Remember a month or so ago when I wrote about awful, horrible kitschy Mormon art? Well, via Salt Lake City Weekly, I discovered a type of Mormon, erm, visual image (I dare not call it art) that makes all that stuff look downright classy.
That's right: a painting of YOU with your own personal Jesus.
I hardly know where to start.
On Facebook I posted a link to the City Weekly piece, but I didn't bother to click on the link to Kay Paintings, the studio responsible for these images--some impulse of self-preservation stopped me, I guess. But a friend clicked through, and pointed out that the studio had certainly figured out something important about making money in Utah: the more children you want in the picture, the more it costs. (I love the line at the bottom about "For 11+ children please call for a quote.")
I figured if my friend checked out the website and could still produce coherent prose afterward, I should be OK, so I screwed up my courage and clicked through to the gallery. At which point I began a low, pained chant of "oh my god, oh my god" as my horror mounted.
The one that made me cradle my head in my hands and moan in pain was this one, of Jesus carrying some chick across a beach with a beautiful sunset in the background. (What? Were they both survivors of some plane crash?) You can't even see her face, but you've got a great view of her ass. Is that really how you'd want to display yourself on your walls?
I admit I am more bugged by the paintings where everyone--not just Jesus--is in a Bible costume. It's the opposite problem of paintings with anachronistic dress like The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio, where most of the people depicted are wearing what was fashionable at the time. I love the painting, I really love it--but it always bugged me a teeny, tiny little bit that Matthew et al had on hose and tops with big puffy sleeves--though maybe the point of the "modern" clothing was to allow viewers to place themselves in the situation, which is a scene from Jesus's life. That was the point: to get people to think about Jesus's life. But the point of these paintings is to depict a scene about the life of the real person who's alive now. Why should those people put on a nightgown and bathrobe, just because that's what Jesus is wearing? And for that matter, why does Jesus have to wear a nightgown and bathrobe? Can't he be Jesus in a suit? Is his identity so wrapped up in his wardrobe that he ceases to be Jesus if he changes his look?
Well, yes: the only way you can tell he's Jesus is his outfit, hair style and facial hair--oh, and the gaping wounds in his hands. But not every image shows his hands, and you can't see the wounds clearly unless the image is large enough. This one shows them pretty well--but the larger version also makes clear how weird and sly the chick's expression is--what is she experiencing? Looks too much like sexual arousal, frankly. Creepy. Anyway, his clothes are what make him Jesus. Put any guy with a dark brown beard and long hair in a plain dress and sandals and suddenly he's Jesus, just like you can put any fat man with long white hair and a beard into a red suit with a big black leather belt and suddenly he's Santa.
But the main thing I want to say about this whole endeavor is that it's genuinely inauthentic. These images are supposed to say something meaningful about the subjects and their authentic selves: that they have a relationship with JC, and want to announce the fact to other people. But it's an utterly posed situation, with a fake Jesus and a fake background. The image itself is highly manipulated. There is no authenticity, so the images only underscore how vacuous and trite this conception of Jesus is--as will be any attempt to relate to him as a spiritual teacher or evolved human being, much less the resurrected son of god.