MSB brainstorming

21 April 2017

Dr Great Art Podcast episode 11, "Syncretism, Easter, Mongrel Art"

The newest Dr Great Art podcast, Episode 11 ! Syncretism, Easter, and Mongrel Art! Syncretism is the blending, layering and uniting of different beliefs of various schools of thought. Easter is the holiday most evidencing syncretistic thought. Mongrel Art is a syncretistic form of art. Democratic Art syncretistically involves people outside the field of art in artistic processes.


Here is the script (NOT a transcript as I change elements when recording).

Dr Great Art Podcast Eleven
"Syncretism, Easter, Mongrel Art"

Hi this is Mark Staff Brandl, with the eleventh "Dr (Great) Art" brief podcast. I hope you enjoy it and come back for each and every one.

As it is shortly after Easter at the time of initially podcasting this, today we have an Artecdote concerning something that makes Easter my favorite holiday, AND indeed has to do with where I think art should go!

"Syncretism, Easter, Mongrel Art"

Let me first define and explain Syncretism. It is the combining of different beliefs, blending practices of various schools of thought, or the like. Blending. Layering. It involves the merging or assimilation of several originally separate traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting or perhaps better said creating an overriding unity in an inclusive approach. Syncretism also occurs in expressions of arts and culture, (though sometimes there confused with eclecticism) as well as politics.

The word is from Modern Latin syncretismus, drawing on Greek synkretismos, meaning "Cretan federation". Plutarch in the 1st century CE wrote an essay on "Fraternal Love," citing the example of the Cretans, who reconciled their differences and came together in alliance when faced with external dangers.

Some modern African-American religions have evolved specifically out of Syncretism, a combination of traditional, animistic beliefs with Christianity resulting in religions such as Rastafarianism, Santeria, and Voodoo. Religious syncretism can also be found in other religious systems such as Unitarianism, and various New Age mixes.

Syncretism is now the term for combining different, often contradictory beliefs and practices. For Example and to my point here? The Easter Bunny came from earlier, so-called 'pagan' religions.

What is Easter?

Easter is calculated as the first Sunday after the paschal full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox. If the full moon falls on a Sunday, then Easter is the following Sunday. The holiday can occur anywhere between March 22 and April 25.

Easter is the holiday that celebrates and commemorates the central event of Christian faith: the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death by crucifixion.

But where do bunnies and eggs and all that come into this?

There have always been celebrations of the arrival Spring; the awakening of life around us. In many periods, this was also the New Year instead of January 1st, which make more emotional sense to me!

Spring. new life, the return of life, fertility, resurrection. Easter is a holiday uniting tons of references to this beautiful fact.

Can't understand the bunny? Well, think about it, What a rabbits particularly famous for doing a lot of? And I don't mean eating carrots! That's fertility. They are known for their constant sexual activity.

The egg is a symbol of birth, obviously, as well! Even early Christians used it as a symbol of the rebirth of humanity, likening the shell to the tomb from which Christ arose. But the symbol is far simpler and earlier than that!

Around this time of the year, Facebook and Twitter and Co. get filled with rather spurious claims about Easter coming directly and solely from the ancient Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, goddess of fertility, sex, but also war. Let me put that to rest. There are several elements that come from her, but not her alone, and even more elements from other early religions --- but that is the joy of syncretism. We can pile on and merge ALL these wonderful references!

Astarte (another goddess, or another name for the middle Eastern fertility goddess) was, in some versions of the myth indeed "hatched" from an egg!

There are several theories concerning the origin of the word Easter itself that are more credible than the Ishtar theory. One is that Easter got its name from Anglosaxon Eostre (eee stra or uuu stra), a Germanic goddess who was celebrated around the time of Passover/Easter every year. Others contend that the word Easter ultimately derives from the Latin phrase in albis, related to alba ('dawn' in Spanish and Italian). In Old High German, in albis became eostarum, which eventually became Ostern in modern German and Easter in English.

However, the French word for "Easter" is Pâcques (pahk, a with circumflex), based on the Latin and Greek Pascha, meaning "Passover." We will get to Passover soon.

First, other fertility/Spring goddesses are in the syncretistic mix in various ways, unfortunately I do have the time to enumerate all the cool elements they loaned us, but here are their names:

Aphrodite, Ashtoreth from ancient Israel; Astarte, as said, from ancient Greece; Demeter from Mycenae; Hathor from ancient Egypt; Kali, from India; and Ostara a Norse Goddess of fertility. All GODESSES as you will note! That too, is VERY important. Woman fit the season far more than men, aesthetically and symbolically.

For Jesus himself, Yeshua ben Yosef, and his followers, probably none, or very little, of such traditions mattered. they were celebrating Passover or Pesach the very important, biblically derived Jewish holiday.

Passover is the commemoration of the Hebrew people's liberation by God from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus. By the way, this event would have taken place at about 1300 BCE.

Passover is a spring festival which during the existence of the Jerusalem Temple was connected to the offering of the "first-fruits of the barley", barley being the first grain to ripen and to be harvested in the Land of Israel.

Many people assume that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder, a ritual meal held in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Three out of four of the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) link the Last Supper to the Passover Seder. So for Jesus and early Christians, Easter was Passover.

As an aside here, I want to draw a distinction between eclecticism and syncretism in the philosophical and psychological senses. Eclecticism is a word best-suited to describing practices that have been formed by careful selection. A kind of purposeful collage. An eclectic person surveys different doctrines or practices and picks elements from them based on a criteria they have established.

Eclectics are often contrasted with systematics, individuals who believe that their school of thought or therapy's doctrines must be accepted in their entirety and alone. Eclectic art or music can be quite thrilling admixtures of, say, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Folk and Psychedelia as in early Spirit or Traffic, but it can also yield works lacking originality, superficial melanges such as much soft Jazz-Rock of the 80s.

Syncretism, on the other hand, refers to a practice of truly uniting different doctrines or practices with each other.

One of these in art, I call 'Mongrel Art,' which I have referred to in a past podcast.

Mongrel artists are against purism, finding it morally and politically questionable, a trope of oppression and racism --- too much inbreeding. Mongrel Art involves a syncretistic unity of a variety of artforms, even vernacular and "fine" ones together, yet does not eschew traditional disciplines, seeking instead to revitalize and transform them.

A related term 'creolization,' beyond Creole culture, now anthropologically describes any coming together of diverse cultural traits to form new ones, a complex process of cultural borrowing and lending.

I refer to this in art as 'mongrel,' affirmatively reappropriating an old insult. Cross the border, lose that gap, interbreed. My own art is part of this, because it unites painting, drawing, installation, sign-painting, sequential art (Comics), and even performance-teaching. Other artists doing this include Andrei Molotiu, Tom Sanford, Christa Donner, Raoul Deal, Gajin Fujita, Stefano Pasquini, Andy Gühl and many more.

Another art idea is related to this. Democratic Art. This term was formulated by the artist team of Alex Meszmer and Reto Müller.

Democratic Art generally uses public space, yet goes beyond traditional Public Art. It reacts to social areas outside the art system. It opens the art system and deliberately involves people outside the field of art in artistic processes. Democratic Art aims for discussion, wherein artists understand themselves as participating active members of society, as citizens actively participating in democracy, seeking integration instead of exclusion, interacting between art and society. The public and not the art market nor art bureaucracy determine its value. Democratic art needs the support of a democratic system in order to come into being. This is an syncretistic extension of Social Practice Art and includes Meszmer/Müller, Pau Delgado, HR Fricker, Rosalie Schweiker, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre, and more.

Please contact me if you feel your art too is linked to Mongrel Art and/or Democratic art --- and is syncretistic! I would love to see it!

That was "Syncretism, Easter, Mongrel Art"

Thanks for listening. That was "Dr (Great) Art" podcast number 11. If you wish to hear more cool, exciting and hopefully inspiring stuff about art history and art, come back for more. Also I, Dr Mark Staff Brandl, artist and art historian, am available for live custom Performance-Lectures. In English und auf Deutsch.

I take viewers inside visual art and art history. Entertainingly, yet educationally and aesthetically, I analyze, underline, and discuss the reasons why a work of art is remarkable, or I go through entire eras, or indeed through the entirety of art history, or look at your desired theme through the lens of art history. The lectures often take place with painted background screens and even in my painting-installations. most recent ones were on the image of Social work in Art History, "Kunstgeschichte in Schnelldurchlauf, Sozialarbeit in der Kunst" and the entire history of Postmodernist Art from 1979 through today.

You can find or contact me at

book me at
or find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram