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25th Jun 2008

Art Promotes Religious Tolerance

Do fine art and visual images help promote religious tolerance?

Many faiths are flourishing in America, but a new study indicates that religious tolerance is flourishing as well. Yesterday, the NY Times ran an article about a study that was conducted by the US Religious Landscape Survey that indicates that “although a majority of Americans say religion is very important to them, nearly three-quarters of them say they believe that many faiths besides their own can lead to salvation.”

The survey (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life) did not search for the causes of this tolerance, which goes beyond the principles of the Constitution where Americans are granted religious freedom. There is a huge difference between tolerating another’s right to worship as one pleases and accepting that there are many paths that can lead to “eternal life”.

This shift, especially for American Christians and Muslims is recent. Although Americans have always been legally able to practice whatever religion they choose, more Americans have investigated other beliefs and practices and even switched religions or denominations than ever before. The survey as well as what seems to be called the Oprah phenomena shows that strict adherence to the theology or dogma of one’s religion is no longer the norm. Religious Americans, those who attend services and practice their beliefs have also incorporated other practices and beliefs into their lives.

What caused this shift?

The rise of personal religious tolerance and freedom seems to parallel the spread of the use of Internet and Cable TV. We have more access to alternative programming and ideas. We also know how to easily pick and choose, taking what we like and leaving the rest.

An example of this is how we manage to tune out advertising messages that accompany our selected shows and sites. Back in the early days of TV, if people liked the show, and then they would buy the advertised product by association. Statistics show that concept is less relevant today. We have learned to pick and choose what part of the message we appreciate and accept and what we ignore.

Oprah Winfrey Psalm 133 by Judy Rey Wasserman

PSALM 133 (Oprah Winfrey)

Essence Portrait series by Judy Rey Wasserman

2008

Strokes: Original letters of Psalm 133

Pen & ink

Oprah Winfrey has introduced her TV audience to many different and new paths, some spiritual, others religious. Oprah explores whatever she finds that seems to offer improvement and hope for the lives of her audience, yet sometimes appears skeptical of what her “expert” guests advise. Yet, Oprah is tolerant and quite generous to others who are less tolerant. A quick look at the discussion boards on the oprah.com website reveals posts by those who vehemently disagree and even dislike both Oprah and her show while proclaiming their own religious theology as the only to (using the survey’s words) “eternal life”. As long as these posters follow the normal web comment and discussion post guidelines, they are permitted to air their views on Oprah’s website. In addition to Oprah, apparently most Americans are applying their skills to pick and choose messages that are relevant for their own lives to their own religious beliefs and practices.

Oprah Winfey’s communications empire has expanded with our technology. Oprah knows how to use visual imagery, her own and others, to create an impact. She uses film clips and images more than any popular talk show host or show.

Our technology not only connects us, is visually connects us. If you access the Internet on a daily basis, have a mobile visual device and TV, you probably see more images created by people (including those with cameras) on a daily basis, than have been seen before by anyone in any previous time before the Internet, cable TV and mobile devices.

Thanks to the Internet, we have instant access to the visual image of many of the world’s great art treasures. As I create blogs and the ebook I am working on that refers to various famous artworks and artists, a quick Google search provides plenty of links to information and images. Try it for yourself. Google the word “Guernica” for Picasso’s famous painting and pages and pages of links come up. Then go to Google Images, and use the keyword, “Guernica”. We can easily find images of people, places and things on the Internet, and for images, language is never a barrier to communication.

We not only see more images, we see them more rapidly as our brains have learned to decode the meaning of the rapidly changing light rays into images quickly. Commercials, films, videos that are made today, especially those with FX, would have been difficult for people to actually see seventy five years ago as many of the images flash by too rapidly. We learned how to see rapidly changing, even flashing images.

Although most of the films with exciting visual images and F/X are aimed at that teenage male audience, they are also the films that are generally the real box office hits. People, including me and I am a boomer gal, do go to see these films when storyline combines with great F/X on the big screen. Our love of the visual is helping sell those big and wide screen TVs, too. Visually, films have taken us into to strange and exotic places, including ancient temples, pyramids, mosques, churches, synagogues, and other real or imagined holy sites

The art market continues to boom, despite economic problems in other sectors. Museum attendance, gallery show attendance and the public’s interest in art, including for Contemporary Art, also continues to grow. We flock to see images even when they are not on a screen

Artists tend to create works, even commissioned religious works, that show their own religious or spiritual understandings. Rembrandt, van Gogh, Da Vinci, Chagall, Kandinsky, and Rothko had different personal understandings and theologies. A major art museum is dedicated to showing great art, and easily tolerates all theologies if the art is great.

As a society, we revere our art museums. Cities and communities that have art museums tout their exhibits and if possible, collections. When people travel (and possibly coincidentally, but as the use of the Internet has grown travel has also increased) these museums) to New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, Rome, Madrid, etc., they often include visiting the famous art museums. Great art museums are modern castles in the kingdoms that stand for religious tolerance.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses art that ranges from almost prehistoric to Contemporary. The collection’s pieces include art that is religious or spiritual from every current major world religion, many minor religions and religions that are no longer practiced, plus items that archeologists and art historians believe may have had some religious importance for an ancient people. And, these artworks are important to us, to the visitors and the community.

The Met and all the great art museums of the world have large and active websites. We want to show our collected communal treasures to the world.

Have visual images, especially art helped promote religious tolerance? Have the new technologies that allow us to easily and quickly share our images with one another, across former boundaries of nationality, age, gender, race, language and religion promoted more tolerance amongst Americans?

As an artist and founder of Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Art theory, the first theory of art to actually reference most of the world’s great religions (plus science), I think art can impact how we see our world. What do you think?

One Response to “Art Promotes Religious Tolerance”

  1. Tim McClure Says:

    I don’t see much tolerance, religious or otherwise, in the current art world. I see the most basic artistic means hijacked, co-opted, to promote socio-political agendas.
    Though she has been very adroit at seeming otherwise, I would never identify the Oprah as tolerant. It can be argued that the Oprah has done good things for people, but it ends up being all about THE OPRAH and her notions.

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