The “Shock” Factor

“Certainly [Flannery O’Connor] might come under Maritain’s strictures about deliberately setting out to shock; though I think she would respond by saying that the artist has an obligation to find the tone to register in which she can actually be heard, and an artist presenting a Christian universe cannot but shock” (Williams, 128).

Rowan Williams’ reflections about Flannery O’Connor are great and very juicy thoughts. Flannery O’Connor had been a name I had heard before, but William’s third chapter goes in depth about her thoughts as well as her work as a Catholic author. As a Catholic growing up in Georgia, predominantly Protestant, O’Connor understood what it meant to be different. Interestingly, I feel that O’Connor is a great example of someone who “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

I enjoyed how she went into description about using her words as a way to paint an image in the readers mind. A novel I recently read helped me put into perspective O’Connor’s idea of allowing the characters to write themselves. The novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, is written from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old boy with autism. This novel allows the reader to look at life from the lens of a teenage boy whom would otherwise be deemed different. As the book continues in the investigation of the murder of a neighbor’s dog, the character must maneuver though the complications of life to find answers. It is evident to see that the character seemed to write himself, rather than the author appearing to get in the way.


It was shocking to read a book from the perspective of someone who would be classified as an outsider because of their disability. In the same way, Flannery O’Connor wrote about the sins and disparities of life that others chose not to include in their works. I feel that because O’Connor understood what it felt like to be different among her home town, she was able to articulate with confidence the harshness of life. Her boldness brought awareness and shock to a comfortable world.

In the same way there are many artists who have attained that same “shock” factor that O’Connor grasped. There are many social issues in the world that we find harsh to think about, but they are someone’s reality. For example, the issue of unclean water in third world counties. This is a right that is denied to many on a daily basis and is the leading factor of a population’s deaths. Below is Michael Holt’s assemblage of paintings addressing a new kind of war for water. He describes that today, the “next gold rush is not for oil or energy resources, but for the most precious of all resources that is necessary for all life on earth, water.”

Other artists who obtain the shock factor are those addressing the social issues of women’s rights, whether that includes domestic violence or human sex trafficking. Agnes Natalie creates great work bringing awareness to the affects of domestic violence.

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Lastly, there is the work of Joe Scorsone and Alice Drueding, who have been designing posters together since 1986. One of their popular works that I remember studying in History of Visual Communications was their shocking poster about the sexual exploitation and slavery of women.

Interestingly, this is a continuing theme in the designs of today. Sarah Schneider brings awareness to the issue of human trafficking through her poster depicting a young woman with a price tag attached to her.

Human trafficking

The ability to shock is definitely a trait displayed by many artists today. Flannery O’Connor was a great pioneer of that idea.



One thought on “The “Shock” Factor

  1. Very nice thoughts tying in what Rowan Williams was talking about with O’Conner. It seems some of the main point is to be honest, and with that sometimes the art will “shock.” You used a very nice variety of images from design work to sculpture, to a novel. Nice diversity with your thoughts. I enjoyed your post here.

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