Entertainment being what it is today, it is understandable that many are incredulous, or even unaware, that for the better part of the last millennium the preponderance of popular art was religious in nature. Whether performing, visual or theatrical, artistic enterprises – especially but not exclusively in western civilization – arose from religious conviction and were intended to evangelize and to inspire. Think of the art that has come down to us from the past: the statuary and stained glass windows that adorn Europe’s ancient cathedrals, the Gobelin tapestries that warmed palace walls, the liturgical music of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, the paintings of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, or the Oberammergau Passion Plays in Bavaria which have portrayed the central mysteries of Christianity since the early 16th century.
Admittedly, I am insufficiently exposed to popular art today to render this opinion with any authority.
In addition to being a function of education and inspiration (and, of course, of aesthetic appreciation) art also edified. It literally ‘built up’ society by articulating and championing the ‘cult’ in ‘culture.’ One is hard pressed to see how art today fulfills this need.
Admittedly, I am insufficiently exposed to popular art today to render this opinion with any authority. However, what is evident to me are isolated flashes, maybe even glowing embers, of artistic impulse that reach beyond the omnipresent realm of the common and up into the exhilarating sphere of exceptional beauty, virtue and heroism. So, perhaps things are not as mediocre as this “sheltered” writer thinks.
Certainly one fruitful and rich oasis in this seemingly arid desert of popular entertainment (happily are there are other examples) is the production company called St. Luke’s Productions (www.stlukeproductions.com) . Begun by a Shakespearian actor 30 years ago, St. Luke Productions has “entertained” over a million people around the world with its original theatrical tours, DVDs and films which are based on the lives of historical, scriptural and modern day men and women who in some way have responded to the call of the Divine. Visitors to its website will be impressed by the extensive and varied repertoire St. Luke’s Productions has created. Certainly they will agree that not only does this not for profit organization provide a vibrant voice and presence in an otherwise generally dispirited artistic milieu, it also dignifies the profession of the arts by enabling young aspirants to study, assume and portray the lives of magnificent individuals who have enriched the world with their witness to the Truth. It is undeniably a positive and effective response to the call of Pope John Paul II, himself a great actor and artist, for the “new evangelization.”
The ability to communicate – particularly the ability to communicate via the new media – is, as the Church teaches, a gift from God. St. Luke’s Productions effectively exploits this gift by coupling art with technology. Its stories educate us, inspire us, and – most important – strengthen us as a people, a people advancing toward the Kingdom.