Thursday, January 4, 2007

Ron DiCianni, paintings

In my feature on Christian fundamentalist historiography for this past December's issue of Harper's (not yet online), I spent a little time discussing this image, offered as a lithograph from an outfit called the Presidential Prayer Team:

Turns out it's by artist Ron DiCianni. I usually don't go in for fundamentalist kitsch -- it's more interesting to take it seriously and try to understand what its creators and consumers see in it -- but my discovery of a whole site of DiCianni's work fills me with cheap joy.

"Chariots of Fire"

"Blessed Are the Peacemakers"

When I wrote briefly about evangelical artist Thomas Blackshear's "The Vessel" for Harper's last year, a lot of folks who didn't see the picture accused me of reading eroticism into what was surely wholesome, if corny, middle American decorative art. I'm with Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on this one -- I can't define porn, but I know it when I see it.

I thought Blackshear was special, but with my discovery of DiCianni, I think I've identified a movement in evangelical art. To wit, DiCianni's "The Chisel," in which God appears to be carving a golden Chelsea boy:

Is evangelical art really that gay? If only. DiCianni's, Blackshear's, and God's personal preferences aside, this massively popular reveals an unexplored facet of the Christian men's movement: The manly desire for beauty. Or, to be more precise, the manly desire to look pretty. What's wrong with that? Doesn't that suggest a slightly-expanded idea of gender? Indeed, it does -- the masculine gender ex[anded to encompass and appropriate one of the few virtues fundamentalist men had previously reserved for women. But here's DiCianni on female beauty:

Maybe that's not fair. "A Mother's Love," as this painting is titled, shouldn't be expected to bear the standard of female eroticism. Here's DiCianni's best effort in that regard, "Daughter of the King":

Who's hot and who's not in this picture?

We might write off these sterile representations of women to prudishness, but that still leaves us with the ripped golden muscles and leatherman fetish of DiCianni's man-art. My tentative theory: As religious art traditionally uses eroticism to channel worldly desires toward spiritual concerns, contemporary fundamentalist art uses eroticism to channel sex -- the visual currency of power in an advertising culture -- away from women and toward men. Either that, or it's a vast gay conspiracy.