For easier (I hope) reference, I’ll list the paragraphs within each numbered section by lower-case letter. In this first post on John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, let’s take the first half of section 1, “The artist, image of God the Creator.” Let’s read why the Holy Father found inspiration in Genesis 1:
1. None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.
Regarding the artists to whom this letter is written, it should be clear John Paul II is speaking of a more expansive definition than a narrow one. Not just visual artists. Not just the sacred arts. Creating art is indeed an echo of God’s creative action in the universe.
Genesis makes sense, from the pope’s personal view:
That is why it seems to me that there are no better words than the text of Genesis with which to begin my Letter to you, to whom I feel closely linked by experiences reaching far back in time and which have indelibly marked my life. In writing this Letter, I intend to follow the path of the fruitful dialogue between the Church and artists which has gone on unbroken through two thousand years of history, and which still, at the threshold of the Third Millennium, offers rich promise for the future.
So we get a glimpse into this document to come: the interface over the centuries of artists and the Church.
In fact, this dialogue is not dictated merely by historical accident or practical need, but is rooted in the very essence of both religious experience and artistic creativity. The opening page of the Bible presents God as a kind of exemplar of everyone who produces a work: the human craftsman mirrors the image of God as Creator. This relationship is particularly clear in the Polish language because of the lexical link between the words stwórca (creator) and twórca (craftsman).
Spirituality and creativity are not so easily separated.
You readers, what are you seeing in this first reflection? Please comment, especially if you have experience as an artist and have personal input to add to Pope John Paul II’s.
Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.