Three Reasons Art Should Matter to Atheism

Does art matter to atheism? This is actually an interesting question that I don’t think movement atheist thinks much about.

I have dedicated my life to making art and so I would say that art matters to everything, but let me tell you why I specifically think it matters to atheism as a social change movement.

Movement atheism often focuses on why religion is wrong and why religion is damaging to society and to people, both in groups and as individuals. And I get that. In American culture there is a big push to de-convert people because there is so much that is negative in our society that revolves around different aspects of religion. There is often a knee-jerk reaction to reject everything that is associated with faith in an effort to distance oneself from that culture. I was raised without religion so maybe I have a perspective that is perhaps a bit less reactionary. And at times, it may be easier for me to see spaces where religion does something right. Some of the things religion has done a really good job of, in my opinion, is bringing people together, supporting families and spreading messages. And if atheism as a movement towards social change wants to be an effective movement, than some of these proven strategies used by religion might want to be looked again with fresh and unbiased eyes.

There is a lot to be unpacked in that last paragraph but this post is about art and so let me keep this short and sweet and just give you three reasons why I think art is effective at sending messages and bringing people together and why it should matter to atheism.

Short and sweet, here are just three of the reasons why art should matter to atheism.

1. Words are hard and images help us to understand.
Whatever your message may be, adding an image to it helps bring the story home. The Virgin Mary has been painted thousands of times by thousands upon thousands of artists. I have never even read the bible all the way through, but I know the story of Mary and I have a very clear idea of what she represents to people because I have seen her image in museums and art books and candles and many other places throughout my life. The same can be said for the Virgen de Guadalupe which is a similar story often told in Spanish. The images of the virgin have spread farther into the culture than words alone ever could. Art by atheists could help spread an understanding of our particular world view and spread messages based in science and critical thought. Images can make you think when words are ignored or forgotten.

2. Art brings people together.
Museums exist and are open to the public in part because people enjoy to look at art. Art can get your attention. Art gives us a way to transcend space and time. Art can make us feel like part of a long and unwinding tapestry of the human experience. We see our similarities and we recognize our differences in art. We can identify with the richness of human experience by sharing art that moves us. Art is something that can be shared without words. (Yes, there is that theme again.) We feature art in our homes and in our museums because we want to share ideas and emotions that we deem important with other humans and art can get that message delivered instantaneously. Churches have long understood this and have decorated their spaces in ways that would, in their mind, please the gods but would also share ideals with the public in very immediate ways. If you couldn’t read you could still pass along a powerful story with the help of imagery to remind you. What this decorative and informative art also does is help us transcend the ordinary life and share in emotionally and psychologically charged group experiences. Atheists can have and share these experiences too.

3. Art helps us learn and grow.
The creative process in art and the creative process in the scientific method have a lot in common. In the same way that a mockingbird gathers all the riffs from the other birds (and even the local car alarms) to make their own, unique song, so do artists gather ideas and scientists gather data. The ideas are then reconfigured to make original art and the data is reconfigured to make a new hypothesis. The outcomes are not always glorious but it is this same creative process that helps us along the path to groundbreaking new ideas. This creativity should be encouraged especially in communities that seek new understandings and great advancements in knowledge. Art can help atheists discover new things.

atheist gray 1

I have taken some of the themes listed above and used them to create art for the American Atheist Art Show. I should point out that the American Atheist Art Show and Auction that takes place during their national convention in Salt Lake City over Easter, is the only art exhibit that I know of that that exists in movement atheism. I hope it inspires more.

I have painted three paintings that play off the style of old Italian Gothic religious paintings and combined them with still life paintings reminiscent of Frida Kahlo or other Mexican folk art (cuz I love that style.) What I have come up with is some distorted perspective pieces, slathered with gold paint that speak of the joy and beauty of living in the now as opposed to being focused on the afterlife. So much of religion and religious art talks about doing certain things now and following specific rules so that you will be rewarded in a glorious afterlife. My paintings, like the atheist worldview are meant to remind you that your paradise and glory is here, right now. Don’t squander the precious moments of the life you have hoping for magic at the end. Appreciate every moment, every breath and every flower.

This piece is called, “Evolution Makes Biology Make Sense.
Evolution MAkes Biology MAke Sense sm

This piece is called, “In This Life.” Text reads:
“In this life you have but mere moments. Everything is temporary. Seek out all that is beautiful and cherish it. Practice compassion. Love as much as you can. Cause as little harm as possible.”
In this life Roses sm

The third piece in this series is called, “The Paradise You Seek (is right in front of you)
The paradise you seek sm
All of my paintings for this exhibition are done in the style of old-fashioned scrolls that can be rolled out or up and easily traveled with, with wooden bars at the top and the bottom. They are messages, in picture form.

There will be lots of other great artists and makers displaying their work at the upcoming convention. I will have a table with my Surly jewelry. There will be other cool handmade crafts like that shown in the featured image by atheist activist, Beth Presswood. Here is another example of her designs:

There will be some comic styled illustration by Mad Art Lab’s very own Dale DeBakcsy!
Pantheon by Dale DeBakcsy

Duct tape artist, Andrew Carmichael who I interviewed last year for Mad Art Lab will be back!

Simon Kregar Jr. will be showing some paintings like this one here of Einstein!
by Simon Kregar

A portion of all sales from the art show will be donated to charity. Raising money for charities is just one more thing that art can help with in secular communities!

I highly encourage you to support artists working in secular themes and if you can please consider attending and bidding on some of the art that will be on display at The American Atheist convention. And if you run an event or have access to a space, please consider starting a secular themed art event of your own.

From Amanda Knief:

American Atheists is proud to sponsor the second Atheist Art Show and Auction, featuring 8 artists from around the country and benefiting Ogden OUTreach. The purpose of the Art Show and Auction is to deepen the ties between creative thinking and rational thinking—to celebrate imagination in the atheist community. The Art Show will include work from Amy Davis Roth, Simon Kregar, Beth Presswood, Dale Debakcsy, Cristina Rad, Adam Brown, Ania Bula, and Andrew Carmichael. The Art Show and Auction is open to the attendees of the American Atheists National Convention and the general public. The silent auction begins Thursday evening during a private cocktail and closes at noon on Sunday. 10% of the artists’ proceeds will be donated to Ogden OUTreach, a local Utah organization that assists LGBT kids who have been turned out of their homes.

I look forward to seeing some of you next week and remember, art and creativity is part of the human experience, and it matters.

More information on the American Atheist Convention and how you can attend is here: http://www.atheists.org/convention2014

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I also think that atheism needs art because art is what brings meaning and purpose to our existence. Religion often can provide meaning and purpose to its followers, but atheism as a purely intellectual pursuit is often bereft of a greater meaning. It doesn’t have to be that way though and art shows us that. Visual art, music, and poetry can bring a sense of meaning to our lives even as we live without god.

  2. “Atheism” is worthless without atheists. Atheists are people. People need art, and more generally need beauty in their lives. So atheism needs art.

    Even me! I don’t think of myself as an “art person” but I nevertheless find myself trying to create an aesthetically-pleasing environment for myself. And I like books and music, although lots of folks would (and do) dismiss the things I like as trash and low-brow. And yeah, I support artists and the causes they support when I can… :)

  3. Can skepticism be applied to art? Is it art or not? My fellow Canucks may recall the 1 million dollar fee the Canadian government spent on obtaining the “Voice of Fire” for the National Art Gallery. You know the painting that is simply 3 stripes (2 blue and the middle one orange). Is that art? I for one was appalled that 1 million dollars was spent on something my 5 year old could do for a nickel. Yet the “Voice of Fire” is considered a masterpiece and individuals such as myself with no artistic background (I fully admit that) have no right to question work nor to question the cost. For those who need a visual, please click http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/barnett-newman/voice-of-fire-1967. Could any of you atheist artists give me a rational reason why the Canadian taxpayer had to pay 1 million for this? I would gladly eat crow..

    1. Art is subjective, you of course get to say that you don’t feel a particular painting is worth it but saying that a 5 year-old could paint it is simplistic and quite frankly insulting.

      I am sure there are plenty of people who believe they could sing better than Dylan, paint like Pollock, or write circles around Kerouac because to those who don’t understand the particular art they are involved in it seems simplistic, sometimes it is but usually it is not as easy as it looks.

      And I do not believe Amy is saying that skepticism can be applied to art but rather that art can convey skepticism.

      1. Yeah, there is also societal and historical aspects to why a piece of art becomes important or valuable that go far beyond technique used to create the particular piece.

    1. I’m not in charge of the art show, I’m just participating in it. If you click on the link at the end of the post, you may be able to contact someone at American Atheists and ask them.

  4. Sorry if I foolishly missed a link, but is there a site where I can buy Ms. Pressword’s work? I love art that I can wear and I’m already the proud owner of some Surlyramics, I’d love to support Beth’s beautiful work as well!

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