Over at Pith's sister arts blog Country Life, I talk about why I'm kind of blown away by this picture of a plastic Obama supposedly submerged in Glenn Beck's pee. Here's a, dare I say, specimen of my argument:
I can't stop thinking about it. Not because I'm upset at the artist — Glenn Beck, in this case — but because I think this might, unintentionally, be the most illuminating piece of contemporary religio-political art made in years. I believe that if you understand this photo, you understand just about everything in American religion and politics in the past five years. ...
Try to forget that this is a picture Glenn Beck took of his little arts & crafts project. Try to forget, just for a minute, Glenn Beck's involvement at all. And try, just for a second, try to pretend we don't know the Piss Christ reference. Let's just consider the picture of a plastic Obama submerged in some sort of juice (or perhaps a pickling liquid) in a Mason jar on a counter in someone's house.
There are some things we notice. The house is large, and judging by the large room with high ceilings in the background, it's either fairly new or has been extensively remodeled. There's a Christmas tree, along with some large posters or art pieces in the background. This is the home of a wealthy Christian.
The Obama figurine is wearing a robe that looks like a choir robe, or the robes that child angels are given to wear in Christmas pageants (though those are often one in the same). The grapes on the Mason jar form a kind of inverted triangle that seems to suggest the triangle of the Christmas tree. That — coupled with the robes on the Obama figure, dressed like an angel that might be on that tree — seems to indicate that the artist wants you to see those two things as a piece: Obama in the juice means something in conjunction with that tree.
And then the Obama figurine is in a Mason Jar, like he's been kept in the basement on a shelf with the peaches and the green beans and brought out here at Christmastime, so that we can have something that reminds us of summer. See what I'm saying? If you don't know that's supposed to be piss, it's not immediately clear that this is an image intentionally hostile to Obama. Contemporary art is weird. It could be about preserving him, bringing him out when needed.
But the thing that really strikes me is that, once you know it's supposed to be pee, the Christmas tree looks almost profane. Is the artist suggesting that a Christian would submerge an image of our president in pee? That doing so is somehow compatible with his or her Christianity? The idea that a person who follows the teachings of a man who says, "Love your enemies as yourself" could display the degradation of his enemy like this causes me a little cognitive dissonance. (Never mind the large great room of a man who's been commanded to take all he has and give it to the poor.)
Put another way: If we're to believe that the person who put the Obama figurine in the jar is following Christ's admonition, then it seems like we're looking at the work of someone who must really loathe him or herself.