I have received a few comments about the last sentence in my recent post, entitled "A Shift," and it seems worthwhile to develop it in greater detail. I write, "[A]rt and religion" as a discourse that is "applied" to Martínez Celaya's work is irrelevant. What will be of relevance will emerge only through my concrete engagement with his work, and that includes my religious commitments." Some readers have expressed either curiousity or concern that my religious commitments would be challenged, tested, or evaluated by art.
Most critical discourse arises from the critic's recognition of something familiar in an artist's work, a reflection of her own interests. Yet art is more than a playground or Rorschach test for critics to indulge their personal commitments. T.S. Eliot once said that the meaning of poem is located somewhere between the work and the reader. The critic must explore this "between," must somehow push through her preoccupations and proclivities, religious or otherwise, toward the work. The challenge of criticism is to use such interests and commitments in an expansive way, which opens up the work for those readers and viewers who do not share those interests and commitments.
Too much critical discourse on art that is informed by religious commitments is not expansive. Rather, it tends to look like "applied religion" or "applied theology," in which engagement with art is merely an extension or elaboration of the particular religious, confessional, or denominational community within which one writes. My desire to test my own religious commitments in the light of my critical engagement with art is an attempt to resist this temptation. My religious commitments consist of affirming that, as St. John says in his Prologue, "through him [Christ] all things were made" and as St. Paul writes, "in him [Christ] all things hold together." The "all things" must include art, specific works of art. In this context, my particular denominational or confessional identity is beside the point. What matters is whether I believe St. John and St. Paul.
Art tests the integrity of my affirmation.