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Literature Review — Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation by Josef Pieper


I am the sort of man who likes his book in one of two conditions, either crisp and new as the dawn or as battered, old and smelling of must as the forgotten chests and other antique relics which crowd the attics of our grandparents homes. The middle ground between these two is unbearable to me, there is nothing in me that appreciates a dog-eared page, a scribbled note, or a scuffed cover warped from old coffee spills and yet my copy of Josef Pieper’s Only the Lover Sings is in just that sort of condition.

I suppose it has been unavoidable; I have read, re-read and loaned out this book to others with such frequency that it is not surprising that this, of all my books, would be the most scruffy piece of literature I proudly own. At first I fumed and locked the book away in the vain hopes that darkness and the company of better cared-for tomes would coax it back into a pristine condition through some sort of benevolent osmosis but I am unable to keep this book on my shelf; it seems perpetually to be napping in my satchel or traveling abroad through my friends hands so I have learned to love its continually degrading state. I have kept this book mobile throughout the past years of my life because, like few other books I have ever read, it expresses — with remarkable brevity — a conceptual basis of living which deeply supports the value of celebration and creativity. Read the rest of this entry »

Much of my personal journey as an Artist and a Christian has been the work of healing the assumed and severe dichotomy between these two aspects of my life but as I continue to work out this process I am continually and joyfully surprised by how much work has already been done to shape a well thought out Christian view of Aesthetics, especially in the Catholic and Eastern Traditions of Christianity. Being a child of Protestant, Evangelical culture I grew up under explicit teachings about Catholic fallibility and a implicit suspicion of artistic culture, however, reading things such as this letter from Pope John Paul II, it is hard to keep those old biases in place. Depending on the finer details of one’s own theological position you may find a few things here to take issue with but to base your appreciation of the Pope’s letter on a few minor points such as the divine position of the virgin Mary is paramount to refusing to be kissed by your spouse because of the perfume they are wearing. If it feels that John Paul II tries to tie artists too closely to a Christian ghetto of Biblical imagery I think is only because he seeks so fervently to affirm the divine goodness in the creation of art and that in Biblical imagery (and supremely in the Incarnation) we find a trusted precedent for bringing forth the sacred in the physical and, in some sense, both are magnified in the embrace.


Makoto Fujimura Soliloquies - Joy, 64x80  Minerals, Gold on Linen

Makoto Fujimura Soliloquies - Joy, 64x80" Minerals, Gold on Linen

TO ARTISTS — From the Vatican, 4 April 1999, Easter Sunday.

To all who are passionately dedicated 
to the search for new “epiphanies” of beauty 
so that through their creative work as artists 
they may offer these as gifts to the world.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gn 1:31)


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. Read the rest of this entry »