What Does It Mean to Be Creative and Catholic?

When I arrived at my public liberal arts college as a shiny-new English major, I was captivated with the idea of secretly becoming the author I had dreamed of becoming but had been too afraid to tell my parents about. I was going to experience the world, push all the boundaries, and really live.

But I found all my plans put on hold when Jesus entered my life in a radical way. When I made a conscious commitment to attend a Bible study, my conversion of heart began.

What I didn’t immediately realize, though, was that this conversion affected more than just my lifestyle. It affected my artistic pursuits, too. What did my conversion mean for the way I expressed my creativity?

I don’t think I’m the only creative-type who has wrestled with this kind of question. In his Letter to Artists, St. John Paul II identifies a cultural trend in our modern times, in which another kind of humanism, marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God, has gradually asserted itself. Such an atmosphere has sometimes led to a separation of the world of art and the world of faith.”

So how are artists supposed to navigate between these two worlds?

The problem at the root of this question is the assumption that we are supposed to separate them. The problem is we treat them as two separate paths — one of art, and one of faith — that we are supposed to choose between. In reality, these paths can (and should, as JPII has said) be taken together.

And that doesn’t mean we have to create things with very obvious Christian themes. That kind of art has its place and is effective in its own space. But when I found myself trying to create this kind of art post-conversion, I discovered it wasn’t my voice because it didn’t truly reflect my lived experience. It was forced, and I knew it — because it was becoming more and more difficult for me to write.

What I’ve come to realize is that our responsibility as artists is first and foremost to say what is important to us. Within the realm of artistic expression in the world, we have a unique space to share what is most important to us, and what — or who — is at the core of our lived experience.

We must be bold, and we must let our art reveal our hearts. Because when Christ is a part of our lives, revealing our hearts will reveal His Heart, whether it does so explicitly or not. By its nature of reflecting that which is truly beautiful, art already reveals Beauty Himself — God —  to us. And the world needs more of that.

In his letter, JPII argues, “[E]ven in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience. In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery. Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”

So, artists: Be you. Share your story. Be free to create what the world needs. Because it needs your voice. It needs what only you can offer. Because it is not just you, but Christ in you, that will turn heads. It will be your brush strokes, your words, your chords that will challenge people’s perceptions of beauty.

Here’s how you can be a bridge of faith and art in your everyday life:

  1. Challenge others authentically. Allow the art you create to be rebellious — not because it is crude or negatively shocking, but because it calls to the deepest desires in the human heart: desires for love, for mercy, for something more than this world. You’ve been given a gift, one that gives you a chance to bridge the divide.
  2. Make time to utilize the creativity you’ve been given. Just like making time for working out or prayer, we creative-types need to make time to develop the gifts we’ve been blessed with. Even if it’s just in little bits every day, do a little cultivation. Since we experience God Himself in the act of our own creation, this is a huge key to personal growth and in blessing others through our gifts.
  3. Evangelize to others (especially other artists) by asking them where they see beauty. What brings them joy? What breaks their hearts? Refuse to be satisfied by surface-level answers. Show people you actually care to hear what they believe. And when they return the questions to you, tell them the truth. Be unafraid to be a witness to the struggles and the joys of a life in Christ.Honor their vulnerability with your own.
  4. Don’t stifle your creativity. Don’t smother it under expectations from the world, from others or even from yourself. Allow Christ to change your life, and then share that life through the works of art that only you can create.

I’ll leave you with these closing thoughts from JPII’s letter:

“I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man. . . Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.”

Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists (1999)

Alaina Cuka
Alaina graduated from the University of South Dakota with a B.A. in English and a teaching certificate. Moving to La Crosse was her first time living outside of the cozy plains of South Dakota, and hiking the bluffs there is really challenging her to lose her fear of heights. She loves reading, writing, and going to concerts (and advises finding The Oh Hellos' nearest show, ASAP). Listening to people's stories is one of her favorite things; it is there that she most easily sees God.

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