Jun 3, 2017
There are over 850 million visits every year to museums in the United States, a count higher than that for sporting events and amusement parks combined. Hundreds of millions more visit collections online. Museums are go-to spaces for educational field trips, must-see destinations for tourists to new cities, sites for contemplation, for hands-on scientific exploration, and flint stones of socio-political controversy. They are also filled with religious objects.
Among all the media and means through which a broad swath of the public comes to understand religious lives and traditions, museums have emerged as some of the most prominent social institutions influencing the popular conceptions and imaginaries of religion. From history to natural history, art to archaeology, local to national, museums actively shape how people come to know about beliefs and practices other than their own, just as they challenge conceptions of one’s own cultural, religious, and national histories.
When written in the same sentence, the terms “religion” and “art” tend to turn the contemporary secularized gaze back in time to Renaissance imagery. Those old, redolent, often pious pictures of Christ Child and Madonna are pleasing to look at, but these days their principal function is to confirm how religious art existed in ages past. Present-day artists can’t possibly be interested in that anymore.
To other eyes, religion and art co-exist just fine, as long as it’s a nebulous, personal “spirituality” that the artists are trying to express — nothing too public, political, or potentially threatening to anyone who looks at it. Others light on the scandals — Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, John Latham’s God is Great — thinking the arts now only work against religion. And still others reduce “religious art” to some proselytizing message, like you might see in Thomas Kinkade’s kitschily-lit homes.
Which is all quite remarkable, considering modern and contemporary art is flooded with religious symbols, strivings, conceptions, and, yes, controversies.
Jun 16, 2016
MADRID (RNS) Hieronymus Bosch may have died 500 years ago, but he’s inspired episodes of “The Simpsons,” rock ’n’ roll lyrics, children’s book characters, movies from “The Exorcist” to David Fincher’s “Seven” — even Dr. Martens boot designs. Last year when Leonardo DiCaprio visited Pope Francis, the actor brought along a book about Bosch as a gift for the pontiff.
How does an artist who has been dead for half a millennium pull off such a feat?