The Surpassing Invisible Beauty of Truth


When we observe works of art, in particular sacred art, we are necessarily brought out of ourselves into a new perspective.

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Yet we often hear the claim that modern art is disconnected from beauty and, by extension, is unable to communicate the beauty of holiness. Pope Benedict XVI explained this as follows:

“We are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions. It is a symptom of the crisis of man’s very existence. The immense growth in man’s mastery of the material world has left him blind to the question of life’s meaning that transcend the material world.”

Atlas-Statue-Rockefeller-Plaza-Fifth-Avenue-HDR

Modern man defies the transcendent

Unfortunately, many have ran with similar statements too quickly and too far, arriving to claim that modern art is “ugly” and that modern sacred art is nothing but “secular (profane) artworks embedded in sacred spaces”.

Consequences of iconoclastic mindset

The iconoclastic mindset

Others, connecting many more dots than what prudence dictates, have claimed that modern art is ugly because modern souls belong to a global society falling into apostasy. At the extreme end of the spectrum we find the histrionic-schismatic mindset of those who claim that “the ugly images found in Novus Ordo churches are the final offense of the devil, an outrage that sums up all lesser offenses because it represents his goal of obliterating the image of the holy ones in the Church”.

Sadly, the proponents of these and similar statements are indeed upholding a tradition, but not the tradition of Catholic sacred art. They are, in a sense, the modern version of the ones who raised up their scandalized voices to the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Their claim? Michelangelo’s work was too modern.

Paul Barolsky, a  specialist in Italian Renaissance art, explains that contemporary critics of “the first modern artist” accused the Last Judgment of being disconnected from the norms of classical form and violating religious decorum.

Last_Judgment_Sistine_Chapel

However, “The images are not photographs…their whole point is to lead us beyond what can be apprehended at the merely material level to awaken new senses in us, and to teach us a new kind of seeing, which perceives the Invisible in the visible. The sacredness of the image consists precisely in the fact that it comes from an interior vision and thus leads us to such an interior vision. It must be a fruit of contemplation. Art is always a gift. Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received. Before all things, it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing”.

Many modern art forms, even within sacred art, accomplish this wonderfully even though they may depart from more traditional artistic styles. They are not “modernist”, nor do they belong to that school that religious illustrator Matthew Alderman has called “the Other Modern”.

The Franciscans of Life are patronizing the work of a local artist whom we believe is a representative of the above, and we will feature his artwork for sale on a dedicated section of our website http://www.franciscansoflife.org The proceeds will go towards the education of our student brothers. This young artist specializes in concept illustration, book covers, and fictional fantasy. He has displayed remarkable talent in the production of sacred art using traditional and digital mediums.

Artwork in the community room at our mother house.

Artwork in the community room at our mother house.

St. John Paul II reminds us that modern artists are, just like artists of all ages, men passionately dedicated to the search for new “epiphanies” of beauty, admiring the work of their inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation. While acknowledging that in the modern era a new kind of humanism marked by the absence of and opposition to God has gradually asserted itself, the Church has not ceased to nurture great appreciation for the value of art, even beyond its typical religious expressions…for even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice to the universal desire for redemption.

Julian_Pentecost

Pentecost

The pontiff reaffirms that just as the Church needs art to make perceptible and attractive the world of the invisible without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery, art also needs the Church for the great source of inspiration offered by the religious theme. This partnership has been a source of mutual spiritual enrichment and has led to a greater understanding of man, and to an opening of the human soul to the sense of the eternal.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, reminds us that we must be able to look even beyond the traditional means of the craft:

Julian_Corpus_Christi

Corpus Christi

“Technoscience, when well directed, can also produce art and enable men…to leap into the world of beauty. Valuable works of art no make use of new technologies. So, in the beauty intended by the one who uses new technical instruments and in the contemplation of such beauty, a quantum leap occurs, resulting in a fulfillment which is uniquely human.”

It is therefore our hope that we will look at all expressions of modern art, and particularly at sacred art, with a renewed understanding of man’s quest for the beyond. There is much to be appreciated, as long as we are capable of casting aside prejudices and overly zealous attitudes.

Art indeed “goes beyond the search of the necessities of life…it expresses practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight, [and] sacred art is true and beautiful when it evokes and glorifies ….the surpassing invisible beauty of truth and love”.

These words come from a relatively recent book, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but reflect a wisdom that is timeless. We find it echoed by the same Michelangelo, who affirmed that “every beauty which is seen here by persons resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come”.

Julian_St_Joseph_and_Christ

St Joseph and Christ in the Workshop

 

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