|"Pulling the Heartstrings", 2004|
Religious iconography is appealing for a lot of reasons: it's dense with symbolism, highly recognizable, and it taps into a lot of abstract things that are otherwise hard to express. I'm not an anthropologist or anything, but from what I understand, the very earliest examples of art (such as at Lascaux) were associated with the kind of magic and mysticism that eventually became religion as we understand it. So there is a long history of using art as a spiritual tool. And I can dig that, while being bothered by, too.
Art taps into our capacity for experiencing that which we don't really understand; and while it can be used as a device for exploration and discovery, it has far more often been one for propaganda. Over the years, artists have created a rich visual language to reference many important social and philosophical concepts. Much of that language is religious. And I have typically had no problem co-opting that language in my work when I wanted to reference concepts such as guilt, transcendence, or sacrifice. As a result, I actually have a lot of works with religious references in them, such that it's kind of a big theme in my work. I didn't plan that, and was actually quite unsettled about it when I realized it for the first time.
|"Good News From the Swamp", 2007|
I mentioned that religious imagery is dense. One side effect of using it is that it has a lot of baggage. I was using it in nonreligious contexts, but not overtly critical ones. I realized that, looking back on my work as a body, it would be possible to interpret the religious elements as much more, er, earnest, than I ever intended them to be. I've been guilty of postmodern-style appropriation, which I always assumed would be seen as lightly ironic, but I'm not sure if that's how it really comes off. So now I am conflicted. I will have to deal with the issue head-on in my future work.
I'm interested in what other people think about this topic. How do you feel about using religious symbols in nonreligous contexts? Is it a form of reclaiming? Is it a short cut? Should I, as an atheist, worry about the way this comes up in my own work?