Pope Benedict XVI to Artists: “Why can’t you just make nice, pretty things?”

11/23/2009 4:10 PM |

Francis Bacon Pope Artist

The papal pow-wow between his holiness and some 260 artists (including Bono, architects Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind, Ennio Morricone, Robert Wilson and artists John David Mooney and Bill Viola) took place on Saturday in the Sistine Chapel, and despite my fears, nobody was mysteriously found at the bottom of the Mediterranean with a pair of cement slippers the following day. As the AFP points out, this is the second such Pope’s invitational: 45 years ago Paul VI brought artists to the Vatican so he could personally apologize (!) for the church’s treatment of artists.

On Saturday Benedict wasn’t apologetic, but instead outlined his global curatorial vision by telling the artists present to be mindful of their “great responsibility to communicate beauty.” Benedict went on:

What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation—if not beauty?

So, I guess what he’s saying is that we’re still in the Renaissance. Artists: if you want to get into heaven, start painting landscapes with beautiful horizons and pretty clouds (angels and hands-of-god optional). (Artinfo)

One Comment

  • Ben,

    If I’ve understood you correctly, you are using the words “pretty” and “beauty” as conceptually indistinct. I hope you do not think that beautiful works are only placidly pretty. I have no stake in defending or rejecting the pope’s personal aesthetic sensibilities…

    However, I do not think you have understood the aim of his gesture. He is challenging artists to create works of authentic beauty: art that shocks us, wrenches us, that makes us suffer, pierces us and awaken us. Judging from you final ironic comment, I think you and the pope share a common concern regarding the work of the artist.

    Here is an excerpt from the same speech/letter that you cite in your blog post. Pope Benedict writes,

    “Dear friends, as artists you know well that the experience of beauty, beauty that is authentic, not merely transient or artificial, is by no means a supplementary or secondary factor in our search for meaning and happiness; [...] Indeed, an essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy “shock”, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum