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The Controversy Behind The artist

Glenn Ligon

by Justin Young


Youth Insights is an educational group that consists of students who question conventional thinking. On February 8, the Whitney Museum held an open discussion February 8th with Youth Insights and the renowned and unconventional artist Glenn Ligon. The audience consisted of students accompanied with teachers. Several Youth Insight students ran the discussion with Mr. Ligon. They presented an analysis of his work as well as a question and answer session with the audience.

The Youth Insights students sat in a row with prepared statements in hand. They used a projector to show off Ligon's work while they gave the audience a detailed interpretation of each piece. They would then go on to ask Mr. Ligon a question that they had prepared and would ask the audience if they had any questions. Mr. Ligon sat back in his chair watching, seemingly mystified, as the students presented his work.

His art is what some would call unconventional. It’s not the type of artistic expression that consists of the usual paint and canvas. He does not form an image that one can immediately label and put in a category. Instead he uses a mixture of contemporary literature coupled with a unique style of art using text. He takes a passage from a story or a memoir and works around it so that you are able understand the author’s thoughts and feelings on a visible level.

He has taken excerpts from such legendary writings as James Baldwin’s Stranger in a Village and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. has often used his art to reflect on the harsh reality of slavery and racial injustice. When asked why, he plainly answered that he sees his art as a form of activism. He went on to add that it shouldn’t be so but this culture makes it so. Art to him is a strong way of thinking, “lifting things out"; it is his way of communication and presenting ideas.

He uses stencils in his James Baldwin piece. He took a picture from the Million Man March and then wrote the excerpt from the essay on top of the picture, using stencils. One of his works involved a unique profile of a man. What made it unique was that the entire work was text. He darkened some of the text that made a pattern, which portrayed the profile of a man.


By using the writings and works of authors and artist, can Mr. Ligon be called the “Puff Daddy” of the art world! Does sampling stories and pictures from other authors and artist, and then incorporating them into your own work reflect that of the controversial music mogul? Is his work original at all? Might it be a fabrication, used to pry on the minds of open-minded “moldable” artist who will believe and accept anything that appears to be new and “hip”?


Personally, I enjoy his art. The fact that he uses words as art is something new. Morphing words into a picture is really “original." Through his work, Mr. Ligon has enabled people to use a whole new portion of their brain and has opened our minds to a new artistic style.


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