August prayer Intention: That artists of our time, through their ingenuity, may help everyone discover the beauty of creation.
A reflection by Michelle Arnold Paine
When God finished the work of creating the earth in Genesis, he “said that it was good”. There is much that is difficult, painful, and ugly in the world today, but in the beginning, it was created good and beautiful — and Christ’s saving work is to return us to that paradise. The arts are our creative response to the world we have been given; our creations are an echo of God’s creation.
We experience the world through our senses, through our ears, eyes and bodies. Art is physical, but it awakens in us a sense of the spiritual, and can point us to God. Through painting, music, theatre, etc. we see the incarnation – the flesh and blood- of the beauty, truth and goodness of God. Through beauty artists communicate a physical presence of God, an echo of God’s physical presence in the Eucharist.
No longer an important criteria for art in the contemporary art world, popular culture has twisted the word “beauty” in slick magazines to mean inachievable physical perfection. Beauty is often deemed as luxury, superfluous, non-essential. In a similar way the apostle questioned the woman’s offering of perfume to Jesus: “we could have sold that bottle and given the money to the poor.” But true beauty is always intertwined with her sisters, truth and goodness, and beauty is a powerful means of communicating the God’s saving truth to the world in a visible, tangible way.
Beauty is the sign of the Incarnation in the world. Benedict XVI in his address to artists in 2009 quoted Simone Weil in this regard: “In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God… Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible. For this reason all art of the first order is, by its nature, religious.”
Our primary responsibility on this earth is love. Love is a response, a relationship which requires humility. Art can be this act of love; it can demonstrate truth and goodness through beauty. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. When I create I must submit myself to my materials, to my subject matter, and to my collaborators. Inevitably I am always a bit surprised at the outcome, aware that something beyond me is at work within me.
Pope Benedict in his 2009 address to artists reminded us that we are “custodians of beauty in the world.” We have a responsibility to care for the gifts we have been given, to be a caretakers of the beauty he has offered us in the natural world, in relationships, and in the church.
In what ways can you become a custodian of beauty?
Michelle Arnold Paine is a professional artist who began to explore the visual richness of Catholicism while studying in Italy during college. She was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at Easter 2001 in the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy. Michelle now lives and has her painting studio in Ohio with her husband and two daughters. Her work can be viewed at www.michellepaine.com.