Arts Journal, a forum for scholarship in visual art, quotes art writer Allison Meier saying that despite the departing Pope Benedict XVI’s conservatism, he was “surprisingly open-minded about art.”
I couldn’t disagree more.
Unless you think that limiting art to “beauty” as Benedict does, is open-minded. As he told a group of artists in 2010, “You are the custodians of beauty…“Be fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty!.. “Beauty can become a path toward the transcendent, toward the ultimate mystery, toward God.”
Clearly, Benedict was limiting art to one thing, www.examiner.com/article/spirituality-and-modern-art and directing all art traffic to his concept of beauty. This is nothig new. The church has a long history of dictating what art should be.
It’s notable that Benedict gave his talk to artists in the Sistine Chapel under Michelangelo’s wall mural “The Last Judgment.” It should be remembered that after Michelangelo died, the Vatican ordered loin cloths painted on all of the male nudes in his mural. And even as recently as 1984, when the mural was restored and the add-ons could have been removed, the Vatican opted to keep them.
Benedict’s idea of art leaves out an awful lot of art. I’m thinking of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of Hell, “The Millennium.”
While the concept of Hell kept the Middle Ages up at night, Bosch had his own nightmares - his terror of violence, injustice, greed and deception - as seen in a knight being devoured by a beast and an ear standing next to a figure with ears who can’t listen to truth.
But while Bosch painted his own nightmares, he also prompts us to think of our own. Contrary to Benedict’s view, artists aren't supposed to concern themselves with duty to anyone but themselves. And if their art is good, it will speak to the rest of us. James Joyce knew this when he has Stephen Daedalus say in the “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”:
"Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."