Votive Objects at Bard Graduate Center


I was on the upper west side today so I stopped by the Bard Graduate Center to see the Agents of Faith: Votive Objects exhibition, an exploration of votive offerings across different cultures. While I would not necessarily classify all these objects as votive offerings, it was interesting to think about creation in this context.

A votive offering is a gift, made to the gods, god, saints, or for some religious significance.  I would say that the Yizkor light could count as a votive offering, although I am not sure if we should call this ancestor worship.

What I found most interesting about these items is that they were folk art religious artifacts. We normally think of religious art as this rarified thing, only practiced by a small group of professional artists. But this is intensely personal religious art fused with folk magical practices to create a very personal offering.

A book associated with this exhibition is Ex  Voto – from the latin meaning from a vow. This artwork is performative, it is created as a result of a prayer reminding us of the old Roman prayer Do ut Des – I give so that you may give.  It this case altered slightly I am giving this to you because I said I would honor you.

I wonder, in this exhibition, what is a created because of some sort of spiritual inspiration and what is fulfillment of a vow? For those items that are obviously votive there is a logic to their creation, or a template, as if one was satisfying a legal contract. What what are the requirements of a votive, is it so different from the requirements of a painting destined for the bourgeois living room wall? Or for a church. These are all purpose driven art works.

I wonder what would it be like to personally give thanks or votives as a piece of visual material art, what would my votives be? What promises or contracts with the divine am i making?

Leave a Reply