My letter to Quadrant responding to an article by Simon CowenThe distinction Rabbi Cowen draws between contemporary trends in the visual arts (and possibly applicable to all creative arts) and so-called ‘traditional’ views of the arts is instructive. It could go further, however, on the premiss that all art is religious. All art takes a position on the nature of reality, the nature of people, and the nature of the (dis?)continuity between the two.
The ‘modern secular’ art he decries has a religious position in broad brush strokes. Underlying it, I aver, is the most popular but sub-articulate ‘Religion of Me’. In its train, this peculiar modern version of paganism and its arid monist view of reality presents its vapid revelations as new. They are introverted banalities at best. They tell us nothing, depleting the human spirit, rather than cheering it on to flourish.
One salient outcome of this monist vision is the suppression of true otherness. Something that is demonstrated and echoed in marriage (I reserve that term to a declared union of man and woman with the general prospect of raising a family. If the marriage does not join the sexes, it is not about the other, but, rather, the ‘same’, as a reflection in a mirror. Of itself unable to contribute family to enduring civilisation).
In the Judeo-Christian religious vision, this is demonstrated in the generous missionary spirit of much of Christianity and of Judaism. Christian mission efforts are well known. Less well acknowledged is the implicit Jewish mission of the diaspora. Jews being everywhere, contributing to all sorts of societies unstintingly, distinctively, and unremittingly. This great spirit is regrettably inverted by their heretical, effectively monist, offspring, Islam.
This religious tradition unfolds from the notion of a transcendent personal creator: mind at the source of all that we know and experience, growing from the Noahcian seed that prepares for Messiah. A creator who is radically ‘other’ but who reaches across the otherness of his transcendence for fellowship with his creation. The Genesis story of creation etches this to dramatic and striking effect.
I differ from Cowen and do not extend this notion to paganism. Its vision of ‘creator’ if there is one, is impersonal, solipsistic, and results in an inert spiral of self-absorption.