Good Work

Dear Catholic artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, photographers, architects, bloggers, designers and everyone else. C.S. Lewis has something extremely important to tell you. Listen.

Until quite recently – until the latter part of the last century – it was taken for granted that the business of the artist was to delight and instruct his public. There were, of course, different publics; the street-songs and the oratorios were not addressed to the same audience (though I think a good many people liked both). And an artist might lead his public on to appreciate finer things than they wanted at first; but he could do this only by being, from the first, if not merely entertaining, yet entertaining, and if not completely intelligible, yet very largely intelligible. All this has changed. In the highest aesthetic circles one now hears nothing about the artist’s duty to us. It is all about our duty to him. He owes us nothing; we owe him “recognition,” even though he has never paid the slightest attention to our tastes, interests or habits. If we don’t give it to him, our name is mud. In this shop, the customer is always wrong…

But [...] I doubt whether we have a duty to “appreciate” the ambitious. This attitude to art is fatal to good work. Many modern novels, poems, and pictures, which we are brow-beaten into “appreciating” are not good work because they are not work at all. They are mere puddles of spilled sensibility or reflection. When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, tamed, sublimated, not ignored or nor defied. Haughty indifference to them is not genius nor integrity; it is laziness and incompetence. You have not learned your job. Hence, real honest-to-God work, so far as the arts are concerned, now appears chiefly in low-brow art; in the film, the detective story, the children’s story. These are often sound structures; seasoned wood, accurately dovetailed, the stresses all calculated; skill and labor successfully used to do what is intended. Do not misunderstand. The high-brow productions may, of course, reveal a finer sensibility and profounder thought. But a puddle is not a work, whatever rich wines or oils or medicines have gone into it.

“Great works” (of art) and “good works” (of charity) had better also be Good Work. Let choirs sing well or not at all…”

- C. S. Lewis The World’s Last Night 

Is your work for the Church “mere puddles of spilled sensibility or reflection”? Because everyone’s sick to death of crap art, worse architecture, incredibly long blog posts describing the contents of your day, articles that barely scratch the surface of their subject, and, in general, the puddles of reflection that often take the place of good work.

I’m not grumpy! It just hit me that those words should be taken to heart every time I go to post.

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