"I remember being a wee child and having an Advent calendar in my bedroom," says Tyler Green, editor of ARTINFO's Modern Art Notes, Modern Painters columnist and author of a Tumbl'd Advent calendar for art lovers.
Green, who says he had "a very all-American early childhood," still remembers where the Advent calendar was in the room (with a bunk bed) that he shared with his brother.
"I also remember looking forward to opening each day's little window to see what was there," he says, "so Tumblr seemed like a good way to sort of re-create that bit of anticipation and fun digitally, only with great art."
Visitors to the Tumblr click on geometric shapes (reminiscent of Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly's work) to reveal the artwork of the day. During Chanukah, there is one Jewish image in addition to the Christian one, as on one day when Green posted a photograph of a Christmas tree decoration attached to a telephone pole, as well as a Hanukkah lamp by Ze'ev Raban.
In addition to the calendar, Green grew up surrounded by art books and went to museums with his mother, a watercolor painter. He has been interested in art for as long as he can remember but didn't get interested in arts journalism until about a decade ago, long after he finished journalism school.
Green, an atheist who says his lack of faith does not impact his appreciation or enjoyment of "Lorenzo Lotto's weird little nativity scene or anything else," says there is very little religious art journalism going on.
"Art journalism is on life support. There are only a few intrepid, investigative-minded art journalists left. There are only a few art critics who thoroughly report their reviews," he says. "Very few art journalists and critics seek out religious art as a theme/subject, which is probably a reflection of what contemporary artists are making."
"A very small percentage of contemporary artists are interested in religion," he says.
Green says he is "acutely interested in art history," but not in "religious art as religious art." Still, religion is unavoidable for art historians.
"It's pretty hard to be interested in art history without running across the Catholic Church here or there or pretty much everywhere," he says. "A great van Eyck isn't a great van Eyck because it's a portrayal of a religious scene. It's a great painting because of what the artist does with a subject, how he creates a scene, what he shows us."
"I guess I'm also proof that you can be an atheist and still find lots to love in art about Christian/Muslim/Jewish themes," he says.
Asked what his favorite five works of art with religious themes are, Green responds with his favorite artists who address faith: Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Andrea Mantegna, Tintoretto and Shirin Neshat.
"Neshat smartly and beautifully examines the intersection of theocracy and fundamentalism. Robert Gober's indictments of Catholicism are whip-smart," he says. "Overall I'm tempted to say that artists are engaging Islam in more interesting ways right now than they are Christianity, but that's so broad I don't really want to say it. I'd be happy to suggest it though..."
This piece first ran in the Houston Chronicle.