Letter To Artists 4: The Artist and the Common Good

The artist and the common good: is this how artists view their place in culture? Is this how non-artists view the situation?

Pope John Paul makes the point that we very much need artists–this is not a throwaway profession or an indulgence to the gifted:

4. Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is “the art of education”. Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favor of the common good.

In seeking the common good, artists blend three strains, as I read JP2. First, that art is naturally hard work. This effort merges into a responsibility. This duty includes the truth of the artistic form, something not cheapened by the various aspects of celebrity fandom. And certainly there is an aspect of spirituality, a sense that creating and sharing art is more than the tools, the product, the time, the sweat, and the enrichment of culture.

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labor without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a “spirituality” of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people. It is precisely this to which Cyprian Norwid seems to allude in declaring that “beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up”.

Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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