this brief as a way to introduce your
audience to the facts of the case. Rather than presenting information like you might in a book report, try to present
the facts of your controversy in a way that is entertaining to the audience, weaving together the information and
having it unfold. This style will guide the reader through the information in a subtle way that naturally supports the
author’s opinion about the topic. The key is to simply enrapture your audience with the story of the controversy,
and at the end of the brief the logical conclusion will be that your stance is the correct one.
Minimum one academic source.
2. The Advocating Persuasive Letter
1000+ words, Chicago Style
This persuasive letter will combine the formal persuasive techniques you put to work in the Persuasive Essay, and
combine them with a narrative and creative element in the form of a letter. Tone and audience are key to the
success of the letter. How you address the person you are writing to and present the facts of your argument will be
1. The first paragraph should review the topic in a general way. Then, why the topic is important or why the reader
should care about the issue. A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement occurs in the first paragraph.
2. Body paragraphs should have smooth transitions. Following the thesis statement, the body paragraphs should give
great detail as to why the censorship should or should not stand, and why the controversy surrounding it is legitimate
or not. These paragraphs will employ persuasive techniques with supporting evidence. Gather quotes, figures,
facts, etc., to support your opinion.
3. Draw upon the addressee’s position or influence within the case. For example, if you are addressing a judge or
government official, you will have to do some research into their background and find information that could help
persuade them. Maybe you will be writing to a gallery owner who has shown other controversial works, but refuses
to showcase your artist.
4. Your conclusion does not simply restate the thesis. It should readdress it in light of the evidence you have
gathered and presented. Do not introduce new information. Review the main points you have made. Close the letter
with a personal signature.
Minimum 3 sources. Two must be academic. One must be from a newspaper, journal, or book (online is okay).
Minimum 10 Slides
Using a visual aid, you will tell the story of the controversial artwork you selected, including the key
components and background. You will persuade the class of your stance on the issue by using persuasive techniques
such as ethos, pathos and/or logos. You can use images in the presentation, although not all of your slides should be
pictures. Choose words and images that will help tell the story, excite the audience, and persuade them of your
beliefs. At the end of your presentation you will take questions from the audience (including me). Some of these
questions may challenge your opinion, so you should know this topic well enough to handle this resistance.
Art on Trial: An In-Depth Analysis of Controversial Art