Friday, December 19, 2008

Religious Images and Sex

Big News this week: Playboy Mexico's cover featured María Florencia Onori with a Mary-esque veil over her head, and little else. There has been an uproar over the symbolism. [Read about it here and here and here.] It's always interesting to me when religious imagery shows up in mainstream media. But this is sort of "the mother lode" [I do love a good pun.] I am sure that Playboy (tm) expected an outcry, but they must have also expected a boost in sales. Look, I am giving them some free publicity! [yikes]

But while people are upset about this, using sex to sell magazines is certainly not new - of course not for Playboy specifically - but nor is it new for artists portraying religious themes, especially scenes depicting religious ecstasy, to use sexual imagery. We humans really know a limited range of truly ecstatic feelings, and so, in order to depict what "ecstatics" experienced, I'm not sure we can blame the artist for using the closest available metaphor for the feeling - the orgasm.

UPDATE: I realize that Playboy does not intend this cover to be religious art. The cover is titillating. Mixing two ideas that "shouldn't be mixed" - Sex and Religion. Artists who create religious art, on the other hand, are working to express religious ideas, or retell stories, using images or sounds to describe holy ideas or events. They may be in it for the money, but in my view, there is a HUGE difference between the work of artists, and porno mags. /UPDATE

Bob has a great discussion of sexuality in art on his (fantastic!) blog "Art Blog by Bob." He does an excellent job with religious art, and his discussion of Bernini's St Theresa sculpture is superb. Go and check it out. St Theresa is receiving God's love, like an arrow from Cupid's bow. See more about St Theresa de Avila and her ideas about feeling God's love. Even more provocative in both Bob's and my opinion, is Bernini’s monument to Blessed Ludovica Albertoni (see below). Not only can you see the rapture on her face, but she's reclining in her (death)bed, ready for God's embrace.

I'm not saying Playboy is art, and I don't know what to say about lines being crossed when using sensual or sensuous themes when depicting religious scenes. The artist tries to use images to express ideas, and the images need to be accessible to the viewers to make sense. If the viewers (us) understand the emotion, or physical state being represented in a sensual way, maybe that makes the most sense. I don't want to vulgarize religious art. But I do think that religious art can be accessible in a number of ways.

Food for thought. What do you think?

1 comment:

daniel said...

Porn I think is meant to stimulate the imagination and physical senses to the point of saying, "I want that." Tension is created which must be released.
Religious art, done well, draws in our higher nature to exclaim, "I want that kind of mysterious love/relationship/experience with God too." Yet, only rarely is the tension created in the imagination of it's veiwers because as a whole humanity has the preconceived idea that we can't experience that kind of love or enlightenment because we aren't spiritual, or holy enough, or one of God's favorites. "Who do I think I am, a saint or something?"