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Bad Chart Thursday: Subversive Subtext in Maggot Painting

You know, most people who see the video below or even participate in maggot painting events have pretty much the same reactions: “Wow, cool!” or “Amazing!” or “That’s fucking disgusting!” or all of the above. No one seems to want to talk about the artistic merit of these works or how the differences in technique bring out (or suppress) the emotional range and complex voices of the maggot artists themselves.

I think, as skeptics, it’s high time we turned a critical eye to these important works. And as scientists and science enthusiasts, it behooves us to present the findings in chart form.

First, take a moment to witness the artistic process in this provocative film by entomology PhD student and maggot painter Alison Bockoven:

 
 
Maggot1 Note that in the first painting, the blobs of paint are added to the page first, with the maggots then placed on the paint. The result is clearly abstract expressionist, reminiscent of action paintings, yet you see the artist trapped in the overwhelming color, much as the fly-to-be is trapped in the maggot itself. There is an artistic irony in this freeform expression being used to clearly convey that the artist is not free but constrained by where it happens to be placed on the page. In fact, when we see the process, we can tell that the maggots were lifted, no doubt against their will, and placed on a different color. The commentary on how we are all trapped in the Military-Industrial Complex is stark, yet somehow the message is that even here, we can find, nay, we can create beauty.

Powerful.

Maggot2Here, in this close-up at right, we see the maggot moving stridently away from the color on which it was placed while illustrating, with its trail of “blood,” that this process of asserting independence has its price.

Maggot4 Contrast this with the technique of dipping the maggots first, then placing them on the page, shown at left. Here we see agency, vibrancy. We see that the artist doesn’t succumb to a false dichotomy. It says, I don’t have to choose. I can be both orange and yellow. I can keep them separate and combine them. I am fucking free. Yet somehow, in this very freedom, there’s less boldness, less passion. It’s almost like the maggots are making a statement about the artistic inferiority and aimlessness that freedom produces.

It’s almost like the maggots hate America.

In fact, as you can see from the chart below, these seemingly innocent maggot paintings, often billed as a good science and art activity for children, are actually part of a larger maggot conspiracy to indoctrinate our children with socialist ideas about the robustness of cooperative work and the evils of independent thought and individualism.

Maggot chart2 *Measured in jellybeans

I think it’s time we made the world aware of exactly what these fucking maggots are plotting. Think of the children.

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Melanie Mallon

Melanie is a freelance editor and writer who just moved to a small town outside Minneapolis with her husband and two young kids. When not counting how often the words "pride," "liberty," and "freedom" are used in local business, road, and pet names, she spends her time wrangling commas, making colon jokes, and raising her two kids to be critical thinkers. She is the managing editor of Skepchick Events, a Grounded Parents admin, and a Skepchick contributor. You can find her on Twitter as @MelMall, on Facebook, and on Google+

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15 Comments

  1. They are actually rinsed off and allowed to continue their development into flies (at least by Alison–I can’t speak for the corporate practices of Big Insect). ! I wonder if they even remember they were a part of this once they become flies, or is it all just like a bad dream?

  2. It’s interesting how you could say the maggots parallel humans in their wild youthful adventures into art and sometimes, I’d imagine, even music. I like to know the percentage of maggots that go on to lead useful productive lives versus the ones who never amount to anything?

  3. That would be a fascinating follow-up, although I am sure we’d run into difficulty defining “useful” and “productive” in terms that are meaningful to flies. I also wonder how many maggot artists continue their art as flies, but perhaps in the roadkill medium.

  4. We can define art as “that which is appreciated by humans” or “that which was created by humans to be appreciated by humans” or “that which is created by humans”.

    Please pick one of those. Just not the first one, because it includes nearly everything in existence, including quite notably: the stuff described in the article. We need a limit to what is art, because we need people to be willing to usually pay for the privilege of looking at it (artists need to eat!). As soon as “everything” is art, you can’t charge for it any more and “artists” are in trouble. They won’t be grateful to the critic who said artists don’t strictly speaking actually exist.

    1. To put it into a sound-bite-size chunk: If you open your mind too much, your brain falls out!

      Open-mindedness is not by itself a virtue. You still need SOME basic judgement. This is open-mindedness being promoted to an untenable height. It happens a lot, but it still grates on the mind – it’s facile.

    2. See, maggots create their art without any expectation for compensation. They are therefore arguably the purest artists out there. And what about maggot-human hybrid cyborgs? Where do they fit into your definition?

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