How Does Catholicism Aid the Artist?
Part Three of a three-part series, “On The Vocation of the Christian Artist”
The artistic calling to beauty is served most profoundly in the God-centered life. God is lavish in His giving of gifts to man, and great artistic talents have continued to produce an abundance, even when the artist has turned from God. But for the Christian artist, work and person are integrated on the way to perfection. His soul, to clearly apprehend beauty, seeks a transformation achieved only by the Holy Spirit, and the beauty it searches for is truly a vestige of God Himself in the world.
“God,” writes Jacques Maritain, “is the most beautiful of beings, because…His beauty is without alteration or vicissitude, without increase or diminution; and because it is not as the beauty of things, all of which have a particularized beauty.” (1) And John Saward elaborates that the gifts of the artist are given by the Creator and find their value in Him, for “human making has no meaning if there is no divine Maker to give man meaning.”
In addition to this fundamental grounding in God, Catholicism provides the artist with an enlightened understanding of the universe that directly supports his work. First, the Church recognizes the Creation as good, as meaningful, and as a vehicle for grace and revelation. In addition, the doctrine of the Incarnation uncovers the truth of man, of the body, and of matter itself. Mary, the Mother of God, also carries great significance for the artist as a mentor and companion, and as an icon of beauty. Strengthening the artist’s abilities is the life within the Catholic faith, a life of true freedom, in which the artist, growing in love, can pursue the needs of art without restraint. Lastly, the Catholic artist maintains a special relationship of mutual appreciation and invigoration with the Church herself.
Let us consider these aids given by the Church one at a time.
Eileen Cunis paints, writes, and illustrates in her home in central New Hampshire where she lives with her husband David, with appearances at various intervals by their grown children and diminutive granddaughters. An adult convert to Catholicism, she creates artwork for use in her parish’s liturgies, and she serves with the local pregnancy care center. This series of essays was originally written as a thesis paper to complete her master’s degree in theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT.