Why Johnny Knoxville is a greater artist than Marina Abramović

If you have never seen an exhibit of Marina Abramović, I would strongly encourage you to do so.

I saw her at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010.

She is a performance artist who does really striking things. This is what I saw her doing at MOMA:

She was in the center of this huge room that extended up at least 3 stories.

She sat at this table, all day, every day for months.

You could then come join her at the table (like the lady on the left here) and stare at her as she stares at you.

It was a surreal experience. I continue to think about it often to this day.

But a couple nights ago I finally saw Jackass 3:

This film was premiered at MOMA. You can read how Kyle Smith calls it “the most embarrassing piece ever to be showcased at New York’s Museum of Modern Art” here.

This statement reminded me of my first 20th Century art teacher (in the early 1990’s) degrading Andy Warhol as a “pseudo-artist.”

I would not consider myself an art scholar. I’m a casual observer (mostly of 20th and 21st century art) with a great deal of love and fascination.

One thing I hear over and over again is “professionals” trying to tell me (and the world) what is and isn’t art.

I guarantee they all now fully accept as high art, artists that were looked down upon at their time.

Let me give you a few examples:

van Gogh:






I bet there might be some people reading this that would even question my inclusion of the last two artists. But make no mistake: they are great artists.

I believe the trick in determining what is art is comparing it to a craft. What is art? And what is a craft?

Art is making a statement. A craft stands alone with no reference to anything else.

Now, one could say that good art could be something that is indeed isolated and non-referential. But the moment you make that statement it is no longer a craft. It is now art.

A windsock is just a windsock. There is nothing wrong with it, certainly. But it’s a craft. It isn’t art.

Johnny Knoxville is connecting us to our deepest roots: Shit, piss, vomit and pain. And he makes fun of it. He defiles the defiler. He takes it and faces it head on. He takes the most vile, disgusting aspects of the world and makes them hilarious. I’d like to see you do it… something I often hear people say about 20th century art. “I could do that.” Well, I actually don’t think you could do what Johnny Knoxville does.

Marina Abramović did the exact same thing.

She had her helpers naked all over the Museum of Modern Art. She pushes the boundaries of pain and suffering as well.

Take a look at this 50 second video:

Tell me Johnny Knoxville wouldn’t do this same thing… except 10 times more extreme. Marina Abramović was the Johnny Knoxville of her time.

But this is why I think Johnny Knoxville is a greater artist than Marina Abramović:

She takes herself too seriously. It’s her fundamental flaw.

She is a great artist and she knows it. Because of that her art always carries with it a feeling of elitism and separation. She makes you walk to her table in the center a great room in a great muesuem and do something of significant importance.

Because of her arrogance she never truly connects.

Johnny Knoxville connects.

If nothing else, Johnny Knoxville is not an elitist. He is the opposite. He lives in dirt, shit and violent animals. He has completely removed all sense of boundries and being “proper.”

He takes us to the place of our nightmares and shows us its humor.

Freud educated us about the anal and oral stages of development. He defined our two main drives: death and sex.

Johnny Knoxville lives in those worlds and pushes them farther than anyone ever has.

There isn’t a more meaningful set of topics to all of humanity than our urine, feces and dealing with pain and suffering.

Johnny Knoxville is a great artist and possibly will go down in history as one of the all time great performance artists.

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  1. 12/30/2011

    Interesting post!
    Tom Green, who had a very similar schtick to Jackass on his show, mentioned that he and his accomplices were consciously trying to take humiliating or painful experiences and ‘flip’ them so that they were not accidents but intended and even desired…which led to going out and doing bizarre things that would be embarrassing if they weren’t doing it on purpose (& filming it). So that was a kind of ‘statement’. I’m not sure if the Jackass ever crew say they are trying to make to a statement about anything…but I guess explicitly saying ‘this is art’ is optional anyway.
    Anything that elicits an aesthetic response is art…I’d buy that.
    But what I’m not clear about, is why Knoxville is a ‘greater artist’ … is it that he’s eliciting a deeper response, or one that is more accessible to people, or addressing a more significant/universal concern, or is he just better at his craft than she is at hers?

  2. sage

    Hi Mike.

    Thanks for commenting! :)

    As always, your analysis is thoughtful and deep.

    “Greater” is one of those adjectives that art critics throw around to try to trick you into putting artists into a hierarchy. Yet, I believe, very few artists ever can be objectively placed in a true hierarchy. Picasso is one of the few that comes to mind.

    The truth is, “greater” is a subjective, arbitrary reference. The real truth is that I personally like Knoxville better because he touches me more meaningfully than Abramović.

    While I think of her often, it is almost always connected with a sense of absurdity because she comes across as so incredibly “important.” It annoys me. :) And therefore makes the art less impact-full.

    Knoxville has none of that pretension. The artist disappears and you are only left with the art. I’m not even actually sure it is Knoxville that is the artist. It could be someone else or even a group effort.

    Abramović would never give credit to anyone else. Her art is all about her.

  3. sage

    That’s pretty dang funny.

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