Consider Dante. To be a poet, in Dante’s mind, was to submit oneself to the great minds and works of Greece, Rome, and Christian Europe. Thus The Divine Comedy reflects Dante’s passionate study of Aristotle, Virgil, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Or consider, to take a somewhat more contemporary example, Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor did not shy away from serving her apprenticeship at the very mainstream secular, but artistically pre-eminent, Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She knew that this was where she had to be in order to become excellent at her craft. And the result of her efforts was a strikingly counter-cultural and singular contribution to literature in the 20th century.
What we learn from Dante, O’Connor, and other great Catholic artists is that devotion to craft means disciplining oneself to learning from the best minds that have worked in that craft tradition. Which means seeking out those mentors, and becoming part of those institutions, which embody that tradition in the present-day–not all of which (as we learn from O’Connor’s experience at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop) will be Catholic.
Many Catholic individuals and institutions have recognized this truth. Barbara Nicolosi and her efforts in founding Act One, and John Paul the Great Catholic University and its mission to educate students in the arts and new media, are just two examples that readily come to mind.
But so many more devoted artists are needed.
Catholic artists, learn your trade.
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