I note with interest a case coming before an employment tribunal on November 16th. The artist Anthony Padgett argues that Tate Modern, despite being a publicly funded gallery, predominantly selects work by artists critical of Christianity, and has unfairly refused over a number of years to commission Padgett himself. The Guardian picked up the story last week, and there is substantial material about the case provided on Padgett’s own site.
I find this one rather puzzling. It may well be the case that there is a preponderance of anti-religious art being produced. It may also be the case that galleries show more critical work than is proportionate (although it very much remains to be demonstrated). There is certainly a propensity amongst many Christians to see active anti-Christian bias when there is merely indifference to what is a minority faith.
It seems to me, though, that the Tate is charged to select the work which it thinks is most vital, interesting, and “the best” (however that might be determined.) I’m no critic, but it may be that the decision-makers simply don’t regard Padgett’s work as interesting enough to commission. If it is the case that most of the “best” art is critical of religion, then perhaps that simply represents where our culture is at. Instead of relying on diversity law, perhaps Christian artists need to produce work that is compelling enough to hold attention on its own merits. After all, there is no shortage of “religious” music being commissioned from composers like John Tavener and receiving the attention of the critical establishment on even terms. We don’t hear many complaints about systematic anti-religious bias there.