Illinois Representative Aaron Schock, described by the Associated Press article as young, media savvy, fit, and having a certain talent for fundraising, abruptly resigned recently in part due to his extravagant office reportedly decorated in the lavish style seen on Downton Abby. How do people feel about the beautiful space he created? Opinions run from the uniformed and apathetic to the scandalized and angry. Critics questioned the expense and appearance of extravagance and applied enough pressure that he decided to step down.
What would we do without the critic - the voice amid the crowd that cries out, "Are you sure that what you are doing is right and just? I have another way of looking at this situation." Like a conscience or the court jester, the critic makes those in power (if they are open) to at least stop and think for a moment.
Yesterday such a conversation took place in the comments section of this blog concerning a new painting installed at St. Sebastian. The point in question, one that has been asked of the Church for hundreds of years concerning everything from the Vatican Museums to a new vestment at a poor parish, is, "Is art the best use of resources?" There are those who would say, "No. Before money is spent on art, take care of all the people in your area. THEN think about art." It is a statement that should make everyone stop a moment and think especially as they pass the person standing at the end of the highway ramp with a sign reading, "Any help would be appreciated. God bless you."
So I thought about it. There are some ways in which I agree with the Anonymous person who posted yesterday. We should be very careful in this regard. Of course, we could, as a parish community EASILY just meet in the local school gym for Mass on Sundays instead of our church building but we chose to have a building. Most people would give this a thumbs up. But at what point do you cross over from prudent use of funding for such endeavors to a Downton Abby like scandal?
Large amounts of money are spent by the church every year on "art." There is a new parish going up in our diocese and I have pleaded with the pastor not to buy his art out of a catalogue. Now commissioning art can be dangerous and expensive. But is it worth it?
There are those who feel that the arts should be in free service to the Church (organists, painters, etc.) For some reason the time and talent of artist is in a different category than roofers, HVAC personnel, the janitors, or even the priests for that matter. But that is an extreme case - but none-the-less one that comes my way from time to time.
This particular piece of art is attracting attention. Half of the conversations I have are people telling me how this picture moved them. Within 15 hours of this painting being posted online at Lighthouse Media, it has received 15,000 "like" hits. (That's ten thousand an hour!) People are already stopping into the church just to see it. The conversation on this blog yesterday means that SOMETHING (whether positive or negative) is taking place. People are talking. That means the Church is making an impact on the cultural scene through art. If we don't enter the scene here, we have begun to lose influence on our culture.
Another aspect is that people don't stop to wonder where the money is going when true art is commissioned. It doesn't get buried in the sand. In this particular case a young man with a wife and three kids that he sends to Catholic school made a small portion of his living. Since he was supported by the Church, hopefully he and his family will then take care of the very people that our critic hopes we would pay attention to. Before people take care of the poor, they themselves must be inspired. And long after the resources that would have been added to the large amounts that already pass through this parish to take care of the poor would disappear, the painting will remain to inspire and ITSELF BE A CRITIC TO A GATHERED COMMUNITY - WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO RELIEVE PAIN AND SUFFERING TO THE LEAST OF MY BROTHERS. FOR WHEN YOU DO THAT FOR THEM, YOU DO IT FOR ME.
Not everyone will agree with me I realize. And I hope they don't. I hope they keep me on my toes, thinking and evaluating. I'd rather my money go toward something like this than expensive cable and phone plans, fancy cups of coffee, and extra cushiony toilet paper. And I will continue to sit back on my heels and think when such a critic (especially those I've met who purposely have chosen to live simply - small apartment - inexpensive car - volunteering in the community - working for non-profits) and evaluate very carefully if I believe in what I am doing.
Even though at times it is a hard pill to swallow, the critic plays an important role. Without the critic we may enter into the dangerous world of the unexamined life.