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Art and Religion

Art and Religion

The following article whilst an’ evergreen’, always has something new to say or maybe provide  a new perspective of they way in which we view things.

It was written and submitted  by one of our newer members to the St Bernadette Family. I found it it very stimulating and I hope you will as well. We are fortuante to have him in our community.


Art and Relgion

There really is no such thing as art. There are only artists, according to the art historian E.H.
Gombrich. Art is one way in which mankind has expressed himself from the days
when men took coloured red earth and drew animals on cave walls. Since those
days art has become the means by which we explore, reflect and create our
inmost thoughts, relationships and beliefs in visual and tactile forms.

Art forms have ebbed between reflections of reality as we see the world, to mystic, devotional
and intellectual expressions. Art has always been the means by which we can
relate ourselves to the created universe, and to its creator.

In earlier times art was very important as a means of education, the explanation of the
unexplainable, or the elevation of the mind to things eternal. Christianity in
particular held the purse strings in western art and the intellectual
expressions of the time, dominating what was painted, carved or illuminated as
well as what was written. Our modern idea that art had to be “original” was not
an approach Chinese or Byzantine masters would have understood. Even medieval
artists had to reflect the sacredness of the subjects in ways that had been
handed down to them, because art had to be devotional and educational; think of
the two dimensional paintings of Byzantine artists and the wonderful expressive
icons of the early Western and Greek churches. They did not have to look
realistic, rather they had to be painted in a particular way, stylised and with
special colours; think of the Virgin Mary, she should always be painted in blue
and white. However there remained enough scope for the artist, in terms of
composition and scale of his her subjects to show whether he or she was an artistic
craftsmen or not. Medieval western civilisation relied upon the artist then to
explain biblical texts and gospel stories without any need to reflect the
individuality of the artist, because the viewers were often illiterate peasants.
This allegorical stylised form of art remained unchanged throughout medieval
Europe. In northern Europe our Churches became full of coloured stained glass
windows telling biblical stories whilst in Southern Europe more emphasis was
put on paintings and sculptures.

With the Renaissance came change, the assertion of the individual became far more
important, through the rediscovery of ancient art forms in literature.

Art still had a role to play in being educational, but grounded in a realism which reflected
the world in which the viewer lived and understood. Individual expression
allowed artists to interpret, explore and heighten our emotional reactions to
the great stories of the past. Think of the sculpture of ‘David’ by
Michelangelo for example. The introduction of perspective and light and shade
to reflect a sense of reality gave art far more penetrating tools. The tactile
quality of sculpture provided yet more three dimensional experiences, think
this time of Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ in St Peter’s Rome, or the great depth
created by the painting by Caravaggio of ‘Doubting Thomas’.

Today, art can still be educational in a religious sense but the emphasis is upon an artist’s
individual creativity. The importance of an individual’s ideas, beliefs and
expressions are typical of our personal and secular world. Today artists reflect
their personal relationships with God often without recourse to the church as a
whole. My own work as an artist gives me opportunity to reflect God’s glory
through particularly landscape painting which helps to heighten the story of
His creation. Great art should be able to convey something about eternity and
lasting truths of creativity. It should have the power to engage, educate and
enlighten the viewer. That enlightenment helps us all to have an enriched
experience and understanding o f God and His creation.


Michael Long ACSD

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