Is there a future for Christian art?

The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum

Pope Benedict XVI hopes so.  In fact, just a few weeks back he invited more than 200 contemporary artists (including musicians, writers, and architects) into the Sistine Chapel to urge them to embark on a “Quest for Beauty” (Rachael Donadio, “Benedict Woos Artists, Urging ‘Quest for Beauty’,” The New York Times, November 22). Above and behind His Holiness, powerfully driving his point home, was, of course,  Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

AAAhhh… Those were the days, with Michelangelo and Raphael simultaneously working in the Vatican, on Papal commissions.

Cardinal Keeler, right here in Baltimore, has long advocated for a rapprochement between artists of all faiths and the Church. His dream was, and probably still is, a national competition, and an exhibition of the works of the winners.

But will it happen?  Can it happen?

Benedict has brought into the Vatican hierarchy a powerful arts advocate in Archbishop Ravisi, former director of the famous Ambrosiana Library in Milan. Ravisi’s aim is for the Vatican to have its own pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Imagine that!

America’s renowned video artist, Bill Viola, was greatly enthused  by what he heard that day – which is not so surprising, given his powerful reinterpretation of Renaissance Christian iconography, as he creates what might best be called “altarpieces in super-slow motion.” My own favorite is Emergence, from Viola’s The Passions, organized a few years back by the Getty. 

Viola is quoted at length in The Times article, ruminating on the Church/Artist challenge, as distilled into the inherent tension between artistic freedom and “rules”  – and the artist’s need for rule bending, and even rule breaking.

But Viola sees “real potential.” 

Maybe.