Praise God for your skill. Praise God for your passion. Praise God for you, Dear Artist. Praise God for your redemption.
In a world strife with tension and confusion, you are needed. You are needed more than ever, dear Artist. Our world is under attack with dangerous ideas, perpetuated by an army of artists with ever-increasing agendas. Hollywood has become a military base for a competing ideology, shooting missiles of lust, violence, and greed off to our homes.
As baptized Catholics, we are on a mission to evangelize and lead people to Jesus. Our culture either moves towards brokenness or towards beauty, and we default towards brokenness. It requires an experience to move towards beauty. Art’s role is to be that experience. Your mission, dear Artist, is to create things with beauty, to expose beauty in this world, and to defend Lady Beauty. You are a Knight of Beauty in this broken world, fighting for her and conquering the ugliness of our human nature. In your works, you lay something Beauty-full in front of someone and, for all intents and purposes, give them an opportunity for redemption. You provide free glimpses into Heaven.
God, the Poet of The Word, the Conductor of the Angelic Orchestra, invites us to participate in creating alongside Him. After creating man and woman in Genesis, He gives us the authority to create culture with the raw elements of the earth. He passes the baton so to speak, allowing room for our inventiveness from the very get go, and it is from this foundational blessing that we are all His craftsmen. He yearns to collaborate with us, and art is our greatest means to do so.
So, dear Artist, I challenge you to fully step into what it means to work as an artist in our world. The predominant Hebrew word to describe “work” in the Old Testament is avodah. This word is often associated with three things: vocation, service, and worship. We should approach our artwork with this in mind.
As baptized Christians, we are called to make the ordinary beautiful, and in so doing, help beauty become ordinary. Pope St. John Paul II thunders this sentiment, “…it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on (the artist) by the Creator in the gift of ‘artistic talent’” (Letter to Artists). Some people are called to be farmers. Others are called to be teachers. We have the distinct privilege of being called to beauty.
Dear Artist, the gifts you have been “bestowed” hold so much potential. So much gravity. So much value. So much… beauty!
A vocation is first and foremost sacrificial, the means by which we serve the common good. Pope St. John Paul II challenges artists to responsibly embrace this: “…it is up to you…who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation…is redeemed.” (Letter to Artists)
JPII argues that by its vocational nature, art influences one’s life and one’s life influences art. As we embrace our paths of sanctification, our art grows. The reverse holds true as well. As we embrace our art, our sanctification grows. “In producing a work, artists express themselves to the point where their work becomes a unique disclosure of their own being…” (Letter to Artists). Our emotions, memories, and psychological dispositions pour into our work. The colors, textures, etc., of a painting, show not just an image, but also an exposition of the painter’s psychological and spiritual history. Our art exposes us.
Because art is a vocation, it requires development. It requires work. “Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation…feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbour and of humanity as a whole.” (Letter to Artists)
Which leads me to…
Just as societies need doctors, mothers, plumbers, etc., they need artists. Artists enrich the culture and “render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good” (Letter to Artists). As part of your vocation, dear Artist, you are meant to serve through your art. Your art should pour forth from your love of God and move outward into His Kingdom.
However, how often does an artist’s work pour forth from their love of sex, fame, money, etc.? How many artists’ works move inward as a means to self-gratify? Our culture is littered with this type of “artist.”
As true artists, we must pursue our vocation “without allowing (our)selves 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…” (Letter to Artists). Listen to the language JPII uses: “Empty glory,” “cheap popularity,” “possible profit.” He is not impressed with what the world offers. Not in the slightest.
Fame and fortune can distort us unless we actively dive deeper into Jesus. The artist inevitably experiences life more drastically, so our roots need to run so impressively deep that no storm can shake us. It is easy to be silent—to not stir any waters. It is easy to conform to what society wants. It is not easy to be a follower of Jesus, who lived radically different than the way our society does. This is your task, though.
There is one more critical element to the work of an artist. A sense of worship. An awareness of God’s Presence, and a desire to glorify Him both during the process and through the completed work. It is in this sense of worship that you truly become sanctified through your work. Whereas the service aspect of being an artist transforms the world, this aspect transforms you. “That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their ‘gift’, are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission.” (Letter to Artists)
Our work draws us to God, and God draws us to our work. Whatever our chosen art form may be, the process of creating is in itself a “hymn of praise” to use JPII’s language. By doing what we love, we bring Him glory! By bringing a sense of worship into our creative process, we “come to a full understanding” of ourselves. Without it, though, our art can become our destruction. Rather than a process of flowing with God, it can become a process of flowing with one’s self. It can become a downward spiral of self-worship. Without a sense of worship, one cannot be truly living out his or her calling, and one cannot truly be serving his or her neighbor.
All three elements are integral for the artist, but I contend that the worship element is the hinge. The easy temptation for an artist is to desire the completed creation or the experience of creating, without desiring the Creator. God has to remain an integral member of your process. I am weary of sounding like a finger-wagger: “You must worship God!” I want us to want to worship God and see that in worshipping Him our art only enriches. I want us to fall into that creative cadence that is possible only as craftsmen of the Creator. I want us to get out of our way and make it about Him, because I want us to see that our true joy only lies in Him!
As the Spirit hovered over the face of the waters in Genesis, allow Him to hover over the face of your work. In doing so, you will be able to step back and call your work “very good.” JPII acknowledges the Holy Spirit as the best source of our creativity, “Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power” (Letter to Artists). Without Him, we are nothing. He provides our palette, our camera, our melody. He is the original Creator, and by creating alongside Him we can bring God back into our world.
See the first article here.