Take the idea of the medieval guild, add the spirituality of a fraternity and sodality, and the result is something several Catholic artists have been searching for: the Catholic Artists Society.
Although this apostolate was launched a year and a half ago in New York City, the Catholic Artists Society celebrated its official “inauguration” on May 15 at the Church of Our Savior in Manhattan.
More than 450 artists in various disciplines, friends and family, packed the church for the Mass in the extraordinary form celebrated by Father George Rutler, who appears frequently on EWTN.
Interestingly, Archbishop Fulton Sheen often celebrated Mass at this church.
After Mass, Jesuit Father Joseph Koterski spoke about how Ignatian spirituality might help an artist purify the imagination.
Artists came from throughout the archdiocese. Some traveled from upstate New York and even from Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. One came from England. The response surprised even actor Kevin Collins and architect Dino Marcantonio, both of whom were instrumental in forming the Catholic Artists Society.
“We felt there was a need for this,” Marcantonio says, “and that need far exceeded our expectations.”
For several years, Collins, who works in film, theater, and also does voice-over work, was looking for a Catholic artists’ group to join. A year and a half ago, a friend encouraged him to start his own meeting with evenings of recollection. That first evening, 25 people showed up.
Collins explains the purpose: “Certainly, prayer and spiritual formation would be the central component to whatever we did to give Catholic artists a sense of solidarity even in the religious sense. Rather than being a guild promoting us professionally, we would come together first and foremost as people of prayer. God has given us these talents, and what we want to do is give back to him using these talents.
“We want to promote the spiritual development and the artistic development of artists and people in the media. We want to get more people involved and have a sense of a wider duty to be within their artistic discipline as a witness or apostle.”
The group draws Catholic artists from all disciplines: sacred artists, church organists, those working in theater, film, television and opera, musicians, and behind-the-scenes technicians such as cameramen and writers. But Collins looks to a quest they have in common — how can the average person in the arts be an apostle and sanctify his or her work?
Collins puts it this way: “How do I really do this in a way that is pleasing to God and serving him the way he wants me to serve him?”
The society’s plans call for the annual Mass, continuation of the regular evenings of recollection, some lectures, and, quite likely, other things too. An advisory board is being put together to help lead the apostolate.
As they proceed to keep the organization on the right track, Collins says they’re heeding the advice of a priest: “Listen to the Holy Spirit and see what God wants you to do.”
The evenings of recollection are well-suited to artists, according to Marcantonio: “We’re getting spiritual direction tailor-made for people in the creative industries.”
Spiritual guidance and several of the quarterly evenings of recollection have been given by Msgr. Javier Garcia de Cardenas, vicar secretary for the personal prelature of Opus Dei in the United States, who sees the opportunity as part of the New Evangelization.
He says it is important “that artists themselves, who are imbued in the Spirit of the Gospel, bring the Gospel so they preach not only in their art, but in everything they do in the spirit of Our Lord.”
For example, the aim is “not so much that they are going to produce Catholic entertainment, but that Catholics who are in entertainment will bring the Spirit of the Gospel to what they do.”
What do participants think?
Classical pianist Joe Shippee from New York, who is working on a master’s degree in music, participates “because friendships rooted in faith and united by work build up the faithful in our quest for holiness.”
“All too often, today’s artistic world encourages art as a purely relativist medium,” Shippee says, but a Catholic society for artists “is a valuable network that fosters art as representations of objective truths rather than subjective perceptions.”
Says Sarah de Nordwall, a poet, bard and founder of the Bard School in London, “I have already been inspired to tackle some excellent reading on (Jacques) Maritain.”
Viewing art “within the framework of orthodox Catholic thinking, which is not as available in England as it is in America” is important to her.
“It encouraged me to pursue the international dimension of my bardwork, my commitment to the training and support of artists,” she continued, “since we can become a prophetic witness to the mystery of the human person and the beauty of God, as long as we remain rooted in grace and authentic community.”
De Nordwall hopes the society will develop into an element of the grassroots support necessary “to enable artists to sustain a career which can bring a vision of hope to a world lost in confusion and in desperate need of the blessings of a transfigured imagination.”
Collins adds, “I’ve long aspired to be the kind of artist that Jacques Maritain describes in his Responsibility of the Artist, one serving the good of his art, the common, societal good, but also and most importantly, serving God and working for the good of his own soul. The CAS has giving me practical means for improving in these areas”: adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, reading Scripture, especially the Psalms, and living more intimately with the Church’s liturgical calendar, moving through the life of Christ and lives of the saints.
This last aspect has given him a deeper awareness of great examples for Christian artists to follow, “like Blessed Fra Angelico and St. Catherine of Bologna, and those who strove for holiness in more recent times, like Antoni Gaudí and (organist and composer) Olivier Messiaen. This synthesis of my artistic life with my faith has also led me to a deeper participation in each moment, word and action of the holy Mass, which in its traditional form is perhaps the greatest and most perfect work of Western art.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.