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Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” – Should Art be Censored on the Grounds of Religious Blasphemy?

Updated on June 12, 2018
JenniferWilber profile image

Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
Piss Christ by Andres Serrano | Source

Background of Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ”

“Piss Christ” is a photograph by the American artist and photographer Andres Serrano. It was created in 1987. This work depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a small glass tank of a yellow liquid that is presumed to be the artist's urine. This photograph won the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art's "Awards in the Visual Arts" competition. This competition was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Government agency that offers support and funding for artistic projects and is backed by public funding.

While initially well received, this piece caused great amounts of controversy in 1989 when the media brought attention to the fact that Serrano received public funding for this work. The artist received hate mail and death threats for this piss and lost his grant following the scandal that his artwork created. Many opponents of this piece of artwork claimed that the government funding of “Piss Christ” violated the separation of church and state.

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
Piss Christ by Andres Serrano | Source

What is the Controversy?

Many people consider Andres Serrano’s photograph “Piss Christ” to be offensive and blasphemous because it can be interpreted as a blatant attack on Christianity. Even more, the fact that tax payers’ money was used to fund the project made this project even more controversial and may may have made people even more upset about this so-called work of art, as it was their tax dollars that funded a project that insults their religion.

My Initial Take on this Piece

When I first saw this piece, I assumed that it was just a wannabe artist trying to be offensive for the sake of being offensive and riling people up, but upon further reflection, I feel that there might be some kind of artistic statement behind it after all. If the government is willing to fund artwork, the artwork produced should not be censored.

Photo artist Andres Serrano, portrayed by foto di matti at the c/o Gallery during Serrano's exhibition in 2005.
Photo artist Andres Serrano, portrayed by foto di matti at the c/o Gallery during Serrano's exhibition in 2005. | Source

Does Piss Christ Have Any Artistic Meaning, or is it Simply Meant to Offend?

This image of Christ differs from more traditional religious images because it is submerged in a tank of urine, which shows the artist’s disrespect for Christ, the Christian church, and the beliefs of many Americans. While most images of Jesus show respect and reverence, this one shows complete disrespect. The artist’s intent at first seems to be to simply anger the religious community and see how far he could go to insult people in the name of art, rather than to make any kind of artistic statement, but that may not be the case.

There could be a deeper artistic statement behind it. It may be a statement about how Americans, as a whole, treat religion. Rather than actually living by what Jesus taught, we use his name as justification to fight wars, hate people who have different beliefs or lifestyles, etc, and expect to be forgiven just for claiming to believe in him. The artist could be making a statement about how, if we treat Jesus like that, we might as well just “piss” on him. It is possibly a statement of how hypocritical many religious people are. What is more blasphemous, Andres Serrano’s work, or using the name of Christ to justify such disgusting behaviors such as intolerance and violence?

My Take Away

It is up to the individual to decide what they consider to be obscene or blasphemous. As Americans, we have freedom of speech and freedom of thought. For religious people, God also gave humans free will. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and are able to make their own judgments about what is offensive to them. There should not be any kind of public agency or anything that regulates what is acceptable, because no one should be allowed to tell people what they can or cannot think.

Artists should not be forced to sign a pledge that would regulate the content of their art to receive federal funding. They should be able to make ethical choices about what they want to do with the federal funding that they receive. Everything could be considered offensive to someone, and artists shouldn’t be expected to censor their work just because it may be considered offensive by someone.

© 2018 Jennifer Wilber

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