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Idols and Taboos: Modern & Contemporary Art and Theology Today

23 May
idols and taboos
Image: Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin, The White Tablecloth (1731-2). Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicago

Image: Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin, The White Tablecloth (1731-2). Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicago

King’s College London and Duke University are pleased to announce an evening of discussion, ‘testing the temperature’ of the relationship between modern and contemporary visual art and Christian tradition today. 

This exceptional programme brings together contributions from Professor James Elkins (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and Professor Thomas Crow (New York University), chaired by Professor Ben Quash (King’s College London).

James Elkins: On Misunderstandings between Religious Art Practices and Art History

This is a report on the distance between avowedly religious art (as it is practised and taught in art schools, academies, and theological unions) and the disciplines of art history, art criticism, art theory, and studio pedagogy. It has been said that the ongoing lack of communication between openly religious art practice and disciplines such as art history is a matter of modernism’s distance from faith, or of scholarship’s distance from advocacy; James Elkins proposes that one of the most fruitful ways of thinking about it is as a matter of the forms of conversation that take place in conferences, lectures, and other venues. In particular the distance between religious values and historical values can be seen as a question of the relative places of empathy, biography, and community.

Thomas Crow: No Idols

The theme of this talk will be the generally inverse relationship between grandiosity in a work of art and its intrinsic theological import, the latter term being understood apart from visualizing points of doctrine or events of sacred import.   From miracle-working ‘true images’ to the hyper-valuation placed on museum masterpieces severed from their original religious contexts, art is continually susceptible to the idolatrous regard that invests inert matter with living properties.  To approach the sacred, an artist aware of this trap must defeat the normal enticements of idolatry, whether of self-righteous display or aesthetic delectation, while providing some compensating richness of experience.   Thomas Crow encountered his own point of departure toward this insight in the shape of one painting, the White Tablecloth by J.B.S. Chardin, housed in the Chicago Art Institute.

Speakers include: Professor Thomas Crow (New York University), Professor James Elkins (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), The Revd Professor Ben Quash (King's College London)

The event is free and open to all.  No registration or tickets are required and seating will be first come, first served on the evening.

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