This is a call. This is a plea. A call to you, dear Artist, to make art. A plea, my friend, to make something quality. To make something honest. To make something beautiful. Our culture needs you. Our Church needs you. Please respond.
We live in an age in which the last universal language we all speak is art. Reason is gone. Identity is gone. Science, even. Gone. Art, however, still has the ability to transcend and touch people. You are needed more than ever, dear Artist.
To clarify, we don’t need art that is “Christian.” We don’t need art that is “faith-based.” We need art. Authentic art.
It wasn’t until the Sexual Revolution and the counter Jesus Revolution that there became a divide between “Christian artists” and regular artists. Before the 60s’, there were the J.R.R. Tolkiens, the Walker Percys, the Flannery O’Connors of the world. There were artists who were Christian and whose faith permeated their work, but there weren’t “Christian artists.” The Jesus Revolution gave way to CCM (Christian Contemporary Music) and created a separate genre for Christianity. It divided us from them. This then gave way to faith-based film, Christian literature, etc.
The problem with this is that “Christian art” preaches to the choir. No one outside of Christianity will be impacted because no one outside of Christianity will show interest. If Jesus were to tell His parables today, I wonder if we wouldn’t label some as “Christian Parables” and others as “Secular Parables.” We self-perpetuate ourself into isolation and wonder why society feels like it’s growing further and further apart from us.
I have a buddy who was on SNL and works as a standup comedian. He has a joke that the reason he’s not a Christian is because of Christian film. Oof. It hurts to say, but I think he’s hitting the nail on the head. We have become propaganda machines, not artists. Art at its core asks questions—it doesn’t answer them. We need to not only bridge this sacred and secular gap as artists, but we need to eliminate that gap altogether. We need an army of artists to arise and infiltrate our society.
1. Discern if being an artist is your vocation or if being an artist is your ambition. They’re different. Very different. A vocation is first and foremost sacrificial. It is the means by which we serve God and the common good. The call to be an artist—just like religious life or married life—is a vocational call. It requires sacrifice. It requires dedication. It requires your all for the rest of your life. If you feel this calling deep down, then embrace it. Your calling is the calling of beauty. How. Crazy. Rad. Is. That?! JPII thundered this sentiment, “…it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on (the artist) by the Creator…’” (Letter to Artists). Beauty is your vocation. Whoa.
2. Train, train, train. Then train some more. Know your craft. Hone your craft. We need excellence. We need a new standard. We don’t want priests to give half-hearted efforts to their parishes. We don’t want husbands to give half-hearted efforts to their wives. We don’t want you to give half-hearted efforts in your artistry. You have a calling, not a way out. You’re not guaranteed money. You’re not guaranteed notoriety, but you are guaranteed inspiration from the Holy Spirit as well as His Presence. Dear Artist, that’s more than enough.
3. Get in flow with the Spirit. As an artist you get to participate in a small tasting of God’s creation story. You get to experience just the tiniest little sip of the beauty and complexity of His vineyard. As a result, your work is an act of worship. God draws you to your work, and your work ought to draw you to God. There’s a beautiful and continual exchange between the Creator and His craftsman. You see your gift and give thanks to God. You then worship Him, and in doing so you find that Spirit-spark of creative inspiration. The more you rest in this studio of the Spirit the more you become who you are called to be. Moreover, the more you rest in this place the more you create meaningful work. It’s an upward spiral, the rhythm of the Catholic artist. Your art comes from who you are, and you are who you are because of your faith, and your faith is what it is because of your art. I encourage you, dear Artist, to try and sink into this rhythm. Once you do, it’s a fun ride!
4. Keep your gaze on God. With art it’s important that you don’t get so enraptured by your process or your works that you forget the Source. The mistake of the Israelites with their worship of the golden calf is an easy trap. I’m sure that calf wasn’t just a sculpture they lackadaisically threw together. I’m sure it took craft and artisanship. I’m sure it was a very well made sculpture, impressive to look at. They became so awestruck by their own work that they lost sight of God. That’s the easy temptation of the artist. We often want the creation or the experience of creating but not the Creator. He has to remain an integral member of the process and the outcome. The more you foster your love for Jesus the more you’re concerned with just His opinion in the audience. His are the only claps you will long for.
5. Create! Just do it. And keep doing it! Your job, the purpose placed on your heart—by God (!)—is to make works of beauty, to unveil beauty in others and in creation, and to promote beauty. You are a knight of beauty in this world, fighting for beauty’s sake and conquering the ugliness of human nature. It is your job to be that intervention that moves our society to beauty, to make the commonplace beautiful and make beauty commonplace.
What’s beautiful about the artist’s life is the trail of self-reflective works that he or she leaves behind. I think of it like a young camper leaving behind a trail of pine cones to mark his path. The artist leaves behind a trail of works that mark his soul. “In producing a work, artists express themselves to the point where their work becomes a unique disclosure of their own being, of what they are and of how they are what they are” (Letter to Artists). Your works ultimately reflect who you are to your core, dear Artist. Ideally, your works will show a progression of your heart. They might have a “Blue Period” like Picasso, but they will ultimately show an improving beauty. If we were to flip through the albums of a Catholic musician chronologically, ideally each album we turn over would reflect a deeper love and more saintly disposition. Likewise, in the wake of your artistic works, my friend, I pray people can see where you’ve been and where you’ve chosen to go—into the arms of the Ultimate Lover. If done diligently, our culture will follow suit. Please. We need you.