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  • Writer's pictureFatima Learn

Art And Trigger Warnings

Trigger warnings seem to be showing up more frequently in media and gathering places including the art world. A “Trigger warning” is signage before entering or viewing something that displays content that might be considered emotionally disturbing. I feel like I am drowning in political correctness almost every day. Do you have to warn me about art too? If you could only hear the sarcasm in my voice as I ask that question. Let me describe my feelings towards this subject.


Let us look at what “Trigger” means in the context of “Trigger Warning” specifically for works of art. In this case it is referring to content in the artwork that is violent, threatening or sexual which might elicit emotions or behavioural responses. Imagine that, artwork that stimulates the right side of your brain … if you could only see how far I am rolling my eyes back or maybe I should post a trigger warning first.

My comments are not for demeaning the general purpose of trigger warnings. These warnings help people from re-experiencing traumatic memories that can lead to mental disorders and extreme anxiety. Sometimes actual physical symptoms like fainting or vomiting. The message I am trying to convey is that maybe more thought should be put into the decision of deeming something necessary to have trigger warnings. If you walk into an operating room then expect to possibly see blood. Does the hospital staff need a warning. Artwork is meant to elicit emotions and can be thought provoking. How does it not surprise people how much of an oxymoron it is to say “trigger warning” at an art show? What if the social climate back then was as it is today. I can confidently say that all the Italian Renaissance painters would have opened their own museum and called it “Il Museo di Trigger Warnings”

Is It Our Social Climate?

It is not one person or one group that has made trigger warnings necessary. Our social climate dictates we are a victim culture that needs to be protected. This is my opinion and I came to this conclusion because I see artwork from the masters like Caravaggio that painted the severed head of Medusa spewing blood from her neck. I ask myself … Did he warn anyone before he displayed it? Of course not because the culture back then probably experienced a beheading in public once a week! We are living in different times and societies actions reflects the emotional culture we are. I recognize that times are changing but lets educate everyone what it was like “back in the day” and try not to be so shocked or offended when we encounter such things again but have discussions instead.

Again, these are my comments and I am grateful for being able to speak this opinion today. I am pretty sure if beheading was acceptable in the renaissance than the views of an opinionated female artist would not be a common occurrence. I guess it is safe to say that Trigger warnings are a sign of the times changing.

Image - “Medusa” painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Circa 1597


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