Christian Art and Contemporary Culture: Between decline and hope of redemption

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Andrea Dall'Asta, SJ

 Andrea Dall'Asta, SJ / Church Life / Published Date:14 December 2017/Last Updated Date:29 July 2020


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The relationship between Christianity and the visual arts has been configured in the European world, albeit between alternate events, as the story of a close and fruitful alliance. However, the alliance between art and faith seems to have increasingly unraveled over the centuries. Specifically, starting with the 18th century and the coming of the Enlightenment, the artistic inspiration that arose from the experience of Christian faith has gradually lost the creative and propulsive ability that had been the source of extraordinary pictorial, sculptural and architectural realizations.

The Church cannot remain indifferent to this epochal crisis, to this lack of a common horizon. What is necessary is to understand the sense of such despair and to find a meeting ground where the deepest sense of life can be spoken of. On the one hand the temptation to reinsert postmodernism within tradition takes on the nostalgic flavor of a return to a mythical and reassuring past. On the other hand the real challenge is to listen to the questions and contradictions of our time.

The inability to look at the present and its languages ​​raises questions. Is it a sign of escapism from the problems of our time? A lot of contemporary art reflects on the vulnerability of the human person and the difficult contradictions of our time. Instead, the contemporary liturgical image generally appears to represent a glorious past, without dramas, a peaceful world in which every conflict has already been resolved and cancelled. Every problematic aspect of existence is deleted in the vacuous and inconsistent sweetness of the image.

To change, we need courage, deep faith and tremendous humility that the Spirit of God acts today. While Pope Francis is rethinking the various areas of Church evangelization with extraordinary inventiveness, the world of images still appears unchanged in its impassive and cold distance. Art is called upon to be prophetic once again, and to point to new horizons of meaning. We need art that ignites the desire to give answers to the ultimate mystery of existence.

The author is the director of the San Fedele Art Gallery in Milan.