Oh, Glenn Beck

I have so many thoughts on this.

1. That’s white grape juice.

2. Glenn Beck has never struck me as the kind of guy who could stick to one task long enough to collect enough pee in a jar to do this.

3. When Republicans sit around wondering why black people won’t vote for them, you can point to this.

4. The thing I find second-most delightful about this is that, in order for it to work as a parody that hits Obama-voters right in the heart, you have to assume that most Obama voters know Serrano’s Piss Christ. But, of course, most people aren’t familiar with it at all. So, you have this delicious moment where Beck’s trying to insult Obama voters by suggesting that we’re all hypocrites, because we’re fine with Serrano’s piece, but pissed about Piss Obama, as if we’re all erudite artsy-fartsy folks who are completely knowledgeable of contemporary art and the controversies surrounding it, while revealing himself to be an erudite artsy-fartsy person who is completely knowledgeable of contemporary art and the controversies surrounding it. Gosh, yes, Glenn Beck, those nerds who know Piss Christ are indeed nerdy.

5. Though I know and respect that folks feel that Piss Christ is terrible and offensive, I find it incredibly and profoundly moving. I get why, and again respect why, people read it other ways, but for me, it reads like an incredibly powerful statement of faith–that the power of Christ is such that he can make even the most refusy refuse sacred and beautiful. But, the lovely thing about what Beck’s done is that, if you had any question about whether Serrano’s piece is good (regardless of whether it’s offensive), seeing it in contrast to Beck’s piece surely proves it.

6. And yet, I have to tell you, I find Beck’s piece funny and kind of insightful. And it doesn’t hurt my feelings–and wouldn’t, even if that were real pee–though, let me be clear, that’s mostly because I’m standing up-wind from his true targets. A little splash of grape juice pretending to be pee doesn’t hurt me. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would see that and feel it full on in the face and be pissed. That reflects poorly on Beck and that’s on him. But is there a better piece of conservative contemporary art that shows what a conservative artist–in this case, Beck–thinks of people who are not like him? That we’ve replaced Jesus with Obama, that we’ve left it to him to take a stand for Jesus against Obama, that we need to see Obama being utterly disrespected? And what to make of the out-of-focus Christmas tree to the left? I find that really fascinating.

I’m not going to call Piss Obama good art, by any means, but that image–not just the Obama in the jar of white grape juice, but the whole picture–the Christmas tre in the background, the enormous room the tree sits in, etc.–just might be.

14 thoughts on “Oh, Glenn Beck

  1. The thing is, “Piss Christ” was heavily and repeatedly pointed to on Fox New, talk radio, and other right-leaning outlets as an example, typical even, of blasphemous, disrespectful-of-Christians things “arts elites” and the NEA, etc. do with arts money. Beck could assume that a lot of his audience has at least heard about that..

  2. I was amused by the wet tabletop underneath the jar.

    That’s probably only 1-2 days worth of pee for a man who drinks a lot.

  3. See, that’s what I think the unintended message of Beck’s stunt is…Obama = Jesus. And then I have to laugh my ass off.

  4. Oh, Barry, that’s true. I hadn’t considered that.

    W., ha, okay, yes. That’s also true.

    Still, I am more and more convinced that, while Obama in a pee-filled jar is not really good art, the picture–with the Christmas tree in the background–may indeed be. Unintended, but still…

  5. I think the wet tabletop supports your grape juice theory. Either that or he’s whipping it out to fill up the jar right there, with poor aim.

  6. Wet tabletop could also be condensation if he’s been storing the thing in the fridge to maintain freshness.

    It says he plans to sell it for $25,000 and if it sells he’ll make one of the First Lady as well. Hell, if people are paying $25,000 for that sort of thing, I’LL make one (or five).

  7. Aunt B,

    “I get why, and again respect why, people read it other ways, but for me, it reads like an incredibly powerful statement of faith–that the power of Christ is such that he can make even the most refusy refuse sacred and beautiful.”

    Is that your personal view or did Serrano express that as his reason for creating the work?

    Really excellent post, by the way.

  8. Mark, i don’t know a lot about Serrano’s motivations. I don’t pay a lot of attention to him–I’m of the “Death of the Author” era and can’t really escape my training. I don’t really give a shit what he thinks it means. Once it’s out in the world, he doesn’t get to dictate the meaning of the piece any more.

    But my impression is that he’s been kind of a dick about it, all along.

  9. Aunt B.,

    Thanks. I was just curious.

    I am of the belief that the opinion of the viewer is far less important. The issue for me is what the artist claims to believe or what can be deduced from their work.

    I do find your view of the work inspiring. Your “it reads like an incredibly powerful statement of faith–that the power of Christ is such that he can make even the most refusy refuse sacred and beautiful” is an incredible thought, wonderfully written.

  10. Mark,
    If the viewer is unimportant, then what do you think the purpose of art is? Mere catharsis for the artist?

    I guess I come down in between you and Aunt B. I think the intent of the artist is absolutely crucial, but not any more so than the interpretation of the viewer. Visual art (most any kind of art really) is an interaction between the creator, the work itself, and the consumer (musical and theatrical arts throw in the performer as well). Every piece of that puzzle is integral the existence of the “art.”

  11. Dolphin,

    You make an excellent point and I should have been clearer.

    For me, the initial question for any piece of art is ‘what is the artist saying?’ My boredom with much of what is called modern or post-modern art is that it seems to simply exist to evoke responses from the viewer. That always struck me as style over substance. The greatest Art is created by the Artist to challenge his or her audience. When a work of art becomes important because of certain circumstances, that may be good for the artist but it does not raise the level of his or her skill as an artist any more than winning the lottery makes one an economic expert.

    The literary equivalent would be someone like John Irving who creates beautiful sentences that can cause me to laugh until I cry. But Irving’s works are shallow because he really believes in nothing of importance or lacks the guts to say something that would challenge the culture in which he resides. Instead it is a comfortable work with enough dime store philosophy to seem serious. Personally I think ‘Garp’ might have been a great book had he expanded on the ‘Ellen Jamesians,’ who turn out to be a marvelous avatar of the intellectual extremism of late 20th and early 21st century America.

    He could have challenged his readers in the way Orwell did challeng his and Serrano may have challenged his. Without some sense of what the work meant to Serrano, it is hard to decide whether it is great art or great luck. I like to pay tribute to great artists but I cannot get worked up for lucky artists.

    This discussion takes me back to the debate over Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ here in Nashville. Even though I think it was not a good book, I do applaud Atwood for actually writing about ideas in a more fully developed and uncompromising way. Irving is a talented writer but Atwood is an artist.

  12. Intriguing. One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of modern art is that it has such a great capacity “to challenge his or her audience.” I’m incredibly fascinated by the questions that were being explored by the modernists. In fact a painter friend of mine from college and I would always joke that we grew up several decades too late because we were modern artists stuck a post-modern time frame. In my opinion, visual art really began to come into it’s own as a direct medium for philosophical exploration during the modernist period. Not that art didn’t before that time, but it was much rarer to find “art for art’s sake” and I think that gave the modernists more significantly more freedom than their predecessors had. I personally tend to find older art (pre-20th century) as being more “style over substance” (from the perspective of, ‘Ok, it’s a pretty picture, so?’). Not that I can’t or don’t appreciate much of it, but it sure doesn’t make my heart sing.

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