To pose the question is to assume these two things are mutually exclusive: that real art doesn't aim to provoke, and that any degree of provocation is incidental to the message of the piece. I'm not sure I agree with this analysis, but let's say it's true. Where's the distinction between art and basically trolling the world?
For me, it lies in intent. If the intent of the artist is to make a point about something, and in making that point, they need to create something that contains potentially inflammatory and provocative content, then it's justified as along as a broader argument is being made.
At the outset of writing my novel (which is about a White Supremacist misogynist), I debated whether or not to write it in the first person or the third person. From the third person perspective, his bigotry could be somewhat nullified, kept at a distance from the reader, and controlled. But it ultimately took away from the power of the narrative - in order to understand the mindset of the bigot, it's useful to stand in his shoes directly, as noxious as that may be. And in doing so, the internal logic and emotion of the character begins to make more sense, and your ability to understand hatred increases accordingly.
people I admire
Bret Easton Ellis