Until recently, I would tell people “I want to be an artist,” or even worse “I used to want to be an artist and go to art school.” It’s true—I have spent my whole life being drawn to the arts, drawn to beauty, to creating, to being a part of making something that moves people. But I always undersold myself to everyone else and to myself, especially now that I am 2/3 of the way through law school and art school seems like an entirely different universe. I reasoned that even if an image I took was beautiful, there was that other photographer who is much more talented. I believed that if I hadn’t mastered a certain technique, hadn’t been formally trained, or didn’t have countless people admiring my art, then I wasn’t really an artist yet.
But then I read JPII’s letter to artists. How this letter changed everything for me! St. JPII grew up in theater and inspired so many. JPII was an artist!
I picked up the letter to read after seeing a quote from it randomly. And when I began reading it, I didn’t stop until the end!
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”
“Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one’s own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things.”
“Artists are constantly in search of the hidden meaning of things, and their torment is to succeed in expressing the world of the ineffable. How then can we fail to see what a great source of inspiration is offered by that kind of homeland of the soul that is religion?”
After being so inspired by this letter, I began to see art as a means of growing closer to God and glorifying Him, rather than a way to glorify myself and any talent I might have. My breaks from studying for law school exams turned into sketching the sacred heart and immaculate heart, reading about icons, and exploring embroidery. I quickly realized that art was restoring my soul. Art was a prayerful place for me.
After finals were over, I gave myself more time to spend on art. The most important thing for me was that I wanted my art to always glorify God and I wanted my art to be time well spent. For me, that meant that I wanted to pray while creating, I wanted to always be growing closer to God through it. So, when I create, I will often pray a rosary (or have it playing so I can have reflections of each mystery read to me); if I am making something that will go to someone else, I pray a rosary for that person, even if I don’t know who it will go to. When I am not praying the rosary, I like to listen to my Catholic playlist, listen to podcasts, or (depending on how much of my attention is needed for what I’m doing) watch/listen to a documentary on saints, the faith, etc.
JPII wrote that artists should be inspired by the homeland of the soul (aka the Church). This inspiration has come in many forms for me, and I have been inspired to pursue things and pray for certain things that I couldn’t have come up with myself. Being inspired by the Church requires being open to the beauty of the Church and having the willingness to stray from the original plan.
Sometimes, before I begin a project, I will pray for the grace to depict whatever it is I am working on in the right way. So, if I were about to embroider the sacred heart of Jesus and the Sorrowful and Immaculate heart of Mary, I might pray to Jesus and Mary and ask them how they want their beautiful hearts to be depicted. I haven’t received concrete answers, but I believe that they guide my hand.
If you’d like to try praying with sacred art, I encourage you to do so! Wherever you are in your journey as an artist, you can begin simply by listening to Catholic music or podcasts while sketching, painting, embroidering, whatever it is you do. I’m copying a few links below of my favorite prayers/songs to listen to while creating.
Pange Lingua (this is what I imagine heaven sounds like):
Divine Mercy Chaplet sung in Latin:
- Pt 1- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_gLHicgpt8&index=2&list=RDAU1LKLShsy8
- Pt 2- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU1LKLShsy8&list=RDAU1LKLShsy8&index=1
Rosary Latin Gregorian Chant:
The Litany of the Saints: