The Pope on Artists, and Beauty in the Modern World

Sculpted by Raffaelle Monti (1818-1881)

Via Whispers comes an article about the Pope’s remarks on beauty and art, made at the opening of an exhibit of art curated in honor of his 60th anniversary of ordination. An excerpt:

Dear friends, I would like to renew to you and to all artists a friendly and passionate appeal: never separate artistic creativity from truth and charity; never seek beauty far from truth and charity, but with the richness of your genius, of your creative impulse, be always courageous seekers of truth and witnesses of charity. Make truth shine in your works so that their beauty awakens in the sights and hearts of those who admire them the desire to make their existence, all existence, beautiful and true, enriching it with that treasure that never diminishes, which makes of life a work of art and of every man an extraordinary artist: [the treasure of] charity, love.

(full text)

As an artist, I always find it encouraging when art – and specifically, the trouble of beauty in the modern age – is mentioned. I remember in particular one Mass when at the Prayers of the Faithful the priest, seemingly out of the blue, offered a rather lengthy prayer for Catholic artists, that they may persevere in seeking beauty in the face of adversity, etc. It was a reaffirming recognition of what is a very real struggle for artists. Nearly the only way to get an education in art is to do so in an educational culture that rejects every past tradition*. Students of music, in my experience, still learn about which harmonies are beautiful and are encouraged to follow certain principles that have been in place for centuries. In the visual arts, what students learn is the equivalent of a musician being told, “Here are the keys, push whichever ones you want. The further you are from Mozart, the better. Dissonance is the key to music.”

The Holy Father is absolutely correct in suggesting that art should inspire the viewer to seek beauty in their own lives. Consider this in contrast to the modern notion that “good art” is that which disturbs the viewer, the more deeply, the better. Consider the kind of world that would be created if man sought to make things more beautiful through their actions and creations, rather than a world in which men are increasingly desensitized to ugliness and brutality as artists continually try to one-up each other in shock value.

Those who are artists, and those who are not, should all take a cue from the Holy Father’s words and try to beautify our own corners of the world.  This isn’t a problem that will just be solved in the museums; it is one that will be confronted by beauty in our homes, beauty in our dress, beauty in our actions.

This piece ("Red Plank") falls more into the "drab" category than "shocking," unless you're shocked that it's in a museum.

*I know there are still places where one can learn traditional forms of art (figural bronze sculpture, representational mosaic, etc.), but the American university system is not the place to find them.


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