‘Religious art or sacred art is artistic imagery using religious inspiration and motifs and is often intended to uplift the mind to the spiritual.’ Wikepedia.
But is it? Is it always art using worship as inspiration, or is it something else?
Could it be something to do with the world-wide domination of the Catholic Church for many centuries?
St Marks Venice
First, let me link this blog to the blog that I did about my ‘List of Topics’. [LINK]
That ‘list’ of about 450 blog topics was the result of a brainstorm where I set myself a series of article subjects for weekly blog-posts well into the future. That list has worked well. Each week I just look up the next topic and write away. It saves me a huge amount of time and anxiety.
Secondly, see the latest blog post from last week that was about ‘Power and Politics’ in art. [LINK]
The ‘Power and Politics’ topic followed two previous blogs focusing on ‘Women in Art’ followed by the ‘Gender Divide’ in art. The sequence went Women, Gender, to Power and Politics, and now Religion in Art.
So you can see that my original brainstorm just followed a logical path where I was wondering who or what was in charge.
Therefore you can probably guess that my views on the religious influence on art might be critical rather than complimentary.
But am I biased? Certainly I will hold up my hand and say that I am an atheist. If you have a faith then I accept that, but personally I do not.
Focus on the subject.
A look at the religious content in much of European art from the past shows powerful and political social control.
“After Classical antiquity, Christianity became the predominant power shaping European culture,” explains Jennifer Sliwka, curator of art and religion at the National Gallery in London. “After Theodosius made Christianity the official state church of the Roman Empire in 380, works commissioned for any spiritual, civic or political purpose were meant to reflect this new belief system.”
As a result, Sliwka points out, “Roughly one third of the paintings in the National Gallery’s collection of Western European art are of religious subjects – and nearly all of these are Christian.” BBC 21 October 2014
The inherited ruling class had the wealth, and social control was dominated by the church. Art was a means to an end. Artists were employed to make images that supported the status quo and dominance of the Christian Church.
I realise that we have only looked at European Christian art history. However that period was very significant, over a thousand years.
That was then. The church no longer dominates people’s lives. For well over a century or more art has been a product made for middle class money. It is a product in the shops and galleries. And for the last decade or so, online as well.
Nowadays any religious content is likely to be because the artist genuinely has a religious message to share. It won’t be because the Church is the only possible money source.
Oh OK. I hold my hands up. I can spot my cynicism as well.
The obvious decline in religious subjects for paintings and sculpture is because the Christian church has lost social control in European communities. But I can only be sure about this in European art. I do not know whether the power and influence of other religions has also faded in other cultures. I wonder.
P.S. I have just looked ahead to see the next blog topic. ‘Patronage and Subsidy, Grants etc.’ Hmmm !? You can see where my brainstorming mind was going.