The Year of Mercy logo stinks. Here’s why it’s okay to say so.

The Year of Mercy logo stinks. Here’s why it’s okay to say so. May 6, 2015

The Year of Mercy has a logo, and it stinks!



I have a few more things to say, (the first being, why the heck do we need a logo? The answer being: So people will talk about it on Facebook), and I hope to post about this tomorrow or Friday. In the mean time, I wanted to talk about being a Christian critic.

I said on Facebook that when I saw the logo, I wondered if there were some obscure two-headed saint on skis that I had forgotten about. This elicited a very typical response among Catholics: aw, let’s be nicer. What would the artist’s mom think if she saw these nasty comments? Why can’t we come up with something positive to say? And so on.

So here are my thoughts (which I originally published in 2011, after the Kincade Kerfuffle) about what Christians can do, without sinning, when confronted with a public work of art:


The Christian critic may criticize someone’s work in the bluntest terms.  Once you put something out for public consumption, it is open for criticism, period.  Attacking the person, his motives, or his soul is another thing, which I avoid; but the idea that criticizing someone’s work is the same as judging his soul?  That’s just bananas.

The Christian critic may criticize the work of fellow Christians.  I often hear, “We Catholics should be standing together, not tearing each other down!”  But how does it build up the Body of Christ to pretend that second-rate stuff is good?  The world already thinks Christians are cultural morons, incompetent, uneducated, and hypocritical.  If we call something that’s mediocre a triumph simply because it doesn’t have any cussing in it, we’re just reinforcing the idea that Christianity is lame and worthless.  Hardly a service.

The Christian critic may criticize someone’s work when the work’s creator is going through a hard time. If I had a friend whose mother had just died, I wouldn’t choose that moment to rebuke him about his personal hygiene.  But if a professional puts out a piece of work that’s not very good, it would be gracious to mention any extenuating circumstances as part of my critique—but it’s not necessary, and may not be relevant.  I’m not your mom, and I’m not responsible for researching your personal life before addressing your work.

The Christian critic may criticize something even if the critic has a personal problem.  It’s like the old line, “Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”  Just because I’m a neurotic, defensive sorehead, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.  People who have weak spots or personal problems may actually be the most qualified to identify a true problem.  Anyway, what am I supposed to do, only write about things I don’t care about?

The Christian critic may point to a problem without discovering a solution.  It’s a blog post, not a wonder drug. I’d rather hear an honest, “I don’t know what can be done about this,” than a facile, “If only people would simply do X,Y, and Z, the world would be a paradise.”

The Christian critic may criticize something even if there exists a worse evil in the world.  When I discuss an overlooked aspect of human experience, I inevitably hear, “Oh, sure, let’s pick on Minor Problem B when there is Cataclysmic Problem X in the world!”  Well, do we really need more howling about, “Oh, how great is the sinfulness of sin!  Just LOOK at that sin!  Isn’t it sinful?” That’s just tedious.  And yes, I can truthfully say, “Boy, this sprained ankle hurts,” without implying that a triple amputation is a walk in the park.

The Christian critic may take a closer look at an issue that is usually presented as black-and-white.  Subtlety is not a sin.  For instance, I can say, “People who dress modestly aren’t necessarily virtuous,” and that’s not the same as saying, “Let’s all wear hot pants to Mass.”

The Christian critic may describe people in frank and colorful terms, if the goal is realism, not cruel mockery.  Painting a recognizable verbal picture is not a sin, it’s just descriptive.  Vagueness isn’t the same as charity.  It’s wrong to encourage people to mock and look down on each other.  But if my goal is to be clear and poignant when describing a scene, then specifics are fair play.

The Christian critic may use figurative language without warning, “The following is a metaphor, and not intended as a technical manual or a page from the catechism.”  Helpful readers often suggest that I add the words, “In my opinion” or, “I may be wrong, but it seems to me.”  This kind of verbal clutter helps out writing the same way a crocheted dolly helps out toilet paper.


Nobody should write only critical pieces.  No matter how important or interesting the topic, constant criticism gets very tiresome very quickly.

But so does constant niceness.  I try not to hurt people; but offending them?  The more it happens, the more I’m convinced that it’s a service, not a sin.  At least it gives us something to talk about!

Tom MacDonald says: “Beauty can’t save the world if the people responsible for Church design and expression have the artistic sensibility Norman Bridwell.”


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  • Gail Finke

    I’ve written about graphic design for more than two decades. I’ve worked for a magazine about graphic design. I’ve written books on graphic design. That’s a terrible logo, for all sorts of reasons. It had better be all right for me to give my professional opinion! I don’t put away when I get out my rosary. 🙂

    • simchafisher

      As a rank amateur, I hesitated for a few seconds before deciding it was really awful. I’m willing to be schooled by professionals when it comes to fine art that I don’t like, but the whole point of a logo is that it should be immediately comprehensible to the ordinary viewer, right? Which this isn’t.And that’s only one of the problems here.

      • Gail Finke

        Yes. It should be immediately comprehensible as a “thing,” though not necessarily immediately understandable. Even the now-old-fashioned “abstract” logos that look like circles sawn into slices, etc., were meant to be simple to take in at a glance and to become visual shorthand for the company name. Pictorial logos are now much more common again but this is just a mess.
        The Nike “swoosh” says “Nike,” though it’s so abstract that people call it a swoosh — it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a graphic that looks different from a stripe. But you know what it is so they can use it on ANYTHING. Other logos may need a little explaining (a lot of people never saw the arrow in “FedEx” — so clever no one notices it!!!) but if it needs a treatise, that’s gone WAY too far. If people have to ask why there are only three eyes, or where the rest of the cross is, or exactly how many figures it depicts, it’s failed. Especially if people are asking all those things (and more) at the same time!

      • antigon

        Mrs. F:
        Apart from the malodorous logo, chapeau as well for the superb critical analysis of critiquing.

  • terryhjones

    i appreciate you providing a place and defense for those of us who think that thing is hideous. absolutely hideous.

  • cristy

    This is how I feel when I see Divine Mercy images. Everything about it (except for the message) oooogs me out. The goatee, the glow behind his head, the beams of light, the hairstyle, the overly anglo-facial features… sigh. I’m probably going to hell for holding this opinion, but I swear, I see it and I see no beauty or inspiration.

    • Gail Finke

      You are not alone.

    • Meredith

      Cristy, not even St. Faustina herself liked the painting! “However, according to her diary, she cried upon seeing that the finished picture was not as beautiful as the vision she had received, but Jesus comforted her saying, “Not in the beauty of the colour, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in My grace.” Hahaha! Not even Jesus had anything nice to say!

      • The Ubiquitous

        Consider that St. Faustina’s image is NOT the popular image of the Divine Mercy.

  • “The Christian critic may criticize the work of fellow Christians.”

    Yes! This is how we have an entire genre of CCM music and maybe 5 goods songs out of the whole mess. It’s an echo chamber of “Oh well it’s Christian so it must be good! Yeah – not so much.

  • Episteme

    I’m going to be the weird outlier here. I really like the logo. And I say that as someone who’s spent the past twelve years doing illustration and graphic design work for books. It’s actually both incredibly modern (particularly in its vector-style design) and immediately calling back to the first centuries of the church (especially in the Eastern Church). We’re too often used to Church Art having a uniform appearance borrowed from specific centuries of Italian or German styles, that we forget the real diversity of Christian iconography. This is *delightfully* neo-Byzantine, and the angular motion of the cross underneath offers a design that underlies a distinction from a simple logo into a more proper icon-stye image.

    To say that you dislike it, and why you dislike it is one thing. To say that it “stinks” because others in a particular sounding box agree with a particular limited view of Christian iconography is a very different matter. You need to be cautious to not belay your own point here by being within a very small sphere of thought on Church imagery.

    • Gail Finke

      I’m sorry, but it’s not incredibly modern. It looks like the illustrations common in disposable misallettes for at least the last 20 years. Faux Greek is not new, although of course you may find it delightful — it’s EVERYWHERE.

      • Joejoe

        It has a distinctly awful felt-banners-for-Father-Lovebeads vibe. Let’s let the beauty of Christ’s mercy show, not display this type of thing on our standard.

    • antigon

      What about saying it stinks not because others in a particular sounding box agree with a particular limited view of Christian iconography, but instead saying so because it stinks?

    • Sigroli

      Terrific commentary. Have you submitted it to The Onion?

    • Kelly Thatcher

      I like it too. Unfortunately, this opinion — not by Simcha but by at least one of her commenters — has been deemed “heresy.” 🙂 In all fairness, my husband, who’d one of the best graphic artists in the universe (I may be overstating this) isn’t crazy about it either. So there you are. We disagree, husband (who’s also my business partner in — what else? — a graphic design firm!) and I. We haven’t called each other “heretics” though. Wow, people can be so emotional about stuff, can’t they? Which is good…as long as it’s substantial. But to deem an opinion about art either (a) “Devout” or (b) “on a par with Arianism” seems a tad…overdone…

      • simchafisher

        Aw, come on. He didn’t say that it was heresy to like the picture. He said that it was a heresy to say that beauty is subjective – and, I can’t speak for him, but it’s pretty obvious to me that he didn’t mean a true theological heresy, but rather a disastrously bad idea. He was referring to the popular idea that no one can ever definitively say “this is beautiful” or “this is not beautiful.”
        But it’s a topic where people tend to talk right the heck past each other, so I’ll just leave it at that.

    • StumbleBumble

      I am going to join you as a member of said club, “the weird outlier” club that is. ^^

      I liked it from the start and still do.

    • Athelstane

      It’s incredibly modern, if “modern” is frozen in time in 1978. To the extent that it is “Eastern” it is far too much of a piece with this faux abstract Eastern icon art genre that has had such a run in the Latin Rite Church in the West over the past five decades. Eastern iconography in each of its various forms has an integrity all its own, and this sort of art does a real disservice to both artistic traditions. I feel like this logo just set back ecumenical relations with the Orthodox by thirty years.

      I’d rather we had NO logos, but if we must, we can do far better than this. And far better than we have been getting for the most part over the last three generations.

  • Michaela

    At first glance I thought the logo was merely kind of weird looking, but the second time I looked at it my first thought was, “Why does Jesus have a lifesaver around his neck?” I will never be able to un-see that now.

  • Tori

    Are they sharing an eye??

  • ARM

    The logo seems to confuse metaphor and that which it signifies: why is Jesus holding the other guy that way? It doesn’t make any sense unless the other guy is unconscious. Or unless the other guy is a sheep being carried by his shepherd. Which I’m guessing is the idea, but then draw a sheep, goldarn it! (Also, why does the guy being carried have a beard? Very confusing, as it suggested that might be Jesus, until the viewer carefully traces the location of the stigmata pictured.)

    • Jdknits

      I think it’s supposed to be reminiscent of The Good Shepherd with the lamb around his neck.

      Edit: Oops, just read rest of your post. Sorry for the repeat. Should have read whole post before replying.

  • Melissa Hunter-Kilmer

    And another thing! It says “Merciful Like the Father,” but that is NOT the Father. That is Jesus. He’s the Son. Jesus is also merciful, but that isn’t the point.

    • fredx2

      And I bet the Father has all his eyes.

  • campfiregirl

    Simcha can you please write a call for submissions for a new logo??? Seriously. Make it a contest. This is just polyester habit gather us in church in the round guitar mass madness.

  • Jim M.

    But isn’t this logo approved by Pope Francis?

    • antigon

      Doubtless due to the ‘serene theology’ it portrays.

    • fredx2

      No, it had to go through the Congregation of Missing Eye Logos, headed by Cardinal Wiley Post. Skipped Francis altogether

  • JoAnn

    I liked Tom MacDonald’s post (linked above) about Jesus being portrayed as a pro-wrestler, about to body-slam the poor dude he’s carrying.

  • Julie

    Would it have been such a stretch to select something that includes the other half of the population? Or, does God’s mercy extend only to men?

    • fredx2

      Yes, I am afraid it does. Sorry about that.

  • Simple Logo

    I don’t think it’s bad to criticize design as long as the criticism is not personal. Designers learn to develop thick skins especially in the social media age. I’m thinking with this logo and last month’s unveiling of the Hillary campaign logo, there have been a lot of strong opinions expressed. I wish there were more discussions online about design! Remember, being able to articulate why you like or dislike something is the first step to becoming a designer.

  • Lykex

    As a marketer, it is my professional opinion that having a logo on Facebook is actually a basic step in promoting anything online these days. Just because you think the logo’s bad doesn’t change that fact.

    Oh but feel free to have a blank space on your profile and (as a fellow marketer next to me chimed in) ‘also on your mind.’

  • Superman

    Look at this now… this guy thinks the new logo AND I guess the priest who made it is satanic! I totally disagree. It’s bad art, that’s all.

  • Barry Gabriel

    I’ve been a graphic designer for the last 40 years and this logo stinks… big time. I could go on as to the whys, but that is fairly obvious. Peeeeeewwwwwwww!!!

  • Blobee

    Refreshing! Thanks for this. It needs to be passed around the blogosphere and printed out and posted near our computers.

  • Peggy Bowes

    “…When I saw the logo, I wondered if there were some obscure two-headed saint on skis that I had forgotten about.” This is why I read your column. You are hilarious and so grounded!

  • BXVI

    It creeps me out. It seems vaguely homo-erotic. Both figures look effeminate; neither of them seems masculine at all. It will not appeal to men; it will turn them off.

  • grateful1

    It looks like one of those awful banners that used to deck out the hootenanny Masses of the ’70s. I thought we’d left that sorry era behind…guess not. What a wasted opportunity to remind ourselves — and the world — that beauty and truth are two sides of the same evangelical coin.

  • Amy

    I like pork rinds!

  • AquinasMan

    Reminds me of something dreamt up for an Olympic mascot….

    • fredx2

      What is it with logos not having enough eyes?

  • bdlaacmm

    I don’t like it because I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be depicting. The large figure is (presumably) Christ. But who is that smaller figure, and why is he being carried like that? My best guess is it’s supposed to be Simon, who helped Jesus carry the Cross, and now Jesus is returning the favor. Am I right? I don’t know!

    And why does Christ look like He’s going to fall into a pool of water as those two supports under His feet spread further apart? (At least, that’s what it looks like to me.)

    • fredx2

      So that is why he has a life saver around his neck!

  • kirtking

    The logo matches the initiative it promotes. Its a mess.

  • sconroy23

    I looked at this logo and thought to myself “where HAVE I seen this before”? Then I realized it was at my daughter’s school Sacred Heart University, except there it is a beautiful soaring mosaic…i do have to admit that the mosaic does kinda have Jesus looking like he might be on a flying carpet. Same signature style…just works better on the grand scale. I like Fr. Rupnik’s work though. He is very talented.

  • Asmondius

    My first thought was – why does the child have a beard?

  • Matthew McCormick

    De gustibus non est disputandem

  • Gillemar

    GOOD GRIEF! How pathetic that you even have to defend yourself for criticizing this HORRIBLE image! It’s your right (and may I add, good sense cries out to do so.)

  • Tanja Cilia

    It’s a toss-up between a stylised Footprints and Siamese twins.