What is meant by a “renewed dialogue”? Pope John Paul II seems to be accurate in saying that there is an alienation between artists and the Church. Even before the supposed tossing out of choirs, the Church was not the most friendly society for a serious artist. Our best music is centuries behind us. The superstars of Renaissance visual art leave large shoes to fill. The Tridentine Mass was the summit of a period of stasis and artistic strangulation. No wonder artists believe the Church has left them behind.
10. It is true nevertheless that, in the modern era, alongside this Christian humanism which has continued to produce important works of culture and art, another kind of humanism, marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God, has gradually asserted itself. Such an atmosphere has sometimes led to a separation of the world of art and the world of faith, at least in the sense that many artists have a diminished interest in religious themes.
The church appreciates art, so we hear:
You know, however, that the Church has not ceased to nurture great appreciation for the value of art as such. Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience. In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.
And yet, the Church has not done as well with artists. I think modern artists are looking less for an affirmation of their own work and more a sense that our best artistic days are not necessarily behind us.
But there have been thaws here and there:
It is clear, therefore, why the Church is especially concerned for the dialogue with art and is keen that in our own time there be a new alliance with artists, as called for by my revered predecessor Paul VI in his vibrant speech to artists during a special meeting he had with them in the Sistine Chapel on 7 May 1964.( Cf. AAS 56 (1964), 438-444) From such cooperation the Church hopes for a renewed “epiphany” of beauty in our time and apt responses to the particular needs of the Christian community.
It will take more than any one pope to jump-start this. Bishops. Pastors. Artists themselves. Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.