Art, Religion and Identity

Published: 22 September 2008

In conjunction with the Hannah Frank exhibition, the Graduate School of Arts and Humanities and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies are hosting a two-day symposium on Art, Religion and Identity.

In conjunction with the exhibition celebrating the 100th birthday of Glasgow Jewish artist Hannah Frank, the Graduate School of Arts and Humanities and the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Glasgow are hosting a two-day symposium on Art, Religion and Identity.

Questions about the role of identity in art abound, and these questions only increase when the artist is associated with a particular social group, be it religious, gendered, or ethnic, through their own self-presentation or the efforts of outside scholars or critics.

The symposium asks to what extent does association with a social group influence the production of art? And to what extent does an awareness of such associations influence the viewer’s experience of art?

Keynote speakers and topics are as follows:

• Professor Melissa Raphael-Levine of the University of Gloucestershire on 'Can Seeing a Jewish Woman's Face be Like Seeing the Face of God?: The Impossibility of the Female Jewish Sublime in 20th Century Jewish Art'

• Professor Shulamit Reinharz from Brandeis University, Massachusetts on 'A Century of Jewish Women Artists: Patterns and Products'.

• Dr Laura Levitt from Temple University, Philadelphia on 'Seeing Jewish: An American Jewish Feminist Perspective'

Dr Richard Holloway, Chair of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, will deliver the special plenary lecture on ‘Art as Creative Dissonance’.

He says: “The novelist Rebecca West said that artistic genius was, ‘the abnormal justifying itself…those who know that they are…condemned by the laws of life…make themselves one with life by some magnificent act of creation’.

“I found her words in the biography of Vita Sackville West, by Victoria Glendinning, who applied them to Vita herself, whose sexuality was condemned by the morality of her day. Glendinning suggests that Vita’s magnificent act of creation was neither her poetry nor her fiction, but the astonishing garden she created at Sissinghurst.

“The laws of life that condemned Vita were not the laws of nature, but the man-made laws we call custom or morality. One example from these so-called ‘laws of life’, hatred of homosexuals, the very one Vita fell foul of: if you are told by church and state that what you are in your very essence is evil, it will create a dissonance between your own soul and the norms of society. West is suggesting that human creativity has one of its sources in a disconnection between prevailing norms and the reality of the maker’s life.

“That dissonance is the grit in the soul that becomes the pearl of great price: human creativity. This cheering thought reminds us how it is the art of the persecuted - work fired in the crucible of pain - that endures, long after their sullen oppressors have gone under the hill and been forgotten. Tyrants may kill the poet; they can never kill the poem. They may kill the prophet; they can never kill the memory of his challenge to the powerful. Even as they strut and posture on the stage of history today, someone, somewhere is creating art’s revenge against their cruelty and vanity: it’s enough to cheer you up in a dark time.”

‘Art, Religion and Identity’, hosted by the University of Glasgow Graduate School of Arts and Humanities will be held on 23 and 24 September 2008.

Further information:
Martin Shannon, Senior Media Relations Officer
University of Glasgow Tel: 0141 330

Full programme for the event:

First published: 22 September 2008