Beauty! What a contagious, intoxicating, captivating thing! Whoever you are, no matter what your experience may be, beauty gets your attention. Beauty is the overpowering one. It is impossible to ignore it. That’s why it is one of the best means of evangelization. I may not be able to get you through arguments (truth), I may not be able to get you through my goodness (the good), but spend enough time with me, I’ll get you through the beautiful (beauty). That’s why the church has always been a friend of the art in her efforts to evangelize. She sees art and artists as a worker in the vineyard helping her to echo the gospel to every creature. That’s what the best advertisers are usually masters of the arts.
Throughout history religious people and the church have always been patrons of the art. That’s why the Church, through St. John Damascene, in the 8th and 9th centuries, vehemently opposed “the iconoclast crisis” i.e. the destruction of work of art. Many of the Church Fathers were artists and poets. In fact, When the Edict of Constantine in 313 declared Christianity tolerable, work of art became a privileged means of conveying the faith. Majestic basilicas, shrines, chapels, stain glass windows, paintings, sculptures depicting passages from scripture began to appear. What does the Church understand by this? You cannot argue with beauty. It is too appealing.
Pope Paul VI spoke of artists in lofty terms when he refreshingly told them, “We need you; we need your collaboration to carry out our ministry of… preaching and rendering accessible and comprehensible to the minds and hearts of our people the things of the spirit, the invisible, the ineffable, the things of God himself. We need you because in this activity … you are masters. We need you to make accessible … treasures from the heavenly realm of the spirit and to clothe them in words, colors, forms graspable to all. Deprived of your assistance, our ministry would become faltering and uncertain…. In order to scale the heights of lyrical expression of intuitive beauty, priesthood would have to coincide with art.” Only experience can tell us if that statement is true, but at least it tells artists how they are seen in the eyes of the church.
In letter to artists, John Paul II echoed to artists where they stand in relation to society “Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers, and mothers…(4). To repeat, at the end of the day, beauty will save us. We need artists to keep producing.
What is the cash-value of art?
I think art helps us in our search for meaning. We can subscribe to anything once we get its meaning. Without beauty, certain meaning cannot be understood. Authentic beauty is not only for the intellectuals. It takes us to a world that we are called to, but can’t get on our own; art and beauty liberate our minds from darkness, transfigure it, and empower it to transcend itself. It’s like being inspired. You suddenly feel empowered to act.
Art and beauty, in the words of Plato, give the human person a healthy “shock”, draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and being content with the ‘everyday’; rather, it “reawakens” him, opens afresh the eyes of the heart and mind to experience awe and wonder. Beauty pulls us up.
Finally, beauty is a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. no one should be surprised about this since God is beauty itself. Is it not that beautiful that while we cannot do anything that can benefit God, he still keeps on loving us? Is it not beautiful that while we were the one who ran away, he is the one who went after us? How beautiful it is that God puts up with us though we are the lowest i.e. dumbest of all the rational creatures?
In conclusion, we are al in some way custodians of art and beauty. They speak to our feelings and reasons, touch the individual as well as the collective, call forth our dreams and hopes, and broaden our horizons of knowledge and of human engagement, support them.