John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico),the patron of Christian artists,left us many paintings but few words. The quotes that are attributed to him, however, speak volumes.
The lure of adulation, praise, and recognition, is a tempting one. But ultimately it may lead us away from the path God has put us on. Humility is often seen as a weakness, something that keeps us from achieving all that we are capable of. But this is the wrong way to look at it. When we stop seeking the approval of others, we begin to focus our gifts and talents on pleasing God.
A Christian, who is an artist, who is well grounded in their faith, who has formed their conscience in the teachings of the Church, will produce Christian art. It doesn't matter if it is a portrait, a landscape, a superhero movie, or pop song, that artist will produce work that is consistent with teachings and values of their faith.
A "Christian Artist" is always Christian first, and then an artist, because the gift of artistic talent is the gift that has been given them to preach to the world. That does not mean that the work has to be heavy-handed in its message. It is often better if it is not.
Should a Christian artist paint themes from pagan mythology, other religions, or even fantasy motifs?
Many artists who are deeply grounded in their Christian faith, especially those just starting out in their career, have questions about what is and is not appropriate subject matter. In a previous post I addressed nudity and the Christian artist, today I would like to address subjects that don't seem to have anything to do with Christianity at all.
The story of our salvation is really the only story, and we retell it in endless variations. Even the ancient pre-Christian mythologies echo the story of Christ and His salvific role.
Think of it this way. Imagine time as a slow moving river. All of human history takes place within this river, from the first humans upstream to the present day somewhere further downstream. Each of us live out our lives in a current of this river, overlapping with others.
As humans our perception of time is linear. We look back upstream and see a sequence of events that have led us to where we are now. But God stands outside the river. God stands on the riverbank observing the passage of the stream. To God, all of our history is happening now, at different points along the river.
Nudity has long been a staple of fine art, but many people feel it is inappropriate for an artist who is also a faithful Christian to portray nudity in their work.
Is it? The answer, as is so often the case in matters of faith and morals, is - it depends.
To modern sensibilities art is decoration. Usually, we are not called upon to look past the surface of what is presented. And so we focus on the external, that which we can see.
But creation consists of what we can see and what we cannot see, the visible and the invisible. It is the role of the artist to create work that draws us past the surface, what we can see, to contemplate the transcendent truth that is presented to us, that which we cannot see.
“God-given gifts are by definition supernatural gifts. Even if they seem common or mundane, we can trust in their ability to work supernatural wonders.”
Have you ever wondered what God is trying to tell you? Have you ever felt frustrated because you don’t believe God is speaking to you at all? It may be that you just don’t recognize His voice.
God speaks to us through the gifts He has given us. Each one of us is given a unique set of gifts, and there are no small gifts. “To each individual some manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” These gifts are not given to us to hoard and use for our own pleasure, they are given to us to help one another, to benefit the common good. As these are God-given gifts they are by definition supernatural gifts. Even if they seem common or mundane, we can trust in their ability to work supernatural wonders.
Many artists, especially those basing their work on traditional forms, are familiar with the "cult of the new." There seems to be an idea, within the rarified world of fine art, that "new" is better than "good," or "beautiful." This has led to some of the more extreme examples of modern art that sell for staggering sums and leave people shaking their heads over what is perceived as "art."
But outside of this "art bubble" there are artists who respect the traditions of the past and build on them, taking those ancient forms and breathing new life into them for a new generation. These are artists who recognize that their role is to pursue beauty and show it to the world, even if the world around them no longer understands the power of the beautiful.
We tend to think of a prophet as one who predicts the future, but that is not at all the ancient understanding of the word. The word "prophet" means speaker, or one who speaks. In Christian use, a prophet is one who has a special connection to God and speaks on God's behalf.
By virtue of our Baptism we are invested in the threefold office of Christ, priest, prophet, and king. The degree to which we fulfill each of these offices will depend on our individual gifts and calling. We are all called to be prophets, as well as priests and kings, to the degree our gifts allow us.