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“Irish poets, learn your trade.”
So W.B. Yeats admonished his fellow Irish poets in his celebrated poem, “Under Ben Bulben.” With a slight amendment, it’s an admonition that could well apply to our Catholic artists.
The other day Emily Stimpson, a blogger over at CatholicVote.org, wrote an inspired piece called “Telling the Catholic Story.” In it she laments, after noting certain admirable exceptions, the current state of Catholic art, in particular our storytelling in the media of film, television and literature. Her lament pointed up the question: why aren’t Catholics today known for creating artistic masterpieces, or at least compelling works of art? Stimpson herself has difficulties zeroing in on the reason:
So again, why? Why can’t we match in quality and skill the media being made by our secular counterparts?
I’ve put that question to a lot of smart people over the last couple weeks and the answers they gave were plentiful: a dearth of excellent training programs at faithful Catholic schools, a reluctance and/or inability to invest substantially in high quality media, poor understanding of the medium of media itself, a distrust of Hollywood and the tools of social media, and the misguided belief that what we have to say is so compelling that we don’t need to worry about how we say it.
Those are all good answers.…
You love the arts.
Movies, television, music, drama, fiction, poetry, painting, dance…
For you, these mean far more than “mere” entertainment; they are part of what defines us as human beings. And you believe the level of their quality helps either to make or break a culture.
You’re someone who knows the arts have a crucial role to play in the New Evangelization.
You’re not the sort of person who condemns Hollywood whole-cloth. You’re the sort of person who comes out of a movie and thinks: those characters, sinful and frail as they are, still manifest a yearning for, even if they fail to achieve, Redemption.
You’re someone who wants a movie to embody Chekhov’s dictum that a story should artfully portray both life as it is…and life as it ought to be.
You believe that movies are arguably the defining medium of our age, and so you want them to embody the sacramentality of a vibrantly Catholic imagination.
You’re hoping to see, here in the early 21st century, a renaissance of Catholic literature like we saw in the early 20th century. You long for a next generation of Bellocs, Chestertons, Bensons, Greenes, Waughs, O’Connors, Percys and Sparks.
You understand that even popular entertainment has a role to play in renewing our culture. You agree with Chesterton that although we can live without literature, we cannot live without fiction. And so even our popular fictions should move us to tears or laughter while manifesting some truth about the human person.…