You might have heard about the Christian outrage over a painted image by Michael D'Antuono depicting Obama with a crown of thorns and with arms outstretched as if in crucifix (http://bit.ly/QsyvfL).
The artist had this to say about his work: "The crucifixion of the president was meant metaphorically. My intent was not to compare him to Jesus." The only reasonable answer is to say "duh," and then talk about why D'Antuono has made his own argument against the painting by defending it.
Though its craftsmanship is fine, the symbolism is so hackneyed that I can't even believe a grown-up artist is using it so bluntly in the 21st century. The Jesus formation as stand-in for "he's being crucified" has been used everywhere, by everyone, in every serious work ever, of every age in every nation that understands what the crucifix stands for. It would be more original for him to have depicted Obama in the Colosseum being fed to the lions -- you see that one far less, and it requires a lot more work on the part of the artists because, well, the Colosseum and lions aren't necessarily as easy to paint as the presidential seal and some curtains.
The whole thing gets better, though.
In response to this work, master intellect Glen Beck released his own "Obama in Pee Pee" (http://bit.ly/WwW713) which is a photo of a jam jar holding Obama -- or a funny little action figure thing resembling him -- floating in human urine. This is, to you seasoned art watchers, not only a response to the D'Antuono piece, but also a satire/homage/reference/jab to Andres Serrano's ages old "Piss Christ," which worked similar urinal magic on crucifix.
My first thoughts upon seeing Beck's magnum opus were "How did Serrano manage to get such a rich, majestic orange with his urine, while Beck can only manage to produce something that looks not unlike Bud Lite?" and "Is that really Glen Beck's pee? Does he really pee that much in one setting or did he have to save it up?" I also wondered, despite softening the language from "piss" to "pee pee," isn't the use of human urine in such a way unsavory no matter what figurine you decide to drop in it? Do his religious right followers really cotton to the reality that he pees loads into jars and takes pictures of them? That's just weird.
Worse is the thought that this is not Beck's own urine, but urine he collected up among his staff, which means there might even be female urine in there. That's even more weird, asking staffers, including women, if they might like to pee in a little container to add to this larger container of pee that he's been collecting.
There's even the more disturbing detail that there is liquid around the jar. What happened there?
The bottom line is that a better photo could have been taken of the Obama pee-pee jar. Doesn't Beck have an iPhone? In this era, bland photography is unforgivable! There are plenty of filter apps out there -- Instagram, Hipstamatic, so many others -- there's no excuse for taking a photo like that.
And, yet, to me, Beck wins in this art battle. Why? For one, while D'Antuono's painting makes use of the one of the most overplayed clichés to ever exist, Beck is only the second person of note to use the urine motif, so while he's not exactly original, he's also not as hackneyed.
Also, D'Antuono is playing to his audience. He knows the liberal art crowd will look at his painting and nod and sigh and wonder what has happened to their country. But Beck, he actually peed in a jar to amuse a bunch of conservative religious folks. These are not people who necessarily respond well to bodily functions as public art. He was taking a real risk there. Some people, even if they appreciate the sentiment, are going to wish that he hadn't peed in a container, taken a picture and put it online for the world to see. And that is why Glen Beck is the most risk-taking urine artist I've encountered since Thomas Kinkade, who famously relieved himself on a Winnie the Pooh statue and yelled, "This one's for you, Walt!"
Even more than Serrano, that's the gold standard of the form.
John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor.