The Circular Road: Art and the Religious Imagination

Michael Prettyman at Strand Bookstore

Fri, Feb 22 at 7 p.m.   |   90 minutes

In this Olio we will examine our assumptions about what art is, what constitutes creativity and look at the “two lives” of art- the goopy and messy creation of art in the studio, and the critical presence of the witness in completing a work of art.

In the mists of humanities beginning, art and religion were the same things. We have come a long way since then, unfortunately.

For a long time now there has been a war in American culture between religion and contemporary art, between artists and priests. Contemporary artists are often cast as godless marauders bent on the destruction of “our values” which are inevitably white middle-class Christian values.

This is a false war. It is predicated on profound misunderstandings of what creativity is and what art can be. Institutional religions and an obscenely swollen art market benefit equally from this conflict, but it comes at a cost for the rest of us.

As a result of all this noise, many of us cannot say what art is, and really have no working definition of what, if anything, is sacred. We can’t see past the God and Art babble. And yet, it is a trope and a cliché to speak of great art, even so-called secular art, in religious terms: sublime, spellbinding, enchanting, transcendent. Sacred.

Why do we do this?

In this Olio we will examine our assumptions about what art is, what constitutes creativity and look at the “two lives” of art- the goopy and messy creation of art in the studio, and the critical presence of the witness in completing a work of art.

Praxis- learning by doing- will be our guide as we challenge the primacy of the subject/object divide; another false war. We will interrogate the ancient and heartening realness of metaphor- our worlds are built on an ability to communicate to others, from inside our own light and darkness, via a path deeper than words.

This deeper path is not just for artists and mystics, it is the birthright of all of us. Creativity-an indwelling and generative font-is ready and waiting.

We may not fully understand it, but art proves a still-dwelling magic in the world; art is something sacred in and of itself. It is what we make of what we are made.

Teacher: Michael Prettyman

Michael Prettyman is an artist and scholar of Eastern Religions. He holds a Masters Degree in Theology from the Harvard Divinity School and teaches on the subject of religion and the arts, Asian Religion and philosophy at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. He has been a visual artist for twenty years, with gallery shows in New York City, Hong Kong and Barcelona.


Venue: Strand Bookstore

What is Think Olio?


Think Olio is here to put the liberation back into the liberal arts.

Classically, the liberal arts, were the education considered essential for a free person to take an active part in civic life. To counter a humanities that has been institutionalized and dehumanized we infuse critical thinking, openness, playfulness, and compassion into our learning experience.

Read more about our mission, our story, and how we are doing this.

Scenius Membership

If Friday night lectures, museum field trips, and living room salons sound like your kind of thing, then you've found your people. We can't wait to welcome you to the Think Olio Scenius. More info


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Liaisons Host an Olio

Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.