Sacred art is for the illiterate, oh, really?

I’m so tired of hearing people say that sacred art was necessary long ago because those poor people were ignorant, uneducated, illiterate and backward, so stained glass windows and such were the only way they could be taught religion. Does this mean that we who are supposedly educated and intelligent and intellectual and literate and advanced—that we do not need art? Sacred art is not produced for the likes of us? It has nothing to offer us because we do not need it?

Surely this is preposterous. Why is it that people make claims (and other people pick up those claims and repeat them) without ever thinking about what they are saying and what the implications are? The implication of this tired truism is that sacred art is a thing of the past because illiteracy is a thing of the past, for a large number of us anyway. Well, then perhaps there is still a place for sacred art, in backward places where books are not readily had and few could understand them even if they had them. Poppycock and balderdash!

Sacred art fulfills a function for every person who is blessed to view or read or hear it, no matter the level of education he or she may or may not enjoy. Sacred art speaks to us because we are human, not because we are literate or illiterate. Simply because we are human. A life without some form of art loses something of its humanity. Think about it: we even call the arts and literature, the humanities. That says something about how very necessary these things are, to each and every one of us, and there never is a time when we are so advanced to have advanced beyond the need for them.

To engage in art or to be engaged in art is to be human. To deny art to oneself or to others is an act of cruelty that leads to suffering. One does violence to the soul when depriving that soul of art. Art may soothe the savage breast; sacred art transforms that breast. Ancient sculptures fascinate us, the ancient cathedrals speak to us, those sermons in stone. Because they touch upon what it means to be fully human contemplating the divine.

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