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Author Topic: Displaying religious art from religions not your own  (Read 10256 times)
Collinsky
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« Topic Start: March 03, 2010, 12:18:23 am »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?
« Last Edit: March 03, 2010, 07:27:22 am by Star, Reason: Changed subject to be more specific » Logged

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« Reply #1: March 03, 2010, 07:33:15 am »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?

I think it depends on the reason.

Someone that collects Buddha statues because they just feel more tranquil around them .. well, that seems to follow the real point even while missing the religious aspect.  Someone that collects them to use as bowling pins - not so much.

I also think it matters whether or not you know it's religious artwork - if you buy it because you find it beautiful, and find out later it's something other than simply artwork - well, so what?  Beauty transcends religion and culture, and that's a good thing.  Might bring people together.
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« Reply #2: March 03, 2010, 07:40:38 am »

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?

Well, I think tacky is tacky regardless of the religious context.

Beyond that...  I dunno.  I don't think there's a hard and fast rule.  I think it would be difficult, for example, for me to get upset with someone for having a statue or a painting of one of the Greek gods in their home even though they didn't worship the deity in question.  Greek mythology has become such a part of Western culture that depictions of the Gods are just not inherently religious anymore on a general level.

That's not necessarily the case for all religions, though, and I don't have a good feel for where the line is when it's not as clear-cut as all that.  I suspect that intent and context probably do play into it.  It may be a case-by-case thing, possibly.
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« Reply #3: March 03, 2010, 07:44:29 am »

Someone that collects Buddha statues because they just feel more tranquil around them .. well, that seems to follow the real point even while missing the religious aspect.  Someone that collects them to use as bowling pins - not so much.

Again, though, tacky is tacky regardless.  I'd feel the same way about someone who collects Ming vases to use as bowling pins, probably.

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I also think it matters whether or not you know it's religious artwork - if you buy it because you find it beautiful, and find out later it's something other than simply artwork - well, so what?  Beauty transcends religion and culture, and that's a good thing.  Might bring people together.

Definitely agreed.  Maybe it's the attitude toward the artwork; if you're being respectful of it and caring for it appropriately and stuff, I think that's a lot more acceptable than if you buy a piece because you needed something about that size and color to complete your decorating scheme but you don't really care anything about it.
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« Reply #4: March 03, 2010, 08:18:09 am »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

In general, I see nothing wrong with it. Artwork is artwork. If you like it and want to display it, I'm not sure the fact that it isn't of your religion matters. Being purposely disrespectful towards it would be another matter, of course.
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« Reply #5: March 06, 2010, 06:01:53 pm »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?


I think a couple issues are involved:  first, what was the original purpose of the piece in question?  And second, what is the cultural context -- both that of the original work, and your own?

For the first -- do you know what purpose your object would have served in its original context?  Was it an actual cult object, or was it designed to be decorative?  In the West, there are tons of artworks that depict deities/saints/whatever, but were primarily intended to be decorative.  For example, in both ancient Rome and in the early modern (Renaissance) period, there was quite a bit of wealth floating around, and art was not just limited to major institutions.  Ordinary people bought art to decorate their homes, and often that art depicted sacred scenes -- but the work of art itself was not seen as sacred.  In the Renaissance, the classical deities became extremely popular decorative motifs -- and their popularity in art was part of a general awakening of interest in the pagan past, which led eventually to the actual pagan revival.  So, in the Christian-dominated West, there's a solid tradition of treating art with classical or Christian figures as purely decorative.         

The Christian East is a different story:  in the Orthodox churches, icons have a more sacred status -- they aren't worshipped, but they are supposed to function as a focus for prayer and contemplation.  Russian and Greek authorities, for this reason, are often uncomfortable with genuine icons being sold to non-Orthodox buyers, because the very process of creating an icon is intrinsically sacred.  (Reproductions, though, are fair game.) 

For the second, I think it's important to consider your own cultural position with regard to the object.  Does the item come from a culture that your culture has colonized and exploited?  You might want to think twice, then, about ripping it out of its cultural context and taking it home because it's pretty.  That's a very common colonizing move, operating under the guise of "respect" -- forcing one's own attitudes about the nature and purpose of art onto another culture.  So I'd think very, very carefully before buying a sacred object, in that context.  Fetishizing someone else's culture isn't really respectful -- it's still forcing it into a convenient box for your own delight and amusement.  (Again, reproductions for the tourist trade are fair game, as they are presumably not actually made as sacred objects -- but I'd still think about what, exactly, it means to me to have this item depicting someone else's religion -- someone else's religion that people from my culture have attempted to destroy -- in my house.)   

If nothing else, remember the horror trope of "cursed African/Aboriginal/First Nations idol" -- it's cheesy and usually is meant to depict how "savage" the creators were, but it also makes the point that you shouldn't pretend that the deities/spirits from the artists' cultures just... don't exist.  And white Westerners, especially, who are raised in a context where sacred figures in art /= sacred art, as well as the unconscious assumptions that the only "real" religions are Western ones, would do well to examine their own attitudes. 

     
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« Reply #6: March 06, 2010, 07:53:58 pm »

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?

The question for me is whether someone is treating the relationship of the art and religion with respect. Art from their religion? Assuming they're taking their religious life/relationship with that art seriously and acting with respect, just fine.

Art from someone else's religious tradition - is it being treated with respect, both as artwork and as a religious item?

Two examples:
- I have a cross from Budapest up in my home (dark wood with an enamel inlay with the image of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus travelling to Egypt). I'm not Christian anymore, but it was a present from my godparents, and it's a reminder of the Christian part of my heritage. I don't have it up in a central location, but it's with other ancestor-altar items that I have out all the time on a high shelf (for protection, mostly, as several of the others are somewhat fragile.)

- My mother has several images of Greek deities up as art at home. (Including a set in the bathroom where I have to keep stopping myself from envying it as an altar space every time I walk in - it's a deep (about a foot deep) tiled ledge in the bathroom. Not her religion, but we've got a lot of family history intertwined with ancient Greek history and culture (my father's speciality as a professor was ancient Greek and Roman theatre history), and she treats the items with respect and grace. Doesn't bother me at all, and I actually think it's pretty lovely.

The one thing that I think would bother me is something taking an item meant to be used (a mezzuzah, for example - something for daily religious use, not a special ritual item, even) and treating it solely as art. Statues and 2D art are a better middle ground for 'I respect this art as art, and the faith it comes from' in my head.
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« Reply #7: March 06, 2010, 08:25:24 pm »

I know in my case its about how the person who owns it treats and views the item. In my case my family has a manger that my parents bought while my dad was stationed in Germany. A few years ago my mom bought a new manger scene. She asked me if I wanted the old one. I took it, I grew up with it and its on display even though I'm not Christain! I have a statue of Christ as well, my Christian friends love it.
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« Reply #8: March 15, 2010, 10:18:14 am »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?

That depends on whether the person displaying the art is treating it with respect or not.  For example, I have a  relative and her fiance who think it's cute to get back at their Christian roots and be "different" by displaying images of The Buddha, Druid symbols, etc.  This is an example of disrespect.
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« Reply #9: March 15, 2010, 01:33:06 pm »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?

Nothing wrong with appreciating art from another culture just because it speaks to you, IMHO. Taste is totally subjective.
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« Reply #10: September 28, 2010, 10:54:37 am »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?
The reaction to it differs from person to person. I know some non-Hindus who don't mind partaking in Hindu festivities and vice-versa. I've seen (and actually been one) Hindus who attend Catholic schools learn to instinctively cross themselves (make the sign of the cross) whenever they see a crucifix. The dancing Shiva statuette is so common as a decoration that nobody would even raise an eyebrow if you have it on display in your home and aren't Hindu.
I've also known people to be offended over the most minor of perceived slights, like when they suspect you aren't really serious about honouring the deity but are just using the piece of religious art as decoration.

So there really is no consensus on the matter, at least among the Hindus in India. Monotheists of course, are offended, because their religion does not accomodate imagery or practices from other religions.
« Last Edit: September 28, 2010, 10:58:34 am by vegetable » Logged
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« Reply #11: September 28, 2010, 11:31:00 am »

I know in my case its about how the person who owns it treats and views the item. In my case my family has a manger that my parents bought while my dad was stationed in Germany. A few years ago my mom bought a new manger scene. She asked me if I wanted the old one. I took it, I grew up with it and its on display even though I'm not Christain! I have a statue of Christ as well, my Christian friends love it.

We have a creche that we put up when Advent starts as a symbol of my Christian roots and ancestors.  My son also has a small figure of Ganesha that we gave to him when he was small (he asked for it after visiting an exhibit of sacred Indian art at the Smithsonian).  I see nothing wrong with having either because we treat the objects with respect, despite not being part of either religious tradition.
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« Reply #12: June 20, 2011, 09:53:28 am »

Does intent matter?
I would say intent is the key.  Art to me is something that sings to the soul of the artist.  If a person is drawn to a particular piece, then I think that there could be many reasons for it.  If it lifts your higher self, why would that not be okay?
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« Reply #13: June 20, 2011, 11:18:07 am »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home? Is it across the board fine, or across the board tasteless, or something in between?

What makes it inappropriate to you? What makes it acceptable? Does it depend on the art in question - for instance, a psychedelic velvet Jesus painting is just tacky, but a small beautifully carved dancing Shiva statuette is not? Does intent matter? Context?

I guess it depends a lot on how said piece of art came into your possession. There is a cross made of clay on my wall, which my fiancé and me decided to put up even though we're not Christian. But it was given to us by his grandma, and it means a lot to her (it's very personal, so forgive me if I don't relate it here). So in cases like these, when you inherit something, are given something by somebody who you cherish, or retain something from a path you once walked, I would be fine with it.

If, however, somebody put up a statue of Thor because s/he liked the movie so much, I'd be miffed.
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« Reply #14: June 20, 2011, 03:42:57 pm »

What do you think of someone having religious art displayed, if it's from a path or tradition that is not followed in that home?

My roommate has quite a bit of Hindu and Buddhist art, as well as Catholic. She knows about the stuff too and what it's significance to the culture/religion is. Which I think is good - if you're displaying something from another culture, you should at least know what it is. And if you treat it with respect, I think it's fine. I think in my roommate's case, she's really interested in other religions and she's an artist so I think she likes to learn through art. I know she also incorporates other religions into her artwork. Like she once painted Mary and baby Jesus and another time, she wrote something in Hebrew on something. Forgot what it said.

My parents also have a painting of Sleipnir, although it's not really religiously significant. They don't know a thing about it though. As far as they're concerned, I just felt like painting an eight-legged horse. Which is  pretty much the truth. I think they have it more because it's something I made rather than because they like the image itself.

If, however, somebody put up a statue of Thor because s/he liked the movie so much, I'd be miffed.

I know someone who wanted to do that... I told her to get a figurine of the comic book character instead. She also wears a Mjollnir pendant because it is now the "cool" thing to do. I told her my opinion on that, but it didn't change her mind, so I just let it go. Fortunately, she decided not to buy a Thor statue.

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