By Tatiana von Tauber
Today is Blasphemy Day and its objective is to “open up all religious beliefs to the same level of free inquiry, discussion and criticism to which all other areas of academic interest are subjective” according to Center for Inquiry, the host of the Blasphemy Day Artist Showcase exhibition. Meet Dana Ellyn. She’s the showcase artist and she’s getting lots of attention she doesn’t want for a painting which was spurred by creativity and a theme.
“I don’t want to be the poster child for atheism. It is a fact that I don’t believe in god or practice any religion – but that is not what defines me or my art.”
The attention Ellyn is getting is on her Jesus Does His Nails painting and the religious community is angry. CNN interviewed her last night. Pharyngula picked her up as did Politics Daily. Bill Donohue is mad and a slew of religious folks have been sending her hate mail. That’s nothing new in the controversial world of art and free speech. However, I got an inside scoop to some questions a pastor who’s a self announced “fundamental Christian” asked Ellyn. The question which poked me hardest served as an example of the crux of the problem with intolerance and that is simply blatant assumption:
“What would you say to someone like me, a Fundamentalist Christian, who has a hard time believing your statement that your “point is not to offend” after viewing paintings like “Jesus Does His Nails“, “Silly Rabbit, Myths Are For Kids” and “Bottled at the Source“? It would seem, in my opinion, the offensiveness is not only intended, but is quite possibly the objective of such pieces. Your response?”
Dana Ellyn was kinder than I would have been because if Ellyn really wanted to insult, she as many others, could find truly insulting and offensive imagery to blast at the religious community. What Ellyn has is provocative art and that’s one of art’s purposes. Ellyn said she’s never consciously and intently sat down at an easel to paint something that would purposefully offend. What Dana Ellyn does – as many or most artists do – is she sits down at an easel with intent to provoke human emotion in order to ignite discussion, thought, critical thinking, or simple pondering. As Ellyn states,
“I hope they (art pieces) foster open-minded discussions. And perhaps induce a giggle or two along the way.” (Personally, I love her take on motherhood. Hook me up, please!)
To be fair, as I always try, of course the religious minded have the right to speak their mind too. That’s what freedom of speech is about – everyone having a voice. However, when speaking one’s mind turns into crazy forms of verbal harassment with blatant lack of tolerance as seen in the many comments on this article, one has to wonder what sunday school or God his behavior and ethics are modeled after when he attacks with things like Dana Ellyn must be stopped and punished. To Ellyn, that’s no longer simply a heated difference of opinion; it’s conscious – and proud – intent of wishing someone bad via punishment and full censorship for what is ultimately subjective expression. Ellyn views her art – as explained referencing to her piece Bottled At the Source (Dive Wine)- “as a literal depiction of what I had read – realizing that people may be offended but my inspiration for the piece was solely rooted in the desire to ‘illustrate’ the written words which explained the communion.”
Freedom of voice and expression are natural birthrights, yet those rights require self-responsibility. The responsibility some feel is in those who make controversial statements or art and that’s a thin line but really, the responsibility rests on those who interpret what is ultimately one subjective view in a sea of billions. Clearly, it’s a self-made problem.
Ellyn’s paintings hardly seem something to fear and yet, so many do -not the paintings of course but their message which shakes faith just a bit if not a lot. That’s not new in the ways of confronting firm ideology over generations but if Dana Ellyn’s few religious themes provoke people to ask her questions, then she’s initiated some discussion while expressing her freedom of expression. When those very people twist things on her and, as the pastor example shows, basically spell out for her what she thinks and intends – aka assumption- then it feeds the fear of ”losing my religion” .
Dana Ellyn’s paintings are fresh interpretations of myth and reality and the absurdity which surrounds us daily. She plays with her inner child and together they paint a “new world” to adults who take themselves, their ideas and their God too seriously and literally. Lighten up. It’s only a painting and Jesus is only what one makes him to be and nothing more. Diversity demands tolerance. Tolerance requires freedom of expression and freedom of expression is what Americans advocate. Some do, anyway.
Here’s the CNN article, which slants a bit in Ellyn’s favor. It’s a good article.