Pope of the Arts

The JP the Great tribute issue of crisis arrived yesterday. Many worthwhile articles on a variety of topics, as they invited various thinkers to talk about JP's influence in their respective spheres of interest. Bishop Chaput (who brings us the memorable line that the MSM assessing him is "a report on the Giant by the dwarves"). Bob Reilly. Fr. Edward Oakes. Many of the articles are on-line, so go find your favorites.

But since we've been on the topic of "Art," RC2 particularly calls your attention to Terry Teachout's "The Voice of the Artist," which isn't posted, unfortunately.

First, a digression. Twice while living in Rome after college, RC2 had the grace of reading at Papal events. The first instance was during an outdoor prayer service for peace in Lebanon (Oct. 4, 1989). If you have been to a papal audience (at least when the Pope was healthy and trodding down aisles to shake hands), you know that those in the audience are often more preoccupied with jockeying for positions once the Pope comes than praying. Surveying the crowd in St. Peter's, RC2 remembers thinking, "I wonder if anyone here is actually praying?" Then she heard a low groan and saw the Pope in that classic stance of his --clutching his crozier, eyes closed, and all the while uttering that soft, deep purr of prayer that ever since has reminded her of St. Paul's "Spirit groaning within us." Yes, someone was praying.
What calls this to mind is Teachout's reflection on JPtG's 1999 "Letter to Artists." RC2 confesses she sometimes hasn't taken periodic "outreach" to this or that group very seriously. Partly because you can't follow everything; but also because it's easy to think that some gestures are merely bureaucratic or merely symbolic. Mistake. Or at least a mistake where JPG is concerned. Like the prayer service I read for, where others see a photo op, he sees an opportunity.
So here's the opening paragraph --and keep in mind the relation between art and creation from a few posts ago:
"None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when --like the artists of every age-- captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you."
Later he will go on to say: "Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery."
And: ". . .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."
JPG repeated over and again to various groups the words of St. Catherine of Siena "If you are what you should be, you will set the world afire." One feature of his preaching RC2 loves is that he rarely finds it necessary to catalogue all the ways his audience is failing (for example, he doesn't state the obvious --that very little actual art is being created by the standard he himself presents). Instead, in the words of Maria Montessori, he "calls to the man within." "What you're doing is important, " he encourages (the "but you must do it much better" is implied). He raises our eyes to the hills from which come our help.