Estrangement and Engagement: The Passionate Dance of Art and Religion
Rene B. Javellana
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“All the arts penetrate into the depth of things
which are beyond the reach of cognition.”
Paul Tillich

The nexus between art and theology is religion or, more specifically, religious practice. A fruitful beginning then for a dialogue between art and theology is to ask how much present-day artists are exposed to religion and how much theologians are exposed to the world of art. As a term “art” encompasses many activities and disciplines. Art can be art practice, that is, the creative production of art works or artifacts, it can also mean reflection on art as theory and history. Proper parallels, therefore, should be between art theory and systematics, art history and Church history, etc.

The history of the relation between art and religion, especially the Christian tradition has been rocky and uneven. Because of its Judaic roots, Christianity has always had a suspicion about the arts. Fear of idolatry has, in particular,cast aspersions on the visual and performance art. In contrast, there seems to be less fear with the verbal and literary, although an idolatry of the verbal pervades the Christian tradition, and a manifestation of that are the varieties of Christian fundamentalism and literalism.

Art is metaphorical and is a way of understanding and dealing with reality. It is suggested that the tripartite Vitruvian veritas, utilitas, and venustas can be the basis of fruitful dialogue between art and theology, if these three are read not merely as a program of aesthetics but as concretizations of the metaphysical transcendentals, the true, the good, and the beautiful.

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