Saturday, 15 December 2012

Inspiring Atheists - Visual Art

The things the godly say:
  • Inspiration comes from religion.
  • Without religion we would not have human culture, particularly the arts such as music and the visual arts.
  • Only God can inspire humans to create beauty and appreciation of it is a spiritual thing, implying a non-material world of pure, beautiful thought.

That's the religious propaganda, as the exponents of superstition lay claim to something else for which they have no entitlement. I have previously shown how some of the western world's top composers were Atheists and yet produced some of the great classics of Western music, often with religious themes.

Here I'll do the same with the visual arts, one of my great passions in life:


Henri Matisse

(31 December 1869 – 3 November 1954)

Henri Matisse, 1913

I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.

"Henri Matisse"
Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture.

Woman with a Hat, 1905.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
The Dance (Second Version), 1910
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
The Luxembourg Gardens, 1901
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

Pablo Picasso

(25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973)

Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth.

Pablo Picasso
One of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, he is widely known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a portrayal of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

Child With a Dove, 1901
National Gallery, London, UK
Boy With a Pipe, 1905
Private Collection
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907),
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Guernica, 1937
Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain

Vincent van Gogh

(30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890)

Self-portrait, 1889
Courtauld Institute Galleries, London.

When I have a terrible need of - shall I say the word - religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.

Vincent van Gogh
Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died aged 37 from a gunshot wound, generally accepted to be self-inflicted (although no gun was ever found).

A religious zealot in his younger days, working as a missionary amongst poor miners in Belgium, but he questioned and then lost his faith when disgusted by the perceived hypocrisy of his theologian uncle and tutor, Johannes Stricker. He turned instead to art.

The Church in Auvers, 1890
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Pietà (after Delacroix), 1889
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Starry Night, Saint-Rémy, 1889
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Irises, 1889
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California

Eugène Delacroix

(26 April 1798 – 13 August 1863)

Self Portrait, c.1837
Louvre Museum, Paris

French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school.

If one considered life as a simple loan, one would perhaps be less exacting. We possess actually nothing; everything goes through us.

Eugène Delacroix
In contrast to the Neoclassical perfectionism of his chief rival Ingres, Delacroix took for his inspiration the art of Rubens and painters of the Venetian Renaissance, with an attendant emphasis on colour and movement rather than clarity of outline and carefully modelled form. Dramatic and romantic content characterized the central themes of his maturity, and led him not to the classical models of Greek and Roman art, but to travel in North Africa, in search of the exotic.

Massacre at Chios, 1824
Louvre Museum, Paris
Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi, 1826
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux
Liberty Leading the People,1830
Louvre Museum, Paris
Orphan Girl at the Cemetery, 1823
Louvre Museum, Paris

Claude Monet

(14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926)

Self Portrait, 1886
Private Collection

I am following Nature without being able to grasp her, I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.

Claude Monet
A founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement's philosophy of expressing one's perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term Impressionism is derived from the title of his painting Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant)

Water Lilies, 1906
Art Institute of Chicago
Poplars at the Epte, c.1900
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
Impression Soleil levant, 1872
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Woman with a Parasol - Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875
National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA

Antony Gormley

(born 30 August 1950)

We are still bloody animals. We are still fixated on a Darwinian kind of drive pattern. We don't understand that the moment of enough was a long time ago already. It's really weird that with all our technology, with all our instruments, with all our intelligence, still we're really basic. Injustices continue as if we were just animals and our predatory nature and our territorial nature are stronger drives than the intellectual determinants or whatever the soul part of the human being is.

Antony Gormley
British sculptor. His best known works include the Angel of the North, a public sculpture in the North of England, commissioned in 1994 and erected in February 1998, Another Place on Crosby Beach near Liverpool, and Event Horizon, a multi-part site installation which premiered in London in 2007, around Madison Square in New York City, in 2010 and in São Paulo, in 2012.

Another Place, 1997
Crosby Beach, Merseyside, UK
Angel of the North, 1998
Low Fell, Gatehead, Tyne and Wear, UK
Quantum Cloud, 1999
London, UK

Franz Marc

(February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916)

Franz Mark, 1910; August Macke
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie,
Berlin, Germany

German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it.

I understand well that you speak as easily of death as of something which doesn't frighten you. I feel precisely the same. In this war, you can try it out on yourself - an opportunity life seldom offers one...nothing is more calming than the prospect of the peace of death...the one thing common to all. It leads us back into normal "being". The space between birth and death is an exception, in which there is much to fear and suffer. The only true, constant, philosophical comfort is the awareness that this exceptional condition will pass and that "I-conciousness" which is always restless, always piquant, in all seriousness inaccessible, will again sink back into its wonderful peace before birth... whoever strives for purity and knowledge, to him death always comes as a savior.

Franz Marc, 1916
Following the lead of his family, Marc studied theology intensely. The family contemplated both the spiritual essence of Christianity and its cultural responsibilities. Marc was sufficiently moved by the background and his confirmation in 1894 that, for the next five years, his goal was to become a priest. But he mingled with his theological studies the Romantic literature of both England and Germany. Finally, near the end of 1898, Marc gave up his goal of becoming a priest to study philosophy at University of Munich. But suddenly, in 1900, the ethical, high-minded youth turned to art.

Der Blaue Reiter was founded in Munich in 1911 by Marc and Kandinsky after they resigned from the Neue Künstlervereinigung München due to their differences of opinion with other members of the association. Marc and Kandinsky shared similar ideas on art: both believed that true art should possess a spiritual dimension. Kandinsky's views are outlined in his text Concerning the Spiritual in Art, which first appeared in 1911. For Marc the spiritual aspect of art was perhaps more concerned with representing the inner soul of a being; Kandinsky represented the spiritual by abstract means. Both felt that much of the art of their day lacked any such dimension and thus hoped that Der Blaue Reiter would create a spiritual revolution in art. In addition to Marc and Kandinsky, other members of the group included Macke, Münter, von Jawlensky, the Austrian artist Alfred Kubin, and the Swiss artist Paul Klee. Their work was not united by a particular style but by common objectives in their artistic production.

After mobilization of the German Army during World War I, the government identified notable artists to be withdrawn from combat to protect them. Marc was on the list, but before orders for reassignment could reach him, he was struck in the head and killed instantly by a shell splinter during the Battle of Verdun in 1916.

Foxes, 1913,
Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf, Germany
The Fate of the Animals, 1913
Kunstmuseum, Basel, Germany
Deer in the Woods II, 1912
Horse in a Landscape, 1910
Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany
The Enchanted Mill, 1913
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA

There are, of course, very many more Atheist artists than this small sample. I will add more as time allows.

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  1. From "The Hero"
    Lord Raglan
    Oxford University Press 1937

    (According to Raglan, legendary heroes all conform to a mythic pattern, viz:)

    "The hero's mother is a royal virgin; his father is a king, and often a near relative of his mother, but the circumstances of his conception are unusual, and he is also reputed to be the son of a god. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grandfather (or the overlord of the realm), to kill him, but he is spirited away, and reared by foster-parents in a far country. We are told nothing of his childhood, but on reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future kingdom. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast, he marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor, and becomes king. for a time he reigns uneventfully, and prescribes laws, but later he loses favour with the gods and/or his subjects, and is driven from the throne and city, after which he meets with a mysterious death, often at the top of a hill. His children, if any, do not succeed him. His body is not buried, but nevertheless he has one or more holy sepulchres".

    Raglan applies this pattern applies in greater or lesser degree, to an enormous number or legendary heroes including: Oedipus, Theseus, Romulus, Heracles, Perseus, Jason, Asclepius, Dionysus, Apollo, Zeus, Joseph, Moses, Sigurd, Arthur, Robin Hood and ...

    Spot the missing name!

  2. Thank you for this lovely post. Given the number of French people listed, I'm wondering if the French are more likely to be atheists, or simply more likely to own up to it. As for Van Gogh, I would like to think he was an atheist, but I'm unable to verify it.


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