Space prohibits discussion here of all that art both reflects and conjures in a well-ordered society. Suffice it to say, the great writers already have covered this ground extensively from Sir Philip Sidney asserting—after Aristotle and Horace—in 1595 that art represents aspects of creation for the purpose of its glorification to the French priest and moral philosopher A.G. Sertillanges, who wrote in 1921 in The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit,
[C]ontact with writers of genius procures us the immediate advantage of lifting us to a higher plane; by their superiority alone they confer a benefit on us even before teaching us anything. They set the tone for us; they accustom us to air of the mountaintops. We were moving in a lower region; they bring us at one stroke into their own atmosphere. In that world of lofty thought, the face of truth seems to be unveiled; beauty shines forth; the fact that we follow and understand these seers makes us reflect that we are after all of the same race, that the universal Soul is us, the Soul of souls, the Spirit to whom we have only to adapt ourselves in order to burst into divine speech, since at the source of all inspiration, always prophetic, there is “God, the first and supreme author of all one writes.”
True, Sidney and Sertillanges were expounding on the merits of literature specifically, but they just as easily could have been writing about the visual arts. These thoughts came to mind as I pondered the past year at Acton, which was marked by a bounty of delights in the visual realm.
I’m proud of the Acton Institute’s expanding mission to study the intersection of religion and liberty to include participation in Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize. Our building lobby this year featured five works from the 2015 competition, encompassing various visual media and subject matter from photography to sculpture. We also hosted, “Christmas,” a collection of Japanese stencil-dyed prints by Sadao Watanabe, including a rare print of John Calvin, commissioned by the Japan Calvin Translation Society. Last, but I hope not considered least, was the display of my personal terra-cotta nativity scene, which was made by Italian craftsmen and took me several years to collect every individual piece.
These works of art remind us that when remaining true to its nature, art serves as an ennobling representation of the human experience. Such art also reminds us of the blessings of talent, technique, and discipline bestowed on humanity by God. We are indeed made in the image of God, the imago Dei, and the best of humankind’s artistic endeavors honor our blessings and even how we sometimes fail in our attempts to lead virtuous lives. Alas, suppressing human liberty is an innovative enterprise engaged in daily by bureaucracies and legislatures. We continue to affirm the free and virtuous society using our rhetorical and media skills to win the day, but with art we’re assured of winning the movement. Ars longa, vita brevis.
Rev. Robert Sirico, President