What is the true vocation of a Christian Artist?
A vocation is a calling, for the Christian artist it is a calling to beauty. But it is also a vocation of service.
There an old story about a man who sought to understand the Law, the Torah, in a concise simple way. He went to his Rabbi and asked the teacher to explain all of the Law while standing on one foot. The Rabbi dismissed the request as foolish. The Law was extensive and covered many different circumstances, how could it be explained in the brief time you would be able to stand on one foot?
But the young man did not give up so easily. He went from rabbi to rabbi, asking each of them the same question. He was met with ridicule, scorn, and sometimes outright anger and hostility. But finally he came to Rabbi Hillel.
“Rabbi,” can you explain the whole of the Torah to me while standing on one foot?”
Hillel thought for a moment, stood, slowly raised one foot and said, “what you yourself despise, do not do to another. The rest is commentary, go and learn.”
A somewhat similar story is recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew
A Pharisee, a doctor of the Law, challenged Jesus, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36) He was not referring specifically to the ten commandments, but rather to the Torah, the Law of Moses. In other words, out of all the commands, rules, precepts and instruction that make up the body of the Law for the ancient Israelites, which is the greatest?
Jesus answers by paraphrasing an ancient prayer, the Shema, “”You shall love the Lord your God from all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37)
But then Jesus takes it a step further by referring to the second great commandment, “the second is similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (22:39)
Jesus tells us that our love for God is reflected in how we love our neighbor.
Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus gave His followers a new commandment, to love one another as He has loved us. No longer are we called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, now we are to love each other as Christ loves us. To love one another to the point of sacrificing ourselves for another. This is the defining mark of the Christian, the love we have for one another.
One characteristic of a Christian Artist is his love for God which motivates him to put his gifts and talents at the service of the community. The Christian artist does not engage in “Art for art’s sake,” his art serves his community.
The Christian Artist uses his gifts to lift the hearts and minds of people to God, whether his subject is a landscape, a still life, or a saint, whether he is a painter, a musician, or a craftsman. Love for God is the defining characteristic of all Christians and shapes all that we do.
We are endlessly creative in how we use our gifts. Let us be equally creative in using those gifts to show our love for God by how we use them to show our love for our brothers and sisters.
The Master’s Gold: A Catechism for Artists