Religion and Art

Religion has historically been one the biggest drivers of art. Even the cave paintings, some the first art we’ve ever identified historically, seemed to be documenting some sort of deity. The cathedrals of Europe are stunning, and designed to make people think of God because of their sheer size. The Dome of the Rock is designed to dazzle onlookers with the glory of the divine. Why is religion the producer of some of history’s greatest art?

Beyond Ourselves

One of the biggest reasons that religious art is as wonder as it is is simply because it points to something bigger than we are. When people have a cause that is much larger than they are, that cause will drive people to create things that are truly wonderful. The cathedrals of Europe took over 200 years to complete. The longest construction time for a cathedral was 600 years… that’s around 10 generations. What on earth would drive something to start a project that they wouldn’t live to see, and neither would anyone they knew while they were alive? In 600 years no one would even remember who they were. So, the main reason that religious art has the power that is does is because it is driven by something beyond us; the belief that in creating this cathedral, they were honoring God.

Religious Power

Many of the largest works of art and architecture were sponsored at least in part by the state. Because in the medieval period, there was no separation of church and state. The catholic church had as much or more power than the king himself. Because of this enormous power, they also had massive amounts of money at their disposal to create works of art. During the Renaissance, it was much the same. They commissioned artists like Michelangelo and others to make statues and paintings with religious themes. In the Muslim world it was much the same; caliphates had enough power to create stunning Mosques. These would not have been possible without religious money.

In the Modern Day

Even today, there are wonderful examples of art. I just went up to New York to play paintball with my family (and yes, I wore a great-quality paintball mask to be safe!) and saw the cathedral in the middle of New York City. Although this wasn’t built with as much state/religious money, it is a real work of art in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities. Even if you’re not religious yourself, it is sometimes nice to think about how religious has done some good in addition to the bad. Many paintings, statues, and buildings that we take for granted have come as a result of people believing in some sort of deity. Maybe there is something to that; believing in something often gives us a direction in life that many people seem to lack. Either way, a true fan of art cannot deny the impact that religious history has had on the world of art history.