The Neglected Place of Religion in Contemporary Western Art
Keywords:contemporary art, religious expression, ritual, the human condition
In this article I am going to examine some of the artwork of the American video artist Bill Viola to demonstrate the experiences of the religious to which it can give rise. Viola’s work is a meditation on the central questions and issues in life, which include: why are we here? Where are we going? And what it feels to be alive. His work is intensive and engages the intellectual, emotional and sensory aspects of our being. Contemporary art is a hitherto neglected arena of fieldwork in religious studies. Equally, religion is disregarded in critical debates on contemporary art, and regarded as passé and irrelevant to modern life. The resistance on both sides is to the detriment of the mutual study and development of both religious studies and art. Art has the propensity to convey religious ideas and to evoke sentiments, which can be described as religious. We can look to contemporary art to uncover notions about the religious in twentieth and twenty first century life. My study on Viola will demonstrate the prevalence of religious experiences that his work evokes. In a post-secular Britain, where religion no longer upholds universal significance, contemporary art provides a channel to revive religious understanding vis-à-vis the spiritual, and to make it contemporary and resonant.
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