Chris Burden Dies At 69: Artist -or- Lunatic?


Art is said to represent both contemporary culture and the one to come. Chris Burden’s portfolio seems to support this argument.

His career launched as a graduate art student from UC Irvine after his performance “Shoot” where his friend shot him in the arm with a .22 rifle in an art gallery, in front of an audience, as an exploration of “the aesthetic experience of suffering.” During this period of his life, Burden was also simultaneously addressing cultural desensitization to violence as a result to insistent and apathetic news coverage of the ravages of the Vietnam War.


Burden said regarding “Shoot” that that performance was a “criticism of vicarious experience”… “because most people’s knowledge”… “is only second hand through the media.” (Avalanche 8, Summer/Fall, 1973.)

How much more so today?

I wonder how a 25-year old Burden might address the cultural issues of today with our vicarious and voyeauristic social media laden lifestyle and integration? Might he get a friend to shot him with a gun printed via 3D printer and upload it to YouTube and ask all to join in by having their friends shot them and uploading their videos? 

We might say Burden was a masochistic psycho dubbing as an artist, but let’s not overlook that his work also reveals something true about us culturally, for better or worse. There was an audience that gathered to view Burden’s “Shoot” that knowing what was going to commence chose to not stop it.

Just a month ago on an art commentary blog, Art Lark, “Shoot” was referenced specifically as a work that revealed “the weakness of human psychological and moral condition” of our culture during that time. 

Has our culture changed much since the 70’s? 

In some ways, yes. But philosophically, not so much. We’re actually living out the seeds sown during that time now in the present.

Art leaves one thinking. While I might not be attracted to Burden’s portfolio in an aesthetically pleasant sense, it does cause me to stop and consider what it reveals about our culture and the direction it is going, something I can only hope my work will do. 

May he rest in peace and God be with his family.


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