Opinions - Jesus The Howler Monkey


by Ashley Morrison


Hey, don't shoot the (blasphemous) messenger. I'm not the one restoring pictures in Spanish churches. In case you missed it, last week I woke up to BBC Breakfast reporting on a poor, misguided, elderly Spanish lady who in turn had woken up to find herself the most unpopular (or most laughed at) person in the city of Borja. She'd spotted a mural in her local church, a portrait of Jesus which needed a well bit of TLC.


And although that abbreviation would usually stand for "tender loving care," it turned out that all she actually managed to lavish on the holy visage originally painted by 19th-century artist Eli­as Garcia Marti­nez were some terribly large corneas. The problem is, the eyes are so deep and black that it now looks less like the Messiah and more like a Cabbage Patch Kid with a skin complaint. Wearing a beret.


Amusingly, when interviewed, she claimed that she simply hadn't finished her masterpiece, stating that she had to run an urgent errand with her son in the middle of her restoration project. She seemed quite indignant, in fact, but maybe that's just how Spaniards talk. Ever heard one speak slowly? No, me neither.

Personally, I think she should be pleased that she got off so lightly. The authorities in Borja have acknowledged that the woman had only the best of intentions, however misguided. One only needs to think back to the English teacher in Sudan who innocently allowed a teddy bear to be named Mohammed which subsequently led to her receiving death threats as well as the prospect of a public flogging and a prison sentence until the Foreign Office stepped in. It makes one thankful that it was only Christians and some art critics that she upset. She was sorry; slapped wrist, end of story.

The responses to the story on the Guardian's website have been amusing and varied. Buckster69 thinks the restored image looks like an Eskimo trapped in a sardine tin. PeterThompson49 observes, presumably sarcastically: "I think the boldness of the brush work and the simplicity of the image represents a vast improvement." Smellthecoffee101 says: "the artist clearly chose to represent Jesus as a noble howler monkey sticking its head out of a sack of darkness, breaking free to rage against the excesses of the modern world. Bold and inventive. A fine vision which we would all be the wiser to ponder."

A few people wondered what the reaction would have been had Tracey Emin put her name to it. Having been to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy every year for as long as I can remember, I can honestly say I wouldn't be surprised to see it hanging there, such is the dross they seem to accept and display. In fact, I also wouldn't be surprised if Ikea started selling reproductions before we can say "Cabbage Patch Christ."

It does go to show, though, that some people really are convinced that anyone can draw. Or sing. Or write copy. Let me tell you, wannabes of the world most people can't. At least, not well enough for anyone to be impressed.

I sing in the London Philharmonic Choir, so that makes me a reasonable singer. But I'd never dream of singing solo anywhere apart from in the shower. I've often found myself in a position where I have to explain at parties why I've never entered X Factor. Well, firstly, I know my limitations (which proves my point). Secondly, my sob story is nowhere near good enough. And finally, I have (and can spell) integrity.

In terms of art, I dabbled in calligraphy for a very short time, so I can draw quite nice, fancy letters. I also have a fairly good eye, having a highly talented artist for a mother. But still, I am all too aware that my own talent in this sphere is so minor compared to those of real artists, designers and illustrators that there's no point in going any further than drawing for my own pleasure and nobody else's.

What I can do rather well is write. That's not me being arrogant; it's what I get paid to do. Yes, all I need is a laptop, but that doesn't make it any less of a skill than being a good artist or designer. And yet I'm constantly surprised by the number of people who think they can write, simply by virtue of the fact that everyone uses a computer these days. From direct marketing emails to advertising copy, from handbooks to brochures, I've seen some absolutely shocking copy in my time and unfortunately, it's often written by marketing managers. Yes, they might well be geniuses when it comes to strategy and so on, but plenty of them seem to believe that this goes hand in hand with being able to write. It doesn't. That's why you need to hire someone like me to sell your product with the right words.

Poor designs fade into oblivion. Badly written copy can cause more harm than good. I'll bet you've seen some howlers in your time too. Tell me, what's the worst typing error you've ever seen? Or feel free to draw me a picture.



Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor.

Twitter: @Ashley_Morrison


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