There is something about art that touches the soul. Whether it be a breathtaking painting, a powerful poem, or a song that speaks to the heart, art- in all forms- has the unique ability to transform, uplift, and inspire.
In my own life, there have been many instances in which I have been profoundly impacted by art. Specifically, I can recall meditating on a painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and be deeply touched by the experience.
Art and the Church
From this and many other experiences with art, I have become more aware of art’s connection to the human person. The human race needs art. As human beings are inclined to appreciate beauty, we are naturally drawn to the many and diverse forms of art. I have learned that, without art, the human race would not thrive, and vibrancy would cease to exist.
Not only does the world as a whole need art, but the Church needs art. In 1999, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote a “Letter to Artists”. This beautifully composed letter speaks of the necessity of art in the Church. Pope Saint John Paul II writes: “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.” Art, then, has the unique ability to make spiritual things visible in the world. It is because of this ability that art holds an important place in the Church.
What would the Church be without art? Without artwork itself, churches would be dull, and we would have no means of visualizing the Faith through painting, sculpture, statues, and the like. Without poetry and great works of literature, we would have no access to the wonderful imagery and rich symbolism that our Catholic Faith contains. Without music, we would not have the beautiful symphonies and voices that brighten every Mass. And without architecture, the church buildings and cathedrals themselves would be non-existent. In short, the Church would not thrive without art.
The Beauty of Art
Art connects to us at a very human level. It has the ability to bring about intense emotions–whether it be feelings of sadness, anger, joy, or anything in between. In all senses of the word, art is powerful. It connects us with the true beauty of God himself.
Indeed, beauty points the soul to God, and art is a reflection of that beauty. It is in viewing art that we are uplifted into a new awareness of who we are. Since God is the Ultimate Artist, we can connect with Him on a new level when experiencing beauty through art. Art has an aesthetic appeal that brings the soul to desire beauty, which, in turn, leads to an even greater encounter with God’s goodness.
Beauty’s Connection to Goodness
Beauty and goodness have a deep connection with each other. In his letter, Pope Saint John Paul II writes: “In perceiving that all he had created was good, God saw that it was beautiful as well. The link between good and beautiful stirs fruitful reflection. In a certain sense, beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty.” Through our experience with beauty through art, then, the goodness of God is revealed to us, and we can be brought into an even greater awareness of His goodness.
This very connection between beauty and goodness is why Pope Saint John Paul II has spoken of art as “The ‘Beauty’ That Saves”. Art has the ability to reveal the true nature of God. It is through the eyes of art that we can experience beauty, and this encounter reveals God’s goodness to us. The Pope writes that “true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience….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”.
The “Privileged Pathway”
Since art can be used to reveal God’s beauty, and beauty is connected to goodness, art is a way to encounter God. Therefore, art is a means of evangelization. In the Concluding Document of the Plenary Assembly, “The Via Pulchritudinis, which was written in 2006 by the Pontifical Council for Culture, Beauty as the “Privileged Pathway to Evangelization and Dialogue” is presented. In the concluding statement of this document, it is stated that: “‘Beauty will save the world,’ because this beauty is Christ, the only beauty that defies evil, and triumphs over death. By love, the “most beautiful of the children of men” became “the man of sorrows”, “without beauty, without majesty no looks to attract our eyes” (Is, 53, 2) and so he rendered to man, to each and every man the fullness of His beauty, His dignity and His true grandeur”.
Truly, beauty is the pathway that leads us to Christ. Whether you are an appreciator of art or an artist yourself, I encourage you to read both of these wonderful documents which speak about this beautiful subject. Both Pope Saint John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists” and “The Via Pulchritudinis” are sure to shed new light onto this topic. Upon reading these documents, I have gained a new appreciation for art in the Church, I hope that all who read them will also gain the same appreciation.