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There Weren’t Dragons

Thar Be Dragons! gets its due over at OSV – “Just Because It’s Catholic, Doesn’t Mean It’s Good.” It’s a well-written piece by Emily Stimpson, with comments from various folks involved in Catholic media on the sad state of affairs. A snippet:

The list of reasons why Catholic media rarely measures up goes on. There’s the reticence on the part of responsible Christians to make the risky investments that art requires. There’s the shortage of first rate film and communications programs at Catholic universities, the decades of Catholic internecine squabbling which has kept much of the Church’s energies directed inward rather than outward, the distrust of Hollywood and tools of social media, as well as what Vogt and Gan characterize as “false humility” on the part of Catholics.

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the Christian message is powerful and compelling enough to stand on its own, that we don’t have to worry about how we present it,” Vogt said.

“The beauty and power of what we have to say can blind us to the importance of the medium,” seconded Gan.

I said what I gotta say over in the comments. Perhaps you should, too? Or just hang out here and let’s make fun of bad movies. In Christian charity, of course.

Oh, fine, here’s what I said: We talk a lot about how to educate and nurture Catholic artists – but not that much about how to educate and nurture Catholic patrons of the arts. The ability to recognize and appreciate Beauty is important whether you are looking for a place to invest your $15 on Kickstarter or drawing up plans to endow a scholarship to film school. I’d be interested to know, in particular, how Catholic universities go about presenting the opportunity to become patrons of the arts to graduates who may not be artistically inclined themselves, but could still help bring about an artistic revival.


  1. Matthew Lickona says:

    There is also the fact that Catholics don’t want to mess with Catholic art. They do not care.

    • Southern Expat says:

      Now, are you saying this is a modern problem, or that’s true across the ages? I am guessing you mean: These Catholics Today.

  2. Matthew Lickona says:

    You know, gay cinema is a thing. Gays make plenty of fine mainstream art, of course, but there is also a market for explicitly gay cinema. Gay stories. Gay issues being dealt with. Uniquely gay dramas playing out. Common dramas playing out among gay characters. Gay, gay, gay. There are gays who want to consume art that is specifically and explicitly about themselves. Even if it’s not great art, it has the appeal of the mirror held up to nature.

    Catholics, not so much.

  3. Insert Flannery O’Connor quote here.

  4. Betty Duffy says:

    OK, Trying to keep this in perspective…

    When the greatest “catholic” art was created (and I’m thinking a little medieval), everyone was Catholic more or less, and so its Catholicity could be taken for granted.

    Now we’re “beleaguered” Catholics, fighting for our 120 minutes of the world’s consciousness.

    Percy and O’Connor took for granted the notion that the Catholic faith is true, and then told a story on that premise.

    There be Dragons had the money, the production expertise, the director, and a built in audience. And a poorly written story.

    In which case, we’re thinking about it too hard. We just tell a good story, and let God sort out how many converts there will be because of it. Probably none.

    But there might be a respite from exile, two hours of beauty–which is worthy in itself. Even if only for a small audience.

    • Matthew Lickona says:

      It didn’t have a built in audience. Catholics are not interested in seeing themselves portrayed in narrative art.

      • Southern Expat says:

        I disagree. It had a built-in audience, but an extremely small one.

        “Catholics are not interested in seeing themselves portrayed in narrative art.” Can you expand on that? Except I’m super-confused about which Dragon-based comment box should contain said conversation.

        • Cubeland Mystic says:


          You think multidimensionally. This discussion has to occur in all comboxes and no comboxes simultaneously.

          • Southern Expat says:

            Excellent point, but if I am to bring my vast social networking resources to bear in driving traffic to one of these discussions, I have a Sophie’s choice before me.

            Really, though, this is a test comment because I just optimized the database. Zing! Let’s see if that helped.

          • Matthew Lickona says:

            I go back to the gay thing. Or the black thing (Tyler Perry). Both the gays and the blacks have real built-in audiences for films that feature their own, reflect on their own, explore what matters to their own. Gays, famously or stereotypically endowed with excellent aesthetic taste, have for years supported the existence of cinema that is aesthetically weak. They didn’t do it because they felt that they should get out there and support gay filmmakers. They did it because they were interested in seeing themselves at the center of stories. I have heard similar arguments with regard to Tyler Perry – people saying that his films are terrible, but by God, they hit a sweet spot among black audiences. I don’t detect a corresponding hunger among Catholics – the sort of hunger that would inspire a Catholic to consume mediocre or even bad art, not out of a sense of obligation to his fellow Catholic (the artist), because out of a sense of hunger. “This beer is not very good, but I do love beer, and even bad beer is beer, and that is enough.” As it happened, The Mystery of Things was pretty good. The Theology of the Body crowd should have eaten it up, and Lord knows, they’re willing to buy books. But not narrative fiction, apparently.

            • Matthew Lickona says:

              “Optimizing the database” is my new favorite euphemism.

              • Betty Duffy says:

                BY your argument, M.L., Catholics are not narcissistic enough to support the arts.

                • Cubeland Mystic says:

                  I don’t disagree btw. Been involved in Catholic projects too. Explicitly catholic Catholics suck at supporting explicitly catholic projects.

                • Matthew Lickona says:

                  No, I think they’re not interested enough in the specifically Catholic aspect of themselves to see it receive narrative treatment. Art holds a mirror up to nature, yes? The enjoyment of any art depends to a certain extent on interest in the self, insofar as the self is human and worth illuminating. After all, Catholics buy plenty of books about being Catholic. They’re very interested in themselves – call it narcissism if you like. But they’re not interested in seeing themselves at the center of stories. The Way was a damn fine film with a Catholic (and a bad one!) at its center and religious themes throughout, done by total pros, starring a beloved actor (Martin Sheen) and without any of that bad art preach-teach stuff. The makers fought like hell to market the thing. It took in $4.5 million. Chicken feed. Catholics didn’t care.

                  • Cubeland Mystic says:

                    I cared. It is on the list to watch this Lent. BTW, is it something that the little people can watch?

                    • Matthew Lickona says:

                      Largely. There is discussion of an abortion. There is frequent pot smoking. There are some lacerating speeches.

                  • Betty Duffy says:

                    I don’t buy it. We’re all catholics now. Or at least, we are not a ridiculous sub-market like the gay market. Catholic means universal. Our concerns are everyone’s concerns.

                    And anyway, The Way, did not star Angelina Jolie. It’s in the same indie category as all the other low-grossing movies that don’t star Angelina.

                    The thing is–I think we need to quite thinking in terms of the Catholic artist and the Catholic market. If it’s good, and it stars Angelina, everyone will go see it.

  5. Matthew Lickona says:

    On the fundraising/patron front, you are aware of The Clapham Group, yes?

  6. Matthew Lickona says:

    And The Wedgwood Circle?

    They picked Alphonse as one of six out of a hundred applicants to pitch to a group of angel investors. The invitation was later rescinded. But they have good people there, trying to do good work.

  7. Southern Expat says:

    I’m going to wield my tyrannical little fist and close comments on this post and encourage people to switch over to the There Just Might Be Dragons post, as it was mentioned by OSV on Twitter and will presumably be getting more traffic. Plus, it’s completely confusing to have dragons existing in two different states of potentiality on one blog.

  8. Matthew Lickona says:

    Just try.

  9. Matthew Lickona says:

    What would we do with traffic anyway?

  10. Matthew Lickona says:

    What are you doing, Dave?

    I’m closing the comments, HAL.