The Most Curious Use Of ‘Only’ You Will Ever See

Let’s begin with a disclaimer: Yours Truly is not a psychologist, nor does he have psychiatric training. Therefore his use of lunatic, insane git, mentally deficient in the highest degree, dangerous submoronic infant and the like might be in error.

Now then: here is the most curious use of the word only you may ever see:

“Piss Christ” is not Mr. Serrano’s only photograph depicting an object immersed in his urine—

Yes, not only has this Serrano submerged a crucifix in a jar of urine, and then lovingly photographed it, but “also replicas of Michelangelo’s ‘Moses,’ Myron’s ‘Discobolus’ and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, as well as a statue of Satan”.

The New York Times, which generously supplied these quotations, went on to say that none of these other objets d’art “have generated as much controversy.”

The story becomes interesting when you learn that these photographs, each the size of a small man, were purposely put on display at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery in New York City. The logical implication is that they therefore were meant to be seen by members of the public, perhaps even purchased and brought home by these same peoples.

What a curiosity!

Now we can all agree that, because of certain genetic or environmental effects, say via the prolonged ingestion of harmful chemicals by himself or by his mother, a man can wake one morning, look reality square in the face and say to it, “Thou art a stranger to me.”

At this point he will exhibit perplexing behavior, such as eating raw spiders, tuning in to MSNBC, or gleefully calling his excretions “art.” Ordinarily, this man would be led into a small room, fed tooth cups of orange juice laced with aspirin and given volumes of P.G. Wodehouse in the hope that he should recover. If his disease should prove incurable, he is at least contained so that he cannot harm himself or others. Yet somehow in this case, Serrano remains at large.

A lunatic is not responsible for his actions. His mental faculties are so diminished that he deserves nothing but our charity and sympathy. We therefore cannot blame poor Serrano when he says of his so-called work, “I just feel I have to stay proud.” We should instead smile patiently and ask, gently, whether he has remembered to take his medications.

Madness is rarely contagious. And this is what is so puzzling. Because it is unlikely that the owners of the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery and its customers who purchased Serrano’s soiled wares have “caught” Serrano’s insanity. Too, it is beyond probability to expect such a large coincidental gathering of the pathologically unhinged. But these people do exist, and thus their, and not Serrano’s, slackwitted behavior demands explanation.

I have a theory. In one word: Inheritance. In two words: Paris Hilton. This infamous young lady was unlucky enough to have inherited the fortunes of her family, whose progenitors created the Hilton hotel chain. She is not insane in any clinical sense, but spending a life bathed in unearned money has allowed her to comport herself in a way not consistent with civilized society.

And there it is, you see. Serrano’s pictures sell for vast sums, the kinds of monies you find being passed by inheritance. There are self-made wealthy people who have of course not inherited, but these people by definition cannot be ignorant because they are out making the stuff they will eventually leave their children. No: it isn’t wealth alone, but its combination with idleness which generates imbecility.

True incorrigible stupidity can only come from having one’s every wish granted by the application of money. This is because real education is hard work which cannot be contracted out. Knowledge of the quadratic equation cannot be had for a fee: it requires effort, which is priceless. Mere money does not make one intelligent, but when it accumulates it is notorious for bamboozling its holders into believing that dollar signs are equivalent to IQ.

Strike that: not just its holders, but others, too. Intelligence diminishes in direct proportion to the perceived adjacency of those in the possession of fortunes. Incidentally, the effects are not usually permanent, and can be erased by simple change of situation.

These and the evident misfortune of an inheritor happening upon the insane and (thus far) un-institutionalized Serrano are all the facts we need to explain the calamity before us.

Update Be sure to read the link (and links therein) kindly provided by YOS.


  1. rank sophist

    It seems like contemporary artists follow a set formula, to me. (Apologies for the overused template.)

    1. Find a gimmick.
    2. Repeat gimmick for years.
    3. Spark controversy with gimmick.
    4. ???
    5. Profit.

    Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde animals are another good example.

  2. William Sears

    Delusions of adequacy you say? The real reason is laid out by the under-appreciated Robert Sheaffer in his book “Resentment Against Achievement: Understanding the Assault Upon Ability”. This is a good example where the one star review at Amazon is not useful.

  3. Matt


    You just don’t understand “Avant Guard” high art. 🙂

    They are over and done with the whole beauty thing. In that world “ART” is anything which produces one or more of the following affects in a “normal” viewer:

    1. Outrage
    2. Nausea
    3. Befuddlement

    The holy grail of modern art is of course to produce all three effects in a single “normal” viewer from a single piece.

  4. It is not lunacy, it is the willful destruction of the good simply BECAUSE it is good. It is THIS evil that is going to destroy us long before global warming will melt ice cream at the North Pole.

  5. Big Mike

    I know a number of people “inside” the modern “art” world in Manhattan. That world is small, so I won’t name names, but it’s interesting to hear their unvarnished views on how the market in this junk works.

    Not just anybody can go into a gallery, plonk down their $10m and take home a jar of piss with a trinket in it (or a photograph thereof). No, you have to have “credibility” as a collector, and “qualify” to own a given work.

    The interesting thing is that those with the aforementioned credibility, by the very fact that they buy something a particular artist produced for a very large sum of money, instantly make the other works of the so-called artist also worth large sums of money. Its a game played by those rich enough to trifle with dollar amounts that seem, to we “little people”, as vast fortunes.

    In fact, the artists, and, very likely, the collectors, are laughing at those poor impoverished souls who so crave to be seen as cognoscenti that they will fawn over such obvious rubbish and construct ludicrous “post-modern” defenses of the supposed artistic value of it. And if such sick and cynical manipulation of the weak-minded is not the motivation of the market-makers, then it’s simply that they can control the market and profit thereby.

    When it comes to art, it is wise to apply this adaptation of Romans 14:22: “Have you taste? Have it to yourself. Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows.”

  6. Paul Fischbeck

    Grammar is not the NYT’s strong point anymore …

    none of these other objets d’art “have generated as much controversy.”

    “None” or “not one” takes the singular “has.”

  7. revGDright

    Serrano is soooo yesterday. Now when we want to reward mediocrity we have reality television.

  8. george kaplan

    Tom Wolfe shredded modern art for good and all in The Painted Word ,1975 and one of the Essays in the Pump House Gang,1968, I think Bob and Spike, about the social status of collecting art. Flat-out hilarious.

  9. Doug M

    Outraged over Piss Christ? I guess I have been hearing about the controversy for 25 years now, I am a bit numb to it. I will say this about that particular piece. The image of Piss Christ is acutally quite beautiful. Many artists try to be outrageous in concept, but fail in execution.

  10. Michael B Babbitt

    I saw recently a curious remark by a museum’s curator where he said a museum’s mission is to challenge the public. I thought a museum’s mission is to protect art and to display it so as to entertain and educate the public. In fact here is M-W’s definition: “an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; also : a place where objects are exhibited.” I can go along with that; makes sense. Challenging the public is the latest progressive newspeak for insulting the public. What they mean is that the public is dumb and needs to become as enlightened as they are; the public needs to progress in their thinking. Such arrogance by the elites. May God save us from these elites!

  11. Mike Ozanne

    I don’t think that the art world has moved on much since Wolfe’s “The Painted Word” The art doesn’t speak for itself, you have to “get” the Artist’s manifesto (which somehow is always the same old ‘epattez le bourgeois’ champagne socialist bollocks like Rowlings new “novel” for example); and of course if you don’t “get it” then you are a barbarian who must be excluded from fashionable society.

    I was worried that some of the less patient and more devout might seek the guy out and smack him into ugliness, but judging by his photo, a long line of people already beat you to it…..

  12. JH

    Has the photograph Piss Christ been sold?

    Many contemporary artists are philosopher-wannabes.

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