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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7 thoughts on “Devotional art and popular culture

  1. This seems kind of obvious to me. There’s no question that the illustrations above are art. What’s being debated, consciously or not, is aesthetics and taste. In other words, whether it’s good art. Or effective art. Or worthy of being considered devotional art. Unless one accepts the existence of an objective canon of style, one must leave it for the individual to make such a choice for himself. (Knowing, of course, that most people today have a very poorly developed sense of taste.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is a concise statement of what I’m saying.
      I don’t know if Anomalous Thracian understands my position, I’ve both for and against him. Totally neutral.
      We can have restrictions of art, the Egyptians did it for 2000 – 3000 years before the Greek “idea” of art. Comparable, the Greeks were liberal but still restricted.
      Now, as a “culture” that is limitless how can we justify a statement of taste. The only thing I believe in is the freedom of art.
      Thus it all comes down to context.

      Like

  2. I have a rather odd perspective. I think any body of art can be turned into an icon or devotional image based on the judgement of the worshipper. Art as being standing on its own as devotional art is part of the intent and craft of the artist. I personally find these more effective for icons than the use of popular art but recognize that individual mileage on that matter will vary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think that is odd. In fact it falls in line with the philosophy of my Dionysian Artists. The designation of ‘what is devotional art’ is up to the artist, including the appropriation of art that may be considered inappropriate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my mind this is the fine line between devotional art and popular art used for devotional purposes. Art isn’t devotional in itself without the task of the artist. Other devotional value is added by the worshipper…which is why I feel that devotional art is more effective as icons than popular art. It is not more correct…just has the additional spiritual whallop

        Liked by 1 person

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