Devotional art and popular culture

Unfortunately, I cannot find the artists name and apologise for not given them credit (I did a search of the image but still cannot find it.)
Unfortunately, I cannot find the artists name and apologise in advance for not given them credit (I did a search of the image but still cannot find it.)

Anomalous Thracian posted an interesting discussion on art regarding a ‘comic’ depiction of the Celtic Pantheon on facebook. (His post is private and cannot be shared here, but includes screenshots with another commentator opposing his arguments and justifying the art in a popular context. )

This depiction of the gods has a lot of issues with living western polytheists, including what is classed as the seriousness of art. If it be ‘popular’ imagery or serious devotional icons…

Art is a really complex subject and admittedly it comes with a lot of pretention. Part of this pretention is the question “What is art” and less said, and nuanced, “What is devotional art”.

I strongly believe that all art before 1800’s was devotional in some form.  This is the result of a famous quote often attributed to James Whistler (and court case), but is actually from the French philosopher: Théophile Gautier, “Art for Art’s Sake”.  (Camille Paglia has a lot more on this topic, but I don’t want to divert my discussion).

In a sense creating art for its own sake was liberating, it was intended to free art to the public and turn it into an secular entity, unfortunately, it just made it more detached from society and wholly bourgeois. The seriousness of all art, including comedy, was devalued to just simple existence, we became incapable of appreciating something that was entertaining to the masses but also a profound religious experience.

In other words the existence of art became just for entertainment purposes, whereas in previous times, it meant much, much more to people. Even that we would regard as trivial.

This is a change in context, the view, with art. I’m both critical and understanding of it.

We’re saturated in art, over exposed, be it: billboards, TV, photography, the theatre itself. We appreciate art differently from our ancestors.  This has an impediment upon us now, especially with folk, including myself, who champion the old ways.

Now, I understand that few will realise (or comprehend) this, but I find myself in a perplexed predicament. On one hand I support popular art regarding the gods, on the other hand I protest its existence. Thus only justify arts place within a religious context as the intention of the artist.

What follows is my review of the work and additional commentary:

So after reviewing the art I agree with the OP and Thracians comments. The work is an illustration of the Celtic Pantheon in a ‘fantasy’ LOTR style. (Elf ears, exaggerated features, The Morrigan in ‘goth’ makeup, Cernunnos looking like a pretty Groot, etc.) The style is not bad, it reminds me classic fantasy artists like Larry Elmore (Dragonlance/Dungeons and Dragons) it’s maintained through each portrait and appropriate for a fantasy comic / novel context.
As the Dionysian Artist, Δ, I’m liberal in what classifies as devotional art, to summarise my requirement of “What is devotional art”, ANYTHING can be devotional art as long as the artists intention is dedication to the gods. Admittedly I don’t know the artists intention, but given the context of style I’d say this was made for some fan fiction and would not claim it to be appropriate representation of the gods in a religious context.
Now the issues being brought up is the lack of ‘seriousness’ of gods in media. Trust me I know what it’s like, with nearly everyone nowadays interested in Hellenic Polytheism coming off the arse end of Percy Jackson. I’m at odds with popular culture depictions of the gods. But I acknowledge that it can be extremely adverse to the polytheist movement in general. This includes how the public view us and grants additional material for outsider ridicule. Thus it merits some kind of discussion and even protest.

(After a commentator rejected the idea of religious work being “fanfic”)

Ironically, I somewhat agree with the fanfic statement. I’m approaching this in a classical context of art: the art we know of Greeks is purposefully designed to be popular culture. When one enjoyed the theatre it was a recreation and also a religious experience. It was ‘pop culture’ and at times, like in the Iliad it could be classified as a “fanfic” (especially the nationalism and name dropping in the Catalogue of Ships). Outside Athens, comedy, which included taboo subjects that can be regarded as hubris, were considered holy works. Satyr plays, comedic theatre was regarded as Mystery and the highest calibre of devotional art.
Now, however, we have secularised art, turned it into a ‘thing’ existing on itself. The whole concept of “Art for Art’s sake” has screwed up how we view art. This is really the issue here. A misunderstanding of the context of art that is appreciated in our current culture.
I.e. in the proper context of religion (which is in this case is free and beautiful) this artwork may be appropriate devotional work and also classified as a “fanfic”.

To conclude this I would say that my views are worthless. Popular art is popular because it is democratic. Being self-entitled enough to deem something that is otherwise innocuous to the popular audience is wrong. Yes, I agree that contextual style of this work may be considered inappropriate –but– in correct context it may also be okay.

When we defer to explore the ideas of “what is right in art” we risk diverging into arenas of fanaticism and shouting out “Shame, Shame, Shame!”. We need to judge art on a intention, contextual and technical basis to relate it to our traditions, if it doesn’t fit it should be simply discarded without further comment.

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Has worship of Dionysos changed in modern times?

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(Image source)

This is a really interesting question as compared to other Greek gods the worship of Dionysos has been difficult to stamp out. I hope that my readers have a basic grasp of history, in that in Europe for a 2,000 year period Monotheism rose up and sort to quell (putting it lightly) any form of worship other than that dedicated to Christ.

Even upon the threat of death Dionysos continued to receive honour well into Christen times. The performance of transvestism during wine making rituals was not formally banned until 691AD by the Council of the Church in Constantinople. Although the theatres were formally closed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, performance continued to be an aspect of medieval life, entertaining nobles and common people alike. If we look past the Dark Ages we given an insight into the no-so-long dead cult of Dionysos including a revive in the Renaissance by Lorenzo the Great and later activities like The Hellfire Club in Britain and Ireland in the 18th century. During the 1960’s Dionysos saw a revival through stage performance and music, and also the Rave movement of the late 1980’s and early 90’s, including the use of the aptly named drug Ecstasy.

Point being, comparable to other Greek / Roman deities Dionysos in some form or another has lasted through multiple epochs of time. His cult has changed depending on circumstances but the essence of it has always remained the same.

Dionysians, who call themselves that as an actually as devotees, now face differing dilemmas, including the taboo topics of animal sacrifice, prohibitions against drugs and alcohol, social issues regarding supposed excess etc. These sigmas exist within the ‘pagan community’ itself with some so-called pagan writers (Sam Webster) advocating the abandon of the god.

It is now, as custodians of Dionysos, that we strive to educate and produce art demonstrating the marvellous power and inspiration of the great god Dionysos.

What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?

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(Source)

I can’t answer this question because I do not proclaim to speak for my god, I can only presume according to history and myth. Foremost, the theatre is of importance to Dionysos. Naturally, this is related to free speech and expression. I believe that hindrance of these concepts (censorship) is something that is close to Dionysos. Speech is hurtful, it is harmful, it is painful, it is powerful. Yes. But to silence this speech to cater to others bios feelings is wrong. Painful words are liberating.

“And its apparent capacity for human speech transcends the boundary between human and animal, and so makes it one of the creatures attracted by the singing of Orpheus.” (Seaford, 2006, P. 65)

With speech we transcend boundaries and relate directly with Dionysos. We can create worlds, we can offend crowds, we cause emotion and feeling with a single word. This is power and something that is not just granted to kings, fools, or priests but to the mob. This is equalising and liberating. When we’re faced with such hardships it’s the theatre that liberates our tongues and speaks out to our perceived injustice.  Speech allows us to empathise, understand and when it doesn’t, it give us platform of protest and rebuke.

Thus, if I presume a cultural issue at heart of Dionysos it would be free speech.

Places associated with Dionysos

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Hansueli Krapf, Epidauros (source)

Note: Between my previous post in this series and now I entered into my ‘season’ which is the busiest time of the year, thus I’ve had to put this series on hold. A lot has happened in my personal life, including and worst off, my workplace becoming a site of mass murder. This has resulted in a period of profound trouble and instances of crippling depression. Slowly I’m recovering from this illness and grief and would like to continue from here.


The original question is: “Places associated with this deity and their worship”.  Already I have discussed some of this question, to save myself from repeating I’ve decided to look into the nature of Dionysos’ sacred places.

Compared to other gods of the Greek pantheon Dionysos has few temples. Yes there are epicentres of worship, like that in Naxos, but nothing comparable to the Acropolis, The temple to Artemis in Ephesus, Delphi, the temple to Hephaestus in Athens or the temple of Zeus is Olympia.

As Richard Seaford states:
“[…] He does accordingly have relatively few elaborate temples. He seems more inclined to destroy buildings than to construct them. He does not, as Demeter does in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, give instructions for the building of a temple. At the City Dionysia his image was brought to the (open air) theatre. In Bacchae the Theban maenads are driven from their homes to sit on ‘roofless’ rocks. An inscription from Thasos (1st century AD) dedicates to Dionysos a ‘temple under the open sky . . . an evergreen cave’ (31 Jaccottet).” (Seaford, 2006, P. 43)

Dionysos exists in all space, there is no space that is not sacred to him. As a god of uninhibited freedom it seems nonsensical to have one space reserved for him. Thus it is easy to surmise that Dionysos had few temples as all is his. (This is evident in modern worship whereas devotes find Dionysos in landscapes foreign to his homeland. E.g. America and Australia, find Dionysian aspects in their land.)

Dionysos has quite a lot of sacred spaces dedicated to him, in fact entire continents are his, but his domain encroaches into areas which we may not inherently consider his.

The relationship of place can easily surmised by the form of the theatre. Greek theatres are of two places at the same time. They are structures, build into a natural formation, like a hill, but also open to the sky and elements. They are not built in a sense of a temple, but cultivated, tamed – as such they still conform to the natural features of the landscape. This is the epitome of Dionysos’ sacred space.