"Artists need the Church as much as the Church needs artists because it is in the Church that the Artists finds True Beauty and the meaning of their lives."
In November of 2009, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a gathering of artists from all over the world. In many ways his address was a review and a reinforcement of the ideas and principles discussed by his predecessors, Pope Paul VI, and Pope Saint John Paul II. There is a consistent thread or message in their writings meant to form and encourage artists of every type and every genre.
And so we may draw out from the writings of these pontiffs a threefold message from the Church to artists in the modern age.
The Vocation of Artists
The Vocation of the Artist is linked to Beauty. Not the superficial beauty that we refer to so often as "prettiness," but the transcendental Beauty that is a part of all creation. The Beauty that is God's light illuminating the created world.
However, it must be said that the vocation of artists is to represent both types of beauty. The superficial, aesthetic side of beauty, the prettiness, is necessary to attract the viewer, to grab their attention and encourage them to give the work more than just a passing glance. Therefore it is vital that artists develop their talent and their skills to the highest degree they are capable of. The natural talent given to artists must be formed and ground and sharpened to a keen edge. It is not enough to rely on the subject or the message or the intent of the artist. Artists must create work that is so pleasing to the eye, or the ear, it attracts and holds the viewer, making it difficult for them turn away.
Underlying the aesthetic beauty, is the transcendent Beauty that draws the viewer beyond that which pleases the senses, to the Truth that the work conveys. This is the Beauty the Vicars of Christ write so passionately about. This is the Beauty that reflects the face of God and is present in every created thing. It is the vocation of the artists to recognize this Beauty in the world and to draw it out for others to see and respond to.
Pope Benedict quotes Pope Paul VI.
“This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration. And all this through the work of your hands . . . Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world.”
The Church Needs Artists
There was a time when the Church was the dominant influence on our culture. Days were measured according to the liturgical calendar and nearly every activity in our daily lives revolved in one way or another around the message and mission of the Church. For artists this meant that the Church was the greatest patron of the arts and the studios of masters were filled with apprentices learning their craft while they completed work meant to adorn everything from grand cathedrals to humble parish churches.
Over the centuries much changed. The guild system gave way to the modern age and the Church offered fewer opportunities for the artists and craftsmen.
But what did not change was the mission of the Church and the need for artists to help in that mission. Before His Ascension, Jesus told His disciples to go out into the world, and spread the Good News, the Word of God. The Church recognizes that artists are uniquely gifted to aid in this great commission.
Again quoting Pope Paul:
“We need your collaboration in order to carry out our ministry, which consists, as you know, in preaching and rendering accessible and comprehensible to the minds and hearts of our people the things of the spirit, the invisible, the ineffable, the things of God himself. And in this activity … you are masters. It is your task, your mission, and your art consists in grasping treasures from the heavenly realm of the spirit and clothing them in words, colours, forms – making them accessible.”
We live in both a viable world and an invisible world. It is the unique gift of the artist to make the invisible world, the world of the Spirit, visible to ll people.
Artists Need the Church
It is an unfortunate reality of the modern age that artists do not see that they need the Church. On a practical level, secular endeavors provide far more opportunities for artists to employ their skills and provide for their families. The world around us has lost the sense of "servanthood," and places value on the individual above everything else.
But this is contrary to Christian values and a Christian worldview. Artists need the Church to keep them grounded in the true nature of their gifts and how those gifts are to be used. Ever since mankind lost paradise, we have been working our way back to it. We are here to get all of humanity a little closer to God, a little further along in the journey, and then pass the torch to the next generation, to do the same.
Artists need the Church to remind them who they are and why they are here. They need the refuge of the Barq of Peter to shield them from the work of the Adversary that preys upon their ego and the wants and desires that are common to all people regardless of their vocation. Artists need the Church as much as the Church needs artists because it is in the Church that the Artists finds True Beauty and the meaning of their lives.
Pope Benedict draws his address to a conclusion with theses words.
"do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty! Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful."
The address of Pope Benedict XVI to artists can be found on the Vatican website,
this article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org
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