I almost got into a row over him. Twice, actually.
The first time, someone had sent a cartoon, supporting him and the award that was to be conferred on him, to the group. When my friend lashed back, I chided him, to not take it too seriously. What followed was an email bombardment of links from my friend, for me to read (to the tune of ‘you better know what you’re talking about!’). The URL and the titles clearly conveyed that this could be a very biased view against the artist. I read some of them, nonetheless. After all, I had not bothered to see the paintings or form an opinion myself, till then.
The second time I do not even recall how I got into a discussion I could easily have avoided. With a colleague. I remember him telling me, “He has no right to paint our Gods and Goddesses that way. What would he feel if someone portrayed one of his Gods in a vulgar manner?”
I did not answer him then. I thought, Would my Gods become beautiful or tainted because someone painted Them so? Would They not always remain pure and holy in my mind? But the argument, had I offered it, would have sounded shallow to his zealous ears. He had already set his heart against the painter, it would take more than a philosophical viewpoint to move him.
It was not completely about the religion of the painter, but mostly it was. Why else would someone dig up a painting done about 25 years ago, and go on senseless rampage in its name?
The thin line, or curve, that divides beauty and vulgarity (in this case) and other differences is often referred to as the ‘artistic licence’. Which is by no means carved in stone – it often adjusts itself this way and that for the artist. After all, he himself develops his licence: it is not awarded to him by any certified authority. It probably takes one artist to comprehend what another is trying to say. If it is beyond comprehension, or if it reduces one to violence, it is perhaps best to keep farthest from it. After all, no good ever came of rage.
It is easy to find something offensive in any and every kind of expression – paintings, writings, even music is not exempt. However, it takes a certain amount of sense to not react to it. Yet, religious sentiments are very sensitive elements, one can never be too careful about them. Especially these days.