Art has always had a very close relationship with religion. Either art had overtly religious themes, taking stories from the Bible or classical myth; or it was used for mystical purposes, as altarpieces and devotional relics; or it was, in some way, an expression of “the spiritual quest,” as Camille Paglia has put it. (Gauguin captured the questions art asks and seeks to answer in the title of his famous painting of Tahitian women: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?) Though we live in an age in which religion has been increasingly pushed out of public life, art itself continues to be a source of transcendent meaning for many people. Two new influential books, The Goldfinch and Art as Therapy, illustrate the role art plays in an irreligious age—and each comes to different conclusions about why art matters.

Several months...


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