Friday, January 07, 2011

Intentional Offense, Beautiful Offense

PhD Candidate in art history, Matthew Milliner wrote in a recent Huffington Post article about the arbitrariness of becoming offended by artworks such as Serrano's Piss Christ (1987, pictured here), Ofili's The Holy Virgin Mary (1999), or, more recently, David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in my Belly video, a section of which shows ants crawling across a crucifix.  Each of these works presents a Christian symbol "defaced" in some way--the first and third examples use a crucifix as their subject matter. Wojnarowicz's work was recently removed from the Smithsonian after protests about its offensive nature.  Such art censorship has occurred over the years, most recently championed by the "religious right" in American politics. 

The most striking observation that Milliner makes, however, is that there is no need to dip the cross in urine or cover it with ants or dung to make a point.  The cross is innately offensive, and should be, to believers and atheists alike.  He writes, "The cross, at least according to St. Paul (1 Corinthians 1:23), is already an intentional offense, and nothing done to it by artists can make it any more horrifying than it already, quite intentionally is: The most hideous of spectacles, a hole impossibly black, absorbing every awful deed committed and every good one left undone."  When many American Christians are asked to define Christian art, first responses are usually closer to a poster of "Footprints" or a cottage by Kinkade, than "a hole impossibly black."  As Children of the Cross, however, we are invited to embrace this beautiful offense and become new creations ourselves.   Those who call themselves Christian artists are commissioned with the perilous task of revealing this offense that the Beauty might follow.