Catholic News Service covered the Feb. 28 lecture "The Catholic Writer Today" by poet Dana Gioia. See the article below.
From: Catholic News Service Date: March 21, 2011 Author: Patricia Coll FreemanWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Faithful Catholics have all but disappeared from the arts in America -- leaving the arts "spiritually impoverished" and undercutting the ways the church "speaks to the world," according to Dana Gioia, Catholic poet and former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.
"Catholic artists today are virtually invisible," Gioia observed in a lecture on "The Catholic Writer Today" he delivered at The Catholic University of America.Gioia's talk was part of a series of events celebrating the January inauguration of the university's new president, John Garvey. Garvey attended the Feb. 28 lecture, along with approximately 200 students, priests, university deans, professors and visitors.His address was the third of six in an inaugural lecture series titled "Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University." The last lecture is scheduled for April 27.Gioia told the group that the lack of Catholics in the arts is a "paradox," given the Catholic Church's long tradition as "patron and mentor" to the arts and the strength of the largest cultural minority in the United States. It is particularly ironic, Gioia added, in a nation where "diversity of culture and ethnicity are actively celebrated."But "contemporary American culture has little use for Catholicism," said Gioia. Anti-Catholicism, he noted, remains "the one respectable form of intellectual bigotry."Gioia compared the dwindling numbers and influence of Catholic artists to the modern exodus of the "upwardly mobile" out of the nation's immigrant, big-city neighborhoods. Young Catholic artists no longer see their religion as a "core identity" in spiritual or aesthetic terms -- but something to be "hidden or discarded" to achieve success in a secular and "increasingly anti-religious" arts culture, he said.In the mid-20th century, believing Catholics played a "prominent, prestigious" role in the arts, specifically literature, Gioia explained. He mentioned Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Hisaye Yamamoto, Tennessee Williams and Thomas Merton. Along with British writers Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, J.R.R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers, Gioia said, Catholic writers became "the center of American and British letters" -- and were covered and published by the best secular and Catholic journals and presses. "Catholicism was not only seen as a worldview consistent with a literary and artistic vocation," Gioia noted, but even "the most naturally compatible worldview for an artist, and it was never surprising to hear that some writer had converted." Today, most cultural critics, Gioia said, would be unable to name a single, major, living American artist for whom Catholicism is "a central, positive force in their art and ideas." Yet, they could identify "an anti-Catholic, ex-Catholic or ex-Catholic who writes about the faith that he lost," or a few "cultural Catholics," he said. The schism between Christianity and the arts has resulted in two "vast impoverishments" for the arts world and the church, Gioia observed. Losing "a refined and rigorous sense of the sacred" and 2,000 years of Christian symbolism and tradition, the American arts are spiritually bereft, Gioia said. What remains are "shallow novelty" and "lost cost nihilism." "Once you remove the religious as one of the possibilities of art ... you don't remove the hungers of either the artist or the audience," Gioia explained. "You satisfy them more crudely with the vague, the pretentious and the sentimental. You replace Flannery O'Connor with 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'" Meanwhile, the "loss of the aesthetic sensibility," he said, has weakened the Catholic Church's ability "to make its call heard in the world" -- as it did previously through artists such as Dante, Michelangelo and El Greco. The weakness is evident, he said, in churches with "graceless architecture, their banal and formulaic painting and sculpture, their awkward and often ill-conceived music" and in liturgies which are "often not seraphic but pedestrian." Gioia called Catholics to regain their place in the arts and "transform" the common cultural life -- using faith, hope and ingenuity.
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