Saturday, April 30, 2011

Art Heroes: Andres Serrano

The piece after the vandals destroyed it
I was in college finishing my degree in Toledo when the question of funding the National Endowment for the Arts came under fire in the senate. Jesse Helms was the chief complainer, bringing forward Andres Serrano and his piece “Piss Christ” as an example of why the government shouldn’t be funding artwork. Serrano has always been one of my heroes due to the button pushing nature of his artwork. I also love the fact that he uses religious imagery, most of it in a respectful and quite lovely nature. However, “Piss Christ” although beautiful, doesn’t sit well with many. My first year of teaching at Columbia Central created a bit of controversy when one of my students created a replica of Michelangelo’s “David” fully nude with the word “Censorship” hidden in his pubic area. The piece was banned at the local high school art show at the mall and the Cit Pat did a front page article decrying the censorship. But in an ironic moment of hypocrisy chose not to show the full piece of art in the paper. I wrote to Serrano and shared with him the censorship by the mall. Melissa, the artist who created the piece was devastated that the piece didn’t get its showing with her fellow students, so I suggested she add her thoughts as well. We were thrilled when we received a hand-written letter back from Serrano. It is one of my prized possessions. Here is the letter:

Dear Thomas,

I am sorry that I wasn’t able to respond to your letter earlier, but I have been traveling a great deal lately. It is unfortunate that one of your young students had her drawing yanked from an art how. She should realize though that an artist can make work that will be interpreted or misinterpreted by the public. This is not necessarily a reflection of the artist’s intent or talent. The beauty of art is in its power to incite or provoke thought. After all, if art did not cause a fuss now and then things would be very boring. What you have to remember is that the best provocation is sometimes unintentional. As such, it can cause an artist a great deal of confusion when his or her art comes under attack. If your students want to become artists, then so be it. Some will go on to become rich and famous and others won’t. I don’t know which is better.



Recently, a copy of “Piss Christ” was vandalized in Paris, bringing this amazing, but controversial piece back to the limelight twenty some years after its creation.

More on the piece’s destruction here:


  1. I like Serrano's last statement in the letter. Ah, which is better?

  2. there is nothing like controvesy to promote art!

  3. Melissa (Hartman) WaltaMay 6, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    Hello! It hasn't really been almost 20 years, has it??
    I had no idea that Serrano was one of your heros. I also didn't know about the photograph getting vandalized. If the attacker was commenting on it being blasphemous, what he created wasn't any better. The picture left, the picture of Christ’s head chiseled and broken, isn’t any more reverent. In fact, it creates an extremely destructive and irreverent picture of Christ.