Artists who pay homage to religion in art have subsumed a philosophical tradition proposing art as a religious alternative. In his essay The entry into 'Postmodernity: Neitzsche as a Turning Point' Jurgen Habermas describes how the thinking of various philosophers from the enlightenment to modernism criticized reason while embracing art as a religious experience. They hoped to create an artistically-inspired socially unifying consciousness like religion.
Nietzsche paved the way for postmodernity with his critiques of both religion and reason. He 'can imagine modern art' as he claims that intellectualism is futile and devitalizing, as the end of reason is 'paralyzing' and divisive relativism. He proposes the creation of a new kind of 'Dionysian myth': A re-innovation of religiously-inspired irrationality, play, dance and rapture. The strains of his 'create new myths' argument are echoed in Artaud and Benjamin. All three of these theorists claim that new myths will empower consciousness.
Habermas cites Benjamin who envisioned interpreting the manufactured objects of consumer culture like mystical symbols, and through them experiencing a 'profane illumination' akin to Jewish mysticism. Bataille followed Nietzsche and Benjamin in his advocacy of 'profane illumination' through art and experience, adding surrealist themes of violent death, shock and taboo. Heidegger likewise proposed destruction and self-denial as a means for overcoming reason.
Habermas concludes by saying that all philosophers failed to use reason to replace religion, apparently because the ideas of 'myth' and 'artistic transcendence' were vague, subjective and therefore could never be a socially unifying force.
One can picture these tubby, house-bound professors fantasizing about frolicking in Dionysian orgies, destroying things in bloody battles and becoming supermen. You can sense their own feelings of powerlessness in the poetic furor with which they write about attaining heroic pinnacles.
Postmodern artists, musicians and performers continue evoking ritual today as if it were in vogue. Religious symbolism is used in pop music videos and is culturally pervasive. At the least artists, in creating images are shared by a collective, continue to feed the pseudo-religious desire for social cohesion.
New symbols are required to fulfil a primal desire to perform and witness ritual acts, which, like the dreaming or children's fantasies, help people to mentally assimilate the world by materialising unseen processes.