The Artist is Not Exactly First an Artist

The Artist is Not Exactly First an Artist October 21, 2014

Years ago I mentioned to an Evangelical friend over coffee at church that my then-fiance and I were going that evening to to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mozart. “Was he a Christian?” the fellow asked. I said yes, and didn’t bother to explore the limits of that answer, and he nodded, satisfied. “Good,” he said. If I had said no, he would have thought I was wasting my time. The non-Christian Mozart would not be worth listening to, while overtly Christian Elma Mae Wombat and the Zither Kings would.

There may be a Catholic parallel though I don’t think Catholics are nearly this philistine about art. “Is X a Catholic?” is not the usual first question. There is a marxist parallel that is just as crude.

Perhaps in reaction to this kind of thinking. or to the ideological mind in general, most Catholics who talk about art say, as Sam Rocha explains it, “I don’t need to be a Christian or Catholic artist, I simply need to be an artist, which implies being a good one.” I’ve made it. It’s a point Flannery O’Connor hammered home. The calling is to do what you do well, not to produce overtly religious work.

Sam accepted this idea, he says in a thought-provoking short essay on Ethika Politika, “in an uncritical way.”  He recently produced an album called Late to Love (which I commend).

Over the last few months of this artistic creation process, however, I’ve developed some distance from this idea that art need not be religious in any devotional or confessional way. More and more, I am finding a great deal of existential comfort in being classified as a Catholic artist, with all the baggage that such classification brings.

The reason isn’t that he’s developed an overtly religious or ideological idea of art, but that as an artist he’s developed a more complex idea of identity.

These questions of artistic identity may not be about art in the sense that is strictly related to the making and crafting of music or other things. I suspect that the desires of the artist are nothing more or less than the desires of every person: to be what and who one is, or to at least not be otherwise. The making of a work of art may indeed offer a sharper and more descriptive image of that desire in certain cases, but my intuition is that there is nothing special about it. The questions of the arts are not unique or elevated above the domain of human life more generally speaking.

He goes on to explain this in more, and more subtle, detail. Well worth reading.


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