• Michael W. Wilson
Part of the Radical Theologies book series (RADT)


Art and religion are both concerned with meaning. And yet, the social function of both activities has been called into question throughout the modern period. In fact, the modern period is largely defined by the replacement of religion by art. If this replacement coincides with the rise of capitalism, this is not accidental—the utility of art and the category of aesthetics in maintaining social order is crucial. The production of affect (usually along the lines of reinforcing a sense of awe) was a chief function of art in the service of religion and would subsequently work as a kind of distraction and escape from the brutality of capitalism. Indeed, throughout most of human history, religion and art were inextricably linked. The rituals of the former produced the masterpieces of the latter. Not until Westerners scrutinized this process, first in Greece and then in Europe during the Enlightenment, did the category of art begin to emerge—liberated from its enslavement to religion only to find itself functioning in a propagandistic capacity for power. Art, as a category, is at once self-evident and elusive. The label is given to both the result of artmaking (the object of art, a noun) and to the act of making itself (artfulness). One may produce art objects, and one may master the art of conversation. In both cases, we are confronted with an exceptional case—the result of a subject engaging in an activity with great care, inspiration, and devotion beyond everyday utility.


Modern Period Pure Reason Death Anxiety Socialist Revolution Chief Function 
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© Clayton Crockett & Jeffrey W. Robbins 2012

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  • Michael W. Wilson

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