Editor's note: While we welcome thoughtful opinion submissions on contemporary issues, not all opinions published here necessarily represent the views of the editorial staff at WORLD New York or WORLD Magazine. Joshua Cave is a New York City-based artist.
Within the art world, reactions create, and directs attention. Last year's controversy over David Wojnarowicz's work, A Fire In My Belly, has led to a misguided focus both in relation to the exhibit and has exposed the lack of communication between Christians and the art world. This exhibit is bound to rustle feathers, especially since it is the first museum exhibition to focus on the affect of sexual identity on American portraiture, but was the conservative community's angry response righteous or a lack of Proverbial discretion?
I made a visit to the Brooklyn Museum, where the work in question is on display in its original context within the "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" exhibit. On the fourth floor to the back of the the exhibition, I entered a cold, gray room, enticed by the chronic movement of A Fire in My Belly. Accompanied only by the hum of the control panel closet, I chose a seat and began the twenty-one minute commitment.
Sixteen minutes of syncopated cockfights, wrestling matches, bullfights and other images of human suffering, highlighted the depravity of human entertainment, preceding the infamous and controversial clip of ants crawling over a crucifix. I was initially surprised at how insignificant the short scene seemed within such a larger work, but stepping out into the main exhibition, I discovered the original four minute edit that caused William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, to label the work "hate speech" against Catholics, and Speaker of the House John Boehner to aid him in getting it removed from the Smithsonian last November.
Accompanied by the Levitical rants of an angry woman, this version was much more pointed and aggressive. It had been harder to see in the unedited film, but here, Wojnarowicz's bitterness was evident: He had a gripe with life, death and any role that God has in either. In this case, it is understandable for the Christian world to react unfavorably to his use of the sacred, yet we must consider the effect and motivations of our reaction.
Leaving the room, I was saddened by the fact that an unnecessary and overzealous defense of God had turned an evidently humanistic piece and exhibit into theology. So often the Christian world picks apart art in search of a tangible representation of God, honoring or dishonoring.
I find that as a Christian artist, living and working within the over-saturated New York art world, It is paramount that one learns to hold thy tongue. Wojnarowicz's bitter attitude toward faith is an ancient and common one, and Christ died for us in spite of it. Reacting in defense of Christ undermines his power and sacrifice: Had he thought our sin too offensive, he could have taken himself down from the cross.
Instead of trying to defend God's good name, we should be making efforts to see the world he loves so much. Approaching art like a suspicious parent, peering and sniffing for some sign of indignation, creates strife and often exacerbates the trivial. Instead, Christians should consider with compassion the object of God's love present in all art: humanity.