This is a blog about God’s sublime chosen animal the donkey. It rarely descends into the discussions of politics and religion that are wisely banned in the officers’ mess, but there are exceptional moments when a complete moron sits down at the table and breaks the taboos of good taste. Then one must comment. Such is the case of Charles Saatchi and the Gay Nativity.
On returning home from work today, I fed my donkeys and groomed them, then spent two hours doing school work before catching up with emails (more school work), Twitter, and news. I was immediately struck by the blogpost on Deacon Nick Donnelly’s blog Protect the Pope about the image of the pregnant homosexual being led on a donkey by “Joseph” towards Bethlehem, pictured above.
This blog post is primarily about bad art, not necessarily about religion, but the man who has no religion will probably produce bad art anyway. So let’s look at the bad art as a way into bad religion.
When I was living in a religious community in the Abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou in the winter of 1993, high up in the Pyrenees Orientales, we were cut off by snow and a French air force Alouette helicopter dropped in our needed prescription supplies for infirm community members and our post. There was only one letter for me and it came from Patrick Reyntiens, at that time the art correspondent of The Tablet.
Thanks to the influence of Reyntiens, the Catholic Head of Fine Art when I was a postgraduate student at the Central School of Art, I accidentally became an Anglican and later converted to the true Church (but that confusion is not part of the story), so ended up in a religious community in the Pyrenees. The letter from Reyntiens – long lost unfortunately – was a marvellous sharing of his first reading of Alasdair MacIntyre´s After Virtue and specifically relating it to the barbarians on the London art scene at the time: people like Damian Hirst whose intention (as self-publicists) was simply to shock. Latecomer modernists lacking the imagination or the urinal humour of a Marcel Duchamps.
My copy of Alasdair MacIntyre has sat on the shelf unvisited for about ten years: I’m not good at philosophy. I do donkey grooming quite well, but thinking is not my thing. It took me these twenty years to understand the point Reyntiens was making. It is all there in the crass image of the “pregnant” poof on a donkey too small to carry him. The same day that the prime minister David Cameron is criticised for contempt of court by the judge in a case involving this same self-publicist Saatchi and his self-publicist drug-taking wife (a cook).
The barbarians are indeed inside the gates. As a Catholic,I am revolted by the image and I agree with Nick Donnelly’s post about blasphemy. He has more courage than Saatchi: try publicising something as offensive as this but designed to enrage Muslims (or gays?) and see what trouble comes your way! Catholic faith is a soft target for the new barbarians. But – never mind religion – my main sense of outrage is directed elsewhere. What kind of cheap imagery and craftsmanship do we now regard as high art? These disproportionate badly made figures – including the ugliest imaginable representation of the sublime equine creatures that I love – offend against art and humanity itself, let alone the Creator.
Saatchi, take your money, your loud wife, your litigation, and your entire barbarian culture, and don’t offend against the good taste of donkeys and men.