A Critique

Apparently, some religious zealots in France desecrated a Serrano. A Serrano, if you’re not among the sophisticates, is that most famous of art pieces that is trotted out whenever someone wants to make a point against art in the contemporary age, art shows, funding for art, or some such cause. Andres Serrano got a plastic crucifix, put it in a jar of urine, and took pictures of his masterpiece. Not that many prints of this photograph were made, and one such print apparently sold for about $220,000. Since he was apparently trying to use his art to protest the misuse of religion, especially financial misuse, the whole piece is ironic.

It’s also ironic to me because the original work of art, whether one considers it kitsch or not, is the original crucifix. The artistic expression from Serrano did not come with any original creation using a distinct medium, but rather it is considered art because of the concept which he attached to his generally distinct elements.

Now, I do appreciate a whole lot of different approaches to art. But, this approach confuses me, even if I can understand it’s expressed goal. It confuses me because I don’t entirely understand why what Serrano did is art, while what the “vandals” did is not art. Who gives a sanction to what might be considered art? Serrano says he was making a point about the misuse of religious icons by desecrating the icon, so then it seems that taking a hammer to a photo is another way of making a similar point. Indeed, in some communities a piece of art is much more sacred than religious item, so to have the same effect one has to attack the art that is held in such high regard.

Ann Althouse wrote up a list of responses to this great art incident, and made a similar point to what I was thinking:

5. The destruction itself could be viewed as a work of art — like “Erased De Kooning.”

Assuming that such art is created conceptually through words not through the masterful manipulation of paint or other media, I thought it might be interesting to see if I could “create art” by conceptualizing the vandals as participating in a continual artistic creation. Here’s what I came up with:

I’m convinced by this. If art is pushing itself beyond the expressive capabilities of expertise in particular media, and into the manipulation of ideas through commonplace objects, then it certainly seems like the artistic narrative is driven forward by physicalized critique of the nascent expression.

With the crucifix as the primary object, the developing narrative of interaction of sacred objects with perceived desecratory medium is first initialized by Serrano’s commentary of the crucifix being drowned in urine, a protest of the commercialization of a religious sacred object.

This narrative is given a second layer in the actions of the vandals. The sacred object in question is no longer the crucifix, which because is it not held as sacred by the majority of art enthusiasts no longer bears the weight of symbolic entry into the sublime.

Instead, the art piece itself becomes the sacred symbol, beyond critique or touch, a holy icon of contemporary humanity’s consecration of art as social critique, yet itself commercialized, valorized in reproduced forms, taking on a social identity of its own well beyond its initial, intended critique.

The kinetic interaction between a particular instance of Piss Christ and apparently religiously devout Catholics enacts a chiastic with the original narrative, with those who were originally offended responding with culturally heretical approaches to the enshrined art, as a restorative commentary on the non-monetized value of the original art piece in question (the crucifix) and as an implicit critique of the consumerist “controversy for controversy’s sake” mentality that has made the only shocking act that which is the most traditional.

I would love to make a decent income at writing someday. Given I’m not inclined to writing End Time novels or relating visions of heaven or sparking controversy for its own sake which is how theology books are sold these days I might try art writing. Seems like there’s a decent income to be had making art by adding all kinds of wonderful, opaque concepts to various objects, then selling the objects for lots of money.

But, I suspect that my problem with doing this is the same exact problem I have with trying to write End Times novels, visions of my travels through heaven, or controversial subjects for their own sake. I don’t take myself seriously enough to believe what I’m writing and I can’t keep writing something that others really believe if I don’t believe in it. Let alone have them pay money for it. A vestige of integrity just pokes at me.

My own internal warning system against the misuse of religion, I suppose, but without the crucifix and urine. Well, I do drink a lot of water, and it collects inside, but I think that’s a separate issue I’d rather not intertwine with my attempts at writing.

Probably what I really need is for people to buy more copies of my much more readable, much less opaque, much more worthwhile book. Save the world from conceptual art that I might be forced to create. Buy a book, and I promise not to even try to justify that Golden Calf.

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