Friday, March 28, 2014


Virtual Exhibit of the Seven Deadly Sins by Renee Kahn
(as imagined by Robert Callahan)

Not having been educated in Christian theology, I knew nothing about the Seven Deadly Sins until I began to teach Art History at the University of Connecticut in the 1970s. Along with the Sins, I learned the meaning of all sorts of esoteric (to me) terms: Depositions, Annunciations etc., but I have to say, it was the Seven Deadly Sins that intrigued me most. Even though the concept dates to the 14th century, the Sins seem so modern, so up-to-date. An evening spent watching television will give you enough Sin to last a lifetime. Of course, historically, sins were punished, often in gruesome ways: i.e. gluttons were forced to eat rats, toads and snakes and the greedy were boiled in oil. In today’s real world, sinners are rewarded with mansions in Greenwich and fleets of Mercedes Benz’s.

"Vanity" (after Goya) Oil on canvas  2 panels, 54"x40" each
I soon realized that the artwork I was doing was all related to one Sin or another; in fact, several Sins might well appear in a single canvas.  Everything I did poked fun at sin and sinners in one form or another. My Loehmann’s Dressing Room series clearly stood for Vanity or Pride. Men who lasciviously eyed buxom babes were obviously guilty of Lust. Gluttony, Envy, Anger and Greed also turned up frequently, (although rarely titled as such.) I never did much with Sloth (Laziness). Lying around is not that visually interesting. 

"Anger/Greed"- Oil on canvas  36"x48
The Seven Deadly Sins have been a favorite topic for artists since the end of the 14th century. Brueghel and Bosch did some great work on the subject. Goya loved to poke fun at sinners. But our culture seems to glorify, even exhalt Sinning; it’s a formula for success. Just watch a couple of hours of current prime time television where excess leads to success: police procedurals that glorify gore, music videos where half-naked performers mime sexual acts. Bernie Maidoff is  a household word who should have stuck to hedge funds instead of Ponzi schemes; he’d now be living happily on Ibiza.

"Male Stripper Performing in Darien" (Lust)
Oil on canvas   60"x72
But why are there are no satirists in the art world? The few cartoonists we once relied on for social criticism are disappearing as fast as are the newspapers they worked for. Most of the artwork done today is decorative, meaningless, or, if there is content, it’s deliberately unintelligible, pseudo profound. Today’s newspaper had an article on the growing wealth disparity in the western world between rich and poor. It’s nothing new, but now it’s hidden from sight in gated communities where greed can grow unchecked and unseen. There was a pop tune in the thirties that went: “and the rich get richer and the poor have babies (ain’t we got fun?”) That guy should see what’s going on today! 

Bring back SATIRE, not only in art, but in literature and theater. Humor is a great way to get back at “Sinners.” Where are the Vonnegut’s, the Brecht’s, the Grosz’s when we need them? Meanwhile, the public watches idiots “shake their booty” and considers it “art”.

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