Is religious art relevant in Contemporary Art? Do we need it? Does it do more harm than good?
There is a lively discussion on religion and art over at Art News Blog , one of the blog sites I frequent for news of the art world.
Essentially, Carol, the intrepid blogger-journalist went on a self professed rant, more about problems that seem to stem from organized religion, like wars, and questioned whether artists should promote religious views, or moreover dogma.
To be fair, Carol then backtracked as many of the Western World’s greatest artworks are religious.
This was posted on Sunday and by the time I checked in on Monday, the comments were flying back and forth, again more dealing with religion than art.
As far as I know, I am the only founder from the USA with an original theory of religious art, Post Conceptual UnGraven Image . Being uniquely American, although Judeo-Christian based the theory is fully inclusive of most of the world’s religions and paths (see the manifesto). So of course I chimed in with a comment, adding to the original post and the comments up to that point.
It is a topic that deserves many posts, comments and dialogue. A polite discussion is healthy. It may seem corny, but communication really does build understanding, and that includes the special visual communication of art.
One of the problems with any of the current discussions about religion is simply defining the term, “religion”. People who line up against organized religion are more against the abuses that have occurred by leaders and followers who have twisted the message or been two faced for their own gain.
When a person gets an egotistic benefit, such as thinking they are superior to others, by belonging to a group or following a spiritual path that is a perversion of the intended purpose of the path. This kind of abuse, whether it happens on a one-to-one personal level or on a large scale (war), is always a perversion. It is no better than common prejudice or its extreme of ethnic cleansing.
The purpose of a spiritual or religious path is to assist a person to be closer to The Divine (my catch-all acceptable term, please substitute the name you prefer for the One). Being closer to The Divine is transformative as coincidentally this means becoming more of one’s essential self. As just about every religion, certainly the major ones teaches, we are spiritual beings who have physical forms (bodies), thus being more of who we are means being more spiritual.
Proverbs 31 – Woman of Valor Rose Bud
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When artists portray that spiritual aspect of humankind – or one specific human being, we recognize the work as great art. Many of the Western World’s greatest artists such as Michaelangelo , Rembrandt and Da Vinci were masters of this. These three noted artists also painted religious work but never fully followed the dogma of their time and controversy dogged them for that.
Fine artists were the shaman, the religious leaders of the early tribes and groups. Most great artists have always spiritually led through their work. Towards the end of his life, Andy Warhol began a series somewhat based on Da Vinci’s Last Supper, in which commercial logos were substituted for religious components. For instance, the Dove Soap logo symbolized the Holy Spirit. Having brought art into the supermarket with Campbell ‘s Soup cans and Brillo boxes, Warhol flipped the Pop focus to bring religion into the commercial world, too. The profane becomes holy, the holy profane.
Warhol predated the selling of religion that we have seen through the media. Depending on the message sold and how the power and profits earned are used, as individuals we approve or not. It was an artist to point out the then current links between business as religion and religion as business.
Personally, I would not wish to live in a world without the religious art that has been so meaningful to my own spiritual quest.
Van Gogh, a former preacher who considered himself to be a religious painter, has inspired me with his energy that presents a dance of dichotomies; pain, suffering, fury swirling with joy, lust and glory. What could be more religious?
Rembrandt, whose figures some out of the darkness into golden light to reverently take responsibility for their acts and omissions and seek or accept forgiveness.
Pissarro and Monet, the Jew and the Catholic (among others) who knew they were painting, “Let there be light…” Chagall, with his enchanting mystic villages of simple tradition and love overcoming life’s trials
Dali, who investigates the spirituality of time and quest inspiring unexpected insights.
My list it too long. I have just begun.
But notice that none of the artists were actually promoting one group over another, and that even when a specific theology is presented, such as in Da Vinci’s, Warhol’s and Dali’s Last Supper works, the theology is universally transcended by what the artist conveys.
Psalm 22 (Rembrandt)
Being an artist is a responsibility, as much as a gift. My appreciation of the gift I have been given to be a religious artist is equaled or surpassed by my appreciation of the gifts I have received from seeing the works of those artists previously mentioned along with so many others.
And since we can all learn much from a discussion – please comment!
Dock Less Traveled
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