Religion and art: Talent and tension

With a few inexpensive moves to turn bare walls into venues, churches are using visual displays for a range of purposes. Some complement lessons taught in worship (one church asked members to submit art pieces in response to a sermon series on thriving). Others bridge cultural divides with the secular world. Parishioners, staffers, artists and neighbors all say they benefit as displaying art becomes a larger part of the church’s mission. What then, is the role of art in religion – many religions?


Religion and art have been inseparable for millennia. The earliest art objects uncovered by archaeologists were religious in nature. Religion has always been a go-to subject for both fine and folk artists.

But in the last 50 years or so, religious art has fallen out of favor, with a major turning point coming with the 1987 exhibition of Andres Serrano’s controversial “Piss Christ.” Fewer artists engage with religion through art, and fewer works of art that have religious themes are taken seriously. Why? Is it a sign of the growing secularization of the Western world, or a simple lack of talent? At the same time, most major and secondary museum shows that feature religious art tend to look backward rather than forward. Is religion still relevant to art?

This edition of ReligionLink presents background, resources and sources reporters can tap into to write about the intersection of visual art and religion. View the extensive Resources for Religion and art: Talent and tension, here


 Michaelangelo’s Pieta