Two quite diverse religious communities have expressed intent to give more attention to the arts. Just recently Ravi Zacharias International Ministries has expressed its commitment to give more attention to the arts. It is their view that Christians need to be more intentional about stewardship of culture. They are alert to the reality that an entertainment narrative is shaping culture and that alternatives are needed. Noting that art informs us about our human condition and is a window onto our values they see the arts as an important site for Christian engagement. Two panel discussions are available on the RZIM website www.rzim.org
The podcasts are under the title Redeeming the Arts and took place November 1, and 7, 2009. It is interesting to note that goodness, beauty and truth were key themes in these panel conversations. These are themes more common among those of Catholic persuasion than among Protestants.
The other religious community is the Roman Catholic Church. No stranger to art this community took up a fresh initiative when the Pope invited 500 artists to come to the Sistine Chapel on November 21st 2009. About 260 artists attended, representing a diversity of the arts and a spectrum from deep faith to no faith. This event was 45 years from a similar initiative by Pope Paul VI who apologized for the church’s attitude towards artists, and 10 years since the publication of Pope John Paul II’s widely read Letter to Artists. As you can read in the Pope’s remarks there is a great emphasis on “beauty” a focus deeply ingrained in Catholic sensibilities. Protestants are hesitant about this kind of “veneration” of beauty. We offer here some of the text of Pope Benedict’s address to artists.
“The profound bond between beauty and hope was the essential content of the evocative Message that Paul VI addressed to artists at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on 8 December 1965: “To all of you,” he proclaimed solemnly, “the Church of the Council declares through our lips: if you are friends of true art, you are our friends!” And he added: “This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart, and is that precious fruit which resists the erosion of time, which unites generations and enables them to be one in admiration. And all this through the work of your hands…Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world.”
Unfortunately, the present time is marked, not only by negative elements in the social and economic sphere, but also by a weakening of hope, by a certain lack of confidence in human relationships, which gives rise to increasing signs of resignation, aggression and despair. The world in which we live runs the risk of being altered beyond recognition because of unwise human actions which, instead of cultivating its beauty, unscrupulously exploit its resources for the advantage of a few and not infrequently disfigure the marvels of nature. What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation – if not beauty?
Dear friends, as artists you know well that the experience of beauty, beauty that is authentic, not merely transient or artificial, is by no means a supplementary or secondary factor in our search for meaning and happiness; the experience of beauty does not remove us from reality, on the contrary, it leads to a direct encounter with the daily reality of our lives, liberating it from darkness, transfiguring it, making it radiant and beautiful.
…Dostoevsky’s words that I am about to quote are bold and paradoxical, but they invite reflection.
He says this:
“Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.”
The painter Georges Braque echoes this sentiment:
“Art is meant to disturb, science reassures.”
Beauty pulls us up short, but in so doing it reminds us of our final destiny, it sets us back on our path, fills us with new hope, gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life. The quest for beauty that I am describing here is clearly not about escaping into the irrational or into mere aestheticism.
Too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding, leaving the onlooker dazed; instead of bringing him out of himself and opening him up to horizons of true freedom as it draws him aloft, it imprisons him within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy.
It is a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess, and to dominate others, it is a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation.
Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.
…Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality.. This close proximity, this harmony between the journey of faith and the artist’s path is attested by countless artworks that are based upon the personalities, the stories, the symbols of that immense deposit of “figures” – in the broad sense – namely the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures. The great biblical narratives, themes, images and parables have inspired innumerable masterpieces in every sector of the arts, just as they have spoken to the hearts of believers in every generation through the works of craftsmanship and folk art, that are no less eloquent and evocative.
…You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. …Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity! And do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty!”
Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world -Pope Paul VI