PATRON OF THE ARTS?
I knew Catholic Exchange was running one of my columns when I opened my email and found ten messages with "Patron of the Arts" in the subject line. This column was part of a series I wrote on the Church and the arts for the Register, and which has gotten a lot of feedback. Judging by all the poor sheep bleating agreement, it's clear the piece touched a nerve.
Here's a snip...
It has to be said. Much of the art we are making as a Church is painfully embarrassing. It has the opposite effect that it should. There is a problem when the Church is roughing up music that would be better suited to an episode of Barney, while Nora Jones trills songs that sting people to the heart. It is not a diminution of the liturgy to evaluate it from the standard of what Hollywood calls “good production value.” The sad truth is, on a weekly basis, most parishes offer their long-suffering sheep all the beauty and excellence of a high school talent show.
Go here to read the whole piece.
Then, come back here and read the following feedback messages people have been sending me.
Dear Barbara Nicolosi,
Thank you for the insightful article that I read on Catholic Exchange entitled "Patron of the Arts". Our parish recently built a new church (oops, "worship space") that is so flat, beige and dull that the visual sense begins to be lulled to sleep upon entering. It is architectural vanilla pudding. This "elegant simplicity" was ostensibly for budgetary reasons, but we also managed to purchase several large bronze statues that could not have been cheap.
I happen to have a Masters Degree in Fine Art (I'm a painter) and I found the statues to be of a quality that you might expect from an undergraduate, not a professional artist. There is little thought for, or apparent knowledge of, anatomy. The faces tend to be somewhat mask-like and a couple are positively creepy. I have no idea whether the artist was Catholic, or even Christian.
One figure of Jesus appears to scowl from a hooded robe, his gnarled hands parting the garment and revealing what I assume is meant to be his Sacred Heart which is inexplicably overflowing with naked figures remeniscent of the holocaust. Many parishoners were actively repulsed by this artwork, and said so before it was purchased. Their objections were met with a shaking of the head that seemed to say "This sort of thing is best left to those with a more mature understanding of art. After all, shouldn't art challenge as well as inspire?". A number of parishoners have (privately) dubbed it the "Darth Jesus" or "The Scary Heart" statue.
I have just opened my own art gallery locally that will be dedicated to helping revive the lost knowledge and techniques of the old masters. I am thinking of approaching our parish art and environment committee and offering to paint the Stations of the Cross for free. I could partially make up for the lost income by selling prints of the artwork.
Please pray that I will be able, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother, to establish a small beach-head for beautiful and meaningful art in this area.
Thanks again for saying aloud what so many have felt for so long. God bless your work.
Pax Christi - T.J.
Miss Nicolosi -
Just a quick note about your article reprinted on the Catholic Exchange website today.
It was dead on.
Thank you for that bit of inspiration.
- A Seminarian in FL
Dear Ms. Nicolosi,
I have enjoyed reading and reflecting upon your column on the Catholic
Exchange Website for some time. Just recently, I read your article "Patron
of the Arts?" and was compelled to write you a quick note of gratitude and
I am a trained vocalist having sung many forms of music in my life
classical, theater, pop and jazz. As a member of the Catholic church it has
been my joy to lend my voice as cantor and choir member. My husband is a
professional photographer, and he is amazed at what is considered "art"
these days! Like you, we long for the church to recapture the rich heritage
of mystery, beauty and inspiration which true art lifts within the human
I feel that you're expecting too much from the parish you attended with the bad music. If it's a small church with a small budget, then they must work with what they have. If you're used to a big parish where they pay the musicians, then you cannot expect them to measure up to that standard.
More than that, though, the parish community is what makes the beauty of the liturgy. As someone who has been part of several rural parishes in Kansas, I know what I'm talking about. For a while, I was that organist stumbling around trying to accompany the singing. What I gave them was better than nothing, though, and that is what they would have had if I hadn't been there.
[NOTE FROM BARB: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm....]
Rather than tearing apart the local musicians who are trying to help out, why doesn't your family volunteer to help?
[NOTE FROM BARB: See the next column in the series.]
You shouldn't do it with an attitude that "we're here to change everything and fix it," but with an attitude of humbly trying to do what can be done to bring people into worship. Is there a liturgy committee that they can volunteer for? Do any of them play instruments? Can one of them volunteer to be in charge of the lectors or the music?
A parish is a community of believers who worship together and celebrate the Eucharist together, not a group of people who go to hear music and be entertained. The more that people step up to the plate and volunteer their talents, the more the parish will move toward a more beautiful worship. In some parishes, that may simply mean singing out more, but if you have the talent, why not do more?
Out here in the real world, away from Catholic academia, we do what we can with what we have. If you get involved, you will find you love us even if we can't sing to save our souls.
Thanks for your writing. It's interesting reading.