There was a recent entry of my sisters that sparked some interesting notions and ideas. In response to my comment, my sister linked the wikipedia entry for Serrano and an interview as well. My primary concern being his motivation and ideas, the wikipedia entry failed to help me much.

The first time I started reading the interview I literally closed the browser out after two sentences. Something fundamental about the man's attitude offended me, and I was entirely unable to even so much as look at the interview without the feeling resurging. It was an unnerving experience, though a silent one. An apt term might be that I mentally retched, not at the man himself but at the ideas he put forth.

The following is my nitpicky response to him. He may never read it, but it is necessary to rest my soul and to avoid a disservice to the man by not properly ingesting his words. On some level I may still be unfair to him as I will only cite sentences and small phrases, but it is still the entire context of what we are given in the interview on which I am basing my assumptions and statements.

"As a former Catholic, and as someone who even today is not opposed to being called a Christian, I felt I had every right to use the symbols of the Church and resented being told not to." - Serrano

I can understand the resentment he might feel, but it does not appear to me he understands the resentment others feel. This is exemplified in his use of the word "right". In his view it is an intrinsic right for all who are or have been Christians to use the symbols of the Church. I completely disagree on this point. The use of any symbol, the taking of any artistic license, is a privilage. It is a privilage protected by the right of free speech, but it is based on the good will and faith of the people. It was perfectly legitimate for him to use the symbols, but that does not make it a "right". His having been Catholic does not grant him any additional privilage or right over a Muslim, an Atheist or a Wiccan in using Christian symbols. Better insight, a relevant point of view perhaps. A greater likelihood to be taken to Christian discussions and forums perhaps. But no intrinsic right or advantage over his fellow man.

More importantly, having been Christian he should have known the importance of Christian symbols. These symbols do not belong to Christians but to God and Christ. We are caretakers and nothing more, and it is our witness and use of these symbols that are evaluated by the people around us and by God. They are not things to be taken lightly or passively akin to a company logo. They are sacred.

It was entirely possible in my mind that Piss Christ was a work whose intent was purely good, and whose message was obscured by the medium. Thus far, there is a taint of arrogance which sullies the purity of his labors. As he has stated thus far, this was merely formed from "obsession" rather than any endearing message. Perhaps I judge too quickly.

"I like to believe that rather than destroy icons, I make new ones." - Serrano

The issue at stake isn't the destruction of icons, it is the marring of symbols, it is the issue of harm, and it is the necessity of new icons. Is harming the imagery of the cross and other important symbols in Christianity worth the creation of new icons? Are these new icons necessary? What is the purpose of these new icons? I have not found an explanation of Serrano of the Piss Christ or any specific work, and that vexes me. Perhaps it is my computer-oriented mind enjoying definitions, perhaps not. In any case, I dislike the artistic tendency to obfuscate intended meaning. As a poet and writer, I find that the explicit statement of intended meaning does not prevent the stimulating exercise of finding alternative interpretations. He says that he is at least attempting to create new icons, something sacred, but his method is inherently sacrilegious. I feel as though he has not considered the harm his work may cause to the symbols he obsesses over, and to the people for whom those symbols are important.

"I am just an artist. That is the way that it should be." - Serrano

At least on this point I can agree. I have never believed that ethnicity should somehow be tied into profession as though it enhances it somehow. Different ethnicities and cultures may have tendencies, but merit alone should suffice. Michael Jordon is a basketball player, being black isn't important. Bill Gates was CEO of Microsoft, being white isn't important. Serrano is an artist.

Much of the later interview does not deal directly with what bothered me, and is also largely boring. One graceful moment is where Serrano acknoledges that the controversy forced him to connect with people and become less anti-social, that the whole tihng confused him and hurt him, and that it caused him grief.

I'm going to conclude that Serrano meant well with his work, but was ignorant of the consequences thereof. Refusing until that point to connect with people, he failed to understand that his work might be viewed in a radically different light than his own. I don't believe it was his intent to begin a controversy. However, the consequences of his actions are still his. He is imperfect, as I am, and will always be. He must deal both with what harm he has caused and what help he has given.

Despite my favorable evaluation of the man, I must express my dislike for much of his work. Though growing in connection with people, much of his art causes upset without direction for reconciliation. His ideas are interesting, but in action he does himself little justice. In closing, his photography of the KKK and homeless people intrigues me and gives me hope that more of his work will touch on sensitive subjects without drawing out conflict, but rather creates a small gnawing of discomfort that prefaces social change.

1 comment:

jocelyn said...

Very good and thoughtful rant, bro. I wish I had time to respond more succinctly, but perhaps I'll have time to write a longer response on my own blog. :)