“Catholic Artists Today Are Virtually Invisible”

Interesting post on Deacon Greg Kendra’s blog today about the dearth of Catholic influence in the arts today: Catholic Artists are Virtually Invisible. I would disagree with Dana Gioia’s conclusion, however, that American culture is to blame. While there may be some truth to that, I believe we have no one to blame but ourselves. I don’t think we encourage artistic expression in catechesis as much as we should. As a child, I remember drawing, coloring, and even painting pictures (water colors, or course!) of Gospel scenes, especially the Crucifixion and Resurrection. When I was a parish DRE, I was lucky enough to inherit a program that included an arts and crafts catechist as well as a music catechist and we continued during my 7 years there to engage the children in art and music in addition to their “textbook” lessons.

For the past few decades, however, the catechetical enterprise has, in many ways, turned its nose up at anything “artsy,” considering it to be fluff. While we indeed did need to improve our focus on teaching doctrine, we have created an atmosphere that is suspicious of anything that doesn’t include doctrinal text. I’m not advocating that we go back to making catechesis a “burlap and butterflies” experience (if, indeed it ever was that), but I would hope that we do more to stimulate the Catholic imaginations of those we are teaching.

In the introduction to Laurine Easton’s book Crafting Faith: 101 Crafts to Help Kids Grown in Their Faith, I wrote the following:

Did you know that the Bible begins with a craft activity?

The creation stories in the Book of Genesis (chapters 1 and 2) explain to Crafting Faithus how, out of the divine imagination, God crafted the heavens and the earth, the stars, the sun, the moon, the oceans, plants, and living creatures, culminating in the crafting of human beings. Simply put, crafting is the art of creating an object with skill and careful attention to detail. Creation is nothing other than God’s craft-work. Made in the image and likeness of God, we human beings are driven to create. Crafting is a way of participating in the creative nature of God and in the Divine imagination.

Crafting has a long a privileged place in religious education. The making of crafts allows children (as well as people of all ages) to concretely and creatively express their understanding of the faith and of their relationship with God and the Church. Art is a “language” that we use in religious education to “bring the divine to the human world, to the level of the senses, then, from the spiritual insight gained from the senses and the stirring of the emotions, to raise the human world to God, to his inexpressible kingdom of mystery, beauty, and life.” (NDC 37B1). 

Likewise, in 2000, Pope John Paul II hosted six hundred artists at the Vatican as part of the celebration of the Jubilee Year. In a letter he wrote to artists, the Holy Father said the following:

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” 

What thoughts do you have about the place of art in catechesis (other than “we don’t have enough time as it is!”)?

P.S. Here’s an example of art in catechesis from St. Julie Billart Parish in Tinley Park, IL…the cover of the parish bulletin and pages 15 and 16 show examples of children’s renditions of the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. Kudos to DRE Pat Kmak.


About Joe Paprocki 2748 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

8 Comments on “Catholic Artists Today Are Virtually Invisible”

  1. We at St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma, WA have a yearly parish assembly surrounding art which we call our Religious Art Festival. It is normally during or right before Lent. It is given a them each year usually related to the USCCB’s catechetical theme. We have a series of art pieces that we have collected over time, set up in a gallery format and have in the past borrowed art from local museums or colleges. These are all on display for the parish to come and browse. Our catechists are asked to have their classes come up with some art activity to display related to the theme. In the middle of the room we have arts/crafts for the children to put together. To top it off we bring in coffee and donuts, other refreshments and live musicians to play background music. In the past we have asked parishioners to bring in their own pieces of art for display that they may have in their homes. It is always well attended and well received. We have incorporated several “Parish” art projects as well where each parishioner can contribute to a work of art that is hung later somewhere on our campus.

  2. Joe,

    As a former art teacher and a practicing artist (along with catechist and a few other “lives”) I am delighted with this blog. Thank you so much!

    Art gives voice to things that words can’t encompass. It’s a language for those who struggle to learn and to communicate in a second (verbal) language. It opens the way to healing for those who have been abused, abandoned, tortured.

    I speak here of all the arts — visual arts, music, dance, mime, etc. — that give us another way to express religious experience, another way to pray.

    The arts, with all their discipline, also give us a way to play in all the wonderful “stuff” of God’s creation. Scripture tells us that we are “God’s work of art” (Eph 2: 9-10, NJB). If we can be delighted with what we create, think what delight God takes in us!


  3. AMEN!!!!

    Our children need to experience the fullness of our faith, and that includes the gift God bestows on artists to bring forth images that assist us in finding God’s presence with us.

  4. I encourage our Catechists to incorporate all the methods of learning in their lessons, and provide any and all materials they may need. Where would Worship be without artistic expression? I cannot think of a better way for children – and adults – to express God’s love for them, and theirs for Him. Thanks for the ideas from other parishes.

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