In praise of beauty

GodCreates-Man-Sistine-ChapelCaught up in the holiday weekend’s spirit of thankfulness, I want to reach back to last weekend and Pope Benedict’s meeting with artists from around the world in the Sistine Chapel, which was covered by The New York Times’ Rachel Donadio:

Sitting before Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, after a choir sang music by Palestrina, Benedict urged them to embark on “a quest for beauty.” In what he called “a cordial, friendly and impassioned appeal,” he told his guests to be “fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty.”

He said the aim of the event on Saturday was “to re-establish a dialogue” between the church and artists “that’s necessary and fertile for both.”

Donadio’s brief article told us who was there (composer Arvo Part) and who wasn’t (U2′s Bono), and it quoted artists who held two opposing perspectives on the gathering: those who seemed pleased (or even blessed) and those who remained suspicious of the pope’s motives (and considered the event a “facade.”

(You can see more about the event in a report by Catholic News Service.)

There are tons of articles and reports about religion that could be addressed here today, but I’m casting my lot with the one that addresses beauty. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  • B

    I’m curious where you’re reading this suspicious response, Steve. Has the article as it now appears on the NYT website been edited?

  • Passing By

    Doesn’t the NYT article more or less define the failure to “get religion”. A nice, probably not too significant bit of Church business is turned into a swamp of public relations and politics (the real business of life).

    the Vatican’s relations with the art world had clearly gone astray.

    Really? Because some artist depicted JPII struck down by a meteorite? That’s just weird. The NYT link didn’t take me to the sculpture in question, but here here it is, with a note on the ridicule it received.

    Wouldn’t a more more interesting story include a contrast between the present event (Michaelangelo and Palestrina) with his predecessor artistic interests?

    and perhaps put a gentler face on a contentious papacy

    Contentious, I suppose to the NYT and it’s devotees. Some of us rather like the old guy and think it’s about time someone stood up (“at every turn”) to the nihilists and relativists.

    About half of the 500 invited artists did not attend

    Earlier she says “more than 250″ were invited.

    A good example of word power: about half the invited guests dropped their work and flew off to the Rome (at their own expense) to spend a few minutes with the pope and 250 of his closest friends. But it’s more fun to stress that half of the guest list had the good sense to snub this medieval tyrant and stay away.

    in light of the fierce controversies that have made this papacy less than loved by the downtown art scene,

    Any specifics behind this statement? I have to admit it’s fun to put specifics to “the downtown art scene”.

    played down any notion that the Vatican was trying to co-opt artists like him into helping improve its image.

    Is this the “suspicious response”? If so, someone is trying to make a relatively nice statement into a negative.

  • Mike Hickerson

    As someone with a master’s degree in Christianity and the arts, I’m fascinated by this meeting and wish more details were included in the brief report. I was a bit confused about this exchange, though:

    The Italian artist Mimmo Paladino suggested that it was now up to the Vatican, not artists, to turn the dialogue into a reality, perhaps even by commissioning art.

    “I wouldn’t rule it out,” Archbishop Ravasi said. “But we’re not in the Renaissance.”

    Aren’t Catholic churches commissioning art on a constant basis all around the world? New churches being built, new altars, paintings, statues, new musical settings for masses… Arvo Pärt has written sacred music, but what about other artists?

    Also, what is the religious background of the artists who were present? Via Wikipedia, I learned that Libeskind is Jewish. Hadid is “Iraqi-born,” but is she Muslim? Christian? None of the above? Is Viola’s “reinterpretation” done from a position of faith, skepticism, or both?

    To me, the most basic part of not “getting religion” was the small amount of space devoted to the article. The leader of the world’s largest religious body meeting with 250 of the world’s leading cultural and artistic figures? Seems pretty important to me, considering the amount of space that the NY Times has devoted to these artists as individuals (I remember Hadid and Libeskind receiving lengthy profiles, and I’m sure Part, Morriconi, and others have as well.)

  • Jerry

    Anyone who has visited the Basilicas and Cathedrals (etc) in Italy can appreciate the beauty of the art adorning those structures.

    But I was also struck by the same point Mike commented on about the Vatican commissioning art work. It seems to me that if the Vatican wants to see art of a certain kind, the way to do it is to pay for it. In fact, a few seconds with Google found so I wonder what happened in the past year.

    In an attempt to “lead by example”, the Pontifical Council for Culture is now setting up a committee to find “world-famous” contemporary artists it can commission to produce new religious and spiritual works.

  • Julia

    From Chiesa, an Italian periodical that posts articles on-line about Papal doings, a journalist can learn that there were lots of artistic doings last week leading up to the meeting with artists on the 21st, wherein the Pope explains that he thinks people are drawn to God not only by reason but also by art and beauty.

    ROME, November 20, 2009 – Tomorrow, in the Sistine Chapel, Benedict XVI will meet with hundreds of artists from all over the world, believers and nonbelievers. There is great anticipation over what he will say. But on Wednesday, November 18, in the catechesis that he gives each week to the faithful, he provided a sneak peek.

    The coincidence in the timing didn’t go unnoticed. After describing, in the previous catecheses, the events and personalities of medieval theology, pope Joseph Ratzinger decided to illustrate – three days before the meeting with artists – those masterpieces of art and faith which are the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, the ones that after the year 1000 covered Europe “with the white garments of new churches.”

    The first lesson that Benedict XVI drew from this is that Christian art and faith evoke one another, “because both can and intend to speak of God, making the Invisible visible.”

    The second lesson is that beauty is “the most attractive and fascinating way to come to encounter and love God.”

    Later that same Wednesday, there was a concert of sacred music at St John Lateran. Here is what Chiesa had to say about that.

    ROME, November 16, 2009 – Among the arts to be represented in the Sistine Chapel next Saturday, November 21, at the highly anticipated meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, music is perhaps the one that has suffered the most from the divorce that has taken place between artists and the Church.

    The distress in music has been the first to afflict the Church. Because while the masterpieces of Christian painting, sculpture, and architecture still remain accessible to all, even if they are ignored and misunderstood, great music literally disappears from the churches if no one performs it anymore.

    And one can effectively speak of an almost generalized disappearance when it comes to those treasures of Latin liturgical music that are Gregorian chant, polyphony, the organ.

    Fortunately, however, during the same days when pope Joseph Ratzinger will be seeking to reestablish a fruitful relationship with art, the organ and great polyphonic music will return to give the best of themselves in the basilicas of Rome.

    The context within which Bartolucci will return to conduct a Mass at Saint Peter’s is that of the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, which is held each fall in the basilicas of Rome, and is marking its eighth edition this year.

    The program this year has two focal points: Roman polyphony, and organ music.

    The inauguration will be on Wednesday, November 18, in the basilica of Saint John Lateran


    And here is “The complete text of the pope’s remarks on November 21, 2009, in the Sistine Chapel, to representatives of all the arts: painters, sculptors, architects, novelists, poets, musicians, singers, men of the cinema, theater, dance, photography”

    The link has further links to John Paul II’s 1999 letter to artists and Paul Vi’s homily to artists in the Sistine Chapel.