Daniel Barnes

Uncertainty in the Age of Romance
Religion and Art in Late Capitalism
Barnes Philosophy Club, 10 April 2013

Historically, art has been in the service of religion as a means of representing the manifold mysteries of the Divine and educating the masses on the Word of God. This paper examines the relationship between religion and contemporary art at a time when the commercial artworld is consumed by the massproduction and commodity fetishism of late capitalism. It is argued that the fact that the adoption of religion by art occurs at a time of increasing secularisation and ever more rampant atheism in western intellectual circles belies some general insights about the role of religion in the intellectual life of capitalist societies. In particular, it raises questions concerning whether capitalism itself has eclipsed religion as a subject for artworks and why we continue to produce religious art. It is argued that the continued presence of religion in contemporary art betrays a deep dissatisfaction with capitalism, which is evidenced through the use of art itself or science as the 'new religion' rendered in a whole host of new religious icons. First, it suggests there is some lingering doubt that our spiritual lives could be fulfilled without institutional religion and that the attempt to replace religion with art or science is, in the end, misguided. Second, it is an attempt to add depth to artworks which are produced merely for commercial purposes by connecting the works to a timeless preoccupation of both art and humanity. The role of religion in contemporary art is essentially redemptive, as if the commercial artworld looked in on itself and found its spirit lacking, but whether this is a cynical act of marketing or a sincere preoccupation with the human condition is down to whether the existential dimension of these artworks transcends the demands of late capitalism.