The histories of Art and Religion are closely intertwined- 'culture,' as defined by my Social Studies teachers, required both art and religion to be present (the latter I obviously have doubts about), and religion has given birth to some of the most beautiful intricate pieces of art that we know. Take, for example, the Marienaltar, a limewood altarpiece at a modest little church in Creglingen, Germany. Carved around 1505, its designs and figures are immaculate, the details lovingly brought out from the material they came from. Although the spare paint and gild that were used have faded away, it is still a beautiful piece of art.
Alters like the Marienalter can be found all over Europe. Arabesque patterns in Muslim mosques are elegant, sloping, even living lines that stun the viewer as they see them, and art in Ancient Egyptian tombs- almost exclusively focused on their gods and religious beliefs- are enchanting, full on energy from another time. The list of examples goes on.
But, as art is entwined with religion and religion inspires art, art and artists are and have been undeniably constrained and destroyed by religion. Alters such as the Marienalter had to be closed up and hidden because of Martin Luther and the protestant reformations fight against iconography in places of worship- many were destroyed. After the rule of Akhenaten, who disregarded all other Egyptian gods during his rule, favoring to worship Ra, the god of the sun instead, statues and artifacts from his rule were smashed to bits. And, recently, an exhibit of LGBT themed art at the Smithsonian Institution has been essentially censored because of religious organizations.
Clearly religion, and underlying intolerance therein, has done more harm than good to the world of art and artists themselves. More art has been destroyed or hidden by religion than has been made. We would undoubtedly have more of a wealth of art than we do now. The emancipation of art, and, thereby, the artist from religious confines is, obviously, a problem to be dealt with.
We are undoubtedly more liberal than our earlier constituents of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but there are still people out there who would constrain the creativity and ability of people to bring fantastic ideas to life through paint or clay, many of them undoubtedly motivated by religion(I point again to the recent Smithsonian exhibit).
The way to stop this is the way that any censorship is prevented- education, reaching out to people and breaking down barriers that keep them from appreciating art because of prejudices. Of course, this is a long and arduous process, but not one without merit.
So, turning to everyone else out there, what are your thoughts on the matter? Have you had any experiences with religious censorship in relation to art- not just paintings and museum pieces, but writing and films as well? What are your thoughts?
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Tomorrow: Finding the Baby in the Bathwater, by Libby Anne