Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Blasphemy as "Art"

Nobody should be surprised.

But don't say, "That's just how Loveland is." The art was created by a resident of San Francisco, California, loaned to the museum by a resident of Lyons, Colorado, and destroyed by a resident of Montana.

Loveland has been branding itself for several years now as an art hub. Artists come from all over the nation - no, world - to exhibit at its annual sculpture shows, and the city hosts several sculpture gardens, art galleries, an opera company, and other displays of fine art.

The Loveland Museum/Gallery opened a new exhibit this week, called "The Legend of Bud Shark and his Indelible Ink." Part of the exhibit was a series of small panels created by Enrique Chagoya, an artist and professor at Stanford University, entitled "The Misadventures of the Royal Cannibals." One of these small panels was a collage of images from comic books and other sources, assembled to show an image of Jesus Christ engaged in a sexual act.

(Some people actually insisted that that's not what the picture was about. Images of the artwork are available online, so you can look at it and judge for yourself. You know, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.)

Many people, including the artist, do not understand the furor the picture has caused. "It's such a small picture," they say, "not much bigger than a postcard, in a much larger exhibit." The comparatively miniscule size of the image does not excuse its obscene and offensive nature. Besides, it's disingenuous to call it "such a small picture" and a relatively insignificant part of the exhibit when it is, or was, valued at $3400.

(Ironically, these same defenders ignore the fact that the "much larger exhibit" includes pictures collected from Mexican pornography, among other sources, according to the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald.)

Again, many people, including the artist, do not understand why the picture caused such a furor in Loveland, when it has been exhibited in so many other towns and cities without any similar reaction. They say this as if Loveland were an aberration that needs to be corrected. I can think of a couple of other reasons for the way the citizens of Loveland reacted. First, maybe Loveland is the first city where anyone looked closely at the artwork. Second, maybe Loveland is the first city the artwork has been displayed where the people have standards, and where people cared enough to speak out in public about it and say what should have been said all along.

The artist also defends his work by saying that it was his response to the recent sex scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. and elsewhere. That's poor justification, if justification at all, for creating this piece and exhibiting it anywhere.

All of these attempts to excuse or justify the obscenity do not change the fact that it's still obscenity. It's not the kind of thing you'd want your grandmother to catch you looking at. You can find this same kind of "art" at the 7-Eleven, but it's in magazines kept behind the counter, and even the magazines' front covers are hidden. You can find this same kind of "art" on cable TV, but it's on the pay channels. It's free on the Internet, but let's not even go there.

To be brutally honest, it's more than obscenity. It's blasphemy - go look up the definition. It offends the sensibilities of the community at large, and if it were brought to a public vote, I'm sure that the vast majority of the city of Loveland would vote to ban it from public display - especially in a public gallery, supported by tax dollars.

Yesterday's act of vandalism makes that moot, however. A woman from Kalispell, Montana, took a crowbar to the display case, ripped out the offending panel and tore it to pieces. A witness heard her cry, "How can you desecrate my Lord?" while she did it. She was arrested without resisting and hauled off to jail.

What she did violated the law, and she will be tried and punished according to the law. But it also took a lot of courage and personal conviction. It was the right thing to do, and nobody else would do it.

In a sense, the artist, the art's owner, the museum and the Loveland city council should consider themselves lucky. In 2005, Danish cartoonists drew some cartoons poking fun at the prophet Mohammed. The cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted in periodicals in 50 other countries. While many non-Muslims deplored the cartoons as blasphemous to people of the Muslim faith, Muslims did more than just deplore the cartoons: they rioted in cities all over the world, they attacked and set fire to Danish embassies in Muslim nations, they threatened American troops in Muslim countries (as if they had anything to do with it), they issued fatwas and death threats against the artists, and they boycotted Danish exports. Oh, and they actually tried to kill the cartoonists and bomb newspaper offices in several European cities.

And by "they" I don't mean "a small handful of them." Hundreds of Muslims participated in these activities.

Compare that reaction to this one. Here in small town USA, in a very Christian town in what is still a Christian nation, when an act of unimstakable blasphemy is commited against Christians, one lone disciple of the Prince of Peace defended His honor when nobody else did, by destroying the offending piece of artwork and then submitting herself meekly to the authorities.

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