Religion and art have been so deeply entwined throughout history that it’s hard to separate the two. Even religious traditions with a strict prohibition against the worship of idols have incorporated works of art into regular practice–the use of icons in Christian Orthodoxy, for instance.
I’m not a particularly religious person myself but there is a lot of great art inspired by and celebrating religion. And for some the two may not be so separate; there are plenty of artists for whom art is their religion, and arguably all art expresses a belief in something, even if that belief is just that they can make a quick buck off of it. The confluence of art and religion, needless to say, is a really big subject, one that can fill several books, and in fact has. And I just realized while writing this that the proliferation of -isms in early 20th century art was comparable to a set of religious schisms even though Cubists and Orphists didn’t go out and kill each other, but that’s another story.
I also think of being an artist as a calling–not that different from preaching a particular faith. The artist and the priest may have different ways of getting their message out but they both have a message. At its best religious art celebrates whatever belief gets the artist out of bed in the morning and can inspire even those of us who don’t share the artist’s faith. You don’t need religion to be a good person, and, as recent revelations about the Catholic Church remind us, religious people aren’t necessarily good, although I do believe that all well-done art–religious or secular–makes us better people. As Joseph Brodsky said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “On the whole, every new aesthetic reality makes man’s ethical reality more precise. For aesthetics is the mother of ethics.”
Now if you’re wondering why I’m talking about religious art it’s because I assume the graffiti above is religious in nature, representing Buddhism’s red lotus of love and compassion. According to legend wherever the Buddha stepped a lotus blossomed. And there’s something very powerful about an artist who’s trespassing and making their art illicitly asking for love and compassion.
At least that’s what I believe. Maybe there isn’t any religious intent here, but consider the work in context.