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.
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.
"The composition of religious imagery is not left to the initiative of the artist, but is formed upon principles laid down by the Catholic Church and by religious tradition... The execution alone belongs to the painter, the selection and arrangement of subject belongs to the Fathers."
The above quote is often cited as an "instruction" from the Second Council of Nicaea, but this passage is not found in the dogmatic canons issued by the Council. Where does it come from and what does it mean to the contemporary Christian artist?
Stories serve us on many levels. They invite us to consider situations by drawing us in, making us part of the story, making us feel like we are experiencing the struggles and challenges of the protagonist first hand. They may teach us small lessons about life or they may invite us to consider ourselves as part of the bigger picture of the story of our salvation.
God is patient with us. He gives us time. He gives us time to explore our gifts and perhaps even misuse them. But always God is there calling us to discover the proper use of those gifts, to put the past behind us and move forward in our proper work. Whatever your situation is now, whatever mistakes you have made in the past, they are in the past, resolve to put them behind you and go forward, finding the role God has put you here to fulfill.