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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Is There a Return of the Religious in Contemporary Art?

As well as significant series of posts on the engagement between Christianity and the Arts (see Airbrushed from Art History and Sabbatical Art Pilgrimage), this blog has tried to highlight places where discussion about faith and art has been occurring (see, for example, here, here, here, here and here).

A 2013 ArtMag article, as well as featuring some positive views, highlights some of the mindsets in the mainstream art world which continue to limit the engagement of faiths and arts:

Anselm Franke writes: 'There is an important movement of engaging with religious topics, but there is not a wave of religious or sacral art in contemporary art. That is an important difference ... The historical break with religion continues. We would not think of hanging something that someone prays to in a museum ... Faith is incompatible with art end even destroys the sovereignty of art and the kinds of experiences we are looking for when we frequent art spaces.'

Silvia Henke argues that 'Religious art is taboo! Religious art exists in churches, in historical museums, at most in museums for non-European art, or in the vicinity of mentally confused artists, but not in the white cubes of major art temples.'

While Beat Wyss suggests that 'artistic activity depends on the achievements of society, which I term the “four virtues of the art system”: 1) respect for the individual; 2) a valuing of work within society; 3) open practices in relation to exchange and trade; and 4) freedom of speech in the public realm.
If only one of these aspects is missing, then art is endangered or even rendered completely impossible. These societal achievements have evolved over centuries as the philosophy of Humanism developed into bourgeois economic ethics, the politics of legally constituted forms of democracy and onwards to colonial liberation movements.'

On this basis, modernism requires a complete break with religion because it is only humanism that can guarantee the freedom which art needs in order to genuinely be itself as opposed to dogmatic religiosity. 

Silvia Henke is constructive when she suggests that 'contemporary art to accept the long-standing diagnosis of Western society put forth by philosophers and sociologists of religion, namely: That it finds itself in a “post-secular” phase, a term which allows for critical self-reflection through religious thought, while considering the ubiquity of the religious in its various manifestations within the secularization process, through secular thought (J├╝rgen Habermas).'

She notes that in this context: 'Artistic works which precisely deal with religious form and meaning have the ability to mediate between blind faith and rational knowledge; they belong neither to a dogmatic religiosity that confuses belief with conviction, nor to a totally individualized “who cares how or what” religiousness, in which faith is an utterly private thing. When artistic works successfully translate sacred symbols into the language of secular art (masterfully done by Mark Wallinger), it happens not as blasphemy or a deconstruction of the religious but rather, in Jean-Luc Nancy’s sense, as “redeeming deconstruction.”'

All this means that research, such as that being undertaken or initiated by Ben Quash and Angus Pryor, is of real significance in understanding the complexities of the current relationship between faith and art.

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Oh My Lord.

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