CORRESPONDENCE WITH CARDINAL KAROL WOJTYŁA
ARCHBISHOP KAROL WOJTYŁA
Metropolitan of Krakow
Krakow, 25 June 1965.
I would be very obliged if Dear Professor cared for providing me with his comments, even if only in outline, voiced at the occasion of our meeting in March. With cordial greetings.
+ Karol Wojtyła – Archbishop
His Em. X. ARCHBISHOP, KAROL WOJTYŁA
Metropolitan of Krakow
THE MOST DIGNIFIED SHEPHERD!
I’m herewith answering the questions on the Christian inspiration in today's visual arts.
I think that there is almost no Christian inspiration at all in our visual arts today, and that even works procured to immediate order and need of the Church and its believers are lacking it.
This condition has resulted from the conceit of the «Christian-like» ages. Now luckily is the time to dig out the talents we’ve been vested. And a genuine treasure is waiting for digging out in the visual arts. Disorderly strata of pious texts and pictures have obscured the risers of Lord’s Prayer and the clear looks of saints, even such as St. Teresa, St. Stanisław. These authentic and documentary looks aimed at us have been laid aside, while fake dummies are sold to children and in churches. Sometimes only for a while, and to a few, someone makes them available. I myself have painted for altars their neuter images, because I didn’t know the true ones. Those true and sacred I saw after years and by an incident in a newspaper. Not only Christians and painters search for the revelation of saints’ look. Generally, published hagiographies and pictures have persuaded no one, and indeed quite to the contrary.
The existence and necessity of Christian inspiration should be openly recognised, and openly elevated beyond any day-to-day calculation. The presence of this inspiration, or the lack thereof, should be authoritatively and substantively pointed out to, in large as well as the smallest works, ancient and contemporary, for church and private use alike.
The weight should be explained of the beauty of religious, apostolic, social, and cultural goods that this inspiration brings about. And also the enormity should be emphasised of the losses that accrue from neglect and wilfulness in this respect.
At seminars and conferences at all levels, in publications and religious instructions we should remind that arts, and therefore also visual arts, in the Church are not a luxury, which is to satisfy our ambitions and tastes, but they have, as well as any other human activity, responsibly and consciously participate in the mission of the Church. Moreover, that they are a test of our religious life, documenting its authenticity and level, but they no less unveil to the world our intentions, even those unconscious, and the primary among them, namely: whose glory we seek, we Christians, in our atomic age.
Opportunism, vulgarity, shoddiness, snobbery must be weeded carefully and diligently, as well as everything related, that has been nested so well and so long in this segment of the Church. Better to leave children and books without pictures, bare windows and walls of temples, than to fill them with untruth, carelessness, and conceit. These are not exclamation marks, but simply a reasonable and conscientious account.
Invention and visual form, as any other, is clarified by the content and usefulness. Only this issue so defined and understood will effectively combine the efforts of investor and artist. Taking the trouble and struggle for the essence, an artist usually disturbs peace and comfort of the investor, but when the essence is essential for them both, differences in tastes diminish, as well as mutual failings and shortcomings. Where an investor reaches out for the essence, there will be devoted artists, but if an investor doesn’t want to care for the essence, there come jugglers and they entertain with content and holiness.
Religious folk art is missing, a source of directness and sincerity, so more clear, that anonymous. Aesthetic and theoretic dissertations and disputes at the intellectual heights only deepen this fatal confusion. We’re wasting time, our only property and chance. The Babylonian tower’s shadow reaches us. Artists exhibit themselves and cense their craft. Despite obvious disasters, Church investors do not pose fundamental questions or problems, but they discuss and want to decide on something they are not professionally prepared for. Worshippers wade on their own in the shallows of sacred habits, self-confident, without anxiety, and they fall overboard at every turn.
It is true that the Christian and visual awareness today is already clearly bigger and brighter than in past eras, but it’s lacking resources and its scale and resilience are too small to resist the pace of social and civilization change and the permanency of the organised and widespread flooding of secular line of print and illustration, of film and television.
Many brilliant visions have survived of the great religious art, and in spite of everything still a lot has lasted of the religious folk art. They are catalogued and described in great detail and carefully in formal and historical terms by scholars and museum staff with exemplary dedication. Many secular descriptions of artworks open up iconographic and ecclesiastical, cult and almost dogmatic, issues forgotten by Christians.
All of them on behalf of their creators are waiting for us and for the Church to raise them and to demonstrate to the stubborn world their origins and concept, just their Christian and ecumenical inspiration.