Chris Sutcliff

Artist Man I am
28th Jul 2009

Pope Becomes Art Critic.

On a list of people that you wouldn’t want to annoy I reckon The Pope ranks pretty highly. Glaswegian artist Anthony Schrag and the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow have managed to do just that today with their ‘Made in God’s Image’ exhibition. Actually, with just one piece in the exhibition which was a copy of the Holy Bible and a set of pens, inviting the attendees to write whatever they wanted over the text. The attendees did exactly what they were told. They wrote whatever they wanted. I’ll come back to the staggering hilarity of all this in a minute.

I have used bible pages in my art work for over 15 years now (including the canvas I am working on at this very moment), and when I say ‘used’ I mean I ripped the hell out of it (pardon the pun) and threw paint all over it and occasionally burned it. Not one of these actions was a comment on Religion, because I’m not religious and because I respect the right of everyone to have their own beliefs. Nor am I a hater of books. I disembowel this holy tome only because it has interesting pages. The layout of a bible is very pleasing to the eye, two main columns with varying font sizes, an abundance of upper and lower cases, numbers everywhere and italicised footnotes – INTERESTING. Give it a Jackson Pollock overcoat and you absolutely can’t fail. That said, both myself and Mr. Schrag are VERY aware of how other people will comprehend our provocations. So, the free added-reaction in all this comes when you tell the AUDIENCE that the pages are from a Bible. Light the taper and stand well back. Judging by the open mouths of far less holy sorts, let’s just say that if Pope Benedict XVI ever accidentally strays onto my website he’s gonna throw a hissy fit that makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like a slap on the wrist and I’ll be on the metaphysical naughty step for eternity. But let’s get back to the story…..

Anthony Schrag, in typical artist depth of vision, wanted gays and transsexuals who felt left out of religion to ‘write their way back in’ to the holy text. Metropolitan Community Church minister Jane Clarke said ‘I had hoped people would show respect for the bible. I am saddened some have chosen to write offensive messages’. And finally, and please O Lord don’t let us miss the punch-line in this one, the “adviser” to the Pope said ‘It is disgusting and offensive. They would not think of doing this to the Koran’. Clearly the Vatican Press Official was on holiday.

At times like this I truly wish I’d been a stand up comedian. Honestly, where do you start? Is this an attack on religion? On freedom of speech? On art? Is this the church ushering in censorship? Are all Glaswegians Devil-worshippers? Or is this the purest form of literary criticism ever seen, written by the masses – for the masses?

Well, because I really don’t like arguments I’ll leave it to you to decide and to make up all the jokes you like. I will say this though, even by dipping my toe slightly in the Christian / Catholic font water – it’s just a book. The book is the vehicle for the message, not the message itself. Or, to put it into a truly modern context, if I rip up the instruction manual to your DVD player, does the machine still work? Here’s a little quote from a little known character in said-book called Jesus of Nazareth: – ‘Cleave a piece of wood, I am there; lift up the stone and you will find me there’. Apologies for being a heathen but isn’t this a guy talking about the holy glory being all pervasive, not just in the actual pages of his autobiography? Why would God give us all free will and then create  the Church to tell us what we can and can’t do with it? I thought the Church was the route to God, not It’s Police force. And can I also just say that comparing all of this to a lack of artistic Koran modification is a little bit like saying ‘My book is better than your book’, or even worse – ‘My hysterical reaction is far less hysterical than your hysterical reaction WOULD have been’. Which reminds me of being five years old at school when the other kids would say that their Dad would beat up your Dad because you’d won at marbles. I honestly hoped that a Religious spokesperson whose comments have a global reach would be more grown up than that, I guess I was setting my expectations a bit too high.

Back on a personal level, and also because I am a one for all and all for one sort of guy, if I ever find out that the pages of the Koran are as interestingly laid out as the Bible’s then I’ll rip the hell out of that too and paint it pretty colours. And ‘Guns & Ammo’ and ‘Gardeners Weekly’ and ‘Bored Housewives’. If the ritualistic followers of those titles want to come round to my house to complain then I’m possibly gonna have the most amazing party of my entire life. In the meantime, let’s not all lose our minds, faith or manners just because someone did the artistic equivalent of sellotaping a “Kick Me” sign to the back of God’s tunic. Amen.

by Chris
Posted in Words

6 Responses to
“Pope Becomes Art Critic.”

  1. American Yak says:

    Hmmm. I’m sure you appreciate the Bible for some of its artistic merit, but the first giveaway was when you said you aren’t religious. Not that it’s necessarily a requirement for understanding the way people feel about the Bible, Pope included. But how would you feel if people ripped the hell out of your art?

    In disclosure, I don’t believe in the Pope, other than as man (I have other religious persuasions), and I’m sometimes wary when he speaks, especially as art critic. I’m not sure how wise the comparison to the Koran was (not saying I disagree, just not sure how wise that comparison was), but that first part — “it’s disgusting” — is a fair observation, and a far cry from censorship.

    It’s also fair for you to disagree. Still, I think a good test for yourself would be to ask yourself how you would feel if people ripped the hell out of your art and wrote all over it.

  2. @F1LT3R says:

    “The book is the vehicle for the message, not the message itself.”

    Yeah this is an interesting thing you say here. Jesus actually makes a similar point in the book of John when talking to the Pharisees…

    “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life;…” (John 5:39,40).

    Meaning… the electricity in your DVD player can’t be found in the pages of the manual. He went on to explain that the manual speaks of the point of connection between death and life… aka… ‘the power button’… to which Jesus claimed to be… and shunned the religious order of the day for not recognizing and subsequently switching the DVD player of God’s wisdom on for the general population.

    “…and it is these [scriptures] that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.” -(John 5:39,40).

    With regards to the Koran and other religious writings. May I suggest an experiment? Make a Pollock of every holy book and post your pictures online. Keep a track of the comments/results and share your findings with the online community. I’m sure that would be a fascinating and revealing study.

  3. Chris says:


    I really liked your comment and you’ve had me thinking about your point for some time and I’d like to respond.

    Firstly, and I’m sure you totally got this, I really wanted to just poke fun at the story but was well aware that it’s a bit of a minefield subject for quick-fire comedy. So I appreciate that my stab at humour here may actually have ruffled a few feathers, if this is the case then I am sorry and I hope everybody at least manages to take my comments in context.

    Secondly, you are absolutely correct that if someone wrote all over my original artworks I would probably not be amused. However, the difference of course is that my artwork is not the vehicle to arrive at my point (or experience) but the point itself. To keep an example akin with the story, If an artist had invited people to write on the actual dead sea scrolls I would have been mortified. Similarly, as an art project, it may be interesting to invite people to write all over my artwork with the specific end of me seeing and then displaying their results, I would have to be prepared for a mixture of comments. This would probably still be unpleasant!

    Religious or not I still maintain that this was probably a £10 bible bought from a bookshop with the specific end of being scrawled on in this exhibition and is not in itself a holy object. I would also go so far as to say that this probably isn’t the most de-faced bible on the planet, and that the church as a whole may like to think about why these comments have been written and try to act on them – maybe it’s a way to reconnect with people. What I have to think about is that for many people, the book IS the holy object, and the fact that I don’t recognise that doesn’t give me the right to poke fun at those that do. So I sincerely thank you for that lesson.

    Anyway, your comments and thoughts were most welcome and will be again. Please continue to peruse my site when you have chance, but in truth I’m not always as interesting and thought provoking as I was with this blog.

    Apologies if this was written in the best English, for some reason my text window is tiny and I can’t re-read what I’ve put.

    Thanks again and hopefully speak again.


  4. American Yak says:

    I’m a little at a loss because I’m not sure I see eye to eye with you on this one, but I think you’ve been gracious, which counts for a lot.

  5. Ben says:

    As of the age of 3 I have been in love ‘with the beautiful game'(football). I am currently sat at home watching sky sports news as I do most days with absolute interest.

    I have not looked up for around an hour and a half, in which it may as well have been back ground music, as I simply can’t take my eyes from your site, and as for this post I find it simply terrific.

    Rock on magic man.

  6. I have tried to write a response here and every time I submit it times out the screen or gives an error. Do you think the writer could possibly look into why there is a problem?

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