CHRISTOPHER Knight’s principal criticism of the “Buddhist Meditational Art” exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“Overstating the Religious?” Oct. 6) is that it focuses too much on the religion rather than on the art. How can anyone separate religious art from the religion?
Up until recent centuries, people did not make art for art’s sake. People who made religious art made it in order to enhance the religious experience in one way or another. Separating religious art without the context of religion is like trying to swim without getting wet.
PERCEPTION is personal. Whereas Knight regards LACMA’s new exhibit as overly religious, I view it as religious art that educates. Few of LACMA’s past exhibits on specific cultures and religions have achieved the level that this exhibit has in enabling viewers to interpret the art. Although familiar with Buddhism, particularly the bells and scepters used in rituals, I learned much about the symbolism used to connote ideas and the reason for the symbolism.
THE fact that Knight sees no legitimate connection between art and the religious faith that inspired it is at once outrageous and yet sadly typical of current critical assumptions. The creators of these remarkable works did not create them in a void; they were created in a context of devotion and worship, just as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel was created to glorify God -- not to spiff up a ceiling.
Certainly they are magnificent artistic treasures by themselves, but to study them outside the context of their creation is to see just the surface, without understanding their true depth and meaning. I’m afraid our greatest loss in the 21st century will be our desire to separate religious faith from real life -- to put it in a polite little box -- and thereby render it unimportant or trivial.
NOW that LACMA has installed a proselytizing course on Tantric Buddhism, may we expect the ACLU to step smartly forward as it has done in the cases involving crosses and monuments to the Ten Commandments on public property? If not, why not?
James A. Gorton