Part of what makes art art is that it is incapable of being defined, formally or informally. That's what makes it interesting, otherwise it's nothing more than decoration, with which art shouldn't be confused. Decorations rarely cause much controversy, but I can imagine how they could, because you can step on toes whatever you display.
The artist Christo draped a twelve foot cloth on iron stakes from Santa Rosa to the Coast of California,over twenty miles, some years ago. It took two years of legal wrangling over zoning, EIRs, not-in-my-backyard, etc., before he got it done. It looked neat enough, going over hill-and-dale, now you see it, now you don't.
Christo explained that the controversy and legal hearings were part of the legal process.
Wow! I thought, you can do that? Stir up a hornet's nest of litigation and call it art? What a subversive thing! I think I can respect a little subversion, after all, who was hurt?
I see the current exhibit in Brooklyn somewhat differently and somewhat the same.
Under Christo's broadened exhibition of what makes art (anything the artist calls art)an artist can criticize or condemn any religion he wants. Just be prepared for the backlash. That's part of the art process under this broad definition of art.
I don't like to see people's closely held religious beliefs ridiculed, nor the symbols of those beliefs, as in Brooklyn.
Same is true for political symbols like the flag.
On the other hand, there are a lot of beliefs that people hold that I disagree with that I think are fair game for debunking, and ridicule (pointing out the laughable features) is about the best way I know to do it. But better be prepared to duck.
So I see Giuliani's response as a legitimate, even "artistic" response to the debate provoked by the British artist.
Is it a violation of the artist's right of free speech, or the viewer's right to be allowed to see controversial ideas, which is also a part of the free speech constitutional guaranty?
Maybe, a little, but not wholly, as I understand it.
Big Giuli hasn't sent the storm-troopers in and burned the offending display, nor banned it from NooYawk. He's defunded the cost of this display, banning use of public funds. Let the artist hawk his wares on a corner fence, in other words, and if the world wants to salute it, so be it.
This is much different than Hitler's book burnings.
A measured response in other words.
What right does a political leader have to come to the aid of the religious sensibilities of a portion of his constituency? A significant portion? Is this governmental aid to a particular religion in violation of the guaranty of separation of church and state? If the exhibit occurs on gov't funded property, maybe political leaders s h o u l d come to the defense of their offended constituents, just as the gov't comes to the aid of black churches that are burned in the South and elsewhere.
Disregarding all the political capital Rudy is accruing from the controversy, and trying to see through to the merits, I don't find it offensive to do what he's doing, given that he hasn't banned the exhibit altogether.
The director of the museum made a thoughtful point on NPR yesterday. He said that art is argument, and museums are forums for presenting the argument.
I liked that as it was consistent with what Christo was doing/saying. That makes counter-argument legitimate, if reasonably done. I see Rudy's act as reasonable counter-argument.
Now we'll probably have legal hearings and the pros & cons will be aired in a public forum, just as we are doing here.
The particular religion and its icons will survive the tempest and we'll all be the wiser for having experienced it. We'll have been forced to ask ourselves what is art and what sort of counter-arguments are legitimate, and are some forums okay for some arguments and not for others.
Suppose the artist had painted the pagan goddess Athena and decorated it with manure, as he did Mary. Would the reaction be the same? Few people would care, as the particular belief system has been out of favor for close to two thousand years. So the point would be irrelevant or weak. By choosing an article of faith, this artist has really thrown the fat into the fire, riling up a lot of people. Apparently he thought they needed to be riled. Why I have no idea. It's not my taste to rile people up. I prefer to say don't do that, it's not necessary. What legitimate purpose is he promoting? Is he simply self-promoting, just as Rudy may be doing?
I don't understand why the artist is doing this here and now, to the people who were content in beliefs that weren't hurting him, them, or anyone else, as far as I can tell. If he wants to quarrel with this, what is his argument?
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