ARTIST AS THEOLOGIAN

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore, translate into meaningful terms that which in itself is ineffable.” (JPII Letter to Artists, Section 12)

We need to hear this right now in the Church. “Artist” has perhaps never had a lower connotation among the people of God than it does now. The Gospel speaks of the pariahs of its day for religious people, as “prostitutes and tax collectors.” Now, we could say, “painters and actors.”

“Now, a woman came in who had performed in many off Broadway shows. And they thought, if this man were holy he would know what kind of woman this is who touches Him.”

Or again,

“Master, we caught this man in the act of producing a television show. Rad Trad magazine says such men should be stoned. What do you say?”

There are two ways that most of the People of God regard art these days: as ugly/offensive, or as extra/optional. Many regard “great art” as a thing of the past. Anything that is a part of popular culture is ipso facto evil. Part of this is motivated by elitist snobbery. Like, if anything is really great, then the masses should not be able to appreciate it. The truth is, some things are popular because they are great, like soap or the wheel.

For many in the Church, art is most often something at which to grimace, avoid and contend. It is something to be wary of, and something from which we shelter our children. We’ve been so disgusted by some of the excesses of modern art, that we are losing the habit of art in general.

I recently gave a talk to a conservative Catholic audience, and when I asked them, “Would you hesitate before letting your child gaze upon the David? Or the rape of the damned on the walls of the Cathedral of Orvieto? Or the nudity of the Sistine Chapel?” I was horrified when the people in the audience weren’t too sure.

This isn’t the mind of the Church.


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