Religious Art is Useless
Even some atheists are prone to giving religion credit for producing great art as a happy byproduct of its dangerous and deluded superstitions. Such arguments always remind me of the first line in Act 2 of Tomfoolery, a musical in which I once appeared as the non-singing narrator:
- World War II produced many great songs, but it was not primarily a musical
Of all the lines I stumbled on and over during my short and unspectacular career in amateur theatre, this was my favourite. Even with the sober midweek audiences, it never failed to get a laugh and, with it, a perfectly timed shot of adrenaline (if the first joke of Act 2 flops, it is bound to be a long night — for all involved).
Back to my original point: great art came out of religious faith and it would be churlish for even non-believers to deny it…so goes the theory at least.
As I write this, I am at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, my favourite of all the city’s many fine cultural institutions. As I wander around, I am struck again by the repetitive nature of religious imagery on display here, especially in exhibits of any century up to and including about the 17th.
This seems to be such a waste of artistic talent for one thing — imagine if all those artists felt able to produce original work instead of endless covers of the same song.
It is even a greater shame when you consider the extent to which this constricted artistic menu has affected our capacity to understand the past. Artists provide a unique window into life in past centuries in the absence of photographic or other records. And yet, most of the artistic record is completely useless except in telling us that people were (a) quite religious and (b) convinced that Jesus and family were Scandanavian.