Yesterday’s post looked at section 12, “The Church needs art.” Today, a question: Does art need the Church?
13. The Church therefore needs art. But can it also be said that art needs the Church? The question may seem like a provocation. Yet, rightly understood, it is both legitimate and profound. Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things, and their torment is to succeed in expressing the world of the ineffable. How then can we fail to see what a great source of inspiration is offered by that kind of homeland of the soul that is religion? Is it not perhaps within the realm of religion that the most vital personal questions are posed, and answers both concrete and definitive are sought?
As long as the Church is faithful to push to the boundaries, the fringes, and the frontiers of human creativity and searching, then yes, art needs that sense of wonder, exploration, and searching. When the Church is boiled down to formulas and programs, and when agreement replaces actual faith in God, well, art might save the Church from itself. But art doesn’t need to be used as a tool in such cases.
In fact, the religious theme has been among those most frequently treated by artists in every age. The Church has always appealed to their creative powers in interpreting the Gospel message and discerning its precise application in the life of the Christian community. This partnership has been a source of mutual spiritual enrichment. Ultimately, it has been a great boon for an understanding of (humankind), of the authentic image and truth of the person. The special bond between art and Christian revelation has also become evident. This does not mean that human genius has not found inspiration in other religious contexts. It is enough to recall the art of the ancient world, especially Greek and Roman art, or the art which still flourishes in the very ancient civilizations of the East. It remains true, however, that because of its central doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word of God, Christianity offers artists a horizon especially rich in inspiration. What an impoverishment it would be for art to abandon the inexhaustible mine of the Gospel!
My sense is that the Church, at its best, offers great opportunity, if not great grace, to artists. Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.