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Friday, February 22, 2013

Art and Organized Religion

El Paso's Scottsdale Baptist Church--no art in sight.
But take note of the projection screen and the unlimited creative potential it represents.
Some time ago, I wrote regarding iconography in church art. A reader observed: "[Art] was permitted and embraced by the Catholic Church (and still is to a great extent); but, in recent history, I sense a strong distrust towards art in many Protestant churches." The reader went on to question whether this was due to the general public's opinion of art (perhaps their distrust of expressing their opinion of art) or their concern that the art might be worshiped instead of being merely decorative or inspirational. The reader continued by suggesting the possibility that the Church does not support the Arts simply because they no longer have the money and power they once did?

The Tribute Money, 1426, Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Florence, Italy.
The fresco reads like a Sunday School lesson only starting in the middle
and moving first to the far left, then to the far right. The guy in the cute little
mini-skirt is the temple tax collector (seen twice).

Even when religious art finds its way into
the home, there is a difference between
Protestant and Catholic art. Protestant art
tends to center on words.
I imagine all the suggestions mentioned above regarding church support of the arts today are probably true to some degree, however I think the primary factor involved is that the church no longer needs the arts as a tool for spreading the gospel as they did in an era when 90% of the populace were illiterate (as in Masaccio's time, above). Today, money that would have been spent in ancient times to support painting and sculpture, is spent instead on mass media, (television in particular) or multi-media presentations (films, DVDs, and the like). It's still money spent supporting the "arts" as broadly defined by the church, but it's not in the form of lasting, monumental works as in the past.

Catholic homes tend to feature iconographic
art not unlike that found in their churches.

Today, I might add, the reverse is also true. The arts no longer need the church. Relatively speaking, wealth is spread much more evenly today than in the ancient past. The wealthy, even the middle classes,  can and will pay adequate sums to add color and excitement to their places of work and rest. More importantly, the art of painting and sculpture, can no longer deliver to the church the audience it once did in the past when it was the primary, perhaps the sole visual form of communication with the masses. Support for the arts is now institutionalized (for better or worse), or commercialized, as in film, music, television, and now, the Internet. The painter is left with his primary source of patronage being private individuals, needing the quiet repose of interior decoration to enrich their tired, hyperactive, logged-in lives.

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