To the degree that we fail to engage with the art in our churches, no matter how beautiful, it is relegated to the role of mood inducing decoration, working through color and abstract shape. We might as well be sitting in the Rothko Chapel as the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
Pope Saint John Paul II perhaps understood the sensibility of artists better than most pontiffs. He was, after all, a poet, playwright, and actor himself. His Letter to Artists, written in 1999, deserves special attention among those struggling to find a way to reconcile being an artist with being Christian.
An aspiring Catholic artist needs to learn not only the skills of his or her art, but also an understanding our traditions, and how to depart from strict adherence to naturalistic appearances so as to reveal the invisible truths of the Faith. Andrew Smith's training offers an education in both the skills and the Catholic tradition of sculpture.
While the Council of Nicaea affirmed the validity of the use of sacred images, the Council of Trent defined the role of art in service to the Church. Still, some Protestant circles would not accept sacred art on any terms and a new wave of iconoclasm stripped many churches of their rich heritage of traditional iconography. But the Council of Trent paved the way for a new generation of artists to work with the Church on sacred imagery that would appeal to the people and be faithful to magisterial teaching. This came to be known as Baroque, or the art of the counter-reformation.