Vocations in the Arts

Mark Nowakowski

"Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teacher, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is "the art of education." Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place... The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points to the tasks they must assume, the hard workthey must endure and the responsibility they must accept... There is therefore an ethic, even a spirituality of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people.

(From the Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II "To Artists." Influence added by the author of the following article.)

Judging by the appearance of many modern churches, the sounds coming from the choir loft, and the mumbling rather than singing of supposedly "populace-friendly" hymns, most people are not incorrect in assuming that the Church has lost a great deal of artistic integrity. Despite the often bleak initial impressions, however, a closer examination reveals a distinct truth: 

We are not facing a vocational crisis in the arts. There are, in fact, more artists now than in any other time in history. 

The lack of Christian artists can be traced to three unfortunate phenomena: In the first, parents and family discourage young people from their artistic calling, often due to (largely unfounded) financial or other social concerns. Much of our culture, in fact, is in the deeply hypocritical position of admiring the performing arts yet discouraging others from participating in them. The second cause of shortage is the sense of loneliness artists often feel in the face of the secular humanism which dominates academic art. The third is the unfortunate loss of faith young artists endure as a result of the negative indoctrination of the Academy. 

Parents, family and friends must realize that just as in a religious calling, God gives specific people the desire to become artists. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, God does not put deep desires into our hearts that we cannot fulfill. Young people with artistic vocations must be encouraged and supported. One of the goals of The Foundation for Sacred Arts is to network Catholic artists throughout the world, providing the support and guidance for proper formation and continued career success. More than ever, the Church needs artists of all areas, to revitalize the aesthetic realm of faith and build on the great tradition of artistic achievement which is the heritage of Catholicism.

The recent Moto Proprio -- making the Latin Mass much more accessible -- will open the doors to both new inspiration and new Catholic artistic expression. From the artistic perspective, this can only be seen as a positive development. 

Theological concerns aside, I returned to my faith years ago because the Catholic Church seemed to me to be the most cohesive fusion of informed theology, thorough philosophy, and ecstatic spirituality. As if this weren't enough to occupy the faithful, the "deposit of the faith" contained countless works of art and literature to guide me in my journey and open the door to artistic inspiration. 

Considering the embarrassment of cultural riches available to the average Catholic, it is equally embarrassing that the average Catholic does not know the name of Palestrina, let alone the numerous prolific Catholic composers in the world. In seeking to strengthen the Church and bring new members into her fold, it is time to also re-embrace the cultural heritage that comes part and parcel with our spiritual and intellectual Catholicity. 

If you know a young artist, or perhaps an older artist who is struggling, encourage them! If you are feeling the call to creativity, you owe it your fullest discernment. Any great calling is often assaulted by fear, which is why John Paul II instructs us to "Be Not Afraid!" 

We are not children of fear. We are, as John Paul II points out, creative beings descending from a great creator. Create, therefore, and encourage creativity. 

God is still calling people to be Catholic artists, much as he is calling people to the religious life. They are necessary. They are greatly needed, perhaps now more than ever. 

Who better to bear witness to a shallow artistic culture than the modern creative beings already within the folds of our great Church? 

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