The Shock Factor This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   Where do wedraw the line between art and abomination? While some leave this delineation toshades of gray, others would like to erect a brick wall to separate the twoforever. But even if we were to construct such a barrier, where would we begin?Works of paint and plaster cannot simply be severed into sections; they must bescrupulously sorted with the utmost attention to the creativity and skill appliedto each piece.

Imagine a table prepared for a feast, with Jesus sitting atthe center of the long side, surrounded by his 12 most trusted followers who arelistening carefully to his words. Now, replace Jesus with a life-size bottle ofMrs. Butterworth's Maple Syrup while she speaks the Lord's words. Slowly, theonce-human disciples transform into advertising mascots such as Tony the Tiger,Cap'n Crunch, and the Trix Rabbit. You now have "The Last PancakeBreakfast" by Dick Detzner painted on the canvas of your mind. Now, throwthat painting away. Many people would like The Chicago Athenaeum (who displayedthe painting) to do just that. Or at least to hide it in some secluded storageroom so what they feel is a religious insult would be allowed to collect dust.While Detzner intended his parody of Leonardo da Vinci's "The LastSupper" to be a protest of our idolatry of commercials and the products theypromote, some insist it is a slap at the Catholic Church.

New York MayorRudy Giuliani would like a photograph by Renee Cox entitled "Yo Mama's LastSupper" to befall a similar fate. It depicts the artist as a nude Christ atthe Last Supper. Giuliani called the work "disgusting,""outrageous" and "anti-Catholic," and he also called for adecency panel to guard the public eye from future visual heresy. Cox's "Getover it" response shows her confidence that art will prevail overcriticism.

Last year's "Sensation" exhibit at the BrooklynMuseum of Art also upset the mayor. A painting of the Virgin Mary using elephantdung and porn cut-outs was something Giuliani loved to hate, calling it"sick" and threatening to take away funding for the museum. Othersensations include a refrigerated bust filled with eight pints of the artist'sown blood and an artificial cow's head used to incubate flies and maggots,producing over 20,000 a week. Where's the food court? The exhibit had protestersfollowing it around the world insisting that it be stopped before it could damagethe minds of more innocent museum-goers.

One can't help but wonder ifmuseum curators and artists don't create such work just for the free publicity.Most artists, I believe, do not intend to shock their public: they intend toreveal the truth to the best of their ability. And let's face it, sometimes thetruth is shocking.

In fact, some of the greatest artists were consideredirreverent and outrageous in their depiction of holy imagery. The greatMichelangelo Merisi Caravaggio, who lived from 1573 to 1610 in Milan, Italy, wasdisgusted by the idea that religious artwork should be reverent anduncomplicated. His painting "Doubting Thomas" portrays three disciplesin commoners' rags hunched toward Jesus as the painting's namesake places hisright index finger in the side of Christ with a look of disbelief. At the time,the painting was considered profane because of the apostles' plain clothing andthe graphic manner in which the event was represented. Caravaggio did not seek tocause a sensation, only to paint the truth as he saw it after reading theBible.

Because something makes us look away in disgust does notdisqualify it as art. Art exhibits a high level of creativity and craftsmanship.Don't tell me that you always thought of making a dung painting but never foundthe time? While some critics refuse to accept these shocking pieces as art, wecannot be caught in the same dead end as these more narrow-minded thinkers. Artcan be both outrageous and beautiful.

While trying to decide if somethingis noteworthy or just nasty, we need to consider its artistic merit. Creativityand craftsmanship will lead to a striking result, whether the subject matter isJesus or Mrs. Butterworth. All art requires courage, so it's time we give theshockers credit. No guts, no glory.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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