In the last week fellow devotional artists have been complaining about criticism directed towards them because of their depictions of gods or for not following ‘proper’ methods of tradition. Ptahmassu Nofra-Uaa has even stated (publicly on facebook) that there has been threats and personal attacks against him for depicting Set…
This is really disturbing, especially in that these criticism and threats are sourced from supposed ‘pagan’ / polytheists. So I thought I’ll put forth some recommendations when dealing with divine art.
1. Foremost anyone who threatens an artist or encourages destruction of divine icons should be ostracised from the community. Iconoclastic behaviour should never be tolerated.
2. Regardless of skill, technique, manner, style, medium – so on, if a devotional artist calls there art that and is intended as a holy icon, it should be treated as such. It does not matter if they do not follow ‘traditional protocol’ or style, these works are sacred and free of criticism or personal opinion.
3. (Artistic) Constructive criticism is different from criticism and personal opinion. This is criticising the material side of art, how it is created, it is not criticising the content/context of the art. This form of criticism is to *better* the art and artists. To help in the future. In no way is this to be used as means to hurt the artist or diminish the sacredness of the work.
4. Regarding Graeco-gods and art. Greeks were unusual in terms of culture in that they broke from traditional protocol of icon making. One can see this in examining Greek art history, in the Archaic period they had symbolic styles akin to the Egyptians (who maintained their traditional expression for over 3,000 years!) Greeks, however, broke away from this and started “progressing” in terms of humanism and realism. This is usually divided into three epochs of Hellenic art: Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic – the latter usually merges and continues with Roman art. It is interesting to note that throughout history they went back in forth in terms of style, e.g. there are examples of Archaic style cult statues made in 1CE. This is to address the fact that art was not for viewing pleasure or entertainment, but holy expression. This expression was limitless, thus tradition gave way to expression – gods were/are depicted according to cult and artistic inspiration. Although we have plenty to look back too, I encourage free expression of the divine, even that which breaks artistic aesthetic of the Greeks, e.g., nude goddesses. The only authority of what is “proper form” is gods and the artist, if one does not like the depiction do not buy it or subscribe to it. It is that simple.
5. In many (most) polytheistic cultures there is no concept of *evil* like that found in monotheistic traditions. There is no black and white divide, good versus evil etc. Though there instances in religion when gods suffer some terrible event, even death at the hands of some adversary, this event becomes an important aspect of the god’s cultus, thus in such instances it may be acceptable to depict, and even give cultus to this adversary. A good example of this is The Toys of Dionysos that lead to the terrible death and cannibalism of my beloved Dionysos. In some variations of the myth Dionysos later learns to control and command the Toys and also the Titans that consumed him. Therefore the Toys and Titans become part of Dionysos’ retinue… to ignore this is to ignore an important aspect of the Mysteries and limits the gods’ teachings. The same can be said of other deities such as Set and Loki.
In the end only the artist and gods they are dealing with have authority on their art. Not the viewer, nor other artists, nor their mothers or fathers, nor the public or political authorities, nor fellow religious folk or rival religious folk. It is one of the very few forms that mortals are able to communicate with divine and to bring them forth into ‘reality’. No opinion or human insight can discount this holy act, in other words: Shut the fuck up!