In an earlier comment thread there was some discussion about Re-enchantment, a recent panel at the Art Institute of Chicago on art and religion (with Thierry de Duve, Boris Groys, David Morgan, Kajri Jain, Wendy Doniger, and James Elkins). In the comment thread Matthew Ballou, a faith-motivated artist who "spent a good number of sleepless nights on the ninth floor of that very same building in various states of woe over the issues under consideration by this panel" posted this link to a paper he wrote in response to the event. The paper is interesting, and I felt it was worth a front-page post. I am not a faith-motivated artist, but I very much appreciate the opportunity to hear about the "exclusion of spirituality from academic discussions of modernism and postmodernism" from the perspective of someone who is. Here are two bits that particularly gave me food for thought.
Simply put, the work of art that has the least potential for transgressing the self-conceived autonomy of the viewer is one most able to gain approval. The work that functions more as a sign than as a symbol is far closer to approval, since the sign tends to present itself to the autonomous self for review, whereas the symbol announces itself as avatar of a broader, even universal, conception which bears with it a kind of jurisdiction over the self.


Why is religio-spiritual content subject to the evaluation of theory and not the other way around? The problem with this arrangement is that theory denigrates practice by the expression of its critique. That is, the form of its existence is a questioning of praxis, hence the eternal strain inherent in the attempt to bridge the theory of a phenomena and the actuality of it. Any analysis of a particular practice, rather than reifying it, particularizes it in a hierarchical structure where the analysis plays the dominant roll of overseeing other. Thus by virtue of its own critical action, the theory of a discrete application becomes the arbiter of the value of that system. This is where the fundamental power of critique comes into existence. A theory of religious or faith-motivated art, then, must be a kind of violence exacted upon that art, for in its attempt to quantify, qualify, name, and place the systems and functions of that art, the theorizing acts as a systolic element that compresses the potentiality of anything it has defined. This is perhaps the fatal flaw of the Re-Enchantment panel: that their words could not seem to traverse the gulf between the disqualifying otherness of critique and the gut-wrenching, heart-felt arena of making artworks. They could not connect with the practice of making contemporary religio-spiritual art in any full measure; most of their time was spent describing it.
There is another response posted here, as well as readings submitted by some of the panelists.

- sally mckay 5-04-2007 4:37 am

I have transposed these two comments from the earlier thread mentioned above, because they directly relate to this essay.

Did I misread you or are you asserting that work that is based on religious faith and proclaimation must be judged on those terms?
- L.M.

L.M. I wouldn't say that it MUST be judged within those terms, but I do believe there is a sense in which it is somewhat outside the range of secular art theory. However, my statements on this matter could be seen as more of a query: many faiths are circumscribed and make claims that, ostensibly, an unbeliever cannot fathom. If this is so, can an artwork made from within that faith-tradition or perspective be properly understood from without? I think there are many reasons to go ahead and try. And there is something to be said for the idea that the internal motivations and inspirations of each individual artist, regardless of faith or the lack thereof, are multivalently complex and - in some ways - impossible for a theorist to really comprehend. In this I think the solution is to consider all things as "in relation." That is, we're all humans, we all share some commonalities. Even the most hardened skeptic believes some things and can thus relate, in some small way, to a work of faith. For me, it's really just about encouraging identification, a state where we try to foster understanding. I think this human identification is where the distanced art theorists may some day approach a truer understanding of faith-motivated work. So, to answer your question, yes - in some ways the faith-work us beyond the ability of the unbeliever to understand. But in another way, since we're all human, there is a point of connection that is open to us if we wish to take it.
- Matt Ballou

- sally mckay 5-04-2007 4:40 am

Maybe the secular contemporary art world rejects religion because we are actually in competition with religion. These faith-motivated artists are honing in on our territory and, worse, deflating our spiritual mystique by being too obvious about it.
- sally mckay 5-04-2007 4:46 am


That idea (that the secular territory includes the general spiritual conceptions) was adjacently addressed by the panel. I guess that I am somewhat resigned to the fact that it's really a complex situation - i might assert that systematized spiritual experience (i.e. organized religion) is a different animal than the general "new age" spirituality common among the fringes of the art world, but given my own assertions about the unknowability of other individuals' spiritual experience, I can't be definitive. What I can say is that there is certainly a formal difference between personal imagination and the received religious imagination. The received religious imagination comes from tradition. Hence our conceptions of religious spirituality are necessarily more organized and constrained than your average Bonnaroo-attending, peasant-skirt-wearing, crystal-gazing person might be. That structure of organized spiritual thought gave us all the art history that we know and participate in. Any rejection of this former schema comes from an idea that the person-ness of an individual (that is, the WESTERN conception) is primary in the general consciousness of modern mankind. I think the average strain of art theory holds to that - that humanity is essentially a collection of self-oriented gods who strive to justify their own truths in the communal milieu. Organized religion (i.e. received spirituality) holds that objective truth is outside the individual. This is the difference between the two arenas. So, yes, artwork oriented from within received spirituality may indeed be trying to take over the arena of self-defined spirituality (this is essentially what de Duve is saying, which I relate in my essay). Is that take-over right? Even if it's not right, is it appropriate for the artworld (an arena of OSTENSIBLE TOLERANCE) to reject a certain type of work based on it's perceived alignment with that "take-over"?
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-04-2007 5:46 am

"many faiths are circumscribed and make claims that, ostensibly, an unbeliever cannot fathom. If this is so, can an artwork made from within that faith-tradition or perspective be properly understood from without?"

What the hell is properly understood immediately, except for mediocrity. Brilliance has a mystery all its own.

"I think the average strain of art theory holds to that - that humanity is essentially a collection of self-oriented gods who strive to justify their own truths in the communal milieu. "

That assertion made me crack up laughing with its accuracy.

I suspect that the best work exists beside the artist. (The expression or experience of being "beside myself" actually means something, because I really don't own any truth myself)

Sound quality is a bit crap, but it's the great Marion Williams here:

- L.M. 5-04-2007 7:59 am


"I really don't own any truth myself"

That is an awesome statement, and it stands in stark contrast to the estimation of most postmodern thinkers. How do you think you arrived at it? Are you familiar with Stanley Fish or Richard Rorty? How would you relate your idea of truth as apart or outside the individual to their ideas of the construction of truth/reality?

Thanks for the Marion Williams video. Great stuff.

- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-04-2007 8:45 am

Funny thing about language, I don't know where that came from. I can trace its appearance to some little problem I had with my initial sentence structure. (And I can easily trace its source to the theological rhetoric that I was raised on.)

I'm not familiar with Richard Rortry, I did read one essay by Stanley Fish way back in the early nineties about boutique multiculturalism, where he's posing the question: how much can you afford to tolerate someone's else's intolerance, especially when the intolerance desires your annihilation. (it was impressive as that question wasn't really being asked yet, odd that I haven't read him since)

I'm not sure I understand the last part of your question or if I'm equipped to answer it.

(one comment I read on Marion Williams' performance of this song: "She was hitting notes that weren't even there!!" )

- L.M. 5-04-2007 9:28 am

ive been thinking about my work lately, because some of the prints i want to do are xian, adn a lot of my blogging etc are xian, but are also related to language and the body--where does the faith based praxis interact with the coperal or lingusitic?

- anthony (guest) 5-04-2007 9:29 am

Anthony, that comment is a spelling masterpiece.
- L.M. 5-04-2007 10:10 am

This is a total fucking gem:

Must pack for a camping trip, I'm off for the weekend. And I thank all you xians (or churchy people as R.M. Vaughan puts it) for giving me a sliver of an excuse to post this stuff.

- L.M. 5-04-2007 10:49 am

I must remember not to go to bed at night - I'm missing all the action in the wee hours!

- sally mckay 5-04-2007 4:50 pm

I like this conversation. I have curiousity and respect for the concept of faith, enough to recognise that I don't have it, and would not attempt to speak for it. Our desires for art seem pretty different, but its cool that our interests intersect.

One thing that fascinates me about the Re-enchantment event is that members of the art world establishment are saying, "Hey, there's this whole wide field of art practice we've been ignoring...maybe we're missing something!" I don't see this as tolerance, I see it as intellecual hunger, and I can relate. Art world needs new fuels to be robust.

I wish I could've been at the conference. I am very curious to know more about the panelists' motivations. Your description, Matt, of the panelists attempting to proscribe strategies for how faith-based artists could position their work in order to be accepted by the art world is just so sad its funny. Sometimes it seems like feminism and the civil rights movement never happened. Interestingly, part of what's unique to this discussion is that the exclusion isn't based on race, class or gender, and both "sides" (not to get too hyperbolic) see themselves as the underdog.

There's a science/religion furor going on, and of course there are parallels. Scientists rightly fear the censorious political power of fundamentalist Christianity. Yet many branches of science have developed such an allergy even to the humanities, that there are secular intellectuals (like Mary Midgley) who fear that the process is not functioning as well as it should be. Something about that really resonates for me, like if you build up the city walls so high that there's no threat from people outside, then eventually everyone inside will become skinny little mutants. On the other hand, as J. at Simpleposie pointed out, "It is lucky Jesse Helms isn't writing the textbooks!"
- sally mckay 5-04-2007 5:46 pm

re: scientism & religion - see this video of Sam Harris getting articulately blasted by Scott Atran.
[thanks to J.T. at All The Little Live Things]

- sally mckay 5-04-2007 6:06 pm


Check out for some more on the interaction of the body and faith ideas. It's obviously more geared toward painting, but it's kind of a nice survey that deals with your question about "faith-based praxis" intersecting with the "corporeal."


Yeah, the trend of the overall discussion seemed to manifest a tension between some kind of earnest interest and a desire to keep those Christians at bay. But I like your comment about "building the walls so high..." At the panel discussion, in spite of it's frustrating or laughable points, it seemed like the artworld walls came down a little bit - or at least the mutants were peering over them. I think part of the reticence of the artworld/art theory establishment to cede footholds back to religion/spirituality/faith is that religion held sway over all art for a very long time. Realistically, the secular stance of the artworld is relatively young - barely more than 100 years of power. I think there is a feeling that, "Damn it, those faith-folks had a few thousand years. Now it's ours!" In some ways I agree with them - Modernism and Postmodernism opened up new arenas for contemplation, in spite of any negatives we can find in them.
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-04-2007 6:45 pm

That's nicely put, Matt.
- sally mckay 5-04-2007 8:57 pm

give me a break, it was the middle of the night
- anthony (guest) 5-05-2007 1:32 am

hi Anthony! I must confess I initially thought the worst, since I'd never seen the word xian before.

- sally mckay 5-05-2007 2:32 am

that came out too bitchy, im sorry
- anthony (guest) 5-05-2007 9:41 am

If that's the bitchiest you've been ariound here, I wouldn't worry about it.
- L.M. 5-07-2007 3:08 am

Sadly the broken beauty link does not advance the argument for a reconsideration of faith based practises.
- L.M. 5-07-2007 10:14 pm


Why not? The Broken Beauty project brought together a number of artists from a variety of perspectives and practices within representation and explored themes related to faith and the depiction of the body. You state that none of this advances the argument for a reconsideration of faith-based practices. Is this simply because you don't like the work, the ideas, the themes, and so it's all disqualified in your mind? I wonder: is there anything that could validate the reconsideration of faith-based practices in contemporary art to you?
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-07-2007 10:51 pm

Yes Matt, you're right, I disliked the work intensely. I found most of them maudlin and clichéd with a whiff of the same religiously narcissistic postures that are so evident in the performance stance of Christian rock singers. I lack a lens of Christian charity in the case of those examples, and I respect your writing enough to know that can't possibly be the criteria for evaluating faith-based practices.

I want to see better work.



Or great work.

- L.M. 5-08-2007 12:39 am

If our blog readers don't know about the work of the Best Anglican Ever, Sharon Alwad, it's time to find out. (speaking of where the faith based praxis interacts with the corporeal or linguistic, this is a nice description, of her 1998 ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST)

- L.M. 5-08-2007 2:21 am

Alwad also has second degree black belt in Goju-Ryu Karate.


She might have just broken a hotness meter with that direction in her art practise.

- L.M. 5-08-2007 2:31 am


Alwad is fantastic, and really ought to be more widely used as an example. But I hardly see how her practice invalidates any other's practice. This is the trap of so many artists and theorists. We find our cliques, niches, and preferences, and then somehow seek to elevate them at the expense of other forms. Alwad's form excellent, and has given her a tremendous career and some kudos. Similarly someone like Jerome Witkin has spent a lifetime developing his particular form - representational painting - with a bit of attending success (though far less than his brother, Joel Peter Witkin, who is an artist I'm assuming you'd love, L.M.). I fail to understand how one disqualifies the other. I don't believe this invalidation actually occurs in the final analysis; it is rather a construct of the aesthetic judgment of the viewer. It is neither objective nor final. I hold, rather, that the individual practices of Alwad and Witkin instead inform and enliven each other. They give us perspective on similar issues. You may FEEL that one or the other is more maudlin, or one or the other is more valid, but this feeling does not truly disqualify or reify at all, except within your own estimations. The overall issue is whether we can allow for an art theory that ALLOWS both Alwad and Witkin. Can we? I think that both have been kept at the margins, regardless of their form of practice, precisely because of the issues, ideas, and themes they present. Sure, they have degrees and tenures, and students who love them; where is the lauding of the artworld? This is the issue, not your personal preference of medium.
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-08-2007 9:00 am

BTW, using Malevich (or jumping a few decades, Reinhardt) in the context of belief or faith in contemporary art trends is really just pushing your own preference. We've spent the last 50 or 60 years realizing purification of concept is just not always worth the effort. Malevich and Mondrian and their fellow Modernists (particularly the spiritually-minded ones) wanted a so-called "pure" art form. The problem is that everyone actually likes complicated forms better. I respect their projects, and enjoy their work, but they purposefully limited the evocative nature of their work by pairing it down so far. Something like the Alwad performance work you cite (St. John the Baptist) is endlessly multivalent and open to understandings, even within the closeness of it's presentation. We have learned that complicating our experience of the spiritual reality always yields more than closed expressions. Now, you may feel that, say, representational painting is more closed than performance, or film, etc, but the fact is that there are a variety of potentialities present within each; there is not one ultimate form. Again, the issue is not preference, but potential. Will the general art theoretical construction within which we all function as artists, or art-writers, or art-thinkers, actually proscribe certain expressions or not? That's what is at stake.
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-08-2007 9:12 am

I never said that Alwad's work invalidated anyone's work.

Your assumption is horribly wrong, I dislike Joel Peter Witkin even more than Jerome Witkin.

Cintra Wilson writing in Salon got it right in my estimation.

God is a big theme for Witkin. Like many good perverts, Witkin seems to suffer from what I like to call "Catholic burn." As a practicing Roman Catholic, he appears to be obsessed with the fetishizing of everything nasty on the fringes of Jesus' world, of all the "other" stuff ordinarily shunned by suburban philistines and the religiously repressed: freaks, violated corpses, fists up the ass, bondage, etc.
But Witkin routinely insists it's not for prurient reasons. Oh, no. His work is a product of his higher religious leanings: "The images tended to repel and shock. Yet, I believe they possessed tender and enlightened qualities which were strangely moving ... the figures were always isolated because the Sacred is always beyond nature, beyond existence."

As Witkin explained to the Seattle Times in 1994, "My work shows my journey to become a more loving, unselfish person."
Horseshit! The perved out part isn't the problem here, his pretentious precious twee little antique affectations are what's repellent. I think he's pathetically disingenuous about what he's doing.

Jerome's Witkin's painting, "A Jew in a Ruin", is also downright embarrassing.


(The Jews of Europe have been through enough without having to look at this mawkish drivel.)

Bad painting, bad photography. There's lots of it with a multitude of motivations. No amount of theory can raise this in my estimation. Meaning well, being sincere, even having politics or beliefs that I may totally agree with and support won't make for great art either.

That said, I have few issues with what you write, but the work you are supporting with it is another matter. (I don't even know where you get the impression that I dislike all representational works.)
- L.M. 5-08-2007 10:05 am

I do have a question for you Matt: Do you really believe that we all function within a "general art theoretical construction"? Most great work expands or contradicts the temporary construction. (I always thought that the construct should follow the art, not the other way around.)

b/t/w I think you would really enjoy the questions and discussions on simpleposie. Check out her archives. There is a lot of discussion of the issues that you bring up about institutionalized art theory.
- L.M. 5-08-2007 10:38 am


What do you think of Koons as a religious worker?

- anonymous (guest) 5-08-2007 12:34 pm

or Spencer for that matter?

- anthony (guest) 5-08-2007 12:35 pm

This argument is so regressive I can't believe it. I disagree with you Matt. The world of art can hardly become more accomodating, or elastic in respect to the forms it will "allow" to develop within it. That's what the world of art is - a milieu. What's "allowed" is one thing. Everything is allowed. What's "preferred" is entirely another. And the values conferred on works of art by the individuals who come, who dare to state their preferences are what make the mileu dynamic - otherwise the world of art is just a flatline of the passible. It has nothing to do with faith motivation or religion or magic spells. It has to do with discernment and judgment.
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 4:19 pm

It has nothing to do with faith motivation or religion or magic spells

i dont think one should discount the power or effectiveness of magic spells done by people who claimed their own mystic power (ie malevich, kadinsky, mondrian, klein, martin, nitsch, beuys, kenneth anger, jack smith, harry smith, louise borgeious, kiki smith) or said, abracadabra, poof, this urinal is now ART, these brillo pads are now SCULPTURE or even refusing discernment and judgement and just doing (most of the abstract american painters, for most of the 20th century) art is all about saying the rite (not a misspelling) words
- anthony (guest) 5-08-2007 4:34 pm


I guess I'm just seeing something different in J Witkin's work, or at least I can respond to it differently than you and Wilson. But Wilson has an angle on a tension in Witkin's painting regarding its location between a religious impulse in the artist and the depictions of subjects he constructs around that impulse. Witkin is Jewish by birth, and grew up in the Bronx. Seeing as how he is now a "practicing Roman Catholic," there are no doubt all manner of negotiations and contradictions going on in the work. Much of it is on the verge of kitsch - but I think this is good, in a way. In the light of the brutality of the world (which is a big issue for Witkin), how can painting (or any art) make a difference? Anyone who truly believes their work can address these deeply human issues will end up having work that seems less than genuine to certain viewers (we have already seen how polarizing the likes of Bill Viola or Odd Nerdrum are). I don't know that that really makes the work less worthy. Wilson may think it trite, you may think it disingenuous, but I think Witkin is a master technician who really is concerned with what has gone on and is going on in the world. We should be careful about calling something 'bad' simply because we distrust it's message or our perceived comportment of the artist - it's a sure-fire way to reject stuff out-of-hand before allowing any potential understandings to develop.

I never meant to imply that you don't like representation, L.M. I'm sorry if it sounded that way. I merely wanted to make sure that the arena I was talking about where in clear view.

In terms of your question about whether I really believe we function within a general art theoretical construction, I'd say that we do, in as much as we are participating in the arena of view. Once we step into that public space, certain legacies and dialectics. You and I are interacting here, people view our conversations, we mention other artists we like or dislike, and we engage with a shared history and commonalities of understanding. We interact within these epistemological frameworks. The embedded structures of influence, approval, and ideology (and so many other aspects) that present themselves within that system really are around us even in this simple blog thread. But you bring up a valid point - the power of the art to transform and redefine the system. I hope this is true. It seems a little idealistic, since I wonder how many of us can make work that isn't influenced by the general art theoretical construction. I mean, I really wonder if you or I could ever hope to make work that truly "expands or contradicts" that construction in any real way. You have a sophisticated perspective, and I hope that I do as well. This means we're informed from within that system - which came first: the chicken or the egg?

As for simpleposie, I've enjoyed reading things over there (most recently the "Do Artists Hate Critics" thread). Thanks again to Sally for contacting me after my first post or I don't know if I'd have found all of this...


I'm not a huge fan of Koons, but I appreciate the scope of his project and how he's enfolded a kind of socio-religious visual trope into his work for all these years. But I think I'd rather hang out with Wim Delvoye any day :)

As for Stanley Spencer, I've always loved his work. I'll be in the UK this fall and I plan to visit Cookham and tour some of the churches Spencer transformed.
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-08-2007 4:37 pm


"....even refusing discernment and judgement and just doing...."

That is discombobulated.

- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 4:59 pm

PS: Sorry for the misspellings or lack of clarity. My wife has been sick and I've been up most of the night with her. Now she's sleeping so I think I'll get some rest too.

J - Let's hope the whole discussion is less "regressive" now that you are here to lift us from the mire. Looking forward to more.

- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-08-2007 5:00 pm

I doubt it. And Lifting from the mire is not part of J@simpleposie's job incantation - I mean - description. I do however have some especially designed questions for those of you who are game - about halfway down the page at simpleposie.
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 5:18 pm

Thanks for your great comment J.! Yes art is a milieu, beautifully put. I was just now mulling over something similar on my little walk to the computer. J. is also right that the discussion of exclusion here needs more oomph. The relatively recent history of identity politics has been over all the permutations of this territory many times.

According to Elkins, Bill Viola dropped in popularity as his expressions of spirituality increased. Did this drop happen because people chose to reject his religiosity, or was it because the problems he started working on were no longer the problems that the viewers were engaged with, ie: his work just became less interesting to them? Art appreciation is not a civic duty, we go where we're engaged.

Not to say that it's all about individual choice. There is systemic exclusion in the art system, as in any system. Getting "in" is fraught, as the panel discussions Matt described indicated. If you want your issue on the table you've either got to present the work in such a way that gatekeepers become engaged with what you are doing, or become a gatekeeper yourself, or work to put your like-minded colleagues in the position of gatekeeper. Or you work for legislation that will make institutions devote a certain percent of their programming to your issue. Or you can opt out of that game altogether, and work in a different arena with colleagues and audience for whom the issues are already on the table.

The point I'm at right now with this is that my interest has been peaked by the proposed phenomenon of an art world allergy to discussion of religion in contemporary art. And there is something there that doesn't jive since much exciting important work has been faith-based, as Anthony's list above makes clear. And does the fact that there's been a big symposium on the subject mean that this allergy is diminishing? And if so, why? Is it because religion is so visible and potent in US politics right now? Is the art world simply cuddling up to power? I dunno...but it's interesting! Matt's essay does a really good job of analysing why secular art types do not relate to faith-motivated art, and the exposure of those dynamics is fascinating.

BUT, I heartily agree with L.M. that the works at Broken Beauty leave me utterly cold, and I have yet to see anything here convincing me of why a secular artist, art viewer, curator, critic, or whatever might find themselves engaged by faith-motivated art, as a genre or practice. Other than an argument that they "ought" to. Which doesn't really fly.

- sally mckay 5-08-2007 7:34 pm

Anthony, say more about Koons as a religious worker! (I love Koons). I went Googling for Koons and religion and found this:

"I think the work is based on and tries to function in the form of religion - not as religion itself, but within what religion tries to do for individuals, so that they can flourish in life. That's the vocabulary the work is based in." Koons describes his obsessive attention to the details of facture and finish as a means of ensuring that one can trust in the objects he creates; they will have integrity. The idea of trust is one that he returns to often: "The object isn't demanding to be trusted. The object isn't saying to the viewer: You know, you should trust me. It's just laying the framework for the viewers to trust themselves to have an intimate experience with this object."

In contemporary art, works typically function either as critical commentaries or as expressions of personal psychology and experience. What they do not generally do is function as icons intended for the broadest possible public, icons that will incarnate an archetypal consciousness even as they provide the critical diagnosticians of our culture with multifarious symptoms to interpret but not to treat.
Is that what you mean?
- sally mckay 5-08-2007 7:36 pm

What I said was that the world of art is a milieu. I don't think art is a milieu. I think it has one and it contributes to one.
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 7:54 pm

sorry, distinction noted.
- sally mckay 5-08-2007 8:09 pm

I also wondered what Anthony's list make clear?
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 8:10 pm

Ooops - left a word out.
I also wondered what does Anthony's list make clear?
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 8:12 pm

In Auschwitz, when you scream you get lipstick. (if this is the first thing I think of when I look at a painting there is a big big problem with it)

Matt, You have continually mentioned that our damning judgement on certain works is because we distrust the message. I have to disagree with that totally. My issues after reading the transcript of the re-enchantment discussion was the sanctimoniousness of the critics who condemn ANY religious reference, due to a fear of sanctimony, I suppose. (Their formulations on how religion would be allowed to slip into art they wish to talk about is insulting to any artist, could only be more so if they numbered the steps for easier reading.)

But ultimately, you are going to make the art you need to make. With or without critical support. Most people do without. Is the complaint about a lack of recognition and validation? A lot of artists are in that boat too, some shouldn't be, and may not be in the future, others are really making crap work.

Sure, most artists focus on what they need to see when evaluating other work, that doesn't make it impossible for them to recognize work that they could never possibly make in a million years. That's the joy of being in a community full of artists with distinct approaches.
- L.M. 5-08-2007 8:51 pm


Great comments above. I especially liked the Koons quotes. Do you think the idea of art participating in the "form" or "vocabulary" of religion, as Koons puts it, is a way to move past the disparities we're seeing here? If, perhaps, the Broken Beauty works were less "religious" in content, yet retained some "form" that spoke archetypally or to some sort of essential human sense of being (what art specifically doesn't do this, though?). I'm just wondering what part the religio-spiritual crowd has to get rid of in order to by-pass the problems. And if they have to drop the content, how then can we call it "religious" or "faith-motivated" art?

And I wonder what would happen if so-called religious work was instead presented as humanist. Could we then accept it on that level?
- Matt Ballou (guest) 5-08-2007 8:52 pm

"I'm just wondering what part the religio-spiritual crowd has to get rid of in order to by-pass the problems." I think this question is mis-led. As L.M. points out, most-if-not-all artists struggle with recognition or lack of it. For anybody, a strategy of tailoring your art to fit perceived criteria is a pretty bad idea, at least as far as the quality and intergrity of the work is concerned.

J., Anthony's list makes clear that many of the artists held up by the cannon have expressed spiritual motivations for their work. What Elkins et. all described in the pre-Re-Enchantment Bad at Sports podcast was a situation in which these artists' motivations have been dismissed as irrelevant to the trajectory of the history of art. I think there's something interesting in that dichotomy, something that doesn't jive and raises questions. I believe it was Elkins, on the podcast, who said something like, "well, we critics are never interested in the motivations of artists." That struck me as a loose thread that's begging to be pulled.
- sally mckay 5-08-2007 9:52 pm

As I've said elsewhere, Elkins is mad because he described an artist's work as "sad" in a catalog essay and the artist took it out without consulting him. (An incident described in his book asking "what happened" to art criticism.) He not only thinks ornithology is not for the birds but that the birds aren't for ornithologists. (Not sure what he writes about.) On topic--it would be just like him to leach all discussion of religion out of religious motivated art.
- tom moody 5-08-2007 10:13 pm

"POOF this urinal is a work of art!" = "I have have now claimed my own mystic power."? Bah!
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 10:43 pm

"poof" this urinal is anti-art
- bill 5-08-2007 10:46 pm

Thank you.
- J@simpleposie (guest) 5-08-2007 10:48 pm

1st page Google search results for artists' names in Anthony's list + spiritual. Despite my respect for many of these artists, I find these quotes a bit cringe-worthy. Is that my allergy showing, or just the results of painful artwriting?

"From Symbolism Malevich adopted the idea that behind the world of appearances is a higher reality. Art serves a vehicle in the divine communication between realities."

"For Kandinskii, art was a portrayal of spiritual values."

"Mondrian's spiritual beliefs and love of music profoundly influenced his work and, ultimately, the art world."

"Blue, the colour of sensibility, is in fact just one of the hues Klein chose for the Monochromes and his other more mature works, being followed by gold, a substance signifying transaction and the passage towards immateriality, and pink, representing flesh, the incarnation of the spiritual."

"Indicating the influence of the transcendental ideologies promulgated by the Abstract Expressionists, and in particular Rothko and Newman, Martin uses the rectangle as a tool for spiritual contemplation and meditation."

"Hermann Nitsch's work draws parallels between religion and the ritualistic spiritualism of creativity. Heavily entrenched in ancient philosophy and a dissident, questioning Christian theology, he actively seeks catharsis through pain and compassion, a rigorously disciplined quest for ethereal release and enlightenment through an embracing of primal instinct and ancient sacrament."

"Joseph Beuys repeatedly said that his art was intended to arouse in other people a 'spiritual response'..."

kenneth anger
"A follower of Aleister Crowley's teachings, Anger is a high level practitioner of occult magic who regards the projection of his films as ceremonies capable of invoking spiritual forces."

jack smith
"A master sense of spiritual nothingness." [note: this was the only thing I could find for Jack Smith, not even sure if I've got the right artist -sm]

harry smith
"One of the strangest and most fascinating landmarks in the history of cinema, Smith has said that HEAVEN AND EARTH MAGIC (Film #12) was the culmination of nearly 20 years of collecting, planning and animating. In this masterpiece of collage, cut-outs from nineteenth-century catalogues and elocution manuals are meticulously animated to create a hermetic dream depicting initiation, redemption and spiritual transformation."

louise bourgeois
"For what unites all three [Louise Bourgeois, Jean Dubuffet and Silvie Fleury] is their artistic preoccupation with the complex relationships that exist between human beings, and ultimately their conviction that art is a sure sign of spiritual health."

kiki smith
"The paper body sculptures have taken on more of a spiritual meaning. Because they have no weight to them — they're translucent and fragile — they have this quality of transcendence."

- sally mckay 5-09-2007 1:20 am

And let's not forget Jonathan Borofsky:


- tom moody 5-09-2007 1:44 am

If he took the figure out, and the text, it wouldn't be such a bad painting. Wouldn't be good either, but I can't manage to hate it.

We should have a painting clinic. Heal the Borofsky.
- L.M. 5-09-2007 1:57 am

koons as a religous worker

1) in the depostions for one of his myriad of custody cases, he made the arguement that the made ni heaven seires was about fairly conserative protestant sexual ethics, he wanted to depict the sacaremental love b/w a husband and wife.

2) his polychrome wood sculptures of the 1980s have a kind of textual simialrity to polchrome spanish sculptures of the barqoqe, he has claimed them as an infulence. (see also how his silver sculptures have been talked about as reliquies)

3) there is something iconic, and pilgrim worthy of his work like puppy dog, or the large train peice have an awesome scale, that seems to me, to have fairly similar feelings as a cathedral sqaure.

4) his claims of simplicity and naivetee, and that he was making all of his work for ludwig overlap with christs disucssion of us being all children, or working on a child like level.

5) some of his image quotations from the late 90s

6) the obsession w. craft.

- anthony (guest) 5-09-2007 2:19 am

jack smith is an interesting one, because i think that he is religious but it is more in the negation and excercism and odd rituals and lack of formal structure then anything else (andys films are like jacks except that andy put somethnig into them)
- anthony (guest) 5-09-2007 2:24 am

The nurse spoke again as we switched places to make up the other side of the bed." Does your friend believe in God? He asked,nodding toward Jack, who lay against my chest like a crumpled Pieta. I was a little dazed. I hadn't slept in three or more days. I was surprised to hear the nurse speak."Does Jack Smith believe in God?'i repeated,'No, no Jack Smith doesn't believe in God. However, God believes in Jack Smith!' Suddenly Jack's body shook with a rattling cough. The nurse looked horrified. The coughing went on for several minutes. My god I thought ,"Is Jack laughing?"
harry smith on the other hand is (was) one spiritual MOFO.

- bill 5-09-2007 3:16 am

That Borofsky painting is so extremely goofy that I can't help but like it.
- sally mckay 5-09-2007 4:36 am

I'm closing this thread due to spam. Please email me if you wish to continue the discussion.
- sally mckay 5-30-2007 5:36 pm