The other day I was watching a special on PBS called The Face: Jesus in Art.  Other than giving me flashbacks to my art history classes (which I miss dearly), it got me thinking about religion and art.  The two certainly have a long history together.  From almost the beginning art has been used to depict some sort of religious figures or rituals.  I think it started educational tools, to help tell the stories and teach the rituals to those who couldn’t read.  This causes some conflict though, since some religions forbid the creation of figural representations and/or representations of God.  Most religions seem to kind of ignore that rule though.  In Christian art there are thousands of images of Christ, and God as well.  Or perhaps I could stay Catholic art, since both the Byzantine church and Reformation brought about iconoclasms.  And yes, there are even images of the Prophet Mohammed in Islamic art.  I know, I saw them in my Islamic art class.  Islamic art is interesting because even though Islam is a religion, there are still two categories: the secular art and the religious art.  Most of the figural representations are in the secular category. 

            I don’t really see a problem with depictions of religious figures as long as people understand they’re just that – depictions, pictures.  I think the problems arise when people start worshipping the images themselves instead of what they represent.  Of course that’s at least part of the reason why religions ban the images in the first place, so that can’t happen.  I guess in a way it can even go back to Plato and his view that art can be dangerous and deceitful.  It’s tricky.

            Overall I think art is a good thing (not that I’m biased or anything, :0P).  Beauty, whether it be in art, nature or other things, can help people find the divine in their own lives, no matter their religion.  And in my opinion that has to be a good thing (as long as you don’t get too fanatical that is).  I think art is good at helping teach people about a religion, at least from a historical perspective, if not a spiritual one. 

Bosch, Christ Carrying the Cross, 1510-1535, oil on panel


Just a P.S. – I am not a theologian by any means.  Anything I know about various religions I learned either from church or school.  So if I’m horribly wrong about something in that area, feel free to correct me (in a polite manner of course).