Advice for “Christian artists”

Here are some interesting thoughts from Jacques Maritain on how to be (or not to be) a “Christian artist.” I put that in quotation marks because it’s worth asking whether there should or can even be such a thing. Perhaps, if we are going to treat the subject at all, we should simply speak of “artists” that happen to be “Christians”! Also note that this section of Maritain’s book doesn’t address “Christian” works made by “secular” artists (from Dali painting a “Last Supper” to Lady Gaga singing about Judas) but that is also an issue I am very much interested in, particularly in my recent foray into the works of oft-maligned Protestant theologian Paul Tillich. More to follow!

Quoth Maritain:

If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to “make Christian.”

Do not make the absurd attempt to dissociate in yourself the artist and the Christian. They are one, if you are truly Christian, and if your art is not isolated from your soul by some system of aesthetics. But apply only the artist to the work; precisely because the artist and the Christian are one, the work will derive wholly from each of them.

Do not separate your art from your faith. But leave distinct what is distinct. Do not try to blend by force what life unites so well. If you were to make of your aesthetic an article of faith, you would spoil your faith. If you were to make of your devotion a rule of artistic activity, or if you were to turn desire to edify into a method of your art, you would spoil your art.

The entire soul of the artist reaches and rules his work, but it must reach it and rule it only through the artistic habitus. Art tolerates no division here. It will not allow any foreign element, juxtaposing itself to it, to mingle, in the production of the work, its regulation with art’s own. Tame it, and it will do all that you want it to do. Use violence, and it will accomplish nothing good. Christian work would have the artist, as artist, free.

Nevertheless art will be Christian, and will reveal in its beauty the interior reflection of the radiance of grace, only if it overflows from a heart suffused by grace.

Jacques Maritain, “Art and Scholasticism,” Chapter VIII: Christian Art


One thought on “Advice for “Christian artists”

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Your last quote from Maritain is very true.
    But how come there has been no great inspiring Christian art for a very long time.
    And as Rollo May once pointed out hardly any great inspiring art, and especially visual art, within the Protestant tradition.
    These related references provide a unique Understanding of the origins and cultural purposes of Sacred Art.
    Altogether the author points out that Sacred Art can only be “created”, shown, “performed”, and even appreciated, within the crucible of a truly Sacred Culture.
    Please check out these related references.

    Plus an essay which points out that the Process that IS True Religion is, at the very least, based on the wakening of the psyche. And that conventional knows nothing about this, and even suppresses it. Which is why most (and even all) contemporary Christian art is spiritually empty.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s