Modernity has developed complex mechanisms of esthetic valorization, based on formal and artistic qualities judged by the taste. However, as Pierre Bourdieu has shown in his studies, the judgment of taste is in fact the main modern means for social differentiation. At the same time, according to David Freedberg, these mechanisms obscure the inborn human attitude towards images which consists of mixing up the represented with the representation, and subsequently prevent modern educated audiences from natural response to the images classified as art. Modern perception of religious imagery can be a sensitive example of a field where the classificatory role of the esthetic judgment is particularly well visible because the religious purpose of an image calls both for different hierarchy of values than the one found in the modern field of art, and different image ontology. The article is based on field material consisting of in-depth interviews with Catholic believers, conducted in Wesola near Warsaw, and three major pilgrimage sites of Poland: Czestochowa, Lichen and Kalwaria Paclawska. Wesola was chosen because of the outstanding decoration of its parish church of Divine Providence, executed by a modern painter from Cracow, Jerzy Nowosielski and highly appreciated by art critics and specialists. However, the style of decoration proved very unfamiliar and strange for the local believers. The article attempts to show the hierarchy of values used by the believers towards the religious images, and then to explain this hierarchy both in terms of Joanna Tokarska-Bakir's interpretation of image ontology in so-called 'folk piety'. In spite of similar understanding of image ontology apparently shared by the artist and the believers, social distinction made by the mechanisms of esthetic judgment resulted in form unfamiliar to them and lack of appreciation of the work.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.