Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Religion of Art?

Years ago in college, I took a class called "Writing for the Arts." Thankfully, the instructor avoided "Artspeak," that nonsensical style of writing about art that amounts to, well, nonsense.

Anyway, the professor mentioned that she was brought up Catholic, but that her religion became art and psychology. That thought has stuck in my mind for over 20 years. I learned some good ideas about writing from her, but her comment always bothered me a little.

I think most artists -- all but the most commercially-driven ones, anyway -- would say that creating art is almost like a religious experience for them. Taking one's loves (or hates) and, in a sense, a pictorial expression of one's inner being and putting it on canvas, paper, clay, whatever, can be a cathartic and freeing event for an artist. Perhaps it's a little like going to confession and absolution--getting it all out and feeling so much better afterwards. At least, that's the idea.

I've also heard the notion that art is the output of a neurotic condition. We can certainly see examples of that out there! On the other hand, perhaps art is made in spite of, NOT because of, the emotional baggage we carry.

But returning to the religion aspect -- maybe it depends on what we expect our religion(s) to do for us. For many of us, it has to do with being imperfect beings trying to stand before Perfection -- and falling short. So life is about living as perfectly as we can and seeking forgiveness when we don't. In this case, I would think art (and/or psychology) as religion would be terribly inadequate, as touching and moving as really good art can be.

The above-mentioned teacher moved on to assume an editor position at an art publication and afterwards became the curator of an art museum. I've since lost touch. I hope she's still involved in art and in writing about art. But I also hope she found something more substantial than art and psychology in which to invest her soul. If not, I feel rather sad for her.

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