All artists are called to “bear good fruit” through the use of their gifts.
Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, property and businesses belonging to the Jewish population were seized by the regime. One of these factories, specializing in the production of enamelware, was obtained by a German industrialist named Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a member of the Nazi party and had served in various capacities including spying and intelligence gathering. With his party connections he was able to secure valuable military contracts. He hired Jewish workers over non-Jewish Poles because it was cheaper. Wages for Jewish workers were very low and set by the Nazi party.
Schindler's motivation was money. He was an opportunist who took advantage of a horrendous situation solely for personal profit. He became very wealthy and lived a lavish lifestyle.
But that is not how the world remembers him.
Over time Oskar Schindler became a savior for the Jews he employed at his factories. He his remembered for personally saving 1200 Jews from Nazi concentration camps. He and his wife, Emilie have been named “Righteous among the Nations” by the state of Israel for his extraordinary initiative, tenacity, courage, and dedication to save the lives of his Jewish employees.
Jesus told us, “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.” Luke 6:43-44
Oskar Schindler is remembered for the fruits of his labors.
We live in a state of constant strife as our sinful tendencies struggle against our desire for righteousness. As such we become so used to the presence of sin in our lives that we forget just how evil and destructive it is.
Sin is a rebellion against God. It is the desire to put our own wants and desires ahead of the moral law written on our hearts. It is no less than an attempt to murder God.
Sin ravages the good tree, exposing it to evil and the devil, the wild beasts and bandits. Sin rots from within and so instead of bearing the good fruit of happiness, justice, beauty and peace, the sin-rotted tree bears only anger, remorse, frustration, sadness, and hopelessness.
It is in trial and adversity that our true nature is revealed. Oskar Schindler discovered his true nature in the face of the growing horror of the Holocaust. It is only after we discover our own true nature, that we can begin to help others.
It is popular these days to speak of an “informed” conscience. It is the idea that the individual, after carefully considering a situation, can take an action contrary to the moral law so long as he follows his “informed” conscience. But the Church does not speak of an informed conscience, rather it speaks of a “well formed” conscience. A well formed conscience is a conscience formed in the laws of God, by its very nature it cannot take a position in opposition to God.
Think of your gifts, the talents and abilities given to you by God. What type of fruit do they bear? Is it good fruit that shares its goodness with others? Or is it rotten fruit that serves no one but itself?
The Christian Artist
It is a common mistake among artists who are Christians, to feel that their work must be explicit in spreading and teaching the faith. This belief has led to a slew of mediocre movies, books, and art. The feeling seems to be that the message is so important, it does not matter if the work itself is sub-standard. This is why the terms “Christian Art” and “Christian Artist” have become near synonymous with inferior quality.
We should instead focus on forming our conscience around the tenants of our faith, the moral law that God has written on our hearts. If we thoroughly and completely give ourselves over to God, allowing Him to form us to His will, rather than insisting on our own, then our faith will flow through our work as naturally as drawing breath.
J.R.R. Tolkien knew this. He once wrote in a letter that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. … the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” But this “fundamentally religious and Catholic work” has no religious references in it. The characters are not noted as practicing any religion and there is no mention of God or Christ or the Catholic Church.
Carl Schmitt (May 6, 1889 – October 25, 1989) was one of the founding members of the Silvermine Artists Guild. The guild was active in the Silvermine area of New Canaan Connecticut for much of the twentieth century. Its legacy continues today as the Silvermine Arts Center.
Schmitt's work focused mainly on portraits and still life. But he was also devoutly Catholic and kept journals which recorded his thoughts on how his work was influenced by his faith. In 1933, at the age of 44, he wrote:
“My philosophy may be summed up thus: First, to receive from God gratefully everything possible that I can get. Second, to give back to God through my neighbor everything which I can give. To give gifts to my neighbor I must use art, because a gift must be made—hence I must be an artist,”
Not all artists are called to the sacred arts. Not all artists are called to work in religious themes. But all artists are called to recognize that their gifts are given to them for a purpose beyond self-indulgent navel-gazing. All artists are called to “bear good fruit” through the use of their gifts.
If you are an artist and a Christian, you are called to ground yourself thoroughly in the faith, and make beautiful art.
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com