Second Place winner, October 2012 XT Photo Contest
Kalifornia Uber Alles
Teams: Rossoneri, Hammers
Art As Religion
Has art become the new civic religion?
What I mean is not the personal faith that a person might profess to, but a type of state or corporate religion. For example, in the past rich and powerful men (and they were almost always men) showed their wealth and power--which was always assumed to have been granted by the grace of God--by endowing holy works; churches, monastaries, roadside crucfixes and shrines. Frequently, rich families had their names engraved on the benches they had donated to the local cathedral and sometimes their faces were worked into altarpeices and religious paintings, just so everyone knoew who had the favor of the Deity. They would, upon reaching a certain level of power in the community, make sure that their money bought a Holy relic or two and often a second, less important, son was given to the church as a kind of offering (but most often to keep him out of trouble). The common people looked to the local priest as an arbiter of mores and values and looked upon all the impressive Holy things bought by wealth and power and realized that their social staus was ordained by God--each in his station, each in his place. Or so is my understanding of how things worked way back when.
Today, in much of the West, we have much less public places for religion. Rare is the occasion that a rich man endows a cathedral (with the Domino Pizza moghul being the only recent one to do it) any more, or brings the body of a Saint back for the masses to wonder at. When is the last time you read a name on the pews of the local church? If there still are any, those people are probabay long dead. But something has filled the breach this loss of public faith has created: ART.
Today, the rich and powerful endow museums, or at least wings and galleries of museums. Turn on your TV and note that the previous show on the Art of the Western World has been brought to you by a generous grant by the Chubb Group and Archer Daniels Midland. A rich family today proves their grace by donating a Picasso to the MMA or a Jasper Johns to the local Art Cathedral (always so reverently quiet and tomb-like). They have been blessed by fortune's hand and show it by dropping some coin on ART, thus proving it to the masses who shuffle through the museums and wonder upon the generosity of the great and powerful. Sometimes, an unimportant second child is given to the ART establisment (maybe as an Art History major, more likely as an endowment manager), like so many bishops and cardinals were in the old days. The local ART expert shows up on TV or in the newspapers from time to time to tell us all why we should hold Francesco Clemente in high esteem and to scrape in the presence of any random Rockefeller who deigns to visit their bought and paid for ART cathedral. The common people look on in awe and wonder and think: "If I don't like that art there is something wrong with me, not with it. The good, smart people get it, so it must be beautiful, becasue that's the way United Airlines intended it."
So, our sense of public religion has been replaced with a public ART religion. ART imbues the rich and powerful with a sense of legitimacy once reserved for the Church. A large Matisse or Serra donated by the grace and good will of Bechtel, serves the same purpose as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Van Eyk did, to show everyone who's boss (the burghers shown on the wings in the later, the generous benefactor who'd name is so neatly inscribed on a tiny plate somewhere in the former). Enjoy the ART, but don't think too much about who it serves.
You know the scene it's very hum-drum
And my favorite song's entitled "Boredom"...