Sensational Art?

  When curators at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York arranged a new exhibit called "Sensation," they probably didn't know how prophetic the title would prove to be. For the exhibit HAS indeed caused a sensation. The exhibit features so-called "shock art," and examples include sharks and pigs preserved in formaldehyde and the bust of a man made from his own frozen blood. Most shocking of the shock art exhibits is a work by Chris Ofili that features a portrait of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant feces and surrounded by photographs of human sexual organs. This latest example of sacrilege masquerading as art enraged New York religious leaders—as well as prominent Catholic New Yorker, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani called the exhibit "sick stuff," and demanded that the picture of Mary be removed from the exhibit. To give teeth to his demand, Giuliani threatened to withhold $7 million the museum receives annually from the city, and also to terminate the museum's lease and even seize control of the museum. Not surprisingly, the city's cultural elites, led by the New York Times, have sided with the museum. As the Times' editors wrote, "public financing of the arts cannot be a pretext for government censorship, not on behalf of Roman Catholics or anyone else." But Giuliani counters, "You don't have a right to a government subsidy for desecrating somebody else's religion." The museum board has voted to sue Giuliani on First Amendment grounds, and sadly will probably prevail. The current state of the law favors the museum. As Christians, we should support the arts because we know God created a world of beauty, and that artistic skill is a gift from Him. Yet this case illustrates again why public funding of art is a wrong idea. Until the early twentieth century, the art world accepted the Christian view that art is a way of representing transcendent ideals such as truth, goodness, and beauty. Whether it was Grecian urns, the Mona Lisa, or impressionist landscapes, art sought to portray themes of beauty and truth. Then, earlier in century, artists began to abandon these ideals. Art became a political tool aimed at shocking the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie. As a result, our artistic establishment no longer believes that there's any difference between the Mona Lisa and a pile of elephant dung. Both are equally valid artistic expressions. This is the heart of the problem. That brings us to the question of public funding of art. You see, once the government decides to fund art, it cannot discriminate on the basis of viewpoint. That's why I'm afraid the mayor will lose his battle. As a result, the only way to prevent taxpayer subsidies for sacrilegious art and other" sick stuff" is to end ALL subsidies for art. Now people always blame Christians for being anti-art. We are not. The people who are responsible for this sad state of affairs are those who have striped art of its historical definition of something true and beautiful. If your neighbors accuse you of being a "philistine" for holding this view, set them straight about what's really happening with that sensational exhibit in New York. The problem is that artists no longer treat art as art.


Chuck Colson


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