Idolatry and Art
The use of images is part of
an artistic approach and rendering of our relationship to the
Divine. For this sculpture uses statues, painting uses colored
surfaces, music uses sound, and poetry uses verbal images. To deny
these things as idolatry is only to banish art from our relationship
with the Divine. For this reason aniconic traditions have generally
remained artistically sterile.
Where for example can we
find great religious sculpture or painting among orthodox Muslims or
Protestants? Both the Bible and the Koran, though they reject graven
images, abound with poetic images, which are responsible for much of
the beauty of these books. If a poetic image is acceptable, why not
a formal image? Is not a picture worth a thousand words? Why is a
poetic form of art allowed as religious but not a plastic form like
painting and sculpture?
In fact it could be argued
that the literalism of certain religious traditions in worshipping
their books has only occurred because they deny the use of images.
The book becomes a substitute image to fill that aspect of universal
aspiration which requires an object to worship.
Traditions that reject art
and the use of images, which are used in most spiritual approaches,
are limited and incapable of representing the full aspirations of
humanity. Hinduism as Sanatana Dharma or a universal tradition
includes all forms of art as valid approaches to the Divine or
truth. It has music, dance, poetry, drama, sculpture, painting,
architecture, not as ends-in-themselves but as different languages
of worship. Yet this has not prevented it from developing formless
approaches as well, which it has developed through formless
meditation methods to a degree largely unparalleled in aniconic