Aphorism of the Day

Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this…

The late Pope John Paul II stressed the connection between art and truth. But he also said, “Christ came to reveal man to himself,” and compared the artist’s work as being similar to Christ’s in this regard. So while the artist does indeed have an obligation to the truth, I would say that the second quotation indicates the right characterization of this obligation. Art doesn’t teach, it reveals. It brings revelation. It’s the difference between a wise man and a prophet – the artist is closer to the latter, wild-eyed and quite possibly alarming.

Better blogging next week, Lord willing.


  1. Steve Nicoloso says

    Art doesn’t teach, it reveals.

    Sure, but couldn’t the same thing be said for teaching? And I generally prefer my prophets to be wise men anyway. (And my wise men, prophets.) By all of which I do not mean to be snarky, but rather to observe that edification seems to be rather all of a single piece.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    You may prefer your prophets to be wise men, but there’s no guarantee that they will be. Look at all the prophetic characters in O’Connor. Often, they’re decidedly un-wise – they’re even stupid. But they have a message to tell. Often, they’re conveying a larger truth than even they understand. They’re instruments; they don’t have mastery of what they pass on, they just know it needs to be proclaimed. That separates them from teachers, who ought to understand the material they teach, and who, understanding, present it differently. I made this observation because, the more time I spend talking with fellow Catholics about “Catholic art,” the more I come to see that they expect Catholic art to teach Catholicism, or at least to present it in a particular and fulsome way.

  3. notrelatedtoted says

    Since when is art supposed to teach? That’s not to say art can’t teach, just that it’s not its primary purpose.

  4. j. christian says


    I think you’re on the right track. We talk about the fullness of truth in the Church, but it’s not a monopoly. It seems reasonable to expect prophecy to come from all quarters. Didn’t Aquinas say something about truth being “participatory?”

  5. Well I think many artists relish thinking of themselves as “wild-eyed” and “alarming”. But upon deconstruction, their art turns out to be an embarrassing window into their vanity.

    My brother attended a symphony in Vienna. He ran into the conductor on the street later that evening and paid him a simple and sincere compliment (My brother, like me, is a dilettante). The conductor replied, “Did my music shock you?!” My brother, as he tells it, fumbled his reply, unsure what the correct answer was. Telling me this story later, we had a good laugh at the pretension latent in the conductor’s answer.

    I also agree we should recognize prophetic voices outside the Church. Weren’t the Magi likely to be zorosterian?

  6. Anonymous says

    Art can be truthful and mendacious.

  7. Matthew Lickona says

    Oh, absolutely – the vanity of artists is legend. And the desire to shock for its own sake is childish.

  8. Good discussion. Isn’t it the specific mode of art to communicate directly to a person–bypassing sometimes the logical faculties of a person? Perhaps this mode is more akin to the prophet than the wiseman.

    By the way, Matthew, have you considered putting a “feed” on your blog. You can do it through a switch on your blogger settings. If you had a feed, I could access your blog through Google Reader.

  9. Matthew Lickona says

    I have no idea what you mean by feed, but I’ll look into it. I’m a troglodyte.

  10. To put a “feed” on your site, go to “Settings” then click on the “Feed” tab to enable the feature. A “Feed” on your website allows third-party applications to be notified when you add something to your site. I use Google Reader, for example, and can see whether any of my favorite blogs have been updated.

    You see, it all allows me to waste time more efficiently.

  11. Steve Nicoloso says

    So, then, is there such a thing as Catholic (or Christian) art? Having spent my life mostly as a Christian, and not specifically a Catholic, and having been thus constantly exposed to what I consider to be the ghetto of “Christian Music” and its “Christian Art” effluence, I have formed a few opinions on the matter…

    But perhaps the question of Catholic (per se) art is a different one.

    Okay, okay, a distinction CAN be made between teaching and revelation, between wisdom and prophecy… but aren’t they all best seen as different paths approaching the same one ideal, i.e., the perfect (or perfectly redeemed) man? That is, of course, not the only way to see them… and perhaps the question of Catholic art arises from those very fractures of fine distinction?

  12. Mary Ann says

    I think the best art is revealing.

    Especially when I consider that the greatest creation of God is Mary, and Mary is first gifted with containing Jesus. In turn, her loving response is to always be revealing Him.

    Like Mary, God’s supreme masterpiece, the best in art points our hearts back to union with God.

    For me as a musician, the joy of being an artist comes in the revealing. The ability to reveal something (ultimately Christ) greater than yourself, yet mercifully connected to your being is a sublime mystery and great honor.

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