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Reflection – What Is Art?

Art has always been used to prompt reflection in viewers by embodying the artist’s emotions and concerns. Controversial art is shocking and scandalous, as it pushes the boundaries of social consciousness to their limits. An example of a controversial artwork is the installation My Bed by Emin, created in 1998 and first exhibited a year after in the Tate Gallery in London. The work has gained a lot of attention from media and has been remarkably criticized for frankness, which the public was not ready to manage. This paper aims to discuss the impact of the installation by Emin on society and determine whether it should be considered art.

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My Bed has made a remarkable social contribution, as it was created naturally and unintentionally. The artist got up from her bed after days of depression and apathy, took a look at it, and realized it was a work of art. Art is usually expected to be born after long weeks of meticulous work in a studio. For Emin, it was not the case, and her masterpiece emerged casually. As Cohen (2018) states, in the art context, “the bed is a stage for birth, depressive isolation, and death,” while Emin has shown its symbolism from a feminine perspective (para. 13). The view is charged with unique aesthetics, usually unmeant to be seen in a gallery. It reflects an unappealing human condition, helplessness, and indifference, that is why the public sees exhibiting someone’s blood-stained underwear, empty vodka bottles, cigarettes, and condoms as something uncomfortable and even revolting. Nevertheless, in reality, many people sometimes find themselves in a condition of total despair. As to me, the artwork does not relate to my life directly, but I can see why some people find it so authentic and sincere.

Despite the public outrage, My Bed has not been banned or censored. However, along with positive responses, Emin has received a lot of criticism for her confessional work. Adrian Searle described it as an “endlessly solipsistic, self-regarding homage” (as cited in Cohen, 2018, para. 2), while Darren Pih stated that it “almost resembles a crime scene” (as cited in Cohen, 2018, para. 3). In general, censorship is the main obstacle that art has been facing at all times. The governments are not justified in banning art when, in doing so, they are trying to preserve “traditional” values, some of which are outdated. However, it should be the artist’s responsibility to consider the sensitivity of their art and make sure the right audience sees it.

Controversial art is always compelling, as it strikes viewers and confronts them with something uncommon. My Bed has influenced its author in the first place since Emin stated how her life has changed since the artwork was first exhibited. She claimed that she gave up her harmful habits and added: “I don’t make stains on the bed like that, like I used to” (as cited in Cohen, 2018, para. 12). The moment when Emin saw art in her moral fall became her lifeline, and she exposed her experience to others. Thus, Emin has set a new standard for shocking, emptily confessional art. Her work is arranged of elements, and it brings out a range of emotions, highlighting issues of modern society. Therefore, it should be considered art in its broader form, as it explores the human experience.

In conclusion, the installation My Bed by Emin and its influence on the public are discussed in this paper. Despite its controversies, it should be viewed as a form of art, since it represents the artist’s conceptualism and challenges the social norms and decency. The author explores her experience of depression in a provocative but approachable manner, leaving the viewer with questions and reflections on life.


Cohen, A. (2018). Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” ignored society’s expectations of women. Artsy. Web.

Emin, T. (1998). My Bed [installation]. Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom.

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