Monday, September 20, 2010

Art and Religious Blasphemy

Art and Religious Blasphemy

I feel compelled to write about the issue of art and religious blasphemy. This is due to a few articles on this subject that I’ve read recently-- as well as recent buzz in the news. I’m not going to target any specific religion or artist-- I’m simply going to offer some food for thought.

The contradictions surrounding what certain individuals will accept as meaningful visual criticism of a religion tends to interest me. I find it curious how quick some individuals will rush to the defense of a religion when an artist chooses to create offensive imagery involving religious leaders or symbols of faith of a specific religion-- while at the same time accepting similar behavior if another religion is involved. It sends the message that religious prejudice is acceptable depending on which religion is targeted.

Those whom reveal this contradiction will often rant about how sometimes it is best to not create or exhibit something offensive to a specific population. They will suggest that just because it is protected by the First Amendment in the United States does not mean it is open season for visual religious criticism. However, when another religion is the focus of a controversial artwork or art exhibit these same individuals are apt to lash out at anyone who is critical of said art or exhibit.

One has to ask why Religion A is protected by art world critics, curators, and art dealers while Religion B is viewed as a jolly good show of artistic expression and freedom. Furthermore, if mainstream gallerists avoid controversial art involving Religion A one must ask why they support similar works involving Religion B. Does it break down to political views? Perhaps it is due to stances on key social issues? Your guess is as good as mine.

That said, I find it amusing that anyone critical of artwork involving a specific religion will turn around and grandstand in support of artwork that shows clear prejudice, resentment, and in some cases pure hate for another religion. It is even more laughable when said religions have very similar ideology-- yet one is defended by art world gatekeepers while the other is routinely mocked. I suppose accepted religious prejudice within the art world is the status quo depending on which religion is involved.

It is interesting how individuals focused on the mainstream art world will suggest that artwork or exhibits involving the mockery of Religion A are “politically motivated” and “tacitly” supported by the extreme of one political party or the other-- while at the same time clearly accepting exhibits involving the mockery of Religion B. If political motivation and the extremes of political parties is the issue how are works involving Religion B-- which, for example, may end up praised in mainstream art galleries-- any less politically inclined than works involving the mockery of Religion A? My point-- sometimes you have to read between the lines to observe what people are truly defending-- often their noble grandstanding boils down to their own prejudice.

Personally I feel that most visual art that is critical of a specific religion amounts to nothing more than pure kitsch. I find works of this nature boring because said works often fail to establish a serious dialogue concerning the subject. I automatically assume that the artist or curator is simply hoping to create Internet buzz by exhibiting controversial art for the sake of controversy-- knowing in advance that they are going to infuriate a large portion of the population depending on which religion is placed under the scope.

I do wish that certain art writers-- especially in the blogging community-- would consider their past statements when defending one religion over the other as far as the First Amendment is concerned. I just find it odd that they uphold the sacred for some while accepting the mockery of others based on beliefs. After all, how can one visual exploration of a specific religion be called "liberating" while another involving a different religion is labeled as "hateful". One has to ask if another form of prejudice is involved due to these choices of what is supported.

In closing, I’d like to think that there is more to art than just pissing people off. Furthermore, if an artist desires to get under the skin I think there are more intellectual ways to achieve that end. Art involving religious blasphemy in general is not going to go away in the United States. Thus, I will just continue to enjoy the contradictions of art critics, art dealers, and others when these issues arise.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


  1. Brian you are correct. It seems to be ok in the art world to be rude to Christians and Judaism, but not ok to do a piece of artwork that is critical of Islam. I don't get it. I think it comes down to politics and world view. The art world sees the judeo/christian religion as oppressivie and deserving of criticism, but Islam is a victim, and it's not ok to be critical of the victim. It's a world view that is wacky and hypocritical. I also agree that it is only done for publicity and it's a waste of time. I see art as a way to enrich a person's life. To make their home, or office or whatever more beautiful, or to envoke a emotion--something that when someone looks at it they feel something. I dont understand art that hurts people or that is done to purposely offend.

  2. The fact that I used "Religion A" and "Religion B" as my examples-- and you mentioned Christianity and Islam reveals the relevance that this debate has in our society.

    I do find it odd that people lash out at specific works of art as being part of some extreme political party conspiracy-- while at the same time being mute on some of the political extremes that are obviously dominate and embraced within the mainstream art world.

    I don't think the mainstream art world should embrace one extreme-- it should be about displaying a balance of opinions. When that happens the public will be more apt to embrace art in general. The problem is that most people tend to think in extremes instead of considering other viewpoints.

    Sometimes I think an exhibit involving positive depictions of Christ would be the most controversial exhibit in over a decade if it were to happen in the heart of New York's gallery scene. lol

  3. Furthermore, I think the challenge of art-- specifically art appreciation-- is to view works of art that don’t always follow on the same path as your personal opinions. Unfortunately, I think that most people seek easy art-- art that they can easily accept and appreciate simply because it falls in line of what they already agree with.

    It never surprises me when someone knocks a work of art that clearly involved great skill simply because it goes against the grain of their opinions. All of the sudden the artwork is “mediocre” simply because the viewer does not share the artists views.

    It is that kind of attitude that has limited the reach of art appreciation within the United States. The fact remains that on any one issue there could be half of the population who is in opposition of something that you support-- does that mean you should write them off as being unimportant? I’d hope not.

    That would mean the total breakdown of communication-- and sadly it happens often within the mainstream art world. Brilliant men and women are reduced to petty name-calling and juvenile remarks. It happens due to closed-minds from all sides of the political spectrum.

  4. I agree. The current political climate is polarizing, and immature. We name call instead of discussing the issues. Everyone is looking at things from left or right and not realizing that maybe both is corrupt and wrong. I can appriciate a peice of art I may not agree with. I can appriciate the beauty and work that went into a peice and not personaly like it or want it in my home. I find though that the work I do is often critizied as easy or not really art. Currently I am working in glass. (I am going to post some pictures soon.) I cut the glass by hand every peice of glass in my work is cut, and grinded and glued and grouted by hand. It's hard especially with my illness. But since I work in bright happy colors, mostly flowers and wildlife, "art" people tend to look at it as a craft or not really art. It frustrates me greatly because I see a peice I have worked on for a month as art as much as a painting. The art world is a very fickle place! It is often filled with predjuduce and inconsistancy's. Most of which I don't understand.