There’s been a recent hoo-ha around an art exhibition. A parent posted this video and a local pastor and colleague of mine protested and asked for email responses to the school. So, here’s a blog post. Be warned that it requires some adult-ing in reading and response. So here it is 16-SNVLM. Proceed with you ‘big boy panties’ on.
Recently a matric art pupil in SA exhibited their artwork as part of their practical. The material is, no doubt, of a sensitive nature to those religious. This is partly due to the presentation of God and Jesus as clowns and demonic imagery. The symbolism is clearly evocative and loaded.
The response of Christians is, however, problematic in considering the artwork somehow magical evidencing the continued superstitious thinking of Christians. Wow a teenager as demonologist and the most powerful of all, capable of summoning the big bad wolf itself and of bringing down a school superstitiously dedicated to God. Ok, so fix it. Find and sprinkle some holy water, chant some Latin, I believe Catholic is best, and put up an artwork whether Catholic with Jesus on a cross or Protestant without. Done. Sorted. Back to normal. Christian spells are powerful stuff. So counter artwork with artwork and everything should be fine. But no, here, somehow, the student is capable of enabling a real Satan to somehow curse or inhabit the school and being it to ruin. Powerful fiction indeed. It’s as though Faust has not been read for the absurdity of believing in can exercise such control over essentially unruly cretins with artwork, albeit of an earlier historical kind.
The call of many Christians appears to be for the censorship of the artwork and perhaps the firing of a teacher as an affront to Christians and blasphemy. They ask, “What if this was another religion and it’s symbols? Would they tolerate that? Surely Christians have a right to be offended and call for a lynching?” Sure some believe they know that they know because they know behind the scenes. But, ahem, mayhaps they that see these secret patterns and revelations need a bit of side conversation as a check on their hold on reality.
But this is “critical-parent” locking the artist/s into “rebellious-child” and part of the games people play. So, let’s not play that game. Let’s choose adult-adult instead.
But what such a response fails to account for is a) the lack of human control over a literal Satan and b) that the art reflects Christianity back at the viewer, and c) that God is big enough and secure enough to handle this. After all, God has had to endure Satan and now a teenager! Come on guys, this is art as protest and critique and sure as political commentary and critique on Christianity but it is art and art as the best.
The moral panic also overlooks the whole developmental and relational text and context of the artist/s. In short, there is so much within Christianity as institutionalized and commercialized as commodities from services to books to music that fits in the blasphemy category. To focus on the art or artist is incorrect, we should instead hear the critique and let it judge us. We should take responsibility for change. We should consider what a clown we make of Jesus and God and ask questions of how and why this is reflected back to us in the art.
With the recent Satanism as religion in the U.S. the situation is the same. If anything, it is Promethean in critique of religion and the salvation of humanity through Reason liberating us from the authoritarianism of religion. Sure it’s about 500 years late (or perhaps around 666 years considering the Reformers plagiarized the reformers). But it is not Satanism as in Satanism but instead satanism as Reason against Satanism as the tyranny of Religion. Sure it’s emotional for many but, come on, it’s late and we”be been blaming religion long enough to understand the Alpha-god is our own projected reflection. The real power behind the systems is, well, us. So, sure they get a rise out of Christians but that’s what trolls do – they troll – and they need you to do what you do – you tilt – and you get locked into this. Come on guys. Do better. Please.
Christians should not forget that Dante’s portrayal of Satan is not Scripture’s and that they’re shaped by the former and not the latter. If anything, Satan is God’s Satan. After all, Satan is not just central in Job as instigated into action by God or in the story of Jesus as God taking a Jesus into the desert to spend some quality time with Satan. No, in the Judeo-Christian stream we find Satan as God’s instrument tempting humanity into what God has for them. After all, “they have become like us knowing the difference between good and evil” (Gen.X:Y). This is the work of Satan and the work of God with Satan deceiving Adam and Eve into what God has for them. This is foundational even to the knowing of the difference of good and evil as the continuing image of God and this includes the right and wrong within Christianity. Perhaps those Christian so upset should go and consult their scriptures and reform their Christianity.
But if there be a satan present, perhaps not the big bad wolf itself but a cronie of some kind, then deal with it. Drive it out. Are they not akin to rats or flies attracted to filth and wounds? Are they not as easily scared off by cleansing and healing? Surely you can just “speak the word” and they will go? Is that not the province of Christians to exercise Christ’s authority to cleanse, heal, and deliver? And if you can’t, then perhaps question where you have gone off track. Take a long, deep look at the artwork. This is Christianity reflected back to you.
So let’s not downplay the existence of Satan but let’s not speak with such clarity on something we have such little exposure to or dealings with. Instead let’s let art be art and encouraging the artist/s to dog a little deeper even beyond their early deconstruction. This is, after all, the religious equivalent of reading a little Marx and then going on to undo all the unjust power structures in the world. There is naïveté to it coupled with the need to encourage precisely this kind of deconstruction.
So, well done artist/s. Now bring it home, dive deeper, wrestle more and further and longer. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your stuff.