Paul VI and Art

The words spoken by Pope Paul VI on May 7, 1964 to the artists gathered in the Sistine Chapel distilled the meaning of a long-meditated message, and of a commitment to painters, sculptors, musicians and poets, who had rarely been much attention by ecclesiastical authorities in the past.
The living legacy of Montini’s message lies in his having been able to grasp, with all his intellectual finesse and farsightedness of action, that propulsive force generated by the creative act as the chosen expression of the transcendent, the incarnation of the divine presence on earth.
In Montini’s writings, constant reference to beauty as the “splendour of truth” is therefore intended not as an end in and of itself, as an abstract concept or quest for formal perfection, but rather as the participation of the sensible in divine creation; an act that, beyond the personal choice of style and technique, is proof of a responsible path, bearing witness to a search within the truth.

 

… The issue is this: the friendship between the Church and artists must be renewed …
We have caused you suffering because we imposed imitation as the primary canon on you who are creators, infinitely vivacious, spouting forth thousands of ideas and thousands of innovations. We – you were told – have this style and you must adapt to it; we have this tradition and you must maintain it; we have these teachers, and you must follow them; we have these canons, and there is avoiding them. We can say that sometimes we have placed against you a leaden burden, please forgive us! …
… We resorted to surrogates, to “oleography”, to works of art of little value and less expenditure, also because, in our defence, we lacked the means to commission things which were great, beautiful, new and worth being admired …
Shall we make peace? Today? Here? Shall we be friends again? Might the Pope once again become a friend of artists? …

(Paul VI to artists, Sistine Chapel, 7 May 1964)