In an article in the Spring/Summer 2007 edition of Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Camille Paglia wrote that only religion can save the arts. What follows in an excerpt from Paglia’s article; thanks to the folks at Mars Hill Audio Journal for posting it on their Web site.
For the fine arts to revive, they must recover their spiritual center. Profaning the iconography of other people’s faiths is boring and adolescent. The New Age movement, to which I belong, was a distillation of the 1960s’ multicultural attraction to world religions, but it has failed thus far to produce important work in the visual arts. The search for spiritual meaning has been registering in popular culture instead through science fiction, as in George Lucas’ six-film Star Wars saga, with its evocative master myth of the “Force.” But technology for its own sake is never enough. It will always require supplementation through cultivation in the arts.
To fully appreciate world art, one must learn how to respond to religious expression in all its forms. Art began as religion in prehistory. It does not require belief to be moved by a sacred shrine, icon, or scripture. Hence art lovers, even when as citizens they stoutly defend democratic institutions against religious intrusion, should always speak with respect of religion. Conservatives, on the other hand, need to expand their parched and narrow view of culture. Every vibrant civilization welcomes and nurtures the arts.
Progressives must start recognizing the spiritual povery of contemporary secular humanism and reexamine the way that liberalism too often now automatically defines human aspiration and human happiness in reductively economic terms. If conservatives are serious about educational standards, they must support the teaching of art history in primary school — which means conservatives have to get over their phobia about the nude, which has been a symbol of Western art and Western individualism and freedom since the Greeks invented democracy. Without compromise, we are heading for a soulless future. But when set against the vast historical panorama, religion and art — whether in marriage or divorce — can reinvigorate American culture.
For something that looks a little like the marriage of religion and the arts, please see our interview with Nicora Gangi, along with images of two of her paintings, at http://www.liturgicalcredo.com/NicoraGangiJuneJuly2007.html .