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TAM: Exhibit disturbing because it reflects ourselves

Letter by Karin Morris, Tacoma on March 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm with 30 Comments »
March 20, 2012 2:56 pm

Viewers to Tacoma Art Museum’s “Hide/Seek” exhibit will be taken aback by some of the images. Just like viewers in the 1800 were offended when they first saw Goya’s unflattering depictions of the Spanish royals, or when they saw Delacroix’s “Odalisque” reclining nude in an ecstatic repose breathing her passionate abandonment. Or what about our beloved impressionists who were not allowed to exhibit in Paris’ prestigious Salon?

Much of art reflects our humanity, our desires, our horrid acts, our wit, our pleasures, our often misplaced idealism with its contradictions.

There is perhaps a way to look at the controversial video by David Wojnarowicz which depicts quick frames of the suffering Christ, sewn-shut mouths, crosses with crawling ants and blood. It’s very disturbing. The Catholic Church in recent years has been shown to have some rot at its core as we keep reading of the many abuse cases. A cross with crawling ants.

In the last 50 years especially, the gay and other gender community has gone through much suffering due to ostracism and the HIV epidemic, before the government and the church wanted to acknowledge this fact. Did Christ not forgive and ask us to aid the outcasts? ” Don’t ask don’t tell” restrictions meant “sew up your lips.”

Artists put into visual images reflections of ourselves, often not how we would like to see ourselves, and that can be disturbing.

Leave a comment Comments → 30
  1. ‘Much of art reflects our humanity, our desires, our horrid acts, our wit, our pleasures, our often misplaced idealism with its contradictions.’

    You make a valid point though your phrase “misplaced idealism” would suggest that we have no choice but to give into our baser instincts when of course we do.

    And even that part of your point that’s valid reflects a small percentage of the general population for the most part. Sure we all have the occasional “horrid” impulse or image, but we don’t all act on them. When we do, as it turns out, I am a believer in grace and redemption–nothing is beyond the grace of God… but again, we do not have to indulge our base instincts and we don’t have to abandon our ideals.

    The presence of sin and corruption in the church (meaning the body of believers, not the institution) is nothing new; it is part of our human condition, but it needn’t rule us, individually or collectively.

  2. So sozo, have you seen the show at TAM?

    I’m planning on going in the next couple of weeks, I’ll buy your ticket. That way when you make comments about it, you will have some integrity.

  3. lovethemountains says:

    kluwer, sozo’s comments were much broader than just the current TAM exhibit. Having said that, I have no criticism of TAM or the artists displayed. Will I go see it? Probably not, just as I choose to go or not go to any exhibit. If it interests me I go. If not I don’t go. Simple.

  4. What is important is not that we agree or disagree with you, but that you elevate the level of our dialogue in this page profoundly. Thank you.

  5. David Wojnarowicz was a founder of ACT UP and was very active in the promotion of gay rights. His book “Close to the Knives” is a collection of essays written at the time. Several of them are in reaction to the Boston Archbishop’s efforts to prevent condoms being utilized to help combat the spread of AIDs within the gay community – making pronouncements that it is better to die a terrible, anguished and preventable death than to risk the sin of contraception (to prevent disease transmission – not pregnancy).

    The video by Wojnarowicz, with its images of ants crawling upon a crucifix, may be hard for some of the devout to see but, as for me, there is no way it can be any way as offensive as the idea of a Church that actively prevented efforts to save lives in order to protect their teachings on contraception.

  6. Frankenchrist says:

    I hope Tacoma brings in works by Andres Serrano, the greatest living artist of our time.

  7. Yes, my comments were intended to be more far-reaching than this current exhibit, and as I said, bBoy, there are reasons to be disturbed by the conduct of the self-righteous. Nonetheless, I maintain my position that we are not obligated to bless or validate behavior that we deem destructive. We do not function according to the laws of nature, but have set the bar higher than our animal friends have need to do. Why?

  8. LornaDoone says:

    “We do not function according to the laws of nature, but have set the bar higher than our animal friends have need to do. Why?”

    When I read comments about killing all Muslims and/or nuclear war, I’m more worried about our animalistic tendencies, than with sexual issues.

  9. sozo, go to the exhibit and then decide whether or not the images “bless or validate” behavior. Much of art that comments on behavior or culture neither blesses it nor validates it. That is up to the viewer.

    To me, ants crawling on a crucifix is just that, since, being a Protestant, I do not empower a piece of jewelry with any religious meaning or significance. If I did not know about the iconography (idolatry?) of Catholics and the related issues the artist was commenting on, then it would stir little or no meaning within me.

    To the most ardent believers in the inherent power of a crucifix, then it will stir much more emotion. It is valid to think it is disgusting by a person who thinks that the jewelry or its religious significance is devalued somehow.

    To an Orthodox Jew, a video of someone putting their hands all over a sacred scroll would be disgusting and deliberately provocative. To me, putting my hands all over a Bible is not sacriligious at all, so it wouldn’t evoke much emotion in me, but I can relate to the people who do think that way but also understand why an artist might want to comment on it.

    Some art stands by itself but most needs context. Most fine art needs to create something other than a “isn’t that pretty” reaction to be considered fine art. If you think some of the nudity or images invoke an emotion in you, then it is up to you to decide why that particular emotion emerged.

    “I am offended” is a valid reaction to some of the images, but if you don’t take it further in determining why you are offended, examining if that is a healthy reaction or not, or whether that is how you would ideally react, then you haven’t done your part, but have given away all power to the artist.

    If you steadfastly believe that homosexuals should not have human emotions, should not be able to love, should not be angry at how society treats them as second-class citizens, and you do not want to be challenged on that belief, then this exhibit is probably not for you.

    If you steadfastly believe that homosexuals should be perfect little puritans and not show sensuality, hedonism or other human behaviors(unlike heterosexuals), and you do not want to be challenged on that belief, then this exhibit is probably not for you.

  10. The absurdity of commenting upon an art exhibition by this statement “We do not function according to the laws of nature, but have set the bar higher than our animal friends have need to do” should be self-evident. It is an art exhibit in various media making social commentary – while there may be a few (other) animals (we are animals, after all) that collect shiny things and colorful feathers in an attempt to create nests that may attract a mate – and the higher level functioning should be obvious to even the most moralistic amongst us.

    But…to suggest that we do not function according to laws of nature is, in itself, an interesting statement…..

  11. “If you steadfastly believe that homosexuals should not have human emotions, should not be able to love, should not be angry at how society treats them as second-class citizens, and you do not want to be challenged on that belief, then this exhibit is probably not for you.
    If you steadfastly believe that homosexuals should be perfect little puritans and not show sensuality, hedonism or other human behaviors(unlike heterosexuals), and you do not want to be challenged on that belief, then this exhibit is probably not for you. ”

    I do not steadfastly hold to either of these notions and it is presumptuous, though not surprising, that you would imply that I do Tuddo.

    And for the record, the conduct of heterosexuals is easily as offensive to me at times as that of homosexuals.

    Finally, this is not a case of either/or Lorna Doone. The article and letters are not about exhibitions of war and violence.

  12. sozo, your statements about the exhibit on other threads certainly did lead me to believe I had captured your feelings about the exhibit. In re your quotes from my post, however, I was making a general comment at the end to anyone thinking about visiting it.

    Several commenters and letter writers have made statements that made me think that they have their mind made up that any depiction of homosexuality is obscene, homosexuality is a destructive force, and this exhibit validates homosexuality to make it seem normal. It is clear they are solidly behind those beliefs.

    It is sometimes hard to reconcile what you say from thread to thread. For example, I find it hard to reconcile your position in your reply to me with a recent post of yours:

    “The report that there was a time in the U.S. when homosexual activity was in some way accepted as normal may be true in the arts community where hedonism has long been the religion of choice, but for the average American, it was certainly not the case. This exhibit is just one more effort to validate homosexuality as an accepted norm in a long run of such efforts.”

    You have often stated that you think (1) homosexuality is a destructive force in the USA, (2) society should not “validate” such behavior, and (3) you believed this exhibit gave official sanction or approval (validation) to such behavior.

    Please let me know which parts, 1, 2, and/or 3 that I got wrong or that you have changed your mind about.

  13. Your “steadfastly believe” statements evoke images of mean-spirited, petty people. I am neither, and I know many people who are distressed by the pressure to validate gay marriage, gay ordination in the church, etc. by the depiction of them as uncaring. Your implication that I am puritanical is downright laughable. You leap to conclusions that are unfounded.

    That you find it difficult to pigeon-hole and label me is a good thing, because the fact is we are all complex beings, we humans, including you. I have borrowed a line from Brennan Manning who described himself as a “bundle of contradictions.” Being human means being conflicted at times.

    I have no desire to harrass gay people. I have no puritanical agenda for society. I happen to believe that engaging in homosexual conduct is contrary to God’s plan for human beings, and while I fully understand and appreciate what it’s like to have to restrain oneself from fulfilling every desire, I believe that there was (is)a design to which we should aspire — the nuclear family, lovingly led by a mother and a father, together.

    Yes, it’s an ideal. Yes, the ideal appears to be lost in today’s culture among heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. It doesn’t mean we should abandon the plan.

    As I’ve told my gay nephew, I love you (and he knows it’s true) and I love your partner (also true) but I cannot maintain integrity and bless your sexual activity. This is not meant to hurt you and it’s not to suggest that I don’t have plenty of issues in my own life that need my attention.

    People on both sides of this discussion want to use wide black and white brushes to paint the picture. Seems you, tuddo, while attempting to present yourself as thoughtful and civil, use such brushes yourself in this matter.

  14. “I know many people who are distressed by the pressure to validate gay marriage, gay ordination in the church, etc. by the depiction of them as uncaring.

    There is a very good reason they are ‘depicted’ that way.
    They should be grateful for the politeness, because what they really are isn’t so polite.

  15. sozo, thank you for your answer. You are complex, no denying it. That is one reason I enjoy engaging you more than some of the one-note (“socialism”, for example) commenters.

    On one thread about a letter praising Tacoma for tolerance you imply that a beautiful and well done art exhibit (which is the topic of the letter) should not be tolerated and should be part of a discussion about when to ban things one disagrees with. You talk about “hedonism” on display, implying your disgust with natural human activities and implying gays have no right to such human activities if they so choose.

    On the issue of homosexuality, you use your own personal religious beliefs to support government denial of equal rights. You constantly add your religious beliefs to the threads about gay marriage saying government should restrict their rights because they are evil (they go against God’s will, which is the definition of evil in Christianity)and how homosexuality is destructive to our society. Then you claim you are not trying to harass gays by your constant put downs about them.

    On other threads you claim to be supportive of women’s choice of their own health decisions and then add (in the same comment, no less)that you would like the government to make the choice for women on issues where they might dare make a choice different from your religiously-based beliefs.

    My puritanical comment was based on the common definition, (“strict in moral or religious outlook, esp in shunning sensual pleasures”) not the theological beliefs of actual Puritans in America. Based on years of reading your comments, I still think it seems to fit.

    This description from a history text about the actual Puritans seems to fit you, too: “Puritans believed that they were superior to the common man and thought themselves to be faithful representatives of God.”

    If you think I was putting people down for “steadfastly” believing something then you are partially correct. When people are not willing to even take a chance on being challenged in their beliefs, cling to beliefs even when facts do not support them, have closed minds, then I do feel this kind of art exhibit has nothing to offer them.

  16. LornaDoone says:

    “As I’ve told my gay nephew, I love you (and he knows it’s true) and I love your partner (also true) but I cannot maintain integrity and bless your sexual activity.”

    I don’t bless the sexual activity of any of my relatives. It’s frankly, a bit creepy to think about. To consider it would make me wonder about my integrity

  17. itwasntmethistime says:

    I’m with Lorna on this one. Ewwww. I remember being totally grossed out as a kid when I found out what my parents did to make us. Since then, I’ve made an effort not to think about anybody else’s sex life.

  18. Well, Lorna, your relatives are not asking you to bless and validate their sexual conduct whereas gay people are asking folks to do just that.

    tuddo, let me try one more time to clarify. Do you believe the law should interfere with my freedom if, in exercising it, I believe in killing for revenge? I’m going to say you are in favor of laws protecting even killers from being killed without benefit of a trial.

    While I am in favor of and supportive of women making their own choices re their health issues, when such a choice includes the taking of a life, it is IMO perfectly reasonable for the law to interfere. The health and welfare of the child trumps the mother’s freedom to terminate the life of that child.

    Once again, currently the law allows her to do this, but that doesn’t mean the law cannot be changed. It was changed once and can be changed again.

    Finally, you write, “On the issue of homosexuality, you use your own personal religious beliefs to support government denial of equal rights” when this is not true. The civil rights of gay couples can be protected, and are protected, without defining their union as marriage.

    You are sadly mistaken when you equate my position on these things to a lack of compassion, but I don’t think there’s any convincing you.
    When I had students who chose to terminate their pregnancies, I did not lack compassion for them, nor did I hold their decision against them. However, I did not accompany them to the clinic, but left that for someone else to do. Can you honestly not see how this is possible?

  19. sozo, gay people are not asking anyone to “bless and validate” their sexual conduct. The law aready gives them that legal right, so stay out of their bedroom and you won’t be offended except through your fantasies of what they are doing in there. “Blessing” is a religious idea that you keep bringing up. Keep religion out of secular laws, and you won’t have to “bless” anything. It will just be a legal issue.

    There’s no logical reason to use different names for something that is exactly the same. Do you subscribe to the term “marriage” being reserved for “sacred” or “holy” matrimony? You must not, because you aren’t calling for heterosexual marriages to have different names.

    Marriage under our civil laws is a secular thing, and cannot be “sacred” or “holy” because our government certainly can’t make anything “holy”. It can only make it legal or illegal. I would agree that we could call all civil marriages a “civil union” and then churches could reserve the term marriage for their use. You do realize that a lot of Christian churches and others would allow “marriage” for gays, so I am not sure what you would accomplish under that system, but at least it would also provide equality under our secular laws, just like using the term marriage for all marriages.

    You bring in your particular religious views when you are talking about abortion. Abortion is a constitutionally protected activity and is a private health matter between patient and doctor. It is not a religious activity that can be decided on a religious basis except by the individuals involved at the time.

    You are injecting purely religious views when calling a zygote or a sperm or an egg or fetal tissue or whatever you personally believe to be a “child”, when our secular laws do not and cannot, because that falls in the realm of a religious belief.

    Our laws already protect children, because a child can live independently from the mother’s womb. Our laws also currently protect women or family members or other responsible parties when making a decision about whose life to save. I don’t think a government should impose an answer to that question of who should live, and you certainly should not be able to make it for others.

    You would order the mother killed for the sake of the child. I honor that decision, but only for yourself, not for you to impose it on others regardless of circumstances. You don’t have that right.

    You have the right to use your religious views (or not) in determining your own health care. Don’t want a transfusion because your religion believes it is corruption of human life? Don’t have one. Government isn’t telling you that you must.

    Don’t want an abortion, don’t want contraception? then don’t do it. Government isn’t telling you you must. In contrast you want government to impose your religious views on women who have different beliefs on these issues. Keep those purely religious view out of our secular laws.

    And what does your claiming a right to revenge killing have anything to do with this? I am totally baffled on why you would bring that up. Revenge killing is usually a tribal religious concept, and I am trying to keep religious beliefs out of such matters.

    Finally, I guess you are talking to someone else when you mention compassion. I have not uttered that word to you pro or con. You may be a compassionate person for all I know. Compassion, imposing religious views on others and following the Constitution are all very different things.

  20. Of course, if you only exhibited art by hetero-identified artists, there would considerably less art available – including the classical/renaissance works that were based upon Christian mythic structure (don’t look too close or you will see the hidden sexual “perversions” in those paintings of the saints!)

  21. As I have said, I cannot (or will not) compartmentalize my religious beliefs as if they do not inform my opinions regarding laws and ballot issues. I don’t know how other people pull that off; in fact I don’t think they do, as the so-called areligious are easily as zealous in pushing their moral codes on others as any evangelical I’ve met. Witness the energy behind environmentalism and political correctness for instance.

    The revenge killing analogy was weak, sorry about that. I was just trying to point out that a person might believe they have a moral right to kill another person regardless of what the law says. As I’ve said, I respect the law but will continue to move for changes that I think should be in place.

    I’m curious about something. You say that a child can live independently, outside the mother’s womb. Should we prosecute women who give birth in gas station bathrooms and leave their babies for the janitor to find…since those babies can live independently?

  22. sozo, only you (and other right-wing religious evangelicals) think environmental protection is a religious question. Rooting for the end times and trying to hurry them up by using up all of earth’s natural resources is one of the evangelicals’ most unfortunate (and absurd) contributions to public debate.

    And, its disappointing that you would stoop to labeling anything you disagree with as “political correctness”. Aren’t you tired of that hackneyed propaganda phrase yet? It just shows how lazy the person arguing is, since it has absolutely no meaning except as a rallying cry for partisan political activities.

    I mentioned the Supreme Court’s use of science’s definition of a human life in determining when the Constitutional right to an abortion can be restricted by the government. The queston they use is if the fetus is actually part of the woman, totally dependent on her heart, lungs, blood supply, with no chance of viability outside the womb environment, or is there a slight chance that fetus can survive if the woman dies while carrying it or it is removed from gthe womb. That is what the Supreme Court has agreed upon. That happens about at the third trimester, and courts rely on expert medical testimony in each case where there is a question.

    The states do get to regulate any abortion after that time of viability, so there are battles on whether the state gets to decide if it should mandate the killing of the mother over the child, allow an abortion if the health of the woman would be compromised or to allow the doctor, patient, family, etc to decide. Most states have the latter in cases of harm to the mother, but many states are trying to pass laws giving government the power to decide rather than the doctor patient and family.

    You agree with the absolute power of big government in that instance. I don’t. I think it is a terrible and very private decision.

    I did not say that the definition of a human life depends on whether or not a person needs assistance to live. Many people need assistance from others or from technology to survive. Since abandonment of a child is child abuse, at least, and perhaps even more serious, depending on the impact to the child, yes we should prosecute.

  23. berBoy, thanks for trying to get this discussion back on track, sozo and I have moved into our usual discussion about when and whether or not other people’s religious views should trump an individual’s decisions.

  24. sozo, only you (and other right-wing religious evangelicals) think environmental protection is a religious question.

    You’ve misunderstood, tuddo. I mean that many environmentalists behave with the zeal of Simon for their cause, turning it into a religion.

    FYI I believe that God made us stewards of the creation and we ARE responsible for taking good care of it. I do not, however, worship the creation, only the Creator.

    Re political correctness, given the attempts to control language these days, I’d say the battle has really just begun. If you want to witness zeal, watch me fight for the right to speak without fear of persecution.

  25. If one worships the creator it seems axiomatic that they would honor the creation.

  26. sozo, PC language is nothing more than compassion, which you state you have, in most cases.

    For instance, I bristle greatly and ask politely to desist, when a speaker uses a “non-PC” term for people with disabilities. Even saying “the disabled” irks me. The disabled what? cars, nukes? People first language is what people with disabilities have said they prefer, so I use those terms.

    In Canada and in articles and books intended for a Canadian audience, I use “First Nations”, because that is what has been agreed upon as non-derogatory and acceptible for native tribes and their members.

    It is a matter of common courtesy, compassion and empathy. As a publisher and editor, where I get the final say, I only let “non-PC” pass in articles and publications where it is clear the speaker is uneducated or a villian or despicable person purposely making a derogatory remark.

    Since I am very strict about this, I imagine some of the authors and writers may think I have “religious zeal”, but I can assure you, I have more interest in the bottom line, not hurting the feelings of other people, and, most importantly, having people receive the true message and not an unintended one.

    Use all of the hurtful, irritating and common non-PC terms you want. It says more about you than anything about what you are saying.

    Far from being “cultural Marxism” as Pat Buchanan calls PC language, I agree with Toynbee:

    “The phrase “political correctness” was born as a coded cover for all who still want to say Paki, spastic or queer, all those who still want to pick on anyone not like them, playground bullies who never grew up. The politically correct society is the civilised society.”

  27. PC language……it cuts both ways….when “pro-life” folks insist that it is a “baby”. When the wrong use of the word “coward” can get Bill Maher canned (ironically, from his show “Politically Incorrect”). When the word “Christian” has been appropriated by the telebangelists – to the exclusion of all other Christian denominations – who, in reality, should be recognized as worshippers of Mammon.

    I bristle at overly stupid application of “PC” language – when someone stumbles over what to call a 5 year old female because the word “girl” is somehow suspect, or what to call a 7 year old black (er…negro..er..of color…er….Afro-Americ…er…African-American) male. But, a lot of, so-called PC is about using words that do not denigrate others.

    And that, sozo, should fit well with your world view. So it is a bit of a paradox that PC is one of your pet peeves.

  28. I had no problem with the idea of PC orginally, as it does coincide with my way of thinking –to do all that we can to show respect and avoid offending each other. My complaint is about the corruption of the whole thing, and about what appears to be a double standard regarding language. Your observation about the stuttering hesitance we sometimes feel is a good one, bBoy. What bothers me most is that it nudges people towards dishonesty, as in saying “the right thing” rather than saying speaking with candor in the hopes of a real, gritty dialogue.

  29. The best guide is to ask, if you have the opportunity, what people want to be called, if it is necessary at all to deliniate a group or use a descriptor.

    beerBoy, you pointed out the most changing and sometimes contentious example. Many in the black community are shying away from the “African-American” term that was the standard in the 1980’s and 1990’s and going back to “black”, in part, because of the continuing attack by the pundits on the right on “hyphenated Americans” (while conveniently allowing Italian-Americans, German-Americans and other white Americans all the hyphens they want).

    That is the key to the whole thing. People can tell when you are using a term as a put-down or when you are honest in your usage.

    TheGrio, a major on-line blog targeted to black readers, uses the term “black”, and that is what I use most frequently unless the audience prefers something else, or if there are technical terms that fit better.

    Here is an interesting article from that source on this issue, if you care to imbibe.


  30. Even though I tend to use the term “Black”, I bristle at form questions about my race/ethnicity that leave me with the term “White” – which is a color. I’m not Anglo and I’m not Caucasian either. I prefer to provide my more specific ethnic extraction if asked: I am a Bohemian, German, Irish, Iowan, cultural-Catholic who is most at home in the Western United States.

    But…that being said….an African-American, like a European-American, really should be someone who emigrated to this country and became a citizen.

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