Art and Religion – The Two Foster Brothers at War

Art and religion can never be friends. They stand for two diametrically opposite thought processes. One (the religion) is a conformist, while the other (art) is based on independent thoughts. Despite this dichotomy, it is surprising a fact that religion and art have played considerable roles in each others’ existence and history. Religion started as a means of organized conformism to build a society with a well-defined hierarchy. Religion was the need of the hour, as the human strife was epidemic and humane order was the primary requirement for their organized and peaceful survival. Art grew out of chaos and strife too however, it was more of an individualistic and a personal way of seeing order in prevailing chaos.

An interesting phenomenon though, took place during the days of Cave Paintings and Pagan religions. Society realized that both, art & religion have the capacity to influence, the conscious, and the subconscious minds of the masses. Whenever art was on display in the forms of music, fine art, or sculpture, even people not connected with art, sought its meaning and responded to it. Art influenced the core feelings of human beings and left them deeply affected. It was recognized that art had the power to rouse passion, love, sadness, happiness, and anger. Society could never explain this phenomenon of the power of expression, and remained forever in dread of that piece of art, which could tear the society apart.

Religion, the foster child however, earned unqualified love of the society. It had the similar impact as that of art. Human beings at large responded to the essentially illogical concept of a singular almighty God and his agents without question. In fact, religion did have art as its friend for centuries. Sufi musicians, painters of religious icons, tantric artists, architectural wonders, and musical chants, all forms of arts & artists took religion to new boundaries in early civilizations. The spread of religion owes itself as much to the deeply mystical nature of art through which it was expressed, as much it owes to its powerful philosophy.

With time and development, cross-boundary travels increased and communication improved. This was the time when art found itself a rebel. It soon found a new idiom for growth, separate from religious dependence, which had fueled its growth. Art refused to listen to the diktats of politics or religion, and soon artists began to “grow out of their boots.” There was a widespread resentment in religious circles and society (especially, in the industrially advanced Europe) towards art, as the two felt threatened by the rebellious revolution. Even the Islamic world issued religious fatwa to justify the destruction of libraries of paintings and sculptures. Religion positioned itself as the preserver of society, while successfully campaigning against individual art, calling it anarchist. Independent thinking artists were being routinely sacrificed for their beliefs and creativity. In fact, the most interesting case in modern days is that of defining art as “the guardian of essentially atheist values” in Russia (erstwhile) and Eastern Europe.

Democracy and a decentralized thinking led to the final battle between these two foster brothers, art and religion. As technology became accessible and cheap, religion, as the glue of the society began to fall apart, while art revived as the messiah of the freedom of action and thought. The battle may have been won by art for the time being however, the cold war lingers on. It is an evolutionary fact that, these two essentially illogical and powerful molders of mind, art and religion, cannot rest, until one overpowers the other.