June 29, 2023

Verbatim: Pope Francis on 50th anniversary of Vatican Museum's collection of modern art


Pope Francis’ address to artists on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the Vatican Museum’s collection of modern art.

Here (in the Sistine Chapel), we are surrounded by art… and by artists: yourselves. Welcome!

Thank you for accepting my invitation; I am happy to be with you, because the Church has always had a relationship with artists that can be described as both natural and special. A natural friendship, because artists take seriously the richness of human existence, of our lives and the life of the world, including its contradictions and its tragic aspects. This richness risks disappearing from the view of the many specialized disciplines that respond to immediate needs, but find it difficult to view life as a polyhedron, a complex and multifaceted reality. Artists remind us that the dimension in which we move, even unconsciously, is always that of the Spirit…. The Church’s friendship with the arts… is also a special friendship, especially if we think of the many periods of history that we have traveled together and which are part of the patrimony of everyone,….

Romano Guardini wrote: “The situation of the artist is not unlike that of a child and even that of a visionary.” I find these two comparisons intriguing…. (I)n the encounter with art, boundaries become more fluid and the limits of our experience and understanding broaden. We experience the spontaneity of the child filled with imagination and the intuition of the visionary who grasps reality.

For the artist is a child — by this I mean no offence — who gives free rein to originality, novelty and creativity, and thus brings into the world something new and unprecedented. In doing so, artists unmask the lie that man is a “being towards death.” We must certainly come to grips with our mortality, yet we are beings not towards death, but towards life….

Even in nature, procreation brings newness with every child who comes into the world. Openness and newness. That is what you bring, as artists, by cultivating your own originality. In your creations, you always put something of yourself, as unique beings like the rest of us, but for the sake of creating something even greater. With your talents, you bring to light something exceptional; you enrich the world with something new. I think of those words found in the Prophet Isaiah, where God says: “Behold, I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19). In the Book of Revelation, God says the same thing: “See, I am making all things new” (21:15).

The creativity of the artist can thus be said to share in God’s own passion for creation. ... You are sharers in God’s dream. … As a Latin American writer has said, we human beings have two eyes: an eye to see what is before us, and another to see our hopes and dreams. When someone lacks these two eyes, or sees things only with one or the other, something is lost….

As artists, then, you have the ability to dream new versions of the world, to introduce novelty into history. That is why Guardini also says that you are like visionaries… like prophets. You can see things both in depth and from afar… peering into the horizon and discerning deeper realities. ...

It is not a beauty that attracts, but one that is born dead, lifeless. A fake, cosmetic beauty, a greasepaint that conceals rather than reveals. In Italian, the word for “makeup” is also the word for “trick,” since a touch of deception is always present. You want to distance yourselves from that kind of beauty; instead, your art strives to act as a conscience critical of society, unmasking truisms. You want to make people think, to be alert; you want to reveal reality also in its contradictions and in those things that it is more comfortable and convenient to keep hidden. Like the Biblical prophets, you confront things that at times are uncomfortable; you criticize today’s false myths and new idols, its empty talk, the ploys of consumerism, the schemes of power. This is an intriguing aspect of the psychology of artists: the ability to press forward and beyond, in a tension between reality and dream.

June 23, 2023

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.