Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Art and Religion -- By Caroline K

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?

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details.

Tomorrow: Finding the Baby in the Bathwater, by Libby Anne 


  1. This reminds me of Savonarola, the Dominican friar who burnt books and art on bonfires in Renaissance Florence because he thought they were immoral. He even convinced Botticelli to destroy his own artwork out of fear for him immortal soul. Makes me sad to think about...

  2. I know in India religion still holds a strong grip on what's tolerated in art. A pretty famous artist named M.F. Hussain upset Hindu fanatics by depicting Hindu deities nude.

    He recently passed away in England. He was living there in self-exile to ensure his safety.

    Salman Rushdie is also living in exile since he insulted Muslims in his book The Demonic Verses. It's a pity since India is supposed to be a secular and democratic country.

  3. I think it's more accurate to say Akhenaten worshipped the Sun, not Ra. His cult was Atenism, so he changed his name to Akhen-ATEN which meant, if memory serves, lover/servant of the Aten or something.

    I did a lot of research on this particular chapter in history.

  4. You can even extend this to music. While more celebrated, certainly, it was highly regulated and limiting to what the composer could write. Yet, come Christmas, I am going to be praising Jesus's birth in choir with ye old English carols, even though I don't believe it, and highly doubt my choir friends would sing about how god is a bully and doesn't exist. It is one of the sneakiest propaganda methods organizations use to propagate their belief far into the future.

  5. Robert - this reminds me of the gospel choir I used to sing in. We would all sings the songs praising God and exhaling Jesus' love, and I doubt that even 10% of us actually believed in what we were singing about. It also reminds me of the general awfulness that is Christian music, and my friends' annoying habit of posting Christian rock lyrics on Facebook.

  6. @Mike K-
    I didn't think of that- I haven't researched that period of history or Akhenaten much; Thank you for the correction!