Last week, a podcast I was listening to discussed the Letter of John Paul II to Artists written in 1999. Immediately, I was compelled to read it over again. Whether or not you are Catholic, his message resonates and imbues the artistic soul with purpose. Too often, we are undervalued in society, and thought of as superfluous. Plato, one of the great philosophers of Western philosophy, thought of artists as unnecessary in his Utopia, despite being a huge fan of Homer.
So here, “to all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new epiphanies..., so that through their creative work as artists, they may offer these gifts to the world,” I'd like to share some of the ideas I found especially affirming.
The Divine and Creativity
My personal experience of being a visual artist is that my creativity connects me to the Divine. The letter says, “With loving regard, the Divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of unsurpassed wisdom calling the artist to share in divine creative power.”
Art as Vocation
The letter makes clear that not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Artists' work becomes “a disclosure of their own being, of what they are, and of how they are what they are.” Artists not only summon the work into being, but also reveal the soul through it. In this way, art offers a path to spiritual growth for artist and audience, rendering an “exceptional social service for the common good.” Genuine artists “possess intuition that goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality's surface, strive to interpret its hidden meaning.” These words are a healing force to me as they justify my choice in life to pursue art, and put an end to internal conflict about where to place my efforts.
An Artist's Worth
John Paul affirms that society needs artists just as it needs scientists, doctors, and other professional people. He cautions artists against being driven by cheap popularity or profit, as artistic service is a sacred vocation that contributes to the quality of life and the renewal of people. To clarify, I am certain he didn't mean that artists should live in poverty, but that we are on a par with other professionals, and thus deserve to live a good and prosperous life.
John Paul II's letter can be read in full at: https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/letters/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_23041999_artists.html