Several months ago a good friend of mine visited a small art gallery in Melbourne. At first he enjoyed himself until he entered one of the exhibit rooms – on display was a large steel-cast crucifix with a topless woman wearing a crown of thorns. He was so offended he left the gallery in disgust.
Now, one wonders why did the artist create this ‘artwork’ and what was it trying to say? Many, especially un-Christian, things may come to mind but it can be concluded the artist’s goal was to offend and shock – which seems evident by my friend’s reaction.
But why should art be used as a means for blasphemy? And why does this continue happen?
Unfortunately there are many examples of art promoting sacrilege of which I choose not to mention. What I do find interesting are the double standards in our modern societies where it is considered ‘okay’ to mock Christianity and even be so bold to depict Christ as in the present case.
As Christians I do not want to encourage hatred or spite towards other religions or people. No religion should be ridiculed. However, there appears to be a general consensus in society that if you portray any non-Christian religion in art (ie. Dutch cartoons of Mohammed) you are considered a ‘bigot’, ‘intolerant’, ‘narrow-minded’ etc – but when you capture Christianity in a highly offensive or disrespectful manner, hence blasphemous, it is tolerated. For example, in one of Melbourne’s alleyways there is a spray-painted Nativity scene where all the faces, include the infant Christ, are depicted with sinister dark-shadow faces. It has been there for a couple of years and no-one has painted over it or posted bills – it has become a ‘respected’ work of art!
Why is this the case? From my point of view, I think it is for several possible reasons:
- the child sex-abuse cover-ups involving clergy;
- such artworks generate controversy and publicity for the artist accelerating their reputation in a crowded creative community;
- abuse of ‘free speech and expression’;
- Christianity is a major ‘institution’ which can be scrutinised like a corporation; and
- Living in a commercialised, secular world means it is unlikely you will be punished for committing sacrilege.
But why should any of these reasons be used as excuses? Why should the perfection and divinity of God be mocked and abused due to the corruption of men?
As for free speech and expression this is a right that has been severely twisted and manipulated. In Australia we do not have an express list of human rights but a number of implied rights, including freedom of press and religion, in our Constitution and Westminster system of government. However, the freedom to speech and expression is to some degree limited based on the maxim that it cannot offend, excite hatred or discriminate against others. But when it does happen against us it is tolerated.
The ONLY people who are allowed to depict God and His saints are iconographers. They include monks, nuns and pious laypeople/artists who have a calling from God and a burning desire to make icons. They must undergo intensive spiritual training to begin a life of iconography. This is no ordinary task as the person must be prepared spiritually before starting any icon. Furthermore, iconographers who are not monks or nuns dress and live as ordinary people, but have been granted the greatest honour to fill our churches, homes and lives with divine images.
Since not anyone can depict God what makes a rebel ‘artist’ think they know better than a blessed iconographer?