Larger version.

One of the big nagging questions in my mind during this year has been how we look at art from cultures that are not our own. When I did this course, for example, it was a question that the tutors shied away from.

Things which troubled me have included how we distinguish universal icons from mere local cultural references, and how we begin to look at art when we don’t understand the references.

Mostly when I’ve talked to people about this they seem to have assumed that I’m talking about non-western art – say African, or Chinese. But to me, the same issues apply within the European tradition. Our culture is diverse, and add in a time dimension – say 500 years or so – and I can be pretty well adrift on any ‘shared cultural experience’ assumption.

Religious art is an obvious example. What some Renaissance Italian was thinking as he painted the walls of a church is pretty remote from my perspective.

Nigel Warburton has written a really interesting post about whether aetheists can appreciate religious art. It is recommended reading even if, on the face of it, the subject matter doesn’t appeal to you.

Also posted on Photostream.