Do you mind offensive miniatures?

I am not a person to be easily offended, especially by artistic creations. Some might say I am not sensitive enough. But a recent situation made me wonder what people think about potentially offensive miniatures.

So how did I come to think about this subject?

Virgin Vengine Mary

It was like several weeks ago that I was working on updating and moving our website, transferring all the content, etc., when my attention was caught by a discussion on one miniature created by our friend and former team-member, Demi_morgana. I paused for a moment, saw this thing:

Offensive or not? Vengine Mary by Demi_morgana
Offensive or not? Vengine Mary by Demi_morgana

The author says: “I wanted to create contrast between nice, innocent base and evil, rotting pregnant fiend floating above”

The model depicts some kind of a semi-cybernetic monster, called “Vengine Mary”. The reference seems to be pretty obvious, and can make the model feel uncomfortable for some…

Regardless of the reason, some people felt the model crossed the line of good/bad taste.

Some may mind the religious reference, some may dislike the deformed naked body of an apparently pregnant female, especially when you add all the mechanical parts to it.  Or maybe what seems to be a dead foetus on the base… Regardless of the  reason, be it for offense of religious feelings or for one’s respect for pregnant females, some people felt the model crossed the line of good/bad taste.

But wait, isn’t the line something that artistic creations tend to cross or at least push a bit? Shouldn’t be already be used to provocative aspect of some art forms?

Not only miniatures cross the line!

Sure, we already accepted (or at least acknowledged) the fact that artists sometimes shock, provoke or attempt to push us from our comfort zone with their creations. If it broadens our minds or makes us think about new concepts or assume new points of view, we may say it serves some purpose.

La maja desnuda, by Francisco Goya
La maja desnuda, by Francisco Goya

Believe it or not, but this painting was so shocking at its time, that the Spanish Inquisition wanted to punish the author of works “so indecent and prejudicial to the public good”.

Sometimes it’s done only to shock people though, just to attract attention, which would otherwise be beyond the artist’s reach. Now what do we think about it? Isn’t it a bit low, despicable?

Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano [source]
Piss Christ, by Andres Serrano

It depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine. Artistic value or just a shocker?

And while we already acknowledge that shocking is a part of artistic licence, or maybe even has been an inherent part of art as such from its very beginning (even ancient artists sometimes used the shock factor to achieve the catharsis for their audience), we also experience it in creative activities which haven’t yet earned the honor of being considered art.

Isn’t shocking just to attract attention a bit low, despicable?

To bring one well-known reference, which many of you may be familiar with, let me use an example from Spec Ops: The Line, a video game loosely inspired by J. Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and F. Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”.  I am referring to it because of this particular image:

Offensive or not? reference to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line
Offensive or not? reference to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line

And then this one:

Offensive or not? Refererence to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line
Offensive or not? Refererence to paintings of Madonna in Spec Ops: The Line

Just like painted miniatures, video games are not widely considered art. Does it lower our tolerance for crossing the line of good and bad taste?

You surely see that it touches a nearly identical subject as Demi’s “Vengine Mary”. No, it’s not the best example maybe, as I think the reference here is a bit forced and cheap. Of course, there are thousands of more shocking creations in other artistic media, like film, literature or visual arts. I picked a video game for the very reason that – just like painted miniatures, they’re still not widely considered art.

Does it make our tolerance for shock and crossing the line between good and bad taste lower than in case of acknowledged art forms?

If it wasn’t for artists pushing the limits and opening our minds to new styles and perspectives, where would we be?

While many people would say that painting (and creating) miniatures is just a hobby, a craft, and has nothing to do with art, after seeing some creations of miniature artists from the last few years I disagree. Miniatures used to be toys, but now they often carry as much creative and thought-provoking load, that I feel they crossed the boundary and now they can hardly be considered merely toys any more. Of course, I am not trying to generalize, some miniatures are only fun, but so are some books, paintings or films. Yet some are something more. They’re more than a display of technical mastery, they move us on the emotional and aesthetic levels.

But does it give  them the right to shock? And is every kind of shock good, or can it be only offensive without the positive value?

Just move a few paragraphs up, to the Maja painting by Goya. If it wasn’t for artists pushing the limits and opening our minds to new styles and perspectives, where would we be?

Examples of offensive miniatures

Now that we discussed the subject in general, let’s move to some more miniatures-oriented part of the post.

I am sure most of you still remember the Wet Nurse from Kingdom Death, right.

Wet Nurse - goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse – goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse - goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse – goofy or offensive?

It’s obviously a shocker, no way to deny it. Of course it remains faithful to the overall imagery and style of Kingdom Death, and these a love-it-or-hate-it thing, difficult to remain indifferent to.

I remember this one often coming up in discussions about the best and worse miniatures ever. Some may like it, some may say it’s a bad sculpt or a bad concept maybe… But is it offensive?
Well, then somebody brought up this photo:

Wet nurse – offensive or goofy?
Wet Nurse - goofy or offensive?
Wet Nurse – goofy or offensive?

Wait, isn’t this “thing” raping the woman? Even if it’s not what the artist intended, the overall form and context suggesting it? Well, it seems at least to some people it did…

Using a depiction of rape, or even suggesting it, just for its shock value, is not in good taste.

And one thing we can be sure of – using a depiction of rape, even if it’s only suggesting it, just for its shock value, is not in good taste.

Of course, many may disagree about what is done to the woman next to the monster. I am not sure what is going on there, but I suspect that the idea was to create something shocking, as it would surely attract attention to the new range of miniatures. Was it a good marketing decision?

There are more miniatures in the Kingdom Death range, which could make some people feel uncomfortable, uneasy or offended. I am not going to show all of them, as you can explore the subject, too. Let me show just two more:

Forge God - offensive or not?
Forge God – offensive or not?

Some people are easily offended by mutated babies. Are you?

Gorm - offensive or not?
Gorm – offensive or not?

Weren’t these Kingdom Death models just a perfect depiction of what some may consider offensive miniatures? And if you like them, well, consider it free advertisement for the Kingdom Death range. 🙂

But generally, why are these models so controversial?

Offensive or just controversial?

I guess it comes down to everybody’s individual sensitivity and tolerance. Some people can take more, some less. Some need stronger stimuli to be emotionally moved, while others react even to slighter pushes.

Then there’s everybody’s individual experience and values.  People with traumatic experiences will be more susceptible to being shocked with related imagery.

Then there’s everybody’s individual experience and values. Religious people will be easier offended by religious symbols or figures being used. (Doesn’t the Charlie Hebdo case come to mind?) Patriots will object to humiliating presentation of national symbols or their compatriots.  People with traumatic experiences, like being victims of violence or sexual abuse will be more susceptible to being shocked with related imagery.

Now imagine a model touching a sensitive subject – your religion, your nationality, race, cultural background, history, family or something you personally relate to. Would you mind it? Would you feel offended?

Is every subject suitable for a miniature? Or are some better left untouched? And is safer always better?

Is every subject suitable for a miniature? Or are some better left untouched?
How far can a miniature sculptor or painter go?
Is fantasy and sci-fi safer? And is safer always better?

I am really curious what you think about it. Would you mind seeing miniatures of, let’s say, crucifixion of the Christ or the Last Supper.  And if somebody added a twist to the scene? That’s what many modern writers and film-makers do, so would you mind seeing it done by a miniature artist?

Star Wars Last Supper, by Eric Deschamps Would it make offensive miniatures?
Star Wars Last Supper, by Eric Deschamps
Would you consider models in such a diorama offensive miniatures?

And you? Are YOU easily offended?

Now, what is your take on the subject? What do you think – can miniatures be offensive? Should they be allowed to be? What can make a miniature offensive? And what are your examples of offensive miniatures – if there is anything like that at all?

19 thoughts on “Do you mind offensive miniatures?”

  1. I’m certainly offended by several of the Kingdom Death minis. But I feel that being offensive isn’t cause enough for condemnation. I just try to ignore them as best I can

    1. I wouldn’t condemn them either. One person may feel offended, while another may be happy to paint such a thing. While there’s a certain value in the diversity that we can choose from, I am still wondering if there’s any line that shouldn’t be crossed…

    2. I’m with you. While they wouldn’t have a place on my gaming or painting table, I can see that there are those who would like them. I just ignore them and get on with it.

  2. Fantastic and thought provoking article. Art is always in the eye of the audience. I may not like an artist’s subject matter, or what they are trying to depict, but I can almost always appreciate the expertise that went into crafting the message.

    1. I am glad to know my deliberations were thought provoking. The point of view may depend on one’s answer to the question whether painting miniatures is art or craft. I think that if the author tries to pass any message, there at least is a reason to justify the provocation. Otherwise it’s just… shocking for the sake of shocking.

  3. I think in the case of kingdom death their subjects are appropriate. They are trying cultivate all forms of horror. In the kingdom death world, the monsters are monstrous, not just in an abstract sense like a typical fantasy dragon but in a visceral and personal way. Depictions of rape and disturbing sexual themes are not automatically bad, its what your do with them. Kingdom death doesn’t glorify them, quite the opposite, they are supposed to be revolting and disturbing. Maybe you object to using them for a perceived cheap thrill or object to it as a setting for a game. I can see how that might color someone’s judgment but those themes are perfectly legitimate to explore as a miniature.

    1. This is definitely a deliberate choice of style in case of Kingdom Death, and I must say I kind of enjoy it in case of really many of their creations. They are disturbing, they feel alien, and nightmarish. That is sure, and I really appreciate it. It’s something fresh in the already rich choice of styles and subjects in miniatures.
      I may not be the best person to comment on issues of something being offensive/inappropriate, as I think I am quite tolerant to such things, even if I might not be too fond of some.
      You are very right about the fact that it’s not the very depiction that is bad in itself – it’s the purpose and the way you use the depiction. If it’s used for something good, that is even better.
      And no, I don’t object. I am kind of unsure myself. In fact I don’t really mind them, and it was really only from discussions with other hobbyists tat I realized that others have the border of their tolerance placed elsewhere. See – I really didn’t feel the Vengine Mary was inappropriate at all, and still some people felt is was wrong in some way. Realizing this made me want to explore this subject a bit more.
      Thanks for the comment and discussion!

  4. Some time ago, I have heard s simple rule for categorizing art: One Nipple is Art, Two Nipples Are Pornography…^-^… Jokes aside, seeing quite some Art on a daily basis here in Berlin, I am not easily offended by anything… Some of the best Art is provocative, repulsive, ‘evil’, exaggerated and downright nasty, because if confronts the status quo, challenges the spectator and really makes a point or touches on topics that are loaded with emotion, resulting in discussion and controversy… Therefore, this Art is relevant and it is up to the people to get involved or simply care about something (or not), which is a good thing if it starts a process in them or others… When it comes to Miniatures, I am rather offended by the lack of genuine innovation, creativity and the praise of bad imagery (like deification of violence, flat, bold use of one dimensional stories, repetition, jokes that are not funny or tasteless, etc. …) than nudity or difficult topics… Interestingly, the points that I have mentioned before associated with Art can also be found in the discussion of some Miniature Work (Golgotha, That Eldar Rape Scene, The Bloody Babies, etc. etc. …)… So yeah, I hope we will see more of this kind of controversy, but the discussion is difficult to some, because they don´t approach Miniatures the same way others would approach Art, which I wish to see changed in the near future in my humble view…
    smile emoticon

    1. @Matt – I responded on facebook already, but here it goes again for completness:

      As I mentioned in the very beginning – I am not easily offended, maybe a bit thick-skinned…
      Still I tend to meet many people who seem to be easily offended with various works of art, especially if they touch their values, like religious feelings.
      I chose the people that I mentioned here on facebook based on their approach to miniatures. I mean, you guys have seen many examples of very creative works, and if anybody can tell if miniatures happen to come close to being art, not only craft, it’s people like you.
      I remember that during our last stay in Berlin, when we discussed the matters of miniatures with you, Matt, you explained your attitude toward violence in miniatures, which was very fresh and interesting. I think that your approach to miniatures is very artistic, like that you add some depth to your works – and appreciate it in works of others. This carries the consequence of allowing more but also expecting more.

      Great food for thought, guys, I appreciate it!

  5. I’m not that easily offended. The miniatures and art don’t offend me at all, it didn’t even know they were offending. I don’t like them, that’s taste.
    I’m often more offended by religion itself.

  6. I am not easily offended, especially not by art, and don’t find any of the miniatures or images here in offensive. It’s just art. I can understand why some may be offended though but they don’t have to look at it. With a slight turn of their heads they can look at something else. 🙂

  7. I don’t understand how the art, or miniatures in particular can offend anyone. It can be bad, tasteless or even nauseating but not offending. In general I’m a bit allergic to people say that something “offend” them as it seems that last times it’s just enough to live to offend someone. But it’s for something absolutely different..

    Everything is about the taste and preferences. In fact even ugliest model painted with skill and vision can fascinate. And if it doesn’t – simply don’t look and don’t buy it…

  8. First, I’m 100% supportive of the idea that miniatures are art. I’ve been having that conversation lately more and more with the House of Paincakes crew and I’m starting to look at getting involved with the local art community to try and put some kind of a show on or doing some kind of miniature art based event through Wargaming Tradecraft.

    Second, being offended by art is completely different to the question of whether or not art is appropriate or should be created. Art is often shocking, sometimes that’s what it takes to reach people or make a strong statement.

    The wet nurse model is certainly over the top and I can see it being offensive to some. It’s certainly not making any kind of a positive statement but to each their own.

    I have seen one vignette made with miniatures that flat out offended me and I thought it was incredibly inappropriate. If I recall correctly, it was a group of imperial officers surrounding a fearful kneeling woman, the central figure unzipping his pants with a cruel leer on his face. Kind of a warzone setting, there may have been a tank or a troop transport too. Quite well painted, which just enhanced the horror. I was really offended by the piece and for the first time thought that there was no reason to create this. Not sure their reasoning for creating it, but I was just disgusted.

    1. Yes, the eldar (implied) rape scene, Golgotha, the concentration camp diorama – these are often listed among the ones which tend to be considered “questionable”.

      Well, you may say that similar scenes are often included in films, books, or visual works like paintings or photos. Whether it is a good or positive thing, well, I think opinions will differ here…

      Thanks for the comment, Dave!

  9. I remember coming across a diorama depicting what is a “would be” scene of rape. I found it magnificent, painting and all; it was disgusting, but carried a strong story and was exceptionally well executed… like Clock Work Orange is an exceptional movie, or Quentin Tarantino made some of the best masterpieces in cinema IMHO. It exaggerates, zoom-in, make the violence so gore and gross that it depicts a parody of violence that feed our dark instincts while reminding and warning us of how monstrous humans can be. It’s funny because a lot of “pure” people are the one who committed the worst atrocities (Nazis, the Inquisition in Spain etc) and a lot of people who are “disturbed” and “punk” and “menacing for the system” are total sweethearts.

    All in all this kind of art is disturbing because it reminds us of what humans are capable of. And this is not even close to some of the things you can find on Internet – that I do believe cross the barrier…

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