Francis: Artists must share truth for a better world, pope says

Pope Francis met with artists to mark 50 years since Vatican Museums inaugurated its modern and contemporary art collection.

Newsdesk (24/06/2023 11:30Gaudium Press) Under Michelangelo’s frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis delivered a message to more than 200 musicians, writers, poets, and other artists, urging them to be like prophets and use their art to pursue true beauty and challenge societal norms. The audience with an international group of artists marked the 50th anniversary of the modern and contemporary art collection in the Vatican Museums.

Pope Francis called on the artists to possess a unique perspective, one that allows them to see deeply and from a distance, enabling them to discern deeper realities and confront uncomfortable truths. He encouraged them to reject the allure of superficial and artificial beauty, which often perpetuates inequality and is complicit with economic mechanisms. Instead, he urged them to create art that acts as a critical conscience, unmasking truisms and false myths present in society.

Drawing parallels with biblical prophets, Pope Francis commended the artists for their ability to criticize the false idols, consumerism, and power schemes of today’s world. He highlighted the power of irony, citing the Bible’s rich use of irony to expose presumptions of self-sufficiency, dishonesty, injustice, and cruelty. By using irony, artists can puncture false pieties and challenge prevailing narratives.

One of the artists present, American poet Patricia Lockwood, shared her appreciation for the pope’s encouragement to use humour in treating religiosity respectfully. She felt affirmed in her own work, which uses humour, and appreciated that there is a place for artists like her to write about religion.

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Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, the prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, who organized the meeting, emphasized that Pope Francis has long shown an interest in an alliance with the world of art. The pope sees artists as allies in envisioning a better world and addressing issues such as the defence of human life, social justice, care for the poor, and universal human fraternity.

Pope Francis acknowledged the disruptive nature of both art and faith, noting that they have the power to change, transform, and convert the world. He highlighted the need for harmony in today’s age of media-driven ideological colonization and devastating conflicts. While conflicts can arise under the guise of false unity, the Pope emphasized the importance of unity that embraces multiplicity, creating a reflection of true harmony.

Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary for the culture section of the dicastery, stated that there were no clear criteria for choosing the artists invited to the audience. However, the Vatican aimed to communicate its openness to engaging with modern artists and foster dialogue. The Vatican hopes to participate in artistic events on the more secular end of the spectrum, such as literary festivals and musical performances, to let artists know that they are welcome and considered friends. The Vatican’s involvement in events like the Venice Architecture Biennale exemplifies this commitment to engaging with modern art and artists.

  • Raju Hasmukh with files from UCAN News

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