Crash Course Challenge day 2: The Church and Art

Today I read about the Baroque and Rocco era (which take place right after the Renaissance) and I found myself more and more intrigued by the amount of influence the church had over art. Particularly around the time of the reformation and the protestant-catholic issues.
It really shouldn’t surprise me how much art was used as a means of communication, or upholding ideas and ideals – but how the church used it and how often they did intrigues me. It’s almost like there was an entire battle fought with art. Catholics only wanted art that supported their views, they wanted to show the power of their church and the pope and the holiness of the saints and the Virgin Mary. They wanted to continue with their way of doing things and sought artists who agreed with and represented their belief.
The protestants thought the catholics idolatrous for the way they revered their paintings of people and the pope and their rituals and sought to stand against that by only painting things depicting bible verses or the life of Christ. Although, they had a sense of wariness even with that. This, I suppose is what I find interesting: I’ve *heard* all of this in the 21st century. Hundreds of years after these events and movements took place, after all of the ways religions have changed, I’ve still seen that mentality. The protestant church seems to have no place for art (unless there are verses attached) and any art that seems to imply holiness of a person (except, perhaps, Jesus himself) is thought of as sinful.
It makes me wonder if this isn’t the reason that “Christian art” is the way it is. Art a la Thomas Kinkade (painter of light), bible story illustrations, and the random backgrounds with verses in the foreground we find prominently displayed in christian bookstores, are sort of deemed (though unspoken) the only acceptable form of visual art for a christian to be associated with.  It’s almost like real-life (or imagination) has no place. Not unlike the religious and art movements happening during the 16th and 17th and even 18th centuries. The vision for many artists (save a few of the “rebels” who retaliated with their own movements) was to bring a moral high-ground, uphold their religious views, and depict the holiest of people with more grandeur than the rest of us lowly depraved souls – and much of this was orchestrated by the church and government of the day. Artists who challenged this way of thinking were pretty much unappreciated.
While reading I’ve been finding myself anxiously awaiting the time when the church and state are no longer virtually in control of the art being created and commissioned, and I feel stifled while reading how strong a hold it had on the arts all those years ago. I realize that this sounds really awful, as I consider myself a christian – but the idea that art was used as a tool to carry out an agenda of the church or state, and how anything that did not coincide with the religious beliefs and artistic style or rules of the day were frowned on at best, bothers me on a level that I’m unable to name or identify. It’s like a bit of my artistic soul is saddened and I sympathize with the painters outside of the mainstream during those times.
It doesn’t feel like much has changed with the protestant attitude toward art, and especially towards their opinion of catholic art. I’m hoping that it will start to change as we’re introduced to a new age where art and technology are part of our daily lives and to ignore it is to live under a rock. Maybe an appreciation of art that does not necessarily scream “christian” will come into play as we find that art itself is an expression of the soul, and it doesn’t have to be blatantly obvious to be “good”.


Leave a Reply