I've gotten into several arguments about the recent removal of the following (not safe for work) video from a Smithsonian exhibit:
because some people found it offensive on religious grounds. I can see how a pious person could take offense at the video, but it seems more like an expression of despair at the inefficacy of traditional solaces like faith and money in the face of AIDS (from which the young artist died) than an exercise in cheap offensiveness. As a gesture of goodwill to those on the other side of the issue, here's a field guide to arguing against offensive art and the government funding of same.
1. Tell The Joke. The Joke is essential. You have to tell it. Like a blues song there is no canonical version, but a representative rendition follows:
"Hey, if they wanna be cutting-edge, I got an idea for them. Chortle! How about painting something beautiful? Something that requires skill. Now that would be avant-garde! Guffaw!"
If someone else has already told the joke, the fun isn't over; go ahead and tell it again. If a third person wishes to argue against modern art, that person should also tell the joke. Each time the joke is told, be sure to laugh as if hearing it for the first time.
As an alternative one can ask why these so-called "artists" (remember the sneer quotes!) pick on Christians, but not Muslims. Be sure to assume that every Muslim man woman and child is a murderous lunatic, and that anyone who claims to have a bone to pick with any aspect of Christianity is just petulant.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, engage the art in question. Any real exposure to the art under discussion might complicate the making of glib, snide remarks. Bonus points for asserting that Robert Mapplethorpe did Piss Christ.
3. Remember the instant-win killer app of modern art mockery: Michelangelo. Everything in the post-Renaissance art world can be obliterated by pointing out that it isn't as good as Michelangelo, with the possible exception of Thomas Kinkaide.
Don't worry; you don't need to know a damn thing about Michelangelo to make this assertion, nor do you need to have engaged his work with any real curiosity or sustained attention. All you need are the usual hand-me-down schoolmarmish articles of faith about Michelangelo, to whit:
His art was pretty.
He painted the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and sculpted David.
He was influential, and a genius.
Unlike these offensive modern artists, he certainly never indulged in anything remotely homoerotic. Pu-leeze.
That's all you need to know!
4. Government shouldn't spend taxpayer dollars on art. Art doesn't fire Patriot missiles into brown-skinned wedding ceremonies.
5. Remember: there is nothing, nothing, of any interest happening in the world of modern art. It's all the Emperor's New Clothes. There's no need to check up on this; take it for granted.
Some of you may be wondering "Are there any distinctions between 'Modern Art,' 'Postmodern Art,' 'Conceptual Art,' 'Abstract Art,' and 'Pop Art?" The answer is no. Use these terms interchangeably.
6. If the person with whom you're arguing says anything that might undermine these positions, just blow them off. Why bother engaging unfamiliar worldviews? That has nothing to do with art.