Friday, November 13, 2009

The Church and Artisans

The Catholic Herald has a piece in today's online edition which may be of interest to some of our readers, Can the Church win over the art world? The context for this article is an upcoming meeting with artists in the coming weeks in the Sistine Chapel which is assuredly to be of interest.

Within that piece are various comments given by different artisans from a variety of perspectives. Two of them will be very familiar to NLM readers, Br. Lawrence Lew and David Clayton.

Here are their respective excerpts:


It goes back to John Paul II's Letter to Artists calling for a dialogue. There are two approaches to the regeneration of culture. One is to look at popular culture and Christianise it; the other is to look at Christian culture and make it good enough so that it becomes popular. Christianising popular culture immediately creates a conflict. You have to think in terms of the content and the form and the style of it is intrinsically secular. Attempting to Christianise popular culture can only go so far, and to ultimately bring that into Mass is flawed. If you ask me ultimately how I think this is going to happen, what you need is to once again root Catholic culture in the liturgy and devotional prayer that is ordered to the liturgy.

If you look at all the great traditional art movements, the Baroque grew out of the Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent. It started as the sacred form but then became the form for everything; the sacred and the profane all pointed to the Mass. If we are going to have a Catholic culture again it has to start as a liturgical culture.

It also needs a three-way dialogue between artists, patrons and the Church.

I wonder how many patrons have been invited [to the Sistine Chapel]. If you ask me who I'd go for first, it would be the patrons, not the artists. The artists do what the patrons want them to do.

David Clayton is an icon writer and Artist-in-Residence at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire



The fine arts point to and participate in beauty, which, as St Thomas Aquinas reminds us, is most properly appropriated to Christ. Sadly, modern art is seldom orientated towards beauty, which is an objective truth extrinsic to oneself, but is rather directed inwards as a kind of subjective self-expression.

This rift can be healed by a contemplation of beauty, and ultimately of truth, revealed by the light of faith. For without faith one remains blind to God, and therefore one's art can only reflect oneself, which does have a natural goodness but it is not opened to the infinite truth, goodness and beauty of the Divine.

I find that the art of photography requires us to seek and contemplate the beauty of God's work in creation, and to share that beauty with others using the photographer's talent and skill. So, photography can be put to the service of the Church, to lead others to a contemplation of beauty, which is the noble and proper end of the arts.

Brother Lawrence Lew OP is a photographer based at Blackfriars, Oxford

To read these and the other statements, see Can the Church win over the art world?

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