Stateside, congressmen going after the National Endowment for the Arts would no doubt be happy to draw a bold black line for her, delineating the beginning and the end of art.
The Christian Action Network's Internet site features examples of ``the most controversial artworks funded by the NEA.'' Even some of the titles are unprintable here.
If a time ever existed when these weighty questions didn't need to be asked, it must have been before 438 B.C., when Greek sculptor Phidias was convicted of sacrilege and ``misappropriation of public funds'' (sound familiar?) after he carved an image of himself and his sponsor, Pericles, onto the goddess Athena's shield in the Parthenon.
The United States has been in the fray right along. In 1847, a group of Cincinnati clergymen piously debated whether the sculpture ``The Greek Slave,'' depicting a naked woman, could be exhibited. The work was finally accepted because, as the clergymen put it, ``her hands were chained [and] her undraped condition was beyond her control.''
The NEA furor has been with us, on and off, since 1989, when photographer Andres Serrano placed a crucifix in a container of his urine and took a picture of it. But even his scurrilous tactic was borrowed from the past.
In 1917, Marcel Duchamp signed and dated a urinal, titled it ``Fountain'' and put it on display in New York. Showing more creativity than today's NEA opponents, a group of critics dismissed the piece as plagiarism, since the artist had not created the porcelain sculpture himself.
In a letter, he defended himself in the third person: ``Whether [the artist] with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life . . . [and] created a new thought for that object.''
Even in historical context, a urinal displayed as art is a one-shot wonder, hardly a masterpiece. And as much as a crucifix submerged in urine or a cow's head crawling with maggots may shock us into an aesthetic impasse, such things still fall far short of offering deep insights.
At best, these works are ``maintenance art,'' shattering preconceptions and widening our perspective so that when a great work of art appears, we're ready.
The ``what-is-art'' debate has probably always been dominated by the extremists at either end: those who say, ``Art is whatever anyone says it is'' and those who say, ``Art is whatever I say it is.''
Since art thrives in the crucible of the question, we should celebrate the debate, rather than seek to resolve it. Art is humanity's highest form of communication: a constantly renegotiated agreement to expand perception and understanding.
The person willing to state unequivocally the meaning of art is a blowhard. The person willing to share unabashedly the meaning of art is . . . an artist.
Paul Mullin, a playwright, is currently writing ``Treasures of the World,'' a documentary series for PBS about the world's great artworks. This first appeared in the New York Times.