Christianity and Mediocre Art

Christianity and Mediocre Art

In the comments to this post Pentimento remarked on how most images of the Divine Mercy are so saccharine and in response I wondered why it is that Christians are so willing to settle for mediocrity in art. Why do so many people enshrine in their homes saccharine images of Jesus and Mary and the saints instead of seeking out the truly beautiful?

It isn’t that there is a shortage of fine religious art. In fact the finest art of the Western tradition has been religious art. And then there is the great treasury of icons from the churches of the East, both those of Byzantine Catholics and those of our Orthodox brethren.

Then I was reading this interview with Barbara Nicolosi-Harrington, who has some choice words about the decline of the role of the Church as patron of the arts:

The Church needs to get back into the work of the Beautiful.  It needs to get back into the work of subsidizing and training and mentoring artists and guilds.  It needs to feed people who can sing and write music, and commission their works.  In a previous day, we would have commissioned statues and paintings.  Today’s Church should commission novels and movies and screenplays. 

The fact that there is not a single Christian university in the top twenty film programs in the world is a sign that the Church has lost its way in modernity.  We are not seeing ourselves as people of this moment.

The saddest realities to look at are not Hustler magazine and Big Love.  Much more tragic is what you find on EWTN and CBN, because these things are devoid of creativity and devoid of respect for the audience.  They are banal.  They may be produced with the best of intentions, but they have no sense of the appropriateness of the art form, of using the medium to its full potential.

Sad though it is, you would never call the Church the patron of the arts today.  Never.  You would be laughed down.  I know that to be true.  I used the phrase with a class of undergrads.  A young woman raised her hand and said, “Who is the �patron of the arts’?”  I asked the students who they thought the patron of the arts is.  They looked at me for a while, and finally one kid raised his hand and said, “The Bravo Channel?”

“Patron of the arts” used to be the moniker of the Christian Church.  But this generation has no experience of the Church being a patron of the arts.  We are so far behind in being a compelling voice in the culture.  We have allowed our voice in culture to disappear.

John Paul II said that this generation of Christians will have to atone for its failure to use the media to spread the gospel of life.  This generation of Christians will be called to account for its failure to use these powerful gifts we have in our hands to create global community and to move people to tears.  Others will be asked why they did not recognize Jesus.  We will be asked why we did not make television shows.

I know why Catholic television isn’t making beautiful programs. It’s because there isn’t the funding. But that begs the question: Why are Catholics unwilling to invest in the beautiful?

I suspect utilitarianism is a part of the answer.

I’m sure many more words could be written on this topic. Maybe even by me. But not right now.

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  • I rarely comment, just a reader, but I was glad to come back on your blog to see that you have turned the corner on getting some good sleep!

    And, I know you already know this, but the photos of your children are incredibly beautiful…this from someone who thinks their own children are incredibly beautiful!  Continued Easter blessings…

  • Thanks, Eileen. Yes, we do seem to have turned the corner. Last night Ben did it again, slept all night from when I put him down at 8 until a quarter to 6. And the girls both slept through the night as well. Now I’ve just got to get the self-discipline to get to bed at a reasonable hour….

    I do spend a great deal of time every single day marveling about how wonderful my kids are. But every mom likes to hear it from other people too. Blessings to you, too.