Every age manifests itself by some external evidence. In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found. Industry concerns the greatest numbers-it may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitute for religious expression.
New Religion/ Sheeler
In much of his photography and painting, Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) equated the sheer mass and space of modern industry with the grandeur of medieval cathedrals. He saw in both of these environments, spaces that bring awe to the common man. These places often make one feel small and insignificant and in the presence of a powerful entity, one that dwarfed one’s own strength and power.
I think his work accurately showed the transition of our spiritual adoration from the Religious to the corporate structures. It seems to me that we have bestowed a new sense of reverence on corporations, believing that they are some sort of savior and protector that will always act in the best interest of the many. When we speak of policy now, we don’t speak about how we can help people in need, we speak about how we can help large businesses. The idea there is that if they do well the benevolence they show in their hiring and acquiring will naturally take care of all ills.
If you look at that from a historical perspective, that’s not much different than the place occupied by the church throughout the ages. I know that’s not a new observation but it seems more and more obvious in recent times as so many common people have come to view capitalism in almost religious terms, with corporations deserving our veneration and protection.
And it makes me wonder if Sheeler was right, that the factories and corporations have become our substitute for religious expression? What will future generations see as the external evidence of our age? Will our perceived legacy be little more than the spaces of large corporate campuses and huge distribution centers? Is that the extent of our reach now?
Just thinking a little this morning. Anyway, here are some other Sheeler paintings.