We All Need to Support the Catholic Arts
In the past, great artists enjoyed the patronage of wealthy patrons. Today’s Catholic artists must instead rely on ordinary people to support their work.
The great Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” This is so wonderfully true that, if we have eyes opened in humility, we can see God’s grandeur shining forth in all that is truly beautiful in Creation. We see it in the multifarious shades of green, shining forth in multifoliate splendor from forests of trees washed with the light of the sun. We can see it in clouds, careering across the sky in shapeshifting suggestiveness, splendid in shades of white and gray, punctuated with the Marian blue of the heavens beyond. We see it in all God’s creatures, great and small. And yet we also see it in the creative gifts of that special creature, called Man, who, made in God’s creative image, shines forth the grandeur of God in the fruits of his own creative gifts.
J. R. R. Tolkien wrote that “we make … by the law in which we’re made.” Being made by a Maker God, we make as we are made, with the creative gifts that are the image of God in us. The imagination is the image-ination: God’s imaginative image in his imaginative creatures. The true artist is aware that he is the recipient of this divine gift and is aware, therefore, that he has a responsibility to use the gift in a spirit of gratitude and humility in accordance with the will of the God who gave it to him. True art is therefore the giving back to the giver of the gift the fruits of the gift given.
We are all aware that many artists refuse to acknowledge the giver of the gift, casting their creative pearls before the swine to which their pride panders. These artists use their true gifts, given to them by the True God, in the service of false gods, the falsest of which is the self itself. We can pity such people and pray for them but we should not patronize them or pay for their works. Instead it is the duty of all of us to become patrons of the true art which shines forth the grandeur of God.
In the past, great artists enjoyed the patronage of wealthy patrons. Today’s artists enjoy no such patronage. Instead they rely on ordinary people to support their work, and by extension their families, through the purchasing of the fruits of their creative gifts. Since this is so, we all need to become patrons of the true art that Catholic artists are producing. We need to buy their paintings, or purchase the literary works of Catholic writers, or the works of Catholic composers and musicians. If we wish to support and encourage a new Catholic revival in the arts, a revival which is so sorely needed as an expression of the culture of life in the midst of the culture of death, we need to proactively nurture and nourish the new generation of Catholic artists.
In the past 10 years or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of Catholic art being produced. There seem to be more Catholic painters and sculptors, supported by the Catholic Art Guild; more Catholic poets, novelists and short story writers, supported by the Catholic Writers’ Guild; and more Catholic composers and musicians. There is, however, an unhealthy divide between the supply of true art and the demand for it amongst Catholic lovers of the arts. Those who admire the visual arts are more likely to buy books about old masterpieces than new works of Catholic art; lovers of literature are more likely to read the classics than new fiction and poetry written by Catholic authors and poets; music aficionados are more likely to buy works by the great composers than new works by contemporary Catholic composers. This is not to say (of course!) that we shouldn’t be admiring the masters who have so enriched our Catholic heritage, but it is to say that we need to be supporting the living tradition that is alive and well and in our very midst.
It would be a tragedy indeed were the present Catholic revival in the arts to flounder because of our neglect of what it is producing. It would be tragic were this exciting new wave of creativity to crash on the rocks of our own indifference. It would be a crying shame, crying to heaven itself, were the supply of sublime works of art be met by an inadequate demand to sustain it. The bottom line is that we change the world for better or worse with every dollar that we spend. There are few better ways of spending our money than in the support of contemporary Catholic culture. We are all called to become patrons of the Catholic arts. Let’s respond to the call.
This essay first appeared in the Imaginative Conservative and is republished with permission.