In reaction to a column I wrote yesterday regarding iconography in church art, a reader observed:
"(Art) was permitted and embraced by the Catholic Church...and perhaps others; but, in recent history, I sense a strong distrust towards art in many Protestant churches. I wonder if this is due to the general public's opinion of art (perhaps their distrust of expressing their opinion of art) or is (it) in fact their concern that the art might be worshiped instead of it's intended purpose. Or perhaps the Church does not support the Arts because they don't have the money and power they once had?"
I imagine all the suggestions mentioned above regarding church support of the arts today are probably true to some degree, however I think the primary factor involved is that the church no longer NEEDS the arts as a tool for spreading the gospel as they did in an era when 90% of the populace were illiterate. Today, money that would have been spent in ancient times to support the arts, is spent on mass media, (television in particular) or multi-media presentations (films, tapes, and the like). It's still money spent supporting the "arts" as narrowly defined by the church, but it's not in the form of lasting, monumental works as in the past.
Today also, it might be added, the arts no longer NEED the church. Wealth is spread much more broadly today than in the past. The wealthy can and will pay adequate sums to add color and excitement to their places of work and rest. And, moreover, the art of painting and sculpture, can no longer deliver to the church the audience it could in the past when it was the primary, perhaps the SOLE visual form of communication with the masses. Support for the arts is now institutionalized (for better or worse), or commercialized, as in film, music, television, and now, the internet. The painter is left with his primary source of patronage being private individuals, needing the quiet repose of interior decoration to enrich their tired, hyper-active lives.