March 30th, 2007

The chocolate Jesus and “Sensation” for sensation’s sake: art, culture, religion, and politics

The news that a sculpture entitled “My Sweet Lord” (after the Beatles song, no doubt, crossed with Tom Waits)—due to debut at a New York Hotel and consisting of a six-foot tall anatomically correct chocolate Jesus—has been canceled, conjures up memories of the art show entitled “Sensation” that came to the Brooklyn Museum back in 1999. The latter featured the famous portrait of a black Madonna surrounded by elephant dung and what seemed to be a host of floating disembodied vaginas.

Ah, art!

“Sensation” was a sensation partly because it sparked a famous moment for then Mayor (and now Presidential candidate) Giuliani, who felt the content was insulting to the Catholic Church and that it was inappropriate to display the painting in a museum receiving municipal funding. He threatened to cancel the museum’s lease, although this never happened and the show went on. Clearly, even back then, he had a true if spotty streak of cultural conservatism; that doesn’t seem to be a recent addition to his personality.

If you think about the hue and cry created by the Left and by liberals in their attempts to keep the museum open and the show intact, it’s interesting to contrast it with the respect shown to Muslim concerns about the Mohammed cartoons. By this time such a double standard shouldn’t be surprising, and it isn’t. Christianity is supposed to be able to take insults in stride; Islam is allowed a special sensitivity.

The hotel gallery’s directors have withdrawn the chocolate Jesus sculpture voluntarily, but not without a few choice words. After Bill (not Phil) Donohue, head of the Catholic League, called for a boycott of the hotel:

…[t]he gallery’s creative director, Matt Semler, said the and the hotel were overrun with angry telephone calls and e-mails about the exhibit. Although he described Donohue’s response as “a Catholic fatwa,” Semler said the gallery was considering its options amid the criticism.

Semler’s description of the Catholic group’s perfectly legitimate and nonviolent actions as a “fatwa” is also no surprise, I suppose. It’s another example of a combination of kneejerk moral and cultural equivalence. Fatwas, of course, are not limited to death threats for art deemed to insult Islam, but they conjure up that image in Western minds because of famous fatwas such as the death sentence pronounced on author Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

Here’s an article describing the 1999 “Sensation;” it says the show carried a “mock health warning.” The New York Times agreed that the warning was “fake,” describing it thusly:

But its fake “health warning” for “Sensation” (“The contents of this exhibition may cause shock, vomiting, confusion”) not only gave ammunition to the Mayor, it cheapened the institution and hurt the art in the show as well. If the museum’s own advertisement describes the work as nauseating, is it a surprise that people should assume, sight unseen, that it is?

No, no surprise. But the surprise to me when I actually viewed that exhibit was that it actually was offensive—very offensive—in a host of unexpected ways not limited to the religious or the Christian. Read both articles and their descriptions of some of the “artwork” on display if you care to, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the point of it all was to be offensive.

Yes, freedom of speech means that these works should not be banned. But protests such as that mounted by Donohue’s group are squarely in the tradition of freedom of speech, as well. Let the marketplace decide, and in the case of the chocolate Jesus it has apparently decided “no.”

In the case of “Sensation” we weren’t so fortunate. Here‘s the museum director’s description of the exhibit at the time:

…this is a defining exhibition of a decade of the most creative energy that’s come out of Great Britain in a very long time. And that’s why we did it, these works are challenging, and thought provoking, and some are beautiful, some are very difficult to look at.

If that’s the most creative energy to come out of Great Britain, Great Britain is in big trouble . And if he says some of the works were difficult to look at, you can believe they were. A picture is worth a thousand words, but even a picture doesn’t begin to do justice to the experience of viewing “art” such as these works, to briefly describe just two:

Damien Hirst’s “A Thousand Years” composed of flies, maggots, a cow’s head, sugar, and water, another Hirst work, “This Little Piggy went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed Home” a split pig carcass floating in formaldehyde…”

I seem to recall an entire room consisting of cow segments. Memory could be playing tricks on me, but the image I retain is of a large creature that had been cut into four or five sections, each of which was placed in a huge vat of greenish or bluish preservative behind plexiglass: one for the head, one for the forequarters, one for the midsection, and so on, crossing the entire room.

I suppose it was some sort of political statement. It also smelled, as I recall. Another sculpture didn’t actually smell, but it stank (and again, I’m relying on memory here, so I could have some of the details wrong): a large plaster installation of a group of children in a ring, displaying strange multiple penises coming out of odd and anatomically incorrect parts of their bodies.

At some point I just wanted out, and I voted with my feet: I left. My reaction surprised me at the time, but it wasn’t in the least political or religious. I had considered myself neither naive nor especially squeamish, but this stuff was not something I wished to spend time looking at; I’d had enough, thank you very much. And next time there is such a warning on an art show, I think I’ll respect it.

The larger questions are political and cultural. Why are Christian sensibilities not considered worth thinking about, while Muslim ones are respected? Well, it’s no puzzlement; if the Christians involved don’t actually turn the other cheek when insulted, they certainly aren’t about to blow up the hotel. And no, it’s not that certain people aren’t violent at times in the name of Christianity—witness the killings of abortion doctors—but these are isolated incidents.

The other question concerns what art hath wrought these days, and why? Is it so bankrupt—and so politicized—that it has become mere social commentary, the more shocking the better? Art doesn’t have to be pretty-pretty, or Norman Rockwell-esque; there’s a place for the ugly and the controversial. But when sensationalism and a sort of jaded “can you top this?” purposeful offensiveness is one of its major hallmarks, then the art world—and our culture—is in big trouble.

47 Responses to “The chocolate Jesus and “Sensation” for sensation’s sake: art, culture, religion, and politics”

  1. Jim Dew Says:

    “My Sweet Lord” was not a Beatles tune. It was a George Harrison tune. But your larger point is appreciated. The Western world has had the benefit of the Enlightenment and enjoys a largely literate population. The Muslim world has not had the same historical experience and does not enjoy such a high degree of literacy. I suspect that the Christian world would have reacted in much the same way circa 1500. And as for the offensive artists? I’d call it a case of arrested development.

  2. stumbley Says:

    I remember arguing about “art” with a work colleague once. I was bemoaning an “installation” which consisted of a wooden box filled with mud; the box was opened slightly at one corner, allowing the mud to leak out and dry on the floor. That was what the “art” consisted of. I said that it was ridiculous to call such a piece “art”, and she maintained that it was.

    I had just finished reading a short science fiction story about a man in the near future (in which body parts could be regenerated a limited number of times) whose “art” consisted of chopping off fingers, toes, etc. Since the parts could be replaced (albeit only a few times) he was able to “perform” for a number of years, but finally wound up as a quadriplegic, whose last “performance” was to remove his head via guillotine.

    I had thought the story ridiculous and over the top until I read about Chris Burden ( and realized that “art” was whatever one wanted it to be…unfortunately. And it pretty much proved the point that my colleague had been trying to make…”art” was anything at all.

  3. Steve Rosenbach Says:

    Matt Semler, “Creative Director” of the gallery, must have missed those sessions in 5th grade of Hebrew School when they taught us about respect and being a mentch.

    “Creative Director”, my tuchis!

  4. Sissy Willis Says:

    You’re absolutely right on, and the lasting art that reveals the spirit of our age is to be found elsewhere, I’m sure, possibly among the great landscape architects of our day. Unseen by trendy provocateurs in the run-up to WWII, Norman Rockwell was onto something that reverberates in our time:

    “It does not take into account the psychology of people”

    Then there’s the matter of what Spiro Agnew presciently called the “effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals”:

    “Reduced by its ignorance into regurgitating regurgitations”

  5. Robert Schwartz Says:

    In other words we will believe that great art challenges the way we see the world and speaks truth to power when western artists put up an anatomically correct full frontal chocolate Mohamed and western governments tell complainers to deal with it.

    “Artists” another victim of collateral damage on 9/11.

  6. Lee Says:

    Not this time. While I can’t say the “artist” is right, the “offended Christians” are definitely in the wrong. They seem to think that the “image of Christ” is sacrosanct. Well, guess what? A “Christian” shouldn’t have ANY “image” of Christ to hold sacred. There are no photos, portraits, or drawings of Jesus, so who knows what He “looks” like, or how that “image” can be demeaned. It’s not His “image” I worship and love, it’s His “spirit”. The second commandment says not to make graven images of ANYTHING in heaven, on earth, or in the seas. When “Christians” are offended by this, they give credence to the notion that there is an “image” to demean. And yet I constantly hear that “Christians” don’t act like “Muslims” in this regard. If you are truly “Christian”(as I am), there is NOTHING to be offended by here.

  7. TC Says:

  8. dicentra Says:

    I am also a Christian and I don’t think that the act of constructing a chocolate Jesus is particularly offensive, though I would prefer that artists resort to the traditional loincloth out of respect for the person.

    And yes, Lee, it’s true that we don’t know what Jesus really looked like, and yet over time an image of Jesus has evolved in art that we all recognize.

    This image is a symbol, like all images, and when you do something to the symbol, you’re commenting on what the symbol stands for.

    That’s what people object to. They may think that the chocolate Jesus is too irreverent or that the anatomical correctness is too vulgar. I don’t think that anyone looks on the statue as having any special powers or ontological status, which is what the Old Testament warns us against.

  9. Lee Says:

    Apparently NatC has nothing to say about “chocolate Jesus”and wants to change the subject.

  10. expat Says:

    The offensiveness in this type of “art” is to the intelligence of the people it seeks to enlighten. My preferred response is a big yawn: been there; seen that. Perhaps I would accompany this with well-meaning advice to the artist that he not give up his day job.

  11. Lee Says:

    Where there is no “image”, there is no “symbol” to demean. The flag is a banner, not an “ephemeral symbol” to be held revere, i.e. just a piece of cloth. You may not make any friends burning one, but why should the “symbol” have more rights and protection under the law than the “citizens” it symbolizes? My belief in Jesus as Lord doesn’t need to be “symbolized” to the rest of the world. And where there is no “symbol” to demean, there is no offense.

  12. Lee Says:

    Besides, as a “Christian”, you knew this going into the agreement: “The world will hate you for my sake.”.

  13. NoAccuteDistress Says:

    Personally I’d like to see a statue of Lee’s mother made out of dog food exhibited at a prominent hotel that’s friendly to pets. Full frontal, of course. Isn’t art wonderful?

  14. expat Says:

    I just saw the BBC report on this. Essentially it was that Catholics objected and the sculture was removed. This will only give the Islamists more ammo for their next protest.

  15. Lee Says:

    Please, NAD, feel free to do whatever you want in regards to “portraying” my mother in any way you see fit. Just don’t try to “do” anything to my mother I might object to, and we’ll be fine.

  16. Lee Says:

    Your “symbol” or “image” of my mother is not my mother.

  17. Lee Says:

    Space Hippie: “Are you One, Herbert?”
    Spock: “I am NOT Herbert.”
    Space Hippie: “He’s not Herbert! We Reach!”

  18. Zeno Says:

    atimes.comWell, I don’t think it’s offensive, I think it’s just plain stupid. As most of modern art, since it decided that “beauty” or “talent” were no longer required or important.
    “Art” today focuses on pseudo-scandals, narcissims and schatology.
    Spengler ( wrote about it recently. (I wrote about it too in my own blog, somewhere).
    If art is a “mirror of society”, what does contemporary art says about ours?

  19. harry Says:

    Not being religious myself, I was not offended, but I find it funny how liberals had only been recently preaching to us Neanderthals why Muslims should feel hurt, victimized and angry about depicting Mohammed in cartoons, then turn right around and tell us we need to be more tolerant of a statue of Jesus, nude, crafted in chocolate, by some fool for the sole purpose of its shock value and potential notoriety.

    Why do they do this?

    If you havent seen this video over at LGF, you should. This is Evan Sayet speaking before the Heritage Foundation. His topic is the liberal philosophy and mind set and he nails it dead on.

    You’ll identify with this guy, Neo. An ex-lib, a former writer for Bill Maher, of all people. A guy mugged by 9/11. Listen to him describe how he felt about his fellow liberals that day. Listen as he talks about why modern liberals have equated reason with discrimination and ultimately hate crime. Its 40 minutes long, but well worth every minute.

  20. Chuck Says:

    “Artists” another victim of collateral damage on 9/11.”

    If so, keep the blame where it belongs — on the Jihadist. On the other hand, people of faith calling for censorship is no surprise.

  21. Badger Says:

    “Why are Christian sensibilities not considered worth thinking about, while Muslim ones are respected?”

    Simple. In this country, Muslims are a victimized minority, whereas Christians are not. Hate crimes occur against Muslims here (not often, but they do happen occasionally). When was the last time you heard of a Christian being the victim of a hate crime in the USA “for being Christian”? It is extremely rare, if not unheard-of.

    On the other hand, in countries where Christians are persecuted or suffer hate crimes (such as Pakistan, say), it is necessary to be particularly sensitive to make sure that Christian sensibilities are not hurt.

  22. Greg Laurich Says:

    As an artist and a Christian, I’m of two minds. The artist says ‘go for it’ and the Christian say ‘whoa hold on a sec’ I’m not thrilled with this. My final though was…

    Wow what a waste of Chocolate, I wonder how many chocolate chip cookies we could have made?

    And for the lady wondering about the box with the mud running out of the opening? That’s called “Dadaism” It’s basically nonsense art, rose up out of the destruction of WWI.

  23. strcpy Says:

    “When was the last time you heard of a Christian being the victim of a hate crime in the USA “for being Christian”? It is extremely rare, if not unheard-of.”

    Heard of a hate crime for being Christian? Never – crimes motivated by hate against Christians aren’t hate crimes (which also seems to be what you are implying). It’s also unheard of for Black on White crime to be called a hate crime even though it isn’t uncommon for it to be motivated by hate of skin color.

    Crimes due to just being Christian? More than ones just for being Muslim. Of course, a large part of that is simply because there are so many more Christian to choose from. I pretty much hear of no crimes against someone for just bein a Zoroastrian, but then I’ve never met someone of that faith.

    Though I detest the idea of “hate crimes” – I see nothing special about them. There was recently a group of young adults killed (in a VERY violent way) a family for being Christian, they would have just as easily picked another religion, much as the “Muslim hate crimes” would have picked another religion if that one wasn’t handy. Before 9/11 they hated Jews, Hindu, and generally some Catholics (well, they still hate them but the religion of the day is now different). Even though the local news reported the reasoning behind the young adults, it still wasn’t labeled as a hate crime.

    I’ve been accosted for being a Christian in quite a number of places – there are many academic circles where I would be better accepted of if I were a current child molester (and that isn’t exaggeration) and I live deep in the heart of the Bible Belt.

    Be careful that you do not fall into the trap of “I’ve never had trouble with hounding me” when you *agree* with that stance. Your not going to get accosted for agreeing with people – try going to a rally wearing a shirt with the opposite slogan, don’t say anything, do not argue, just wear the shirt and walk around (this goes for *any* strongly held belief system). Turns out that leftist, Atheist, or whatever belief, you have do not have the lock on being really nice and accepting – they are just as violent and intolerant as most other groups. Of course, feel free to think that everyone else is intolerant and you dislike them (in some tolerant way, of course).

  24. a guy in pajamas Says:

    This IS offensive. The only reason it was done was to offend. Lee, it has nothing to do with idolatry; it is as simple as someone calling you a POS because you’re a Christian. When you say, but why should the “symbol” have more rights and protection under the law than the “citizens” it symbolizes, I just have to ask, what does the law have to do with it? No one is suggesting it be banned. It certainly shouldn’t be.

    Being offended isn’t a weakness. I don’t get offended and get all weepy. I don’t even really care that much about this topic.

    The inability to be offended is the result of desensitization, not open-mindedness. Desensitization is needed to turn normal people into whatever — killers, prostitutes, anything you want, anything you can use but can’t have a conscience for.

    Whatever. It’s just because of Easter.

  25. Lee Says:

    Guess the flag thing was just a bad analogy. Just trying to equate the “symbolism” people put on “things”. Not saying there aren’t things to speak out about, even with outrage(as many of my own previous comments attest). In my mind, this isn’t one of them. As He said(to paraphrase): “He knows not what he does.”. But now, they(the left) have more evidence of the “theocracy suppressing expression”, etc. ad nauseum ad infinitum. I guess I’ll save my outrage and resistance for when they REALLY try to suppress belief, rather than when they’re trying to goad me into lame reasons to JUSTIFY it.

  26. sean Says:

    It doesn’t matter how we react. The MSM will portray it the way they need to. They don’t need fodder. So why not react in an honest and natural way and let them think what they will. I will no let them determine how I think. Screw them.

  27. JD in Oslo Says:

    heritage.orgDoes our culture have a problem? You bet. And Evan Sayet explains it well in his lecture at The Heritage Foundation:
    Quite apart from this, I enjoy the new layout and to me your blog is a ‘daily must read’! Best regards, JD in Oslo

  28. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    Badger, your point is taken and partly agreed with. There is some element of being extra careful with offending the sentiments of the less powerful that is part of politeness. I am not sure it can or should be reflected in law, as definition is impossible.

    As to hate crime against Christians I immediately thought of the high school prayer group in KY that was shot. I imagine a little homework might turn up some other examples, but I shan’t bother – I’m sure you take the point that anti-Christian crime is often a part of something else that gets more attention.

    As to Muslim persecution, I don’t know much of anything. I do know personally that one of the most nationally prominent cases of supposed anti-Muslim attack was actually committed by a schizophrenic whose delusions on the matter were unrelated to the victim’s religion or ethnic origin.

    We are far afield from the OP, perhaps as it should be. It’s a yawner of art trying to be transgressive. It takes a lot of education and practice to overlook the obvious silliness of a piece and take it seriously, doesn’t it?

  29. TalkinKamel Says:

    I think we’re veering too far away from the points Neo brought up, which essentially, were:

    1. Why are Islamic sensibilities handled with kid gloves, whereas Christianity is consistently mocked and satirized—and Christians are lectured about freedom of speech, if they object?

    2. What has happened to modern art? Does it really have any value if all it seeks to do is shock, and offend?

    As for point #1. . . I really don’t buy the hate crimes argument. After 9/11, Americans didn’t rampage through the streets, attacking Moslems; in fact, America, as a society, has bent over backwards trying to be tolerant of Islam, to the point where, in the case of the “Non-flying imams”,” Moslems who created a disturbance on a plane feel justified in suing the John Doe Passengers who, quite rightly, in my opinion, reported them.

    More Moslem lives were probably lost in the riots that followed the false reports of a Koran being flushed down the toilet, so, no, this obsessive concern with Islamic sensitivities can’t be just about preserving Moslems’ safety, as it soemtimes leads to the opposite result.

    The idea that we must be very, very sensitive towards Moslems, because otherwise hordes of Neanderthal-Americans will massacre them is a calumny against the American people. And as for hate crimes—it’s Jews, not Moslems, who’ve reported a big, worldwide surge in that since 9/11, but I’ve yet to hear anyone on the Left say we should tone down our criticisms of Israel and “Neo-cons” because of this. If anything, anti-semetism is now, alas, going mainstream. So is anti-Christianism, as witness the ongoing comparison of evangelicals with the Taliban, and the insulting term, “Christianista.”

    Of course, as has been pointed out by others, Christians don’t riot or behead those who offend them, or issue death sentences for authors/artists who get out of line, and that might be the answer right there. To reiterate—-what do you think would have been the reaction, not only of Moslems, but from the Left, and media elite, if somebody had done a full-frontal nude chocolate Mohammed? Would they be lecturing us about how we need to allow freedom of speech, even if it offends? Or would they be lecturing us about our lack of sensitivity to Islam?

    As for modern art, that’s too big a point to bring up right here, but Neo’s raised some very good questions about it.

  30. James Townsend Says:

    A few words of context:

    In the northeast corner of Spain is the region of Catalonia, with a history that goes back a thousand years. It has its own language (Catalan) and many unusual traditions.

    One of these is that godfathers give their god-children a pastry or ‘mona’ on Easter Monday. This pastry can be of several kinds, one of them being a chocolate sculpture.  These chocolate sculptures are often of famous personalities such as football stars, politicians, celebrities or any person or object that happens to be in the news at the time. They are an ironic comment on current events and are as much addressed to children as to adults. Famous pastry chefs compete to see who can make the biggest or funniest or most outrageous mona, which are then shown on television and appear in newspapers. It’s a harmless habit that comes around once a year, and Catalans look forward to and appreciate it.

    Cosimo Cavallero’s work “My Sweet Lord”, should be seen as an appropriation of this Easter custom, and fits into the long tradition of anti-clericalism that has held sway in Catalonia since the 19th century. My great-great grandfather, Francesc Sunyer i Capdevila, was deputy to parliament in Spain’s First Republic (1873-74), and was known in Catalonia as ‘Banyetes’, or the ‘little-horned one,’ because of his deeply held anti-clerical beliefs.

    I can assure you that there is no other explanation for Cavallero’s artwork. Any resort to questions of ‘where is art going?’ or the crumbling of our civilization is silly and ill-informed.  It is this healthy sceptical attitude that must be defended and encouraged in the face of Islamic fundamentalism with its deadly abhorrence to any critical analysis. We should not despair of it but welcome it.

  31. colagirl Says:

    It’s very difficult for me to read about things like this, or like “Sensation” or even “P*** Christ” without coming to the conclusion that modern “art” is largely a scam, perpetrated by a bunch of narcissistic, pseudo-original, wannabe-shocking, self-indulgent elitist posers. I mean, compare and contrast a couple of the exhibits you mentioned, neo, “A Thousand Years” or “This Little Piggy” to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Simply in terms of the skill and time required, one of these things is not like the other.

    Maybe part of the problem is, the importance of the representational aspect of art (i.e. sketches or paintings being the only means of recording the world around us) has largely declined with the advent of photography and video recording. A cell phone camera can do what art *used* to do (i.e. capture and record the world), and do it better, quicker, faster, and with much less skill required. So with the importance of realism gone, what’s left? Apparently, vapid “political” commentary and attempts to be pseudo-”shocking.”

    Should the government ban these things? No, of course not. But I would hope that citizens would “vote with their feet” and stay away from the exhibits of these attention-seekers. If no one goes to their shows, maybe they’ll finally get the message.

    And James Townsend, thanks for your explanation of “My Sweet Lord”–that was very informative and helps to place the sculpture in context. However, I think that the other exhibits neo raises in the course of her article, as well as some of the other stuff I have seen masquerading as art (one in particular that *I* remember seeing–I can’t remember the name of it right now unfortunately–featured a bunch of neatly dressed department-store mannequins with male and female genitalia in place of their noses and mouths; then there was another one called, I think, “Gnaw,” that was simply a large block of chocolate that had been chewed by the “artist” into a rectangular shape) do a very good job on their own of raising the question “where is art going?” without the example of “My Sweet Lord.”

    What I am wondering now, is, where *is* the art of today? What artworks today are being produced that will stand the test of time? I’m sure there are some, but I don’t know where to look to find them. Does anyone have any ideas?

  32. TalkinKamel Says:

    James Townsend, is the artist Catalonian? Has he stated anywhere that he is celebrating an old Easter Custom with this work?

    If he hasn’t, then, sorry, I think it’s still possible that there are many other reasons behind his chocolate Christ, including a desire to shock, and gain attention—not just celebrate a quaint old Spanish custom, which, to be blunt, most of us haven’t heard of.

    And, I must ask once again; you celebrate the artist’s alleged anti-clericalism; would you celebrate such anti-clericalism if it were, say, directed against Islamic imams—say, little marshmallow Easter peep imams, or a nude, peanut-butter fluff Mohammed, just in time for Ramadan?

    And I see no reason why we shouldn’t discuss where art is going, especially in light of the recent Mo-Toon riots, or the fatwas placed on the heads of various writers. Aren’t such discussions the heart of real freedom of speech?

  33. TalkinKamel Says:

    And sorry, colagirl, I don’t where the real art of today is being produced, or where we can find it—except that I don’t it’s being created by “trendy”, “cutting-edge” artists, supposedly pushing the envelope, or being exhibited in posh New York/L.A. galleries.

    I suspect we may have to look more at a folk/grass-roots art, or maybe see what’s happening in the commerical, comic book, illustration community.

  34. colagirl Says:

    TK–Yeah, my fiance is heavily into comics and used to run a blog about them. He keeps trying to get me interested….There’s apparently some really interesting and beautiful stuff done by some of the artists out there, but I don’t know if it strictly qualifies as *visual* art because it’s tied up with the text.

    Actually I wanted to address another point–either in neo’s original post or in one of the articles she linked (can’t remember which right off the top of my head)–the idea surfaced that art was supposed to “make you think.” Maybe that’s *part* of the job of art, but isn’t art equally supposed to inspire? to be uplifting, even transcendental? to sort of capture the spark of the divine (however you choose to interpret “divine.”) I just can’t see “This Little Piggy” as being inspirational to anyone….

  35. TalkinKamel Says:

    . . . And I can’t see “This Little Piggy” making anybody think much, either. What is one supposed to think about? Dead pigs are gross. In fact death is gross. Everything’s gross. Deal with it. Big whopp-tee-do.

    The problem with art that’s supposed to make you “think” (weren’t you able to do that already?) is that it really isn’t entering into a dialogue with the viewer—it’s stating the artist’s view of something, and demanding the viewer agree with it, whether it’s a protest piece about the Iraq war, “This Little Piggy”, a chocolate Jesus, a Virgin Mary made of dung, etc.

    One of the many bad things about Marxist influence in our society is that all too often it reduces such things as art, education, film, fiction to brainwashing/educate the masses vehicles: “Now I, the all-wise artist, shall show you what I think of Jesus, or Death, or American society. And if you do not appreciate my art, if, in fact, you are a Philistine, without understanding.” the very fact that Islam, which, like it or not, is an important force in the modern world, is considered off-limits as far as questioning, criticsim or research goes (remember Theo Van Gogh?) shows that what’s going on in the art world right now really isn’t a desire to explore ideas, or induce thought.

    As for comics—my own take on them is that they’re morphing into a hybrid of visual/written art, which might be very interesting to watch as they evolve. The movies, after all, began as crude, black-and-white “flickers”.

  36. JSPS Says:

    The intent of the display was to generate exactly the controversy that it did. The artists get free publicity and praise from the easily impressed for being so “brave.”

    But in actual fact it is not brave or daring at all. They know full well that other than some letters and phone calls they face no real threat. They are like a bully on the playground that picks on someone that they know will not fight back.

    They are in no danger from outraged Christians.

    If, however, they were to do the same thing with a Muslim subject, say a chocolate sculpture of Muhammad consummating his marriage to his child bride, they would be in very real danger. For that reason, and not any supposed respect for Islam, they will never do that.

    The idea is publicity and they don’t care who they offend as long as they can be sure that they will not face any real danger.

    It’s junior high school level behavior. But, unfortunately, that is the level that the “artistic community” operates at.

  37. douglas Says:

    “but isn’t art equally supposed to inspire? to be uplifting, even transcendental? to sort of capture the spark of the divine (however you choose to interpret “divine.”) I just can’t see “This Little Piggy” as being inspirational to anyone….”

    Well, to be fair, it might be inpirational to a not too dedicated carnivore to go veggie. Other than that- I agree. I’d say that true art requires depth of some kind- somehow reaches into our being and not just our senses. It may not be uplifting- it may be quite a downer, but it must have depth. One element missing from much modern art is that the more recent practictioners of that genre of art have no mastery of technique, no respect for the traditions and technical craft of the art- it’s all ivory tower navel gazing in mixed media. I’m not much of a fan of cubism, although I think it was art and had value, and so noy real big on Picasso- but when I visited a little, rather unimpressive museum of his work in Luzern, Switzerland, I was struck by his early sketches and drawings. Clearly, he had the craft and talent to do traditional art, but found cubism instead. That’s why his work was so much better than so much modern art- there’s no craft, and not even much respect for it. It ends up descending into being pseudo-intellectual one-liners. I won’t be going to the show here in L.A. at Geffen Contemporary at MOCA- “Wack! Art and the feminist revolution” because so called feminist Art is about the best example I can think of for the schlocky one-liners, which are utterly devoid of craft.

    It is heartening to know that many art schools today are seeing some resugence in an interest in the value of craft, and are actually turning out artists who will do figurative art.

    Browsing around, I caught this quote at a Walker Art Center web page- “The elements of art, while still present at times, are often not adequate to understanding the meaning of contemporary art.” If you parse it, a rather strange statement, taken quite seriously by far too many artists, and a nice summation of the problem.

  38. Austin Bay Blog » Sensation for Senation’s Sake Says:

    [...] thoughtful post at neoneocon (what else is [...]

  39. lordsomber Says:

    “Épater le Bourgeois” est bourgeois.

  40. colagirl Says:

    Very well put, douglas. I agree with everything you’re saying, especially about the lack of mastery of craft in modern “art.” It’s one thing, I think, to spend the time it takes to gain a true mastery of the rules, disciplines, limitations and technical aspect of the craft and then deliberately choose to disregard it; it’s another never to spend the time developing the proficiency in the first place.

    And I totally agree that some great art can be a real downer, but even so it reaches into your soul and touches you–as you say, it has depth. “Gnaw?” Not so much.

  41. Dennis Says:

    Nice discussion here, and nice to read about the art world in the politico-current event blog arena, even with this circumstance.

    The objective of such an art form is to get a rise out of the audience and continue the leveling process of erasing distinctions of all kinds. The latter is self destructive and hypocritical, the misuse of a tool the way Socrates misled the youth of Athens.

    My take is that this agit-prop art is an faded echo of the revolution of the flowering of modernity (Einstein, Picasso, et al), kind of like how television snow is an echo of the big bang… just as notable and just as fluffy. However repellent it is to witness how some of our artists gnaw on the hand that feeds us, the best response is to yawn and change the channel.

    Those who are conservative have -by and large- abdicated and surrendered the authority of the creative-arts dimension of life to the left side of the spectrum. Perhaps the left rightly owns this terrritory because the creative impulse begins with a destructive one: the need to overturn a previously held mindset to imagine the next one, something naturally alien to a conserving mindset.

    Likewise, the conservative mindset has an anchor in their unalloyed appreciation of the anti-tyrannical aspect of the constitution and it is a lack of such an anchor that provokes an association of the word “looney” with the name “left”. Regardless if you agree or disagree with this formulation, the right cannot claim much influence on the activity within an artworld that it doesn’t participate in… in terms of purchases. Start collecting art, and your critique will have some teeth to it.

  42. Andrew Zalotocky Says:

    A work that has no purpose other than to cause offence is not art. Art does not have to be beautiful, but to be worthy of the name it does have to communicate something. That might be a religious or political message, or some other insight into the human experience (and depictions of the natural world fall into the latter category, as they address our relationship with it and reactions to it).

    A work that seeks only to shock is a publicity stunt. It exists only to attract attention, because it is incapable of anything else. It is therefore a form of advertising, and the “artist” is the product being sold.

    So the real problem with modern art is that many artists have succumbed to the lure of celebrity. A show like “Sensation” isn’t an art exhibition at all, but a media event. The artists compete to see who can shock the most because they are competing for media attention. The media makes them famous and posing as dangerous radicals makes them fashionable, which in turn makes them rich.

  43. douglas Says:

    As for responses to such “art”- I agree with several posters that, personally, the best response is a yawn and on to the next work in the gallery. To extend that to the socio-political level is misguided, I think. If whole groups, who are made the target of such drivel, consistantly turn the other cheek, they will start to become victims of the ‘repeat the lie enough times and it is made truth’ attack. You can’t allow that, and I believe it was right for Christians to pressure the Hotel (a business, after all) to remove the offending display. The issue was not the impact of the art itself (in a closet, it has no impact at all), it’s that the hotel was going to give it a venue and thus support the message of the artwork (if even only by inference). It’s not censorship at all. Some private gallery in NYC can go ahead and show it, no one will care. Then we’ll all just yawn.

  44. saintknowitall Says:

    Proof that art which is “sponsored” by public money is probably not really “art”.

  45. douglas Says:

    Hmm, that could be a good discussion- the positive effect of capitalism on art…

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  47. Van Gogh And Christian Art Says:


    I don’t agree with you in 100%, but you covered some good points regarding this topic…

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