Elliott Erwitt, New York City, 1988.

Third Thesis (The mutually knotted [chiasmatic] entailment of the critiques)

An effective critique of religiosity will be linked to an effective critique of art, artistry, or artifice, which in its own right constitutes a perspective or position taken with respect to signification and representation which is ostensibly antithetical to that of religiosity.

Among the principal corollaries of this thesis are:

a. Art (in the modernist sense of “fine art”) is a secondary effect of a position taken with respect to the of representation; there is no art as such except as a reified (sanctified) modernist commodity;

b. Art is not a what (a kind of thing) but a when a position or perspective on things) whose reification constitutes an idolatry of a certain religious or spiritualist ontology, with scalar or dimensional consequences (the “artist” (genius) as a metaphor of a “divine” creator or artificer, and so forth);

c. The modern discourse on (fine) art, which is distributed across a network of discursive practices (art history, art criticism, art theory, aesthetic philosophy, and a variety of related modern disciplines and industries tourism, heritage, fashion, etc.) comprises a secular religiosity legitimizing a multidimensional coordination of social behaviors in connection with the evolution and maintenance of the modern nation-state. Art, in short, is the obverse of religion in the ostensification of its fabricatedness.

The point of these theses or provocations is to open up the discourse and critique of religiosity as essentially connected to and simultaneously an effect and artifact of the perspective on signification and representation (and of an ethics of the relations between subjects and between subjects and objects) of that which it denies–the discourse on and of art, artistry, and artifice. Art and religion are fundamentally interdependent upon each other and mutually defining, and the critique of either remains superficial and incomplete apart from or in the absence of a coordination with the critique of the other. But the point is that there are not, strictly speaking, “others,” as if these (religion and art) were two autonomous and distinct entities rather than being facets and products of a common underlying philosophical problem.

Far from being distinct or opposed domains of knowledge-production or behavior, artistry and religiosity rather constitute epistemological technologies which are the products of different perspectives on (and alternative responses to) a common, fundamental cognitive problem–the problem of representation (and the topology of relations between subjects and objects) as such. Art and religion are opposed yet mutually-defining

and co-determined answers or approaches to the same question of the ethics of the practice of the self,of how self-other relations are to be coordinated. The relationships between art and religion are not relationships between two random or incidental cultural phenomena; the problem of that relationship is precisely what defines and determines our most fundamental understanding of each. It is in that relationship–how religions deal with and make possible art and artifice, and how artifice simultaneously deals with, produces, and makes possible religiosity in the first place–that the essence of each can be articulated and understood. Note, however, that by saying “each,” one already reifies each perspective on signification–which in fact is my more general point: neither art nor religion exist except as reifications of perspectives or positions taken on a common, more fundamental philosophical ontological phenomenon: the nature of the relationship between entities and, ultimately, the question of otherness in its co-construction of sameness.

 

Fourth Thesis

All the relationships considered in the first three theses constitute alternative ethical positions or implications for individual or collective behavior, as ethics is itself a consciousness of the nature of relationships (of any kind) as such: a topology of self and other (implying a substantive rethinking of what is meant by ethics).

The entailment of ethics and aesthetics (artistry) has had a number of consequences in legitimizing modern disciplines or institutions such as art history,7aesthetic philosophy, established religion, and the political economies of modernity, which concern the virtual “superimposition” of objects and subjects wherein the object is seen by a subject through the screen of an erotic fetishization of another subject. The object–and in particular the (modernist) “artwork”–is invested with erotic agency (every object a potential love-object) and deployed as an object of sublimated erotic desire. Aesthetics (and fine art) are historically entailed with an ethics of what (from the perspective of religiosity) is framed as idolatry and fetishism, a situation (as seen in the image of St. Teresa by Bernini) where in certain religious traditions, artistry and religiosity are held in uneasy balance, recalling that of an optical illusion, perpetually oscillating between alternative geometries, alternative realities.

Footnotes

  1. With respect to the development in the West of art history and aesthetic philosophy during and since the 18th century, see D. Preziosi, Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science (New Haven & London: Yale Univ. Press, 1989, 1991); id., The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998; 2007), especially “The Art of Art History,”507-525; id., Brain of the Earth’s Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantasms of Modernity: The 2001 Slade Lectures in the Fine Arts at Oxford (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); and D. Preziosi & Claire Farago, eds., Grasping the World: the Idea of the Museum (London: Ashgate, 2004). See also Giorgio Agamben, The Man without Content (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999 [L’uomo senza contenuto, Quodlibet, 1994]): 4.
Further Reading