Loaves, Fish, and Artistic Talent

This article originally appeared at www.DeaconLawrence.org

What is the purpose of artistic talent?

I am sure most, if not all of us, are familiar with the opening of a movie produced by MGM Studios. It depicts a roaring lion surrounded by the words “Ars Gratia Artis.” This is the Latin translation of the phrase “art for art’s sake.”

“Art for Art’s Sake” is a phrase coined about 200 years ago to express a philosophy that the true value of art lies in the art itself; that art should be divorced from any instructive, moral, or useful function. In other words, “true art” serves only itself.

But for the thousands of years prior to the early 19th century, art served a purpose, it served the community. For the Christian artist, art was, and still is, a way to teach, promote Christian morals and values, and serve the common good. And because we share in God’s creative  force as sub-creators, we find an endless number of ways to accomplish that.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta used to say that “the money in your pocket is not yours, it belongs to God.” The same is true of all the gifts you have received. They have been given to you by the Holy Spirit to bring the world back to God.

Saint Luke’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fish gives us an interesting example. It is not difficult to understand the apostle’s point of view. They brought barely enough food for themselves, let alone the thousands who came to hear the Lord. But rather than send them away Jesus told the apostles to feed the multitude from their own small stores. We can easily imagine some reluctance to give up what little they have. But because it is the Lord who asks they do so. And Jesus takes what they have, multiplies it, and not only is there enough to feed the thousands but there is enough left over to fill twelve baskets, one for each of the twelve apostles.

God asks us to return to Him what He has given us, in order that He may give us even more.

What are your talents and how are you using them?

There is a saying that your talent is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift to God.

It is easy to use our gifts selfishly, and keep them to ourselves. For artists this may lead to the “ivory tower” mentality that no one can tell you what to do, you must follow your “muse.” That is art for art’s sake.

Our gifts were not given to us to indulge in own private whims, they were given to us to help feed the children of God. “Art for art’s sake,” is a lie that feeds into our ego. It seduces us into thinking we can make our own way without acknowledging the source of that artistic ability.

“The Parable of the Talents” teaches that we will one day be called to give an account of our stewardship over the riches we have been given. Will you be ready when that day comes?

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Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university

Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org 

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