It ought not be encouraged. At the time

It is not everyday when a piece of artwork comes out that has a lasting impact on the modern world, but I feel that If any artwork accomplished doing so, it was Piss Christ by Andres Serrano. The photograph shaped how controversial art is handled in the modern era, causing religious outrage and an shaking of the NEA’ s (National Endowment for the Arts) core in ways we can still feel more than thirty years later. (1) In my paper, I hope to not only discuss the means by which Piss Christ was made and so hated, but also by the means that anything controversial holds over America and the world. The artwork in question consisted of a red and yellow photograph taken of a plastic crucifix submerged in urine. Andres Serrano claims that he made the piece as a statement against the commercialization of Christianity and Catholicism, stating in an interview that, “The thing about the crucifix itself is that we treat it almost like a fashion accessory. When you see it, you’re not horrified by it at all, but what it represents is the crucifixion of a man, and for Christ to have been crucified and laid on the cross for three days where he not only bled to death, he shat himself and he peed himself to death. So if Piss Christ upsets you, maybe it’s a good thing to think about what happened on the cross.”(2) Andres Serrano himself is a devout Christian, who only wanted to spread his belief that the devoutness of Christianity and Catholicism is flawed, and focused more on the sale of Christ rather than the message that he preached. All in all, he claimed that his work was made to show the world the commercialization of Christian and Catholic Icons, not to denounce those who worshiped said idol. Even though his message was for religion it created very negative backlash from religious communities, the harshest of these being the destruction on the piece in France in 2011. (3) While Piss Christ has made a lasting impact on religion, it has also led to a treatment of the arts as a vice that ought not be encouraged. At the time of the pieces’ creation, there was not much support for the NEA, with former President Ronald Reagan strongly disapproving the use of government funding, this photograph was enough to tip the scales in his favor. At that point forty five thousand dollars were cut from NEA’s budget, “In the late 1980s artist Andres Serrano exhibited a work called “Piss Christ” with money from the NEA, sparking outrage across the US. Congress proposed to cut all funding to the NEA for the year 1990, but the amendment didn’t pass, and the NEA’s budget was reduced a symbolic $45,000″ Serrano’s work was in many ways at the heart of the ideological clashes of the 1980s, when political conservatives aggressively opposed artistic expressions they considered threatening to America’s moral integrity. This hostility was coincident with congressional backlashes against governmental funding of the arts. The Politial religious leaders of America reacted strongly to all of Serrano’s pieces, but with America playing into a period of social change and upheaval, this piece was anything but popular. These new ways of thinking concerning topics such as sexuality, gender and race spurred Serrano’s explorations of contentious subject matter, leading to Serrano becoming a scapegoat for political figures aiming to control the public agenda and “save” the USA from moral decline. However, Serrano’s persistent questioning of American taboos through the medium of photography led to advances for the freedom of artistic expression in the USA. (4)Art throughout history has often been used as a tool to shock audience, with many outlandish pieces, and even artistic movements we see today created as a symbol of rebellion against a popular opinion of art or politics in relation to controversial themes that would otherwise have not been discussed publicly. Art allows us to focus on certain issues of social or political bearing. To me, an artwork is controversial when it evokes an emotional response while challenging traditional pieces.Artists throughout History have produced controversial Artworks, which have tested limitations and the audiences’ thought processes, the idea of thought interruption I think is the most important part of making a piece of artwork so notorious, it’s about making the audience think and interrupting their normal thought patterns. I think society naturally criticize an image and do not necessarily see the intention that lies behind the image, due to this criticism, the audience are unable and often unwilling to appreciate the Artist’s original vision or intention. This is in part, due to the current lack of “rules” for art. As stated in The Journal for Religion,”The lack of any universally accepted criteria defining the complex and subtle relationship of the beautiful and the holy, or the aesthetic and the religious, is evident. To make matters more difficult for anyone concerned with that relationship, not a few theorists today deny the very meaningfulness of the categories involved. At the same time, aware that “many in the current theoretical avant-garde would relegate the concept of the aesthetic to the large heap of historically interesting notions whose time has passed” (5) While we do find certain images taboo or controversial, there are no means for us to isolate those artworks and criticize them for going against a rubric that the art world does not have anymore.In summary, I feel that controversial images within modern contemporary Art are an important part of society that need to be upheld. If it weren’t for controversial artworks like “Piss Christ”, certain topics like commercialism in religion would not be talked about and explored, creating much less freedom in the world. Artist’s should be able to express themselves through their artwork as well as just through thoughts and ideas, and while “Piss Christ” created negative backlash that we see more than thirty years later, it truly opened up the artworld to a more avante garde way of thinking. Controversy in art is important to society, It opens our minds to new ideas, but in the end an institution of art for art’s sake should be put into consideration.(6)      


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