The following comes from a July 8 Crisis Magazine article by Duncan G. Stroik:
“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!”
∼ Closing of the Second Vatican Council: Address of Pope Paul VI to Artists
What is the state of sacred art today? Not surprisingly, many of us see it as mediocre, impoverished, or in crisis. Yet does not the Church (and I mean you and me) bear some responsibility for the limited quality of religious artwork? When was the last time you visited a church to see a contemporary altarpiece or statue? The low state of sacred art—and I would submit of art in general—is due in part to the limited number of sacred commissions, the fees we are willing to pay artists, and our unwillingness to take responsibility for the arts.
When you commission artists to create original art for the Church, you change them. You give them something they are longing for. Artists are always looking for content; without a clear direction they try to create their own content, often through self-referential narratives. According to John Paul II, “That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their ‘gift,’ are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission.”
To commission a work of art, whether it is a portrait of a family member or a Madonna, is to become a patron. We, as the faithful, need to embrace the role of patron once again. It is rewarding though hard work. Certainly, you can find many examples of original art done in the last decades that are not beautiful. Yet this should not stop us from attempting what we used to be quite good at.
Because we do not want to take risks with artists or spend much money on artwork, what do we do? We buy pre-manufactured art or copies of famous images. This is the bane of art connoisseurs and modernist architects, as it should be, but it is worth knowing why we do it. Copies are recognizable, reasonable, and safe (even if boring). With pre-manufactured art, we know what we will get before we purchase it. Copies of famous paintings, even if mediocre, seem acceptable because of the association with the original. It is hard to believe that we could find an artist that can paint as well as Raphael or sculpt as well as Michelangelo. But this is true in part because we are not giving contemporary artists the opportunity to develop in the way these masters did. Could this help to explain the success of the icon, which is meant to be a stylized image of a saint? In fact, many devotional images have become so “iconic” today (i.e., the Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or Our Lady of Grace) that we simply want a plaster reproduction or even a photograph of them, rather than commissioning an artist to reinterpret them for us anew.
So given the pitfalls, the economics of it, and the risks of failure, why should the Church commission original art? First of all, to commission art is to acknowledge the importance of art as a living tradition. In patronizing art we speak to modern man through the vitality of the arts. We try to touch hearts and minds through beauty and originality. Portraying religious subjects in art can be likened to a sermon in paint or bronze. Rather than simply reading a classic sermon by Saint Augustine, the priest makes it personal, local, and timely by writing his own sermon (perhaps inspired by a previous text). The process of writing and delivering the sermon will, at times, lead to insights not otherwise thought of. In fact, original art is simply the manifestation of the creative act that all of us seek to participate in.
I think that one factor behind the leaving of so many Young from the Faith (albeit hopefully temporarily) is the sense that it is for ‘Old People’ and that is why reproductions of 15th century Art often fail to inspire them.
They are a very image sensitive group, and while the Altar should not follow fads – many fail to be inspired by fairly crude (if faithful & heartfelt) works of long ago artists – being used to get across points that could be done much better.
Don’t care for ‘puppet shows’ at Mass – but Inspiration via images does not always translate across time. Love for God Does – but we can do a better job of helping them visualize the Truth – than just a visit to the art archives only.
Those of all ages who are sensitive, are always drawn close to God, through beautiful Catholic sacred works of art. A beautiful Mass (like the Tridentine Mass) in a beautiful church, with beautiful art and music, always inspires people to come close to God! Some people, young and old, convert to the Catholic Faith, after having beautiful religious experiences, in beautiful churches! Religious vocations have also been inspired by beautiful Catholic works of sacred art and music. A beautiful icon, statue, painting, etc., in times of prayer, can inspire countless souls! In recent times, beautiful sacred works of art such as the Divine Mercy painting of Christ, and the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, have drawn countless souls close…
I will continue, with my above post. Throughout the centuries, beautiful Catholic works of sacred art, music, and architecture, have drawn countless souls close to God. When many people hear the beautiful Schubert “Ave Maria” sung in church, many are deeply moved to tears! Western culture really needs to discard modern art, very destructive to the souls of mankind– and open wide the doors to God-inspired beautiful sacred art, music, and architecture! What a beautiful healing, inspiring, and healthful effect this would have, all over the world!
There is no argument concerning taste. This is a famous maxim. However, when not in the state of grace, people make false choices, and usually have their values all mixed up. Since the 1960’s many of the modern churches are just plain ugly. They do not inspire, because they are not dedicated totally to God, and do not lead to a divine intimacy with Him.
After Vatican II, many churches removed paintings and statues and shrines where we could light a candle. It was a delusional effort to make Catholicism more appealing to non-Catholics. Paintings and statues inspire us to think of our Lord and the saints. Fortunately, some churches still retain them. St. Margaret Parish, Oceanside, CA, still has inspirational art work and shrines where we can kneel, light a candle and pray. This is a traditional parish with traditional art and music. After Vat. II, church music was also changed, gone were the traditional hymns. In its place, in some parishes there is now the rock music Mass, guitar and drum Masses, and songs such as “Morning Has Broken.” None of this has attracted non-Catholics…
What Church now has rock music mass? Maybe I’d like to go and see what it’s like, but for the life of me, I can’t find one. Can you point me in that direction please, since you seem to be acquainted with several?
Try the 5PM Sunday Evening “Youth” Mass at Immaculate Conception parish in Sparks, NV, in the Diocese of Reno. Not only is it a “rock” Mass, but the true reverence for “volume” adds to the sacrilege.
Most churches have pianos which remind me of a cocktail bar. Must of the tunes being played sounds like lounge music. Of course, since the Mass is no longer a sacrifice, but a meal, I guess this is most fitting.