The Death of Sentimentality (and the Birth of Beauty)

Two posts ago, I promised some thoughts on the need for Catholics to start sharing beauty with the world.

Here they are.

But before I get rolling dishing out my thoughts, I’d like you to read a post by the best Catholic blogger going on the topic of Christian music.

I will pause while you read.

5 Reasons to Kill Christian Music

He hit the nail on the head.

The quote from Maritain at the beginning is enough if you don’t have time for the rest of the article. He says, “God does not ask for ‘religious’ art or ‘Catholic’ art. The art He wants for Himself is Art, with all its teeth.”

It seems many modern Christian artists are afraid to even let their art bark, much less bite.

There have unfortunately been a rash of bad Christian movies and loads of bad Praise and Worship tunes that many people seem to think are the best we Christians can do. But they’re not.

Catholics have long been among the great artists of the history of the world. Everyone from Shakespeare to Da Vinci to Beethoven was Catholic (to a greater or lesser degree). But the great artists of our day often are not.

I think that modern Christians have a tendency to want their art to “have a message”. Ugh. Art doesn’t need a message. It just needs to be beautiful, and honest.

When art is beautiful and when it is honest, when the world is confronted with people living beautiful lives and creating beautiful things, they start to want it. Badly.

No one confronted with beauty says, “No, take it away, make it stop!” They want to consume it. They want to melt into it. They want to become like it themselves.

That is why art is so powerful. That is why Beauty can save the world.

No one reads Flannery O’Connor or Walker Percy and says, “Oh, what a nice message.” No one listens to Springsteen and thinks, “That Boss sure is spreading the Gospel.” They read these things and they hear these songs and they are often left speechless, wondering how such pained and distorted and wonderful ideas could ever be expressed so well. They might not have a message, but their art is Catholic as the pope. It’s Catholic because it’s honest and beautiful.

It’s real. And Catholicism is a portrait of reality.

People are broken. Really, truly, deeply broken, and it’s okay for our art to show that. It’s even okay that the artists themselves are broken. I hate that Springsteen supports Obama; but some of his music is still truly beautiful. Is “I’m on Fire” a bad song because it talks about him wanting (presumably) premarital sex?

No.

We can, no, we must create pictures of reality (and create them well) with our paint and our stone and our chords and our words. And then we must share them with a world starved for beauty. When we portray reality, we portray Christ, because Jesus IS REAL.

He is real. A real person. A real God. And he lives here, now, in our broken hearts and our tormented souls, in our jumbled thoughts and our whispered prayers. And His Spirit is real too, filling our lungs and rattling our windows and storming our dreams.

God is real. So when we engage people with that reality, when we talk about it as honestly and as richly as we can, they experience God. Even, or perhaps especially, when we talk about the messy parts of reality, when we talk about sins and urges and mistakes.

Even then.

What makes a pop-rap song suck is not the fact that it’s rap. It’s not even the fact that it talks about sex and drugs and poppin all that bub up in da club.

It’s that it lies.

Those songs are not honest. They convey no real human emotion. No one stares at their ceiling for hours wondering if their rims are big enough. But the thought that a woman or man could ease their pain, that a sin might make things better, that you’ve lost all control whatsoever, that God felt close and now does not, that your parents or your siblings or your spouse is shattering before your eyes…that can haunt your night. And that can make for a wonderful song.

We must not fear the “teeth” of art. We need it to bite people in the ass, to wake them up to the harsh and dangerous nature of things. That’s when they will see Christ, or at the very least, that’s when they will realize that they need a savior to shield them from the dark thoughts that whisper to them through page and canvas.

My soccer coach used to say, “This team needs soldiers and artists both. We need guys to do the grunt work, and we need guys who create opportunities.”

The Church needs soldiers and artists, too.

So if you are an artist, a good one, then you need to be making art. And you need to be sharing it with people. And if you’re not, then you need to be in the trenches, fighting the war for the soul of this world with tooth and nail.

Together, we can do the work our Lord commissioned us to do. Together, we can spread His Good, Beautiful, and True News to all the ends of the earth.

So let’s get to work.

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One Response to The Death of Sentimentality (and the Birth of Beauty)

  1. Emily says:

    I like this one!

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