Friday, April 24, 2009

Notes on What is Art?

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
Critic Lucy Lippard wrote about Serrano in Art in America in April 1990. In Lippard’s defense of Serrano, she uses a three-pronged analysis: she examines (1) his work’s formal properties; (2) its content; and (3) its context, or place in western tradition.

“Piss Christ – the object of censorial furor – is a darkly beautiful photographic image… the small wood-and-plastic crucifix becomes virtually monumental as it floats, photographically enlarged, in deep golden, rosy glow that is both ominous and glorious. The bubbles wafting across the surface suggest a nebula. Yet the work’s title, which is crucial to the enterprise, transforms this easily digestible cultural icon into a sign of rebellion or an object of disgust simply by changing the context in which it is seen.”

-Lucy Lippard, Art in America (1990)

“I’d been doing religious pictures for two or three years before I had realized I had done a lot of religious pictures! I had no idea I had this obsession. It’s a Latino thing, but it’s also a European thing, more so than an American thing.”
-Andres Serrano

Serrano is a member of a minority group in the United States (he is Honduran and part Afro-Cuban). Having a Latin American upbringing, Serrano was well aware of Catholicism’s depiction of bodily suffering and body fluids as sources of religious power. The artist also identifies the Spanish tradition of art, which can be both violent and beautiful, as one of his influences.

Freeland, Cynthia. Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction.Oxford U Press: New York, 2001.

“As humans we are self-programmed to respond to new stimuli but in the comfort of our own safe zone, our "womb state." However, Art, and now Communication Arts exist in this self-constrained society to expand the ephemeral horizon. Christopher Columbus sailed towards it and never got there but as a result he expanded our collective thinking and allowed human intellectual growth. Similarly Art's function in society is that of discovery, to move the horizon further every time. Moving the horizon further implies sparkling thought and debate, and to create spaces to help us all talk about issues that are quickly lost in daily life.”

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