December 13, 2010

The "ants on Jesus" video isn't blasphemy — it belongs in the tradition of Christian art.

S. Brent Plate explains. Excerpt:
Christianity itself has produced some of the most gruesome images of tortured, dying, suffering, and dead bodies, especially Jesus's own body. From Latin American Roman Catholic piety to German Protestantism, the dead and dying Jesus is a point of power, passion, and ultimately compassion. Take, for example, Matthias Grünewald's Small Crucifixion (early 16th century) in the publicly funded National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. ... mangled limbs, pocked skin oozing pus and blood.

That Christ on the cross is actually dead, and the body so dead that ants might eat it, is both the most orthodox Christian statement, and the most scandalous. But here is where the power of words and images begin to show their differences.

In Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot, the character Ippolit kills himself. In his suicide note he meditates on a reproduction of a 16th century painting by Hans Holbein, The Dead Christ:
The picture seems to give expression to the idea of a dark, insolent, and senselessly eternal power, to which everything is subordinated, and this idea is suggested to you unconsciously. The people surrounding the dead man, none of whom is shown in the picture, must have been overwhelmed by a feeling of terrible anguish and dismay on that evening which had shattered all their hopes and almost all their beliefs at one fell blow. They must have parted in a state of the most dreadful terror, though each of them carried away within him a mighty thought which could never be wrested from him. And if, on the eve of the crucifixion, the Master could have seen what He would look like when taken from the cross, would he have mounted the cross and died as he did?
Holbein's is an image, as Prince Myshkin says in Dostoyevsky's story, that could make one lose one's faith.... And yet, the image offers a profound meditation on the power of death, that "dark insolent, and senselessly eternal power." The picture becomes, like so many before and after, a point of great healing, compassion, and understanding about this central, paradoxical thing that Christians hold dear: Incarnation.
The artist who made the ants-on-Jesus video — which is really called "A Fire in My Belly" — was David Wojnarowicz. He died of AIDS in 1992, only 4 years older than Jesus was at the time of crucifixion.

IN THE COMMENTS: Tyrone Slothrop said..
It's the anty Christ.

95 comments:

Juba Doobai! said...

S. Brent Plate needs to get his Christian theology straight. Ants on the body is sign of corruption. Here's what the Bible says: God did not suffer His Holy One to see corruption IOW, there would have been no ants because though the holy sacrificial Lamb of God did lay down His life for us, His body did not rot. That is the point of the empty tomb. Not corruption. Resurrection.

Methadras said...

Why do intellectuals presume to overthink the simplest of things? Is the S in Brent Plate's name stand for Stupid? Is he even a Christian being a prof. of religious studies?

It's blasphemy because it shows Christs body being defiled after his death. It wasn't. In fact, during his crucifixion Christ body healed Longinus. Don't tell me the ants belong on Jesus.

Bob_R said...

Pull the other one. It's got bells on.

rhhardin said...

Ants are tireless.

Fen said...

Why do our artists suck so much?

Ann Althouse said...

"Ants on the body is sign of corruption."

Really? Ants crawl on you even when you're alive.

And what do you think of the Grünewald and the Holbein?

It seems to me that it's within the Christian tradition to depict the physical humiliation of Jesus.

HDHouse said...

Juba....not. There are half a dozen references to ants (perhaps) in the bible and the one cited isn't one of them.

If you don't like the explanation of the work then don't look at it. if you are too stupid to take the explantion of the work as what the intent was or at face value well so be it.

the responses so far are pretty demonstative of closed minds and are both snarky and silly.

ricpic said...

Looks to me as though Wajnorowicz basically stole his images from the Mexican Day of The Dead portrayal of Christ. I doubt what he did is blasphemous, just highly derivative.

Joseph said...

There is a difference between a picture of Christ covered with ants and a picture of a crucifix covered with ants.

A picture of Christ covered with ants, could, I agree, be considered as part of the long history of depicting the suffering of Christ. A crucifix is a Catholic icon which comes across as an attack on the Catholic Church.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Yes, of course making the gruesomeness of Jesus' death plain is central to Christian art. I just don't quite believe that that's what Wojnarowicz was up to, having read an essay or two of his. Whether he loved God, I leave to God; but that he hated the actual, existing body of Christian believers as passionately as any atheist is a matter of record.

It's an interesting conundrum, really: If the central image of a religion is one of humiliation, mutilation, mortification, how do you interpret someone deliberately doing further damage to the image — dipping it in urine, covering it with insects, whatever?

It seems to me that you can't interpret it at all without knowing more. If someone, say, took a life-size wooden crucifix and videotaped himself attacking it with a chainsaw (which would certainly qualify as "art" in some circles), it might be an act of piety of the same sort in which the congregation in the Bach Passion settings has to sing all the demands for Christ to be crucified; but I'm afraid it's much more likely to be a plain act of spite, directed at Christians rather than Christ.

tim maguire said...

I don't like it because it is trite, boring and cowardly while pretending to be daring, edgy and innovative.

The above posters are right when they suggest Plate should brush up on his theology before writing about theology.

MadisonMan said...

You should link to the picture of the ant on the rodent's eye that you posted -- 3 years ago? 4? Or was it a bird?

I couldn't find it in the archives.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

HDHouse,

if you are too stupid to take the explantion of the work as what the intent was or at face value well so be it.

Well, words fail. (Or, rather, they don't, but they are mostly not suitable for a family blog.)

I promise, though, that the next time someone offers me an explantion, I will not be so stupid as not to take it.

Bender said...

JD - "Ants on the body is sign of corruption."

Althouse - Really? Ants crawl on you even when you're alive.

Plate - the body so dead that ants might eat it


By his own words, Plate is NOT speaking of ants crawling on a live, albeit dying person. He is speaking of insects crawling on and eating a dead body, that is, a body undergoing corruption.

It is a statement that, rather than Christ destroying death by His Resurrection, death destroyed Christ, death destroyed God. By Plate's take on it, he necessarily says that death, i.e. evil wins and God loses. It is the highest of, at best, ignorance, and at worst heresy and blasphemy.

HDHouse said...

@michelle...

if someone asks "what's this about" and you get an answer from a good source either take the explanation or discard it. the point made was just don't discard it out of hand because it doesn't agree with your world view...discard it because you have a better explanation or understanding. otherwise it makes no sense.

Chef Mojo said...

I'm with Tim Maguire on this:

trite, boring and cowardly while pretending to be daring, edgy and innovative.

Really, I would hope my tax dollars are being spent on something less shallow and derivative. Just because a fool calls it art doesn't mean it is. This is simply an example of illustrated propaganda and an advertisement for the so-called artist's limitations in terms of artistic aptitude and imagination. The work is highly unoriginal, shoddily derivative and incredibly tedious. That the Smithsonian would sponsor drivel like this is indicative of how far they've fallen in terms of standards.

Oh, dear! the "artist" died of AIDS! Well, boo-fuckin'-hoo. Sentimentality is not art.

Coketown said...

In high school, a friend of mine had a mural he'd painted of Christ in hell. He was ticked off because I wasn't terribly offended by it, and he wanted to know why. I explained that Christ's descent into hell is a pillar of Catholic thought and therefore isn't particularly blasphemous. He took it down a few days later.

The point is that Plate is using a baseless mode of criticism by putting the ants-on-Christ piece in the same school and other depictions of Christ's humiliation. Put in a church, I doubt anybody would be offended by Christ covered in ants; it would be a mere interpretation of Christ's physical torment. But we all know the artist did not intend this piece to stand alongside similar pieces in the more grotesque strains of traditional Christian art. My sense is that he was one of those artists who thinks it is vanity to look for meaning in art. He intended it to be shocking.

I'm a Christian and don't find it very shocking. From a religious point of view it's actually very moving. But the controversy here stems from everyone trying to explain what it does and does not mean, and for that we'd need to venture back seventy years in critical theory to a point where meaning in art was accepted a priori. As an exercise, somebody should cover a ceramic mold of Matthew Shepherd with ants and see what those on the progressive side of the debate think.

kathleen said...

"He died of AIDS in 1992"

Why is this relevant?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

HDHouse,

if someone asks "what's this about" and you get an answer from a good source either take the explanation or discard it.

(a) What's a "good source"?

(b) Between taking the explanation or discarding it, which is the "stupid" choice, again? I forget so easily.

wv: babli. I'll say.

Fen said...

"He died of AIDS in 1992"

Why is this relevant?

He's angry at God. Thats what his "art" is really about.

kathleen said...

hey Fen, thanks for the response, except I'd love to know why you misquoted me in the latest EE thread (actually you made up a quote out of thin air) and then attacked me for the misquote. oh, yeah, and you called me a skank with cum dripping off my chin. that was classy too.

traditionalguy said...

Great post. Standard Christian doctrine states that Jesus being crucified in Jerusalem was His surprise attack on the great enemy of man called Death This was done by Jesus offering himself to be an eternal sacrifice victim slaughtered, after he had been first rejected by God and man. He was 100% dead and buried in our place. Then when he arose again three days later he defeated Death's claims to Him and to us, and lead death as a captive in his triumphal procession.Thereafter Christians only fall asleep and they do not suffer the sting of Death. What Jesus did is very offensive to many when seen in its bloody entirety; and it is especially offensive to Death and Hades.But his beaten to pulp and dead body became the last the world saw of him until Easter. Ants are nothing.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Fen,

He's angry at God. That's what his "art" is really about.

I'm not sure. I mean, so far as his written words went, he was principally angry at prudes, homophobes, and John Paul II. But, yes. It all boils down to the universe having been badly designed, see?

And there again is the problem of interpretation. Without other information there's no way to know whether someone's covering a crucifix in ants in memory of Christ's suffering, or only because he's always envied the guy who got to pound the nails in.

wv: grairate. What happens when you gyrate with rheumatoid arthritis?

rsb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juba Doobai! said...

Althouse, the humiliation of Jesus is different from the corruption of the body. The humiliation of Christ (God becoming man) begins with His birth and ends with His resurrection.

The corruption of the body in which the body rots is not orthodox Christian theology. As for ants on the body, ants on the body of a living Christ suggests something entirely different from ants on a dead body. (See Forensic Files.)

Grünewald offers a sanitized version of the crucified One. The Bible's account is seriously gross—Jesus got a gang-bang beat down before the scourging. Stupid Brent Plate needs to read the Bible cuz Christ's His limbs were not mangled cuz His bones were not broken; mangled does connote some brokenness of bones. So, I'm unimpressed with Plate's description of Grünewald's art. What's a little bit of pus when your body is like raw meat from scourging?

As for the Holbein, both Holbein and Stupid Plate are a bit off. Christ in the tomb dead yet but death had no power over Him. Thus, the depiction of Him dead-dead leads to a flawed conclusion about a meditation on death. Eh, no. It should lead to a meditation on reconciliation with God, salvation for mankind, but not on the power of death. The meditation on death says we were intended for death; the death of Christ says we were intended for eternal life.

Here's the text of the Apostle's Creed: "He was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day, he rose again from the dead." (Psalms 16, 22, and 24 are instructive in general.) Ps. 24 tells of the action that's going on whilst the incorruptible body of Christ lies in the borrowed tomb. There's nothing there that encourages a meditation on death. People like to talk about Christian triumphalism? The 'lift up your head o ye gates' of Ps 24 is Christ in hell and the source of it cuz He has power over hell, death, sin, and the devil.

So, the only one who's right is you, Althouse. It IS within the Christian tradition to depict the humiliation. Grünewald, ok; Holbein, sorta okay. Stupid Brent Plate, bzzzzzzzztttttt!

Juba Doobai! said...

HDHouse, it's better to shut up when you don't know what you're talking about. Since you don't know jack about what I'm talking about, park it up.

Pogo said...

The artist chose to shock because he is unable to produce anything beautiful.

He chose the usual boring modern artist's descent into the ugly, not as a message, but because it is expected by his peers, and easy for those who lack talent.

Thomas Wolfe exposed these charlatans years ago. The only shocking thing is that US citizens are compelled to pay for it.

Juba Doobai! said...

The ants on the dead body of Christ is a violent blow against Christianity and its doctrine. Why? It says this: Christ is dead and rotted. There is no resurrection. Therefore, there is no salvation. You are not saved. You believe in a lie. God is a liar.

Picnic ants ain't dead body ants. Where the Bible is silent no man should add. The "artist" added details to the crucifix (a Christian and not just a Roman Catholic image) that would undermine a fundamental aspect of Christian theology: Christ is the holy, incorruptible one who redeems us and restores all creation to God.

Pogo said...

Now, Jesus covered with praying mantises: that's transgressive.

Pogo said...

The ants piece seems ready-made for Leonard Pinth-Garnell and another edition of Bad Modern Art.

Juba Doobai! said...

Pogo, only if the Gnostics were right that a simulacrum of Him died on the cross and He went on to marry Mary. The Gnostics never did get stuff right.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

People who believe in the supernatural are really not fit for intelligent discourse.

Well, you know, no one's forcing you to read any of this. At least, I hope not.

All the same, if we were to put any of the builders of (say) Chartres or York Minster on one side of the intelligent-discourse scale, and you on the other side, I fancy I know which pan would go down. Not that my Middle English is any good (to say nothing of my French, modern or otherwise), but I imagine I would cope.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Pogo,

Now, Jesus covered with praying mantises: that's transgressive.

Dagnabbit. Now that you've said it, someone will do it.

Of course, you'd need to get the mantises somewhere. I think garden-supply places sell eggs, but I have no idea what you feed them to get them to true transgressive stature.

wv: snessifi. That ought to be a verb.

Pogo said...

I want a cut of the grant, of course.

rsb said...

I read this because I like to. The builders of Chartres lived a long time ago. People then surely believed if they wanted to keep their heads. People also believed that mice magically appeared out of bags of grain.

If you study religions and philosophy with an open mind you come to the conclusion that religion is man's way of trying to be immortal.

There is absolutely no evidence of anything divine. There is no god and this artwork is not blasphemous. It is a toy with some ants on it.

LordSomber said...

I seriously doubt that the artist's intent was to express a "most orthodox Christian statement," but rather to Tease the Squares.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

I read this because I like to. The builders of Chartres lived a long time ago. People then surely believed if they wanted to keep their heads. People also believed that mice magically appeared out of bags of grain.

People I've met also think that homeopathy is plausible, that magnetic bracelets improve your circulation, and that "chemtrails" in the atmosphere represent some sort of ecological catastrophe being covered up at the highest level of government. None of the individuals in question (three different people, I ought to have said earlier) is noticeably devout.

People I thankfully have not met think that fire cannot melt steel, and that the President was not born in Hawai'i.

The one thing all these people have in common (besides believing in something you'd think nearly as silly as God) is that they couldn't have conceived something like Chartres, or built it.

If you study religions and philosophy with an open mind you come to the conclusion that religion is man's way of trying to be immortal.

No, if you do it, that's where you come to. If I do it, I come to somewhere else. I didn't have a religious upbringing, and I didn't have religious friends. Where I am (which is no conclusive place), I got through books.

There is absolutely no evidence of anything divine. There is no god and this artwork is not blasphemous. It is a toy with some ants on it.

If it's a toy with some ants on it, then why should anyone care about it, starting with the artist? He videotaped this thing and put it into a larger piece, obviously with some intent.

Either he wanted to elaborate on the Passion of Christ, or he wanted to stick one to the Catholic Church, or possibly a bit of both. But he did not want to make an abstract video study of ants on a variegated surface.

wv: regra. I've had a few.

paul a'barge said...

Stop. I mean, now. Stop now.

Make the artists use Mohammed instead of Jesus.

Then we can talk.

Until then? Cowards. Everyone of them. Brazen, craven, spineless cowards.

Let's go, artists. Let's see just how big your cojones are. Blaspheme Mohammed.

Bring it.

Methadras said...

rsb said...

Jesus' body, if there was such a person, surely went the way of all before him. It was eaten by insects.

People who believe in the supernatural are really not fit for intelligent discourse.


Hey, HDhouse, why don't you school this kid about closed off world views.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@kathleen:

you called me a skank with cum dripping off my chin. that was classy too.

He's always saying stuff like that. Internet tough guy. As he said when he accused someone of being in league with pedophiles for disagreeing with him, he doesn't fire warning shots.

It's just pixels, let it roll off. Other commenters will read what he wrote and judge between you. Remarks like that are self-discrediting.

chickelit said...

In other news, the Smithsonian calls the Warhol Foundation's bluff and Patti Smith is mum on the controversy.

Good on her. link

rsb said...

Michele, if your faith is strong a crucifix dipped in shit shouldn't bother you any.

The guy made his statement. Someone decided to put it in an exhibit and it ruffled the feathers of conservatives and out it goes. I guess they can put it in a "Degenerate Art" show now.

DADvocate said...

He died of AIDS in 1992, only 4 years older than Jesus was at the time of crucifixion.

Is this supposed to mean something?

My brother died of AIDS in 1987 at the same age Jesus was at the time of crucifixion. So what?

Along with many others, I'm still waiting for the artist and museum courageous enough to create and publicly display blasphemous works of Mohamed. And, to see which media outlets vehemently defend such actions.

Fen said...

kathleen: hey Fen, thanks for the response, except I'd love to know why you misquoted me in the latest EE thread (actually you made up a quote out of thin air) and then attacked me for the misquote. oh, yeah, and you called me a skank with cum dripping off my chin. that was classy too.

Ya it really sucks when someone misrepresents your position and launches filthy ad homs at you, doesn't it?

Now that you know what it feels like, maybe you'll be a bit more careful and civil.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

Michele, if your faith is strong a crucifix dipped in shit shouldn't bother you any.


Did you say that about the Koran-burning-threatener down in Florida?

You know, the UK has denied him entry--not for burning a Koran, but threatening to. The guy who blew himself up in Stockholm for Mohammed, he was okay enter the UK, though.

It's the double-standard that is making people angry, not to mention the taxpayer expense.

I'm with those who say it's stupid and derivative. Every year dozens of brainchildren do something to Jesus to freak out the squares. It's like those people who use "fuck" for noun, adjective, and verb--it's not shocking anymore, and it no longer makes you stand out.

Fen said...

Gabriel: He's always saying stuff like that.

Not to you. You make an honest attempt to argue in good faith and play fair. So I respond in kind with you. Imagine that!

rsb said...

@Gabriel
You have a point - and that is why I say religion is such a bad thing.
People should embrace reason. Life is beautiful enough isn't it? Do people need to have a 'hereafter'.

I can't believe in the supernatural. It's dangerous and misguided; especially so with Islam. I'm getting a little freaked out even writing about Islam.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

Michel[l]e, if your faith is strong a crucifix dipped in shit shouldn't bother you any.

And if a Muslim's faith were strong, a Qu'ran dipped in shit ... only that is not the future of museum art exhibits in the United States, I think.

Enh. I don't find this sort of thing infuriating, only irritating. In the "can't you people just grow up and find some way to be useful?" sense.

The guy made his statement. Someone decided to put it in an exhibit and it ruffled the feathers of conservatives and out it goes. I guess they can put it in a "Degenerate Art" show now.

So what do you suppose "the guy" was saying in "his statement"? According to Plate, he was working in the tradition of Christian art. According to others, he was using the tradition of Christian art as cover, and under that cover just sticking a good one to the Catholic Church.

And according to you, it's just a toy with some ants on it.

Two of these three things are potential seeds of good art. One is not.

As for "Degenerate Art," I think I need say no more than that the Nazi exhibition from which the term comes did not involve things pulled from public display; it involved putting things on public display, as monstrosities.

There is an intelligible difference between thinking a work a deliberate insult and carefully preserving the deliberate insult and putting it on display so that others can see how depraved the artist must have been.

wv: empophi. Not going there.

Matt said...

If cute puppies were crawling over the Christ on the cross figure no one would care. Why are ants considered sinful and evil? Are they not God's creatures too? Sheeesh.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

People should embrace reason.

Like Ayn Rand and the Directorate and every Communist government ever? No thank you.

People who believe that all of their actions are derived by pure reason from obvious postulates are crazier than shithouse rats and far more dangerous, and should be never be in charge of anyone else's welfare. They are seriously delusional.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard23.html

The all-encompassing nature of the Randian line may be illustrated by an incident that occurred to a friend of mine who once asked a leading Randian if he disagreed with the movement’s position on any conceivable subject. After several minutes of hard thought, the Randian replied: "Well, I can’t quite understand their position on smoking." Astonished that the Rand cult had any position on smoking, my friend pressed on: "They have a position on smoking? What is it?" The Randian replied that smoking, according to the cult, was a moral obligation. In my own experience, a top Randian once asked me rather sharply, "How is it that you don’t smoke?" When I replied that I had discovered early that I was allergic to smoke, the Randian was mollified: "Oh, that’s OK, then." The official justification for making smoking a moral obligation was a sentence in Atlas where the heroine refers to a lit cigarette as symbolizing a fire in the mind, the fire of creative ideas. (One would think that simply holding up a lit match could do just as readily for this symbolic function.) One suspects that the actual reason, as in so many other parts of Randian theory, from Rachmaninoff to Victor Hugo to tap dancing, was that Rand simply liked smoking and had the need to cast about for a philosophical system that would make her personal whims not only moral but also a moral obligation incumbent upon everyone who desires to be rational.

I've never seen a movement based on "pure reason" that didn't do this sort of thing regularly. Humans are not rational animals--what they are good at is RATIONIALIZING.

rsb said...

@Michele
It ruffled feathers. It was meant to be art - art shouldn't be taken away in an American museum because someone is offended by it. I'm offended by 'art' all the time but what can you do?
I don't think his work was intended to glorify Jesus - to show that he suffered and was a man on earth and died 'warts and all' like some of the Northern European artists portrayed so well.
I think he was pissed he was dying of AIDS and the Catholic Church said he was going to Hell and that he deserved his AIDS. Who knows for sure?
It shouldn't have been pulled though. Once you start censoring you do get groups that want to show "what's bad" - it's all divisive.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

Once you start censoring you do get groups that want to show "what's bad" - it's all divisive.

No censorship here. The owner of the artwork is free to hire any private gallery and exhibit it to his heart's content. No one has a First Amendment right to have their artwork exhibited at taxpayer expense in the Smithsonian.

rsb said...

@Gabriel
I'm not with Rand - she was an executive bitch and her philosophy is too extreme. We are too social a species and she felt one could do everything on one's own and that is just not possible or wise. You can certainly try to live a life of reason though -

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb: You can certainly try to live a life of reason though

Like fire, reason is a powerful servant and a terrible master.

Live your life by whatever you want; reason can only manipulate postulates. Science can only give natural laws, not normative ones.

How is the experience of love rational, or the experience of watching a sunset? Another person cannot share you emotions even if they are there with you watching the same one. We each have a universe within our skulls inaccessible to anyone else; therefore we all have a different set of postulates, so "reason" must come up with different answers for each of us.

Matt said...

Gabriel Hanna
No one has a First Amendment right to have their artwork exhibited at taxpayer expense in the Smithsonian.

You are kidding, right? You seem to have no concept of the way a representational government works.
No one is please with 100% of tax dollar spending. No one. But that's the way it works in our country - or any advanced country.

Second everyone has a first amendment right with tax dollars or no one does. If you think absolutely no one has a right to express themselves with tax payer dollars then fine. That is your opinion. But plenty of tax dollars go to art related projects and because art is a good part of civilization it's a good thing. And this work is hardly the stuff of Cross burning or threats to security.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

I see. So it really isn't just a toy with ants crawling on it. That's good. I was afraid that in another minute or so, you'd conclude that it couldn't be real Art at all. And that would obviously make someone very unhappy. Because it would be ridiculous for a museum to display a film of ants teeming over a toy as an artwork, yes?

wv: eplash, and I think I just leave that alone.

chickelit said...

And this work is hardly the stuff of Cross burning or threats to security.

I don't think Althouse would put it up here unless she thought it was good art. Either that or she's got issues with the Church too.

rsb said...

@Gabriel
That sounds solipsistic to me - true, we do each have our own unique view but reason tells me the sunset is not the sun going down on the horizon but it is the earth rotating while we orbit around it - emotions are biological constructs - our minds are a mass of electrical firings. Our only purpose is to further the species.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Matt:

Second everyone has a first amendment right with tax dollars or no one does.

So when is the Smithsonian exhibit your art?

Way to miss the point. The Smithsonian is not "censoring" you because they don't put up your art. You are "censored" if you are forbidden to put up your own art at your own expense--for example, child pornography is censored, and so are swear words on the radio.

Nora said...

I'm not a Christian, and when I watched the video I did not see the ants on the body of Jesus, but rather the ants on a small crusifix. Since crusifix is a symbol associated with Catholicism I indeed thought that it was disrespectful, to say the elast, of Catholicism.

Also, there is a fact that the "artwork" in question is actually less than 2% of the film it's a part of, and should be treated like that. I doubt that curators can explain why the 2% of the work they choose to display are these particular ~ 30 sec out of ~ half an hour film and how it is representative of the work of art, i.e. whole film, it belongs to.

Would the curators display a few square inches of the painting and claim it as an artwork?

As an afterthought - I would not put it behind one or another "artist" enlarging an unrecognisable part of famous painting, and presenting it as "artwork", you know, someting "looking close .. blah blah", or trying to make yet again a point of figurative art not being a real art, or something else as senseless, but self-serving.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

but reason tells me the sunset is not the sun going down on the horizon but it is the earth rotating while we orbit around it -

Reason the told Plato the opposite. It's SCIENCE that cleared that up, science is based on data, not postulates.

Our only purpose is to further the species.

FAIL. Evolution does not have purposes in mind. Most of what evolves goes extinct. You talk about reason and then you reveal you believe in teleology? I think you better go study some more.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

true, we do each have our own unique view but reason tells me the sunset is not the sun going down on the horizon but it is the earth rotating while we orbit around it.

You do realize that even in Newtonian mechanics a frame of reference in which the Earth is stationary and a frame of reference in which the Sun is stationary both work, right? The problem with treating the Earth as stationary is only that the math gets hellishly difficult.

Therefore, we tend not to do that. When calculating orbits and suchlike. In other, ordinary contexts, we do tend to talk about sunrise and sunset.

Matt said...

chickelit

Having seen a 5 minute excerpt of the film I will acknowledge it has shock value. I don't know if you have seen it but to be honest I found the full frontal male nudity and masturbation more potentially 'shocking' than the ants on the cross.

I would say if someone asked me to show the film to a group of elderly patrons [or family] I would feel that far more would be offended and uncomfortable by the nudity than by the ants on the Cross. One image can be seen as an interpretation of suffering and death while the other cannot be mistaken for anything other than what it is. [Not that I was offended by it].

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

I'm far from an expert in philosophy but I've learned enough about it to know that it is far too simple to just say that we all believe in "reason" and reason tells us what is and what should be.

I don't think you've put very much time into reading the vast literature on the subject. I'd start with David Hume. He asks, how do we know that a hot stove will burn us the SECOND time we touch it? His answer is very interesting, and not at all obvious. The answer YOU would give involves a circular argument I bet you didn't know was there.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

Our only purpose is to further the species.

Gabriel Hanna is right. That is not a purpose; it's a consequence. There aren't purposes in a mechanical universe.

wv: leadvill. Sometimes I think the thing rsb says can't possibly be there is messin' with me.

rsb said...

@Gabriel
Science isn't reason? I know all about Plato's cave. Evolution? Evolution has no design in mind, I know that too - it's blind. Man, like all other animals, procreates to further the species. It's in the genes that have been with us since the first microbe divided itself.
I know I don't have all the answers to what this world is all about - not even close - I will continue to try to learn as much as I can though - thanks Gabriel for speaking with me. I wish you a good day and even hope Althouse makes a lot of sales today.

rsb said...

A good day to you also Michele.

Matt said...

Gabriel Hanna

I'm not sure what you are saying? My point is that when you start going down the path of which art can and cannot receive tax dollars you inevitably go down the path that denies we live in a representative government.

There are a lot of things I don't want my tax dollars going to. But there are plenty of things I like my tax dollars going to. This is pretty much the same for everyone in America. So I accept that trade off.

And sure, within reason, some artwork should not be funded. Like things that are illegal. But artwork such as this piece may shock, offend and even titillate - but it is not illegal nor is it harming anyone. Instead it may offend some. Okay fine. I’m offended by some of the things that happen on the battlefield. So are millions of Americans. Should we stop funding the military? Obviously no.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@rsb:

Man, like all other animals, procreates to further the species.

Genes are chemicals. They produce other chemicals. They don't know anything about species or how to propagate them.

An individual man procreates to further HIS genes, which built him--but he may decide not to. Beetles have less choice about it. The genes just code for proteins; species are an emergent property of many genes in many organisms over time. An organism is a gene's way of reproducing itself, and species doesn't come into it.

Read "Selfish Gene" or "Blind Watchmaker". What you are talking about is called, by Dawkins, the BBC fallacy, where every animal's behavior has a "purpose" for its species.

Science isn't reason?

NO. It makes use of reason. But data is not "necessary", it just IS and you have to make do with what you have. Reason is for guys like Plato and Hegel, who think their imaginary worlds are more real than the real ones because of reason.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Matt:

Your conception of rights seems to involve the right to other people's money.

The Smithsonian and the government fund art: fine. But by your own argument if the PEOPLE, or enough of them, don't like that art, surely they are within their rights to remove the funding?

Or are artists entitled to other people's money?

traditionalguy said...

@ Rsb and Gabriel...Great debate. I really enjoyed listening in and learned a lot..

rsb said...

@Gabriel
Thanks for that - I read The Ancestor's Tale and found it fascinating. I will read those other books you mentioned too.

Matt said...

Gabriel Hanna

Your conception of rights seems to involve the right to other people's money.

Yes, true. It's called taxes. But it is hardly radical. We have had the National Endowment of the Arts for over 40 years and it has given grants of over 4 billion during that time. [But note I am not saying ALL artists should get tax dollars - just they should have the right to apply for grants].

But by your own argument if the PEOPLE, or enough of them, don't like that art, surely they are within their rights to remove the funding?

Only within reason. People usually don't much care either way. They only get upset when some politically correct or right wing loon makes a big deal out of one piece of artwork that it becomes an issue. And when it does it is only among a small group that is offended and makes noise.

Or are artists entitled to other people's money?

Most [if not all] artists survive on other people's money. Obviously we are talking about taxes, which in sheer dollars is much, much less than what one wealthy individual might pay for the artwork or for the grant. We’re talking pennies for the rest of us. But either way - tax dollars or wealthy patrons - artists need other people's money to exhibit their work and to buy it.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I can't believe nobody else has got this one.

It's the anty Christ.

Duh.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rsb,

A good day to you also Michel[l]e.

And to you, sir/madam. If there is such a thing as "good." Or "day," come to that.

wv: temical. Surely that's already been snapped up by a pharmaceutical company?

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Matt:

the cow ate grass and
emitted gas through its rectum
i am not gay


I am an artist. I demand tax money for my art. Without the government, or wealthy patrons, we will have to be poorer as a society without it.

I don't ask much, just enough to live modestly, at everyone else's expense.

Oh, you say, well, if you're poetry is so good maybe you should write a book and then people who WANT to read it will support you?

And I retort, that you are CENSORING me by saying that I'm not entitled to government money for my art and violating my RIGHTS.

Ah, but you say, your poetry sucks. Who put you in charge? Why do you get to impose your aesthetic opinions on everyone else and deny me the tax money to which I am entitled?

Ann Althouse said...

"You should link to the picture of the ant on the rodent's eye that you posted -- 3 years ago? 4? Or was it a bird?"

On a bird's eye. Here.

Ann Althouse said...

I do think some people have a much more intense reaction to insects than I do.

They're God's creatures, beautiful and complex. Why the aversion?

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Matt,

Most [if not all] artists survive on other people's money.

Indeed they do. They do that the way everyone else does: They have something to offer, and someone else pays money for it. A quite astonishing fraction of people supporting themselves producing visual art don't do it on government grants. We've been arguing all day about a few minutes of ants-on-a-crucifix video and no one has yet mentioned The Passion of the Christ. Which had, as I'm sure you'll agree, a lot bigger budget than Wojnarowicz's film, and certainly never got a cent of public money.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

They're God's creatures, beautiful and complex. Why the aversion?

No one has an aversion to insects as such. Really, no one. I mean, having done my best in my youth to document the habits of the waterstrider and to catalog all the dragonflies of upstate New York and to get the Karner Blue butterfly named the NY state insect (OK, failed there; I think they wanted something that wasn't likely to become extinct), I think I rate as an insectophile.

I admire ants, too. It's only that when I have an opportunity to observe them, it's generally because they've invaded my place. If they just found what they wanted and ate it, again, I could deal; but usually it is foraging parties (not a few, many hundreds), milling around with no purpose in view. The first time was close to twenty years ago; I got up to pee in the middle of the night and didn't bother putting on my glasses (my vision is hideously bad), and when I looked closer to figure out why the whole floor of the bathroom seemed to be in motion, well...

wv: muryl. Another drug name gone to waste.

DADvocate said...

It's the anty Christ.

Thread winner.

Matt said...

Gabriel Hanna
You're being silly and argumentative. You know the way it works. You create art and apply for grants. The people who give the grants have their reasons. Lots and lots of great and shitty art [that some artists thinks is great] gets passed over. It's called competition for tax dollars, which exist in every sector from the art world to the military.

Michelle Dulak Thomson
Yes, the number of artists who get grant money is rather low. I know that. My comments are geared toward the idea of the NEA being a good thing for artists and society. Even though some of the work may be controversial. It is one tool among many in which artists can get help to create works of art or ballets or music or film.

Yes, 'The Passion of the Christ' had no grant money. Either did 'The Last Temptation of Christ'. I'm not sure of your point? Obviously plenty of filmmakers and artists make art without tax money. And some even make money off of their art. Good for them.

Note this short film was made without any tax dollars. It was the exhibition of the art by Smithsonian that is actually at issue.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Matt,

Well, there was this, which I didn't quote:

Obviously we are talking about taxes, which in sheer dollars is much, much less than what one wealthy individual might pay for the artwork or for the grant. We’re talking pennies for the rest of us. But either way - tax dollars or wealthy patrons - artists need other people's money to exhibit their work and to buy it.

Which is just nuts. Again: The vast majority of artists active now in this country don't rely on either tax dollars or wealthy patrons; they rely on reproducibility and a lot of non-wealthy patrons. Who actually want to look at the art more than once.

jaed said...

(No "insect politics" tag? Surely this matter qualifies.)

William said...

Whatever the pros or cons, it does seem apparent that many people of religious sensibility were offended by this work. If we restrict the expression of our art in favor of Muslim sensibilities, why should not Christians be given the same level of forbearance?.....Death was a more vivid presence in the days of Holbein and even Dostoevsky than it is today. Nowadays, the dead are mostly old people, and they have the good taste to go to hospitals and nursing homes to take their exit. Death used to be a more banal occurence, and you really had to underline the corpse to bring the image alive. Holbein and Grunewald created an image for their time. Their images are to our eyes gruesome, but they were probably less so to a peasant who had buried three children and two wives......If death is more shocking, blasphemy is much less so. Nowadays to blaspheme the Christian God, you have to such great lengths that the joke seems more on the blasphemers than on the believers. They truly are followers of the anty Christ.

Ann Althouse said...

"Whatever the pros or cons, it does seem apparent that many people of religious sensibility were offended by this work. If we restrict the expression of our art in favor of Muslim sensibilities, why should not Christians be given the same level of forbearance?"

You have to concede there's a big distinction that has nothing to do with your point: Muslims -- I know there are some exceptions -- avoid depicting Mohammad at all -- even idealized portraits. Christians have depicted Jesus for centuries, and they *specialize* in depictions of his torture and humiliation. Gaping wounds and ghastly postures are *the norm* in Christian art.

Ann Althouse said...

"I don't think Althouse would put it up here unless she thought it was good art. Either that or she's got issues with the Church too."

I haven't watched the video. I don't know if it's good art. The Smithsonian curators obviously thought it was.

I'm interested in the issue because it's squarely in the realm of topics I cover all the time: art & politics, religion & politics, religion & art, censorship and free speech, the proper role of government vs. things that belong in the private sphere, etc. etc.

Let me remind you that I teach a course in Religion & the Constitution.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time and haven't figured out my attitude toward religion -- and you obviously haven't, chickelit -- then... well... points for me (and my smug inscrutability).

Ann Althouse said...

"The point is that Plate is using a baseless mode of criticism by putting the ants-on-Christ piece in the same school and other depictions of Christ's humiliation."

There is no "i" in Plate. But if there were, he'd be Pilate. Think about it!

Ann Althouse said...

Did you read the part about Salvador Dali?

TMink said...

There may be flies on you and me, but there are no flies on Jesus.

Ants either.

Trey

TMink said...

It is perfectly easy to stay reasonable and accept Christianity as truthful. You just start with a slightly different set of presuppositions.

Materialists believe that what we see and experience is real and trustworthy most of the time and that is all there is.

Christians believe that what we see and experience is real and trustworthy most of the time but there is more that we cannot see directly.

For the record, materialists are a vast minority in the world.

Trey

TMink said...

"No one has an aversion to insects as such. Really, no one."

You need to get out more and meet people. Meet some women. Really!

Trey

William said...

At least in modern times, tolerance and forgiveness are central tenets of the Christian faith. Thus a Christian cannot go too far in his criticism of a blasphemer without, in fact, betraying his own faith.....No such limits apply to Muslims. Intolerance seems to be the religious ideal. This ideal does not just apply to images of Mohammed. Mock the hijab, and you're also fair game for the devout......The artistic sensibility of our time is distrustful of all religious feelings that are not inspired by rock stars or Marxist revolutionaries. This repugnance to people of faith leads them to mock overweight Baptists but to be circumspect in their criticism of frothing imans. The hypocrites and the cowards are neither the Christians nor the Muslims, but the artists and their buyers.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

TMink,

For the record, materialists are a vast minority in the world.

If I were you, I'd retire "vast minority." Just sayin'. It causes people to burst out laughing when you don't necessarily want them to.

As to whether I need to get out and meet some women to find out whether people have an aversion to insects as such ... well, I am a woman, and I've spent my whole life in a society consisting half of women, and I have never seen a woman flee from a butterfly. Case closed, I think.