Bad Religious Art–It’s not just to laugh at

The 11 most Unintentionally Hilarious Religious Paintings are here. One of the painters represented on the list is Jon McNaughton. Among his most famous paintings is this:

David Morgan, Professor of Religion at Duke, comments on the significance McNaughton’s vision of America:

It is easy for art critics to scowl at McNaughton’s pictures as preachy, partisan, and cheesy. Their solemnity and their illustrational literalism tempt many observers to dismiss them as propaganda or kitsch. And Wake Up America! certainly seems more political cheerleading than artistic vision. But simply scorning the work misses the opportunity to understand something powerful moving through many religious sub-cultures in the United States today. These groups do not distinguish between religion and politics the way that many commentators and cultural analysts would prefer. For McNaughton and his admirers, as well as many more, there is nothing at all absurd about Jesus holding the Constitution as a sacred artifact, as evidence of his authorial intent.

Yet intent is complex. Nothing is as unambiguous as the artist would like. Reading images does not eliminate the problem of uncontrolled interpretation. Despite McNaughton’s meticulous symbolism and labeling, viewers have seen the seated Caucasian figure in The Forgotten Man as lamenting only the white unemployed. The looming absence of blacks in the picture—Obama stands alone in a crowd of white faces—is striking. Seen in the light of Skousen’s outré defense of slave owners in his revisions of American history, the contrast is more than striking. McNaughton objects that “there is no racial meaning or undertone” to the painting.

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