Like Brian Sewell at a Jeff Koons show, BBC Radio 4’s John Humphrys seemed baffled by the idea of Bill Viola creating a video installation altarpiece for St Paul’s cathedral when he interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.
It’s interesting, in this secular age, that art keeps its privileged position to engage with the spiritual. Religion makes the British twitchy. Increasingly, we’re more at ease with Richard Dawkins’ shouty there-is-no-God-and-anyone-who-suggests-there-is-is-an-idiot line. I am a nullifidian to the bone, but 10,000 years and more of human culture suggests Pascal’s God Shaped Hole may well exist, as some neuroscientists seem to be saying, and this uncertainty is territory that art has always been perfectly at ease in.
Art has always represented the shape religion takes but at the moment it appears we’re not too sure what that shape is. The Romantic-era God, glimpsed in the sublime of the perfect landscape has taken a hike, gasping for breath. The foot-stamping God of vengence is making a come-back, true, but here is plenty of space for art to build a new God.