By Amber Kinloch
In considering what constitutes good art from a Catholic perspective, a natural starting point is to look to God and His artwork, i.e., Creation. It’s the finest artwork, which never fails to captivate the human heart in search of Him. Let’s consider, then, five defining characteristics of God’s artwork and how they inform the art we make as human beings.
Each thing God creates has a purpose. He populates the sky with the sun, moon, and stars to “make the seasons, the days and the years, and serve as lights in the dome of the sky to illuminate the earth” (Gen 1:14-15). Later, He creates man to have dominion over the earth and every living being that inhabits it (Gen 1:26).
Man’s artwork should likewise have a purpose; specifically, it should give glory to God and lead others to Him. Don’t forget that even the tools we use (clay, pen and paper, computer programs) ultimately come to us from God. Let’s not waste the materials He has provided us with on ugly and foolish-minded works.
Each thing reflects a unique aspect of God. Planets remind us of His majesty and power. A gentle breeze recalls the sense of His soothing Presence in the soul. The dazzling array of flowers and insects in existence are a testament to His limitless imagination.
Even more incredible are human beings, made in His very image and likeness. What a great lot of variety there is in the garden of souls! The saints themselves comprise an endless variety of personalities. Growing closer to God did not rob them of their uniqueness. Rather, He filled them with His grace until they shone like brilliant jewels.
We should imitate the saints so that our artwork might be truly fresh and unique.
3. Intentional Beauty
Beauty is not an afterthought in God’s creation. It’s woven throughout the whole of it, whether it’s on the scope of a majestic sunrise or down to the raindrops sparkling on the strands of a spider’s web. God cannot help this, if you will. Beauty is a core component of His Being.
This is important because we are God’s creatures. We are made in His image and likeness. If beauty is essential to Him, then we must have a need for it too.
4. Wonder and Awe
God’s artwork evokes awe within the human heart, whether it’s the Northern Lights, a stunning peacock, or the amazing development of an unborn child from a mere zygote to a full-sized baby.
The greatest human artwork also stirs up wonder. Consider the work of Michael Frost, a fore-edge painter. You look at an ordinary gilt-edged book and see nothing special. Then he fans open the pages and an image appears. That’s incredible!
5. God Is Present in All of Creation
“As the shining sun is clear to all, so the glory of the Lord fills all his works” (Sir 42:16).
Without God, there is no truth or beauty. Without Him, there is no breath of life. Thus, Creation is something inherently good, though in need of subduing by man (Gen 1:28).
Wherever disorder and chaos appear, these are not the results of God’s artwork. They link back to man and Original Sin. It is therefore up to us to remedy these things with God’s help.
We should recall God’s Presence whenever we set about creating art. We should seek to craft beautiful paintings, sculptures, etc., that reflect His Goodness and Beauty. Only when He is present in our art will it be of any value.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.