Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Chrissakes, It's Laughable!"

Visible blasphemy?

With all the turmoil that has occurred lately over religions making fun and poking each other's "heros", and artists making statements that aren't exactly endearing anyone to defend any side, I have always harkened back to this illustration which was done by Fred Berger for an article in Playboy sometime back in the seventies. Playboy, how appropriate you might say. What would one expect from this icon of every horny, young baby boomer drooling alone in his dorm room. Indeed, what would you expect!

It is very well rendered in a classical style probably with charcoal on a colored newsprint looking paper. Although I am not sure of it, I would expect the art director for the magazine, Art Paul, probably had something to do with it. As art director, Paul supervised the design of the magazine for thirty-plus years. Early on, he commissioned many local Chicago artists and photographers to illustrate the magazine. During Paul's years at Playboy, the magazine won hundreds of awards for excellence in graphic design and illustration. Paul has been credited for helping create a revolution in illustration by insisting that graphic design and illustration need not be "low" arts but could, when approached with integrity and emotional depth, and in a spirit of experimentation, be as "high" an art as any.

I kinda liked that!

The piece is reminiscent of a figure drawing class, but what I love most of all is the treatment of our icon of Christianity. In all my years of Catholic education, standing, kneeling, sitting, crawling, and yawning at the myriad of images of Jesus, portrayed as part God, part man, I have never ever before seen him portrayed this way...


I'd like to think Jesus loved a good joke even if it was a bawdy one or one at his own expense.

I don't know or remember if there was ever any fallout over such a concept. Maybe the art wasn't as global or viral an event as the latest film on Islam is. Still, I wonder if anyone at Playboy got death threats for such blasphemy. No bomb threats, or hit men with contracts to kill the artist, Fred Berger, who obviously over stepped his artistic license and didn't realize that freedom of this kind of expression comes with a heavy price. Maybe, his hands should be chopped off for drawing such art or his eyes plucked out for seeing God in such a disrespectful manner.

Without waving the flag too vigorously, the freedom to be free and express that freedom is what I love most about being an American artist. 

I don't presume to understand the inner workings of any religion or foreign policy and it is not my intention to promote one way to think or live. I don't even think this blog spot warrants validation or clarification on any level by me or anyone else. I just think Mr. Berger's art illustrates the humanity in all of us, male and female...  and in all of our Gods.

Doing otherwise, sadly, only makes me laugh!

Copyright 2012-2013/ Ben Bensen III


  1. This image is known as,
    FOR CHRIST'S SAKE more commonly known as LAUGHING JESUS
    Charcoal sketch by Fred Berger.
    As an illustration for a opinion piece written by theologian Harvey Cox, called ‘For Christ’s Sake’
    The sketch first appeared in the December 1969 issue of Playboy magazine,
    Art director for Playboy magazine at the time, Art Paul.

    I like this image and it should be more famous then what it is.

    1. Yes, Mr. or Ms, Anonymous, it should be more famous than it is. I guess it was a different time then, than now, that stops it from being displayed more. Religion is a really touchy subject that is not to be "dissed" no matter how poignant or humorous it may be.

      Very sad, but something I will always treasure... thanks Art Paul and Fred Berger!