Art and Faith

The marriage between religion and art has always been one full of turmoil. There are several instances from the past as well as the present when the most artistic imagery depicting religion has been considered disrespectful or derogatory to the faith in question or has managed to create a scandal. Many artists indulging in religious art are grossly misunderstood when all they want to do is express themselves.  

This compels me to ask the inevitable question – should artists mix art and religion and if they do, should they be left uninhibited, free to explore the realms of religion through their art or should they be sensitive towards matters of faith?

Art has the capability to illustrate and express religious beliefs, customs and values through iconography and body postures. Religious paintings are personal expressions of an artist about religious themes and principles as seen through his eyes. Moreover, aided by their aesthetic skill, artists have improved our understanding of religion. They have succeeded in bringing history to life with their clever manipulation of colors, textures and styles thereby expanding our horizon about past events. Until recently, religion and art were symbiotic, with aspects of the former making up the subject matter of the latter. 

Religious art serves decorative as well as reflective purposes and its main objective is to assert a moral message of the religion it represents.   Not only does it tell the story of a religion as told in its holy scriptures, but also provides an insight into the varying lifestyles of different religious groups.  It helps in keeping religious traditions alive and visualizing religious events from the past. Religious paintings can idealize and glorify a religion and possess the power to make believers out of non believers. 

In my understanding, the harmony between art and religion ceases to exist if it is communalized. When religious art becomes a vehicle for propaganda and serves the selfish motives of fundamentalists and right wing zealots, it loses its aesthetic appeal, leading to criticism and subsequent demand for curbs on artistic expression. The line between expression of and regard for religious beliefs is an extremely thin one.  An artist needs to take care that his portrayal of religion through his work doesn’t hurt anyone’s religious faith and ideology. In order to do so, every artist needs to be open-minded and think beyond religion and politics so that his art spreads positivity.

I am also of the firm belief that if the artist is expected to revere and respect the religious sentiments of people, they in turn too need to view his art with an unprejudiced mind. If art is to achieve its purpose, mutual understanding between its creator and viewer is the key. While trying to be sensitive towards the religious sentiments of his audience, the artist shouldn’t end up curbing his artistic expression for it is he who gives visual narrative to religion and god. 

In my opinion, one must first appreciate religious art solely for its creative genius before cross analyzing its objective. While each viewer will have his or her own perspective and draw his or her own inferences from it, they must also make an attempt to see it through the artist’s eyes, without being judgmental. Religious art is the external expression of the artist’s personal vision. What the artist depicts is a rendition of his own belief and faith and a projection of the world around him from his point of view, without any intention of offending others. I believe he deserves to be appreciated for his shear artistic genius, regardless of the subject matter.

I am convinced that as an artist, while I should have the liberty to portray religion through my work, I also need to practice self constraint to some extent so that my work doesn’t hurt anybody’s religious sentiments.

What’s do you think? Do you think artists should be given the luxury to explore religion as they wish? Or should they restrain from mixing the two? I leave this post open to you all and would love to hear your point of view so do share your opinion in the comments sections below. If I get enough feedback, my next post will hopefully be a compilation of all the views I get. So fire away!!

Art for Art’s Sake


Heard of the phrase “Art for Art’s Sake?” It is a simple expression for the philosophy that “true” art is divorced from any didactic, moral, or utilitarian function. The basic idea is that art is by definition aesthetical and thus can have no other purpose. In addition, art’s role is not to educate or to enlighten someone. It exists just for itself.

Oscar Wilde is considered the father of aesthetics. The phrase l’art pour l’art (“art for art’s sake”) was coined by the philosopher Victor Cousin, in 1818. According to him and several other philosophers of the century, social and political themes are irrelevant and should not be used in art making unless they render the final product “beautiful”.

This approach to art was elucidated in the 19th century by the Aesthetic Movement that promoted pure beauty and aesthetic values by accentuating visual and sensual qualities of art rather than practical, socio-political, moral or narrative considerations. So art from this movement didn’t give emphasis to deeper meaning.

History and Origin

The aesthetic movement flourished in Britain in the 1870s and 1880s. In painting it was exemplified by J.M. WhistlerAlbert Moore and certain works by Frederic, Lord Leighton. Japanese art and culture was an important influence, especially on Whistler and aesthetic design. Aestheticism shared certain affinities with the French Symbolist movement, fostered the Arts and Crafts Movement, and sponsored Art Nouveau. From 1875 the ideals of aestheticism were commercialized by the Liberty store in London, which later also popularized Art Nouveau.

The movement began in reaction to prevailing utilitarian social philosophies and to what was perceived as the ugliness and philistinism of the industrial age. In England, the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, from 1848, had sown the seeds of Aestheticism, and the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and Algernon Charles Swinburne exhibited it and expressed a yearning for ideal beauty through conscious medievalism. The painter James McNeill Whistler raised the movement’s ideal of the cultivation of refined sensibility to perhaps its highest point.

The roots of Aestheticism can be traced back to the 1860’s; however, it was not until the 1880’s that the movement gained noticeable popularity. The Aesthetic movement is often associated with the French term fin de siècle,” or the “end of the century,” which refers to the closing of an existing era and implies the beginning of a new one. It is often used to describe late 19th century Britain, a time when the ideals of the Victorian Age were losing precedence and being replaced by Aesthetic values. The Aesthetic movement denounced the sober morality and middle-class values that characterized the Victorian Age and embraced beauty as the chief pursuit of both art and life.

The Aesthetic Movement provided a challenge to the Victorian public when it declared that art was divorced from any moral or narrative content. In an era when art was supposed to tell a story, the idea that a simple expression of mood or something merely beautiful to look at could be considered a work of art was radical. In its assertion that a work of art can be divorced from narrative, the ideas of the Aesthetic Movement paved the road towards Modern Art. The movement is often considered to have ended with Oscar Wilde’s trials, which began in 1895.

Modern Day Aestheticism

Although aestheticism emerged more than 150 years ago, it’s still active today and very powerful too. Every time an art movement rejects pure aesthetical approach towards art, supporters of aestheticism raise their voices, questioning the quality of such art. So, aestheticism is not some art movement that existed in history and disappeared into oblivion – it’s still alive.

There are no specific names from the world of contemporary art today that would fit into the genre of aestheticism because artists usually tend to distance themselves from this movement. Apparently majority of contemporary artists reject basic principles and ideas of aestheticism.

Still, the movement is quite vivid, particularly its intellectual side. If we take a look at the contemporary art scene, we will see that the vast majority of pieces that are popular could not be labeled as products of aestheticism. In my personal opinion there are enough artists who create art with the sole purpose of making something beautiful without any deeper meaning behind it. Here are a few of my favorite art pieces which I feel fit the bill of aesthetic art. I hope you all will appreciate them for their sheer beauty as much as I do!

DISCLAIMER – All the information, data and imagery in this blog post is for informational and educational purpose only. While there may be copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner, I have only made it available with the sole effort to stimulate creative progress and artistic enrichment. Some images may have been taken from the links included below and I give full credit to these websites/pages, thereby in no way claiming them to be my own. I have also used these links for reference purposes and collection of data; therefore I give full credit to the respective web pages. Most of the data in this post is based on my personal experiences and opinions and I am not responsible for any material that is found in the links at the end of this post.

Sources and Photo Credits –