The Purpose of Art (A Rant)

Still today it is striking to see to what degree artistic impotence is connected to the absence of the sacred.

–Régine Pernoud, Those Terrible Middle Ages

I agree 100,000%!

I’m not saying that all art must be pictures of the Most Holy Trinity or of saints and martyrs! But with Modernism and Postmodernism in the last century, humanity has witnessed a deconstruction of what had been known about art since “cave” times: that the purpose of any work of art is to express “the transcendent,” as Miss Pernoud put it.

Have you ever seen any of the works of the American painter Jackson Pollock? To me, his “paintings” symbolize the very worst of what happened to art in the 20th century, the destruction that ravaged sculpture, architecture, literature, music, even the sacred arts, and worst of all the Sacred Liturgy. I don’t know what Mr. Pollock was trying to express, but it’s certainly not transcendent: his work is utterly repulsive to those who seek the truth, goodness, and beauty of human art.

For years I’ve had to hear the constantly-repeated lie that “self-expression” is the basis of art–any self-expression is good by its nature and we have to recognize that as “art.” No. Absolutely flagrant falsehood. Art is what expresses something of the transcendental qualities of truth, goodness, and beauty. No, I was not taught that in my college Art History class, but it is the truth of the ages.

There are no two ways about this. Whether it is a bronze sculpture of a tree, or a symphony, or an ancient basilica, we know art when we see it–calling dribble of paint on a canvas “art” is a disgusting sham. Particularly after the insights I’ve gained from Régine Pernoud’s wonderful book, I’m not buying it anymore, and I hope you don’t either. Never be afraid to be the child in Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, who was too smart to not tell it like it is, even when it was politically incorrect. He has always been one of my heroes!

6 thoughts on “The Purpose of Art (A Rant)

  1. You convinced me to have a look at the book. Along the same lines, Michael Rose wrote in one of his books that art in its highest manifestation is an expression of religious truth.

    • I read Mr. Rose’s book “Ugly as Sin”. The church building he has the most photographs of is St. Charles Borromeo in Kettering, Ohio. At the time I snickered to myself that, no matter the state of my parish church, at least it wasn’t like THAT. And then I moved to Kettering…Mr. Rose is right!!!

      • I cannot wait for the days when all the ugly churches have been abandoned and are crumbling away, because people have filled the old basilicas and cathedrals and restored them even beyond their previous glory. (If I’m gonna dream, I’m gonna dream BIG! 😀 )

      • I am sorry for you, JRuskin and I somehow empathise with you. There are lots of bad churches in UK too, but what is worse, there’s less awareness of the situation here. I truly hope as well that one day old churched will be properly restored and new ones built in a worthy manner.

    • Hopefully you’ll enjoy the book as much as I am! When I began reading it, I expected it to be a simple debunking of historical errors. How I underestimated it! The second and third chapters are about the adverse affects of the Renaissance on European arts and letters, which turned the way I thought about all this on its head!

  2. Pingback: Why Restore Christian Culture? | St. Catherine Catholic Culture Center

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