In his “Letter to Artists,” Pope John Paul II put liturgical art as perhaps the highest expression of the creative gift. But he noted that all art has value as it pursues the artist’s vocation of bringing beauty to the world. He even noted that “bad art” has a place, it shows us a world without God.
Artistic expression covers a lot of ground. I have never been one to suggest that one expression is better than another. The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles at Pentecost, giving them gifts that allowed them to speak to the people of the world in their own language, in a language they know by heart. The Holy Spirit also gives artists gifts that allow them to speak to people in a language they know by heart. Everyone will be drawn back to God in different ways. Some will be drawn by the priest and his sermons, others will be drawn by the artist that reflects the splendor of God and brings hope and joy to His people.
Different artists have different skills to reach different people. And as we heard from St. Paul, there are different gifts but the same Spirit. Just as no one can say Jesus is Lord without the working of the Holy Spirit, no one can paint Jesus as Lord without the working of the Holy Spirit. That makes all images of Jesus as Christ and Lord, valid.
We should not dismiss any artistic fruit as trivial or irrelevant. Liturgical artists lift people’s hearts and minds to God during the liturgy, landscape and portrait artists have the opportunity to depict their subjects glowing with the light of God. To say that “fine art” is a truer art than “illustration,” or to make a distinction between artist and craftsman, is mere human vanity.
And then there are cartoonists.
I have heard from cartoonists who sometimes think their work has no value in the service of God. They could not be more wrong. Hope and joy are things that are desperately needed in a world that struggles against the darkness.
Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, was also a devout Christian. He created a number of Christian cartoons that were collected in a couple of different volumes, most recently in a single volume titled “Schulz’s Youth.” In addition to making us smile his cartoons open the door for a deeper reflection on relationships, marriage, and commitment. This also turns our hearts and minds to God in a unique way.
All of us have been given gifts to bring scattered humanity back together. There are people who can only be reached by our unique use of these gifts. If a single-panel cartoon can cause even one person to reflect upon their lives in relationship to God then it is invaluable. So too is the ability to bring joy into our lives.
“Men, women, and children who cannot live on gravity alone need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is, in my opinion, in a business established by the Creator of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.”