Oct 25, 2011

REVIEW | Blasphemy, Art That Offends, S Brent Plate, Black Dog Publishing, 2006

Front Cover
BLASPHEMY : Art That Offends, S Brent Plate, 2006

         Blasphemy is not what an Artist might or might not intend in their work of art, but is a word given to a work of art by a given group in society due to a belief or censorship created through mainly religion or politics.  This of course being an opinion, but based on factual statistics brought to our attention by this author is exploring the reasons why these powers have had an impression on the arts for many years before the contemporary world and during it.

Many Artists works have been banned, burned, and even dealt with by death due to their so called blasphemous works.  Where is the line drawn between freedom of speech and freedom of expression?  Well, laws date back about freedom through voice but not always about freedom to the open public view.

The author in this book belives that an Artist has the right to express themselve in any way that he/she feel the need to get their messages across, whether it be by speech or religious expression.  I myself being raised in a Christian background believe that more Artists need to express their belief/disbelief of what they feel rather than what everyone else expects them to follow.  Many of Plate's arguments are based upon religion, and touch upon some of the Artists that have been murdered from expressing either humor or even truth of some other cultures religious beliefs that have effecting power on people.  Plate refers to a quote from art critic Michael Kimmelman from The New York Times about pointing out the power of images:
To many people, pictures will always, mysteriously, embody the things they depict.  Among the issues to be hashed out in this affair, there's a lesson to be gleaned about art: Even a dumb cartoon may not be so dumb if it calls out to someone.
Plate responded to this as:
Artists' intentions are one thing, formal evaluation of images another, and the reception of images - in spite of how 'dumb' they may be - still another.  To understand the place and function of blasphemy, it is necessary to take stock of the power of images, and the ways they 'call out' to people.
Many times throughout the book the comparison between the words sacred and profane are brought up as distinguishing what is actually blasphemous work intended to be by the Artist or chosen to be by the audience.  Something sacred has more emotional effect on a humans view of a piece of art and how it effects their actions to their beliefs. The dictionary provides us with this definition of blasphemy:
blas·phe·my   /ˈblæsfəmi/ Show Spelled[blas-fuh-mee] Show IPAnoun, plural -mies.1.impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.

2.Judaism. a.an act of cursing or reviling God.

b.pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in the original, now forbidden manner instead of using a substitute pronunciationsuch as Adonai.

3.Theology. the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God.

4.irreverent behavior toward anything held sacred, priceless, etc.: He uttered blasphemies against life itself
I think Plate is trying to say blasphemy and related terms are subjective, and susceptible to manipulation by those seeking power.

Alexander Kosolapov, This is My Body, Acrylic and Canvas, 2002
Every society has its taboos, and the concept of blasphemy allows us to look up the forbidden symbols and activities/history of our past.  I think this book allows us to see what was once completely unforgiveable in art to now what is still an issue in the contemporary world, but viewed less subjective.   But not always! Depending on the viewer or their taking to the message as we all know some react negatively.
Oreet Ashery, Self Portrait as Marcus Fisher I, Digital Print on MDF, 2000
Plate offers the perspective on how images function alike and unalike in verbal disagreements against the sacred.  Some take sacred to a different level than we do in the Western World such as: animals, scriptures, and figures being reproduced inappropriately as to what is deemed acceptable to the public artistically or not.  Which is where in history we've found these higher powers to step in and sometimes not higher powers at all.  The differences between political and religious powers is most often unseparable, but the power of images also work in the opposite direction.  People without social power(in terms of race, class, and gender) tend to create images in transgressive ways to assert power.
Sarah Lucas, Christ You Know It Ain't Easy, Marlboro Cigarettes and Mixed Media, 2003
In this book I feel there is nothing hidden about gender, race, or religion, just a better concept backed up by great sources on where art started in history as offensive to where it's still affecting people now and in days to come.  And with this conclusion I leave the book in your hands to experience on your own with this quote from the author:
Some seemingly blasphemous images are ignored or overlooked by the masses, while religious and political authorities exploit other seemingly tame images.  Oftentimes, those with the most authority, politically and/or religiously, win the battle. But not always.
So, Artists express yourself, your values, and your blasphemy if you feel the need.  Don't let the man get you down.

- Devin Glenn


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