"The popularity of Christianity has always been tidal"
Growing up in the faith has always been regarded as critical for the health of a religion. “Go forth and multiply!” people joke. Genesis 9:7 the Latin Vulgate reads “vos autem crescite et multiplicamini et ingredimini super terram et implete eam,” in English “And you, be fruitful and multiply and increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” It seems this advice has become a little more complicated in America today, and plays out differently in Christianity and Islam according to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center.
While the religious do continue to multiply, how this is impacting overall religious growth in America is markedly different for the two faiths. In Islam, growth levels are being maintained by replacing Muslims leaving the faith with new converts to Islam. Pew estimates that about one-in-five American Muslim adults were raised in a different faith tradition and converted to Islam, and they replace a similar share of Americans who were raised Muslim but now no longer identify with the faith.
This, according to the findings, is where the difference arises. Islam is losing people raised in the faith at about the same rate as Christianity, but Christians are not attracting new converts to replace them. The research by the Pew estimates that adults who are converts to Islam comprise about one-quarter (23%), while only 6% of current Christians are converts. At the same time, a quarter of adults raised Muslim (23%) no longer identify as members of the faith, which is about on par with Americans raised as Christian but no longer identifying with Christianity (22%). Because conversions in America are less in number for Christians than for Muslims, Islam is being replenished in numbers while Christians are falling behind.
This said, Islam remains a minority taste in America, but it is growing. Pew estimates that Muslims currently make up about 1.1% of the total U.S. population, with about 3.45 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States. Their projections suggest the U.S. Muslim population will grow much faster than the country’s Jewish population, and by 2040 Islam will become America’s second-largest religious group after Christians. By 2050, the U.S. Muslim population is projected to double at 8.1 million, or 2.1% of the nation’s total population.
Pew’s first study of Muslim Americans was back in 2007, which estimated 2.35 million Muslims, nearly half of whom were not adults. A 2011 survey estimated a 2.75 million population, again just under half non-adults. (including 1.8 million adults). Since then, the Muslim population has continued to grow at a rate of roughly 100,000 per year. There are two drivers, higher fertility rates and immigration of Muslims into America.
The lesson is that the impact of religious conversions is they are necessary to replenish the number lapsing, leaving the growth of the population to continue much in the way called for by Genesis 9:7. This suggests that if Christianity is to maintain, and even experience growth, then it needs to do so on three fronts. First, to follow Genesis 9:7 by multiplying; secondly, by reducing the loss of the faithful; and thirdly, by following Matthew 28:19, “euntes ergo docete omnes gentes baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti;” “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In a nation that is still self-professed three-quarters Christian, one would have thought this would be easier in America than it appears to be from doom-laden forecasts about the religious health of the nation. Perhaps, there needs to be more of a challenge to these perceptions, because as we all know perceptions become reality. In today’s social media world, “facts” are seen as more malleable and people feel entitled to their own "set of facts.” The fact in America is that Christianity is still the largest faith, but it needs revitalising.
If we mull over the Pew figures, there should be cause for hope. Quite apart from the fact that history is ultimately in God’s hands, and without being complaisant, Catholics in America should have a threefold confidence: the confidence in faith to nourish the family; the confidence in doctrine to maintain those in the faith; and, the certainty of the gospel message to bring in converts. The church is in this for the long haul. The popularity of Christianity has always been tidal, and in today’s communications world the church needs to develop better ways to navigate the communication channels.
It is ironic that a high street bank used the 1980s Tears for Fears hit “Mad World” to advertise its services in recent years. The exuberance of the 1980s rendition has devolved into a more melancholic tune, offering a metaphor for changing economic fortunes. The generation that danced to the tune of Milton Friedman and free markets have watched their funds dwindle and their offspring spiral into debt. It is this mad world, or rather the madness of economic reasoning, that David Harvey challenges in his articulate reworking of Marx to address our contemporary problems. The implosion of the Soviet Union suggested communism was destroyed and only capitalism is viable, sending Marxist ideology into apparently terminal decline. In a spirited defence Harvey, an old Marxist hand, suggests Marx opens the door to understanding why workers today struggle in the world of capital. The heart of his book is Marx’s…TLS subscribers can continue reading at TLS
You can read my debut piece for @wallpapermag - a preview of the forthcoming exhibition of Japanese artist Setsuko Ono at the @DaiwaFoundation Setsuko, Yoko Ono’s younger sister, exhibits two solo exhibitions for the first time in London. I will offer a larger review and interview when the show opens February 16th in London.
I don’t know if it is Brexit, Trump’s increasingly offensive remarks, the Jupiter-like power of Macron or just something in the water, but there is a bit a thing going on with power and art just now. London has two exhibitions opening: Charles I: King and Collector at the Royal Academy and Charles II: Art and Power in the Royal Collections. Paris has had two significant exhibits spanning the new year, with one of them just ending yesterday. In Spring there will be Birth of a Nation: Italian Art from Post-war Reconstruction to 1968 at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence. That exhibit will be a representation of people and power in the art, politics and society of Italy from the 1950s to the protest years of the late ‘60s. Last year, I reviewed Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites for the Burlington Magazine, an exhibition that showed the Jacobites pretension to power. These exhibitions explore power differently, from the pomp and circumstance of the London and Paris displays, through to the different historic protests of the Edinburgh and Florence exhibitions.
Power and art have always been in relationship of course, with the former often financing and commissioning the latter to enhance the enigma and allure of power. Power, as the Florence exhibit highlights, is also a matter of protest. It is a good thing that we learn more about these interrelationships; it will surely help us understand the dynamics of power in our own time. The desire to airbrush people and events out of history is to misdiagnose the role of art. We need to understand what power was and its uses, and be reminded of how we got to where we are.
What we understand as abuse of power now is different from how abuse was understood in past times. People in the eras of the London and Paris displays would no doubt look in wonder at how we use and abuse power today. In more recent times, the 1960s culture wars have been turned on their head with all the #MeToo accusations, which can be traced back to how people behaved then and what they tolerated. Art educates, which is why organizations in search of power like the so-called Islamic State destroy art and heritage. They want to destroy cultural memory.
For the record, Rubens: Portraits Princiers closed at the Musée du Luxembourg on Sunday, having run since 4 October. Among the portraits on display were those of Philippe IV, Louis XIII and Marie de’ Medici and other royal figures by the artist and some of his famous contemporaries, including Pourbus, Champaigne, Velázquez and Van Dyck. The visitor was introduced to the power and stately riches of 17th century European courtly life. A far cry from the power politics of today, though perhaps what we may have think of as regal back then maybe struck contemporaries as just as Trumpian in the 17th century.
Happily, the wonderful Théâtre du Pouvoir at the Louvre runs until 2nd July. This exhibit takes visitors from antiquity up to the present day, featuring forty works from the Musée du Louvre, the Musée National du Château de Pau, the Château de Versailles and the Musée des Beaux-arts de la Ville de Paris. The displays give us an impressive sweep of power through history using art and artefacts, a much broader remit than the slivers of time at the Musée du Luxembourg and London exhibitions.
We are take on a journey showing us the codification, representation and follies of political power. The exhibition is divided into four sections:
“Princely Roles”: The first room presents the king’s functions— priest, builder, warrior/protector—as portrayed through different artistic media. Notable examples are Philippe de Champaigne’s Louis XIII, Léonard Limosin’s enamel Crucifixion Altarpiece, and the Triad of Osorkon II from ancient Egypt.
“Legitimacy through Persuasion”: The focus in the second room is on the emblematic figure of Henri IV, initially a king in search of legitimacy, then a model for the Bourbon heirs from Louis XVI to the Restoration. Features include sculptures by Barthélémy Prieur and François-Joseph Bosio, and paintings by Frans Pourbus the Younger, Ingres, and others.
“The Antique Model”: The theme of the third room is the equestrian statue. The Louvre is home to several remarkable examples, among them the Barberini Ivory leaf, a bronze of Charles the Bald, and François Girardon’s Louis XIV.
“The Insignia of Power”: In the fourth room majestic portraits of monarchs, including Antoine-François Callet’s Louis XVI, François Gérard’s Napoleon I and Franz-Xaver Winterhalter’s Louis Philippe, are accompanied by the regalia used during the coronation of the kings of France. This final section also highlights the dramatic historical and representational changes that came with the French Revolution.
If you go to the London exhibitions and want more, I highly recommend you hop on the Eurostar to the Louvre. I’ll look in a future blog at the Florence exhibit, and there will surely be more power and art themes explored as our power politics evolves. It appears to me we are in a period of paradigmatic change, which itself will one today be an historical exhibit.
It is not enough today for celebrities and others to shout #MeToo, the history of art it now appears is to be subject to the same retrospective scrutiny. The reason? Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, better known as Balthus (1908-2001). The picture causing the stir is his Thérèse Dreaming, which shows a prepubescent girl in a languorous and erotic pose. The location causing the stir is the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Last month, Anna Zuccaro (26) and Mia Merrill (30) launched an online petition asking the Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove the painting. Either that, or at least change the way that it is presented.
Ms Merrill, a former art history student at New York University and feminist activist, states in her petition “When I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past weekend, I was shocked to see a painting that depicts a young girl in a sexually suggestive pose.” And “It is disturbing that the Met would proudly display such an image” that “romanticizes the sexualization of a child.” Then they get to their main point, “Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses without providing any type of clarification, The Met is, perhaps unintentionally, supporting voyeurism and the objectification of children.”
Conscious of the artistic sensitivities around censorship and destruction, the petitioners changed their tune slightly. Having launched a petition for removal they shifted to a demand that the museum “be more conscientious in how they contextualize.” In other words, they want the viewer to be told what to think about the painting, or perhaps they think the average art gallery viewer to be too puerile themselves to understand and process the obvious eroticism of the piece. The petition currently has over 11,500 signatures.
What of the art itself? Balthus used as his model Thérèse Blanchard, the daughter of a neighboring restaurant worker. She modeled over three years for 10 paintings, starting in 1936 when she was a mere 11 years old. She posed for Thérèse Dreaming aged about 12 or 13. Writing about a Balthus exhibit at the Met in 2013, art critic Peter Schjeldahl suggested, “Looking at the paintings, I kept thinking of a line by Oscar Wilde: ‘A bad man is the sort of man who admires innocence.’”
Largely self-taught, Balthus learned from copying paintings and frescoes in Italy. He was mainly influenced by two disparate sources, Piero della Francesca and the realist Gustave Courbet. We see this confluence in his painting of The Guitar Lesson (1934), which shows a woman with a prepubescent girl draped across her lap. The woman’s right breast is exposed as she holds the girl’s head up by her hair in her right hand and her left hand is placed close to the girl’s genitals as if playing an instrument. A later drawing of the same pose has a man replacing the woman, as he tugs at the little clothing she has with his mouth. The original picture is an echo of La Pieta de Villeneuve-les-Avignons (c.1470) in the Louvre, which shows Christ in a reclined position cared for by nuns. The theme of sacred love is clear, but Balthus adds an erotic charge for the modern viewer.
If one works through the oeuvre of Balthus one finds a whole catalogue of such erotically charged pictures of girls seemingly too young, and many with looks far too knowing, to leave much doubt of Balthus’s Weinstein qualities. However, they also raise the question of innocence and what critics see as a bourgeois view of sexuality. There are many such paintings, such as Young Girl with a Cat; Balthus had a thing about cats as well. That picture is echoed in one of the famous Pears Soap advertisements, in 1901. Of course, the interplay of art, eroticism, pornography and advertising is hardly new.
The Met has said it will not take the painting down nor will it provide a narrative or “contextualization” for the picture, beyond the current descriptor of title, artist, year, and the model’s name and age. These works have been in plain view for decades; indeed, last November I attended two exhibitions featuring Balthus in Paris, at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Centre. Like Harvey Weinstein, everyone knew before there was something erotically charged about the prepubescent portrayals painted by Balthus.
What worries me is the demand that the interpretation of art should be canonized, and in this respect I’m with the Met on this one. It is troublesome that today’s activists are starting to cleanse art, a struggle once undertaken by the church (which now has to put up with crucifixes immersed in urine) and trampled on by modernity. It seems we have the emergence of a postmodern secular puritanism that lacks a narrative against which to measure taste and morals. The Met petition may only have 11,500 names, but I suspect the art world can expect a whole lot more.
Loaning at interest has always been morally suspect. Abrahamic scriptures forbade usury, Shakespeare characterized loans as exacting a pound of flesh, and Dickens’s Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop embodies the traits of the usurer in his devilish pursuit. Despite huge economic growth, the practice of predatory lending continues to blight society. Charles R. Geisst, an investment banker and professor, combines scholarship and a practitioner’s eye to analyse the nineteenth-century origins of “loan sharking”, as prevalent today as it was when the term was coined in the 1880s. Interest can be explained as the cost of the impatience or urgency in what we consume set against future income or investment. Loan sharks specialize in manipulating such urgency, not to collect the debt but to sink their teeth into the debtor from the outset. Loans are structured to keep the principal sum tantalizingly out of reach to secure repeated… Continue reading at Times Literary Supplement
The oil industry, prone to boom and bust cycles, is in one of its deepest ever downturns. While oil-rich nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran – the two states studied in Nimah Mazaheri’s book – have survived these shocks in the past, things seem different this time. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia believes the kingdom needs a “Thatcherite revolution”.
Economists have long pondered the paradox that resource-rich nations invest little in diversifying their economies; they call it the “resource curse”. Mazaheri applies this to Saudi Arabia and Iran and concludes that despite oil wealth these economies have failed to encourage entrepreneurs and small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and failed to build a relationship between government and what he calls “the non-elites”, the owners of SMEs. This has led to commonplace bribery, a lack of opportunities (especially for female entrepreneurs), and the inability of SMEs to…continue reading at TLS
But, is it art? You say. In western society, jewellery is seen by many people as a personal adornment certainly, a consumer foible perhaps, a fetish depending on preferences, or simply an indulgence. It can also be viewed as cultural or spiritual. The Medusa exhibition in Paris wants us to see it as art. Just like the face of Medusa in Greek mythology, the exhibition states its aim to display jewellery that attracts and troubles the person who designs it, looks at it or wears it.
The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris offers a 1961 quote by Roland Barthes to explain how gemstones became jewellery and art:
“There has been a widespread liberation of jewellery: its definition is widening, it is now an object that is free, if one can say this, from prejudice: multiform, multi-substance, to be used in an infinite variety of ways, it is now no longer subservient to the law of the highest price nor to that of being used in only one way, such as for a party or sacred occasion: jewellery has become democratic.”
The accent in the exhibition is on the avant-garde artists and contemporary designers who have reinvented, transformed and detached from its own traditions. It is organized around four themes of Identity, Value, Body and Instruments. Each section prologues the often negative preconceptions that surround jewellery and the deconstructs them to reveal jewellery’s underlying subversive and performative potential.
There are over 400 pieces of jewellery featured, including the creations of artists, jewellery-makers and high-end jewelers. The artists include Man Ray, Salvador Dali, Louise Bourgeois and Sylvie Auvray. A highlight, and the feature of the exhibition poster, is a reproduction of Salvador Dali’s Ruby Lips from the years 1970-80 by Henryk Kaston, which is a broach of 18 carat gold, rubies, and cultured pearls.
Jewellery is most associated with women and consumerism or wealth. The majority of men usually content themselves with a watch and a ring or two, perhaps a bracelet, tiepin or pin badge. It is only recently that more men have experimented with jewellery, wearing more rings, bracelets and body piercing pieces. However, this feminization of jewellery is itself a later development, and the use of male jewellery a return to previous times. The industrial revolution allowed the production of more jewellery for women reaching down through levels of society, rather than as emblems of male power.
As gender discussions continue unabated today, the discussion of gender relationships with jewellery becomes even more open. Jewellery does, after all, play an important part of identity and identity politics. The use of items may indicate one is a punk or a biker, a fop or an alpha male. Religious significance in the use of jewellery is also highlighted, which also relates to the use of power and rituals of power in the political sphere.
The avant-garde jewellery makers and designers include René Lalique, Art Smith, Tony Duquette, Bless and Nervous System, while the contemporary creators include Gijs Bakker, Otto Künzli, Dorothea Prühl, and Seulgi Kwon. Prominent in this category is The Crown created by Vivienne Westwood, made of white and gold metal, velvet, faux crystals, plastic based pearls and faux ermine fur, and featured in her Autumn-Winter 2000/01 Gold Label runway show. Ted Noten's Superbitch Bag (2000), particularly in the context of debates about gun control and the Weinstein scandal, gives one pause to think.
But not all is left to the avant-garde, the more traditional high end jewellers feature, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Buccellati. Particularly impressive here is the Serpent Necklace by Cartier Paris. Created in 1968, the necklace is made of platinum, white and yellow gold, with 2,473 brilliant diamonds totalling 178,21 carats. The serpent has eyes of pear shape emeralds, and an enamel body with green, red and black accents.
Fifteen works and installations by contemporary artists, including Mike Kelley, Leonor Antunes, Atelier EB and Liz Craft are laced throughout the exhibition, echoing the themes of the four sections. These works show art as decoration and ornament, shedding light on the relationship between jewellery, the body and the world. Another aspect shown to us is a number of anonymous, ancient and non-Western pieces. These included prehistorical and medieval works, punk and rappers’ jewellery, and some items of costume jewellery.
The curator Anne Dressen, has done an outstanding job putting together an appreciation of diverse ways of understanding jewellery and its relationship with bodies and society. The note earlier on the impact of the industrial revolution highlights the economic questions of production, which also include the moral concerns over the ethical sourcing of diamonds and gold, or the cheap labour used to produce and sell luxury items in developing and newly industralised economies. Dressen curated the exhibition in collaboration with Michèle Heuzé and Benjamin Lignel and scientific advisors.
To answer the question is it art, or just bling, this exhibition demonstrates very clearly the argument in favour of art. I’m inclined to agree, and such inter-disciplinary displays are only to be welcomed. So long as there are bodies and societies to adorn, there will be controversial places for jewellery to perform a role in creating and reflecting identity and taste.
What better way to bring Paris Fashion Week to a close than to launch a new museum dedicated to one of the greats of French and global fashion, namely Yves Saint Laurent.
The museum opens to the public on Tuesday, October 3rd, showcasing YSL’s work from his first Dior days through to his greatest creations and his death in 2008. The Dior connection is emphasized by the presence of his old cane left on the desk where YSL used to work. THE MUSEUM SHOWCASES YSL’S WORK FROM HIS FIRST DIOR DAYS THROUGH TO HIS GREATEST CREATIONS On four floors, starting with the salons where customers once sat and watched his work modelled, the visitor can see a variety of designs, jewelry, swatches, notepads, photographs and books on display. Entering the museum you’re first confronted with an impressive montage of YSL’s Warhol screen-prints.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, born in exile in Rome in 1720 and buried there in 1788, spent a mere 14 months of his life in Scotland; in 1745-6 and a brief clandestine 1750 return visit. However, he left behind legends and a true legacy of history and Catholicism. This fascinating exhibition provides a comprehensive narrative exploring the lives and events of the Jacobites and their attempts to reinstate the deposed Catholic Stuart king, James VI and II, and his heirs to the throne after his exile to France. Exhibits are drawn from public and private collections across Britain, France, Italy and Vatican City, forming the largest exhibition of the Jacobite era for some decades.
The exhibition is themed on the five Jacobite challenges to the throne, culminating in the doomed 1745 campaign and its bloody end at Culloden, and Charlie’s famous escape to the Isle of Skye. Entering the exhibition to airs of the Skye Boat song, visitors may feel they have fallen into a time shift like the heroine of TV’s Outlander. For those of us who encountered the Jacobites in school, it’s a visualization we might wish we didn’t have to wait 70 years for. It is the visual that is essential here, because Jacobitism reflected more the human passions and feeling in the Scottish enlightenment sense than rationalist ideas and argument.
The academic theory of material culture is very present, as the exhibition helps us to understand the objects of the Jacobite rebellion, their production, consumption of Jacobite items and their afterlife. Objects on display including paintings, costumes, jewellery, documents, weapons and glassware, illustrating the secrecy of Jacobite allegiance, the depth of feeling for a fading notion of royalty, and their material culture. Most striking is a gold communion set, encrusted with diamonds, belonging to Charlie’s younger brother Henry, who became a Cardinal; the York Chalice on loan from the Vatican Collection which has never left Rome before; and, a tartan frock coat said to have belonged to Charlie. Other highlights are weapons and shields used in the Battle of Culloden, the official order for the massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, a Gaelic bible, an execution block, and marble grave markers. Most touching is a letter by Charlie, aged eight, apologising to his father for upsetting his mother.
An impressive collection of Jacobite portraits starts with the familiar John Pettie Victorian romantic portrait of Charlie entering the ballroom of Holyroodhouse, and includes a towering portrayal of James II, a striking portrait of Flora MacDonald and a sketch of a forlorn-looking Charlie in his mid-fifties. The exhibition wonderfully captures the breadth of the rebellion, the depth of Catholic feeling, and how close Scotland came to changing the course of religious history.
The original text was first published in The Catholic Herald here