Tuesday, December 15, 2020


The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary adorns the 2020 Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square

Post-Modern Vatican Nativity Scene Provokes Wave of Criticism

‘I haven’t seen anyone say they feel more Christian because they’ve seen it,’ art historian Elizabeth Lev said of the controversial display.


Anonymous said...

I think these 2 lines sum it up:

“I have not seen anyone say they feel more Christian because they’ve seen it....”

“ is not awakening a sluggish faith. If anything it is burying a sluggish, half-dead faith under a heap of mockery.”

Anonymous said...

An unoriginal insight of several Postmodernist philosophers is that there are an infinite number of possible interpretations of anything (which is at times technically correct....)

However, there are most times only a very finite number of VALID interpretations of anything.
It would be an invalid interpretation of this artwork to describe it as capable of making the majority of Christians who view it feel more Christian. It would also be an invalid interpretation of this artwork to deny that most devout Christians who view it will feel instantly a range of negative emotions.

Plato wrote “At the sight of beauty the soul grows wings”.

What percentage of serious Catholics who view this year’s Vatican nativity scene will react be being struck by its beauty and feel their souls growing wings?

Also, by the way, I recently read a 2014 interview with the Catholic artist Tommy Canning (at the Catholic site: Canning was asked “What do you think of modernism in art, and postmodern art?” Canning replied:

“The modern art movement had the desire to destroy beauty. Thomas Aquinas said that the beautiful is that which, being seen, pleases. Beauty, of its nature, gives delight. Beauty is objectively present, it is not relative.

Traditional sacred art is clear, and it transforms and inspires, just as great art has always done. St Augustine once said : ‘Unity is the form of all beauty.’ I want to inspire people through beauty, and that beauty is based on physical reality. Jesus Christ came and took human form so that he could lead us to the truth.”

Anonymous said...

What I can’t understand is how whoever gave the OK for this “art” to be displayed did not know BEFOREHAND how pastorally insensitive it would be to go ahead and put it on display?!!
And I really believe “pastorally insensitive” is an understatement!

Or, perhaps he/they were fully aware of how “pastorally insensitive” it would be, but did not care?

What can we look forward to next year? Would it be possible to come up with anything more pastorally insensitive than this?

Victor said...

This display describes well the state of the Catholic Church at the highest human levels that surround the pope.

ByzRus said...

Over the years, how many documents have been issued notating what art and music should be from the perspectives of liturgy and sacramental objects? All meaningless, it would seem. It is tough to equate this display with enchantment/re-enchantment, or "come and see".

Anonymous said...

Sacred art should communicate grace. Sacred art should also shape Catholics in a good way.
Is there anyone who follows this blog who can claim and explain that it is just a matter of my biased, personal, subjective judgement when I claim that this ugly, bizarre, "artistic" attempt of a nativity scene will definitely NOT communicate grace to the VAST majority of Catholics who see it?

I know how my children and nieces and nephews would react to it. "Weird!" and "Scary!" are the first words that come to mind.

If an individual Catholic priest put a similar monstrosity in his average, suburban or rural Catholic church this Christmas how many Catholic families driving home would agree in saying:
Wasn't that new nativity scene wonderful, and holy in a special way!
Or, would many average Catholics in that roughly average Catholic church not just question Father's good taste but his sanity?

Anonymous said...

If I was to place a close version of this nativity scene "artwork" in my backyard I think it likely even my dogs could bark and growl at it!

Anonymous said...

Victor, what could “the state of the Catholic Church at the highest levels that surround the Pope” actually be?

I personally believe that this is so bad it is more than just some people close to the Pope having poor taste and or exercising poor judgement....I really think that the Vatican people responsible for putting this on display (not the person/people who created the artwork), as someone else put it on this blog, must at some level simply hate Christianity and have close to zero respect for ordinary people who really believe Christian truths.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

a@a:16, if I placed that nativity in front of my church on Richmond Hill's busiest street, Richmond Hill, a bedroom suburb of Savannah, St. Anne's parish would be the laughing stock of the town. My parishioners would more than likely remove it, as they should. I was hoping Romans would storm the one at the Vatican and remove it too.

Anonymous said...

Fr Allan,
It all may be too difficult and too heavy to remove, to carry it away and throw it in the Tiber; but could it perhaps be burnt? When I reflect more on this I think it likely the Vatican will have to provide 24/7 security guards to protect this “Art” to avoid a righteously angry believer or believers vandalising it.

Gerard S.

PS - my God! Imagine how radical Muslims could react to an equal insult to what
they hold sacred !!

Anonymous said...

So has the Vatican with this latest nonsense, to an extent, made it itself a laughing stock also to large numbers of Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians and even to significant numbers of secular non believers? Most likely, I’d say. It has really reached the stage where large numbers of the Catholic hierarchy seem to have a death-wish for the Catholic faith.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53 Beauty is highly, maybe entirely, subjective. That is why some find Bach's work sublime and find Roger Zare's work terrible. Other think Zare is a genius and find Bach, in general, tedious.

You speak of "Traditional sacred art." Is that Ethiopian Coptic art or the African inspired sacred art of Patrick Dougher? Is the the Mughal Indian crucifixion scene from the early 1600's or Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion?

This Nativity scene is most definite prophetic rather than priestly. It is challenging, the kind of challenge that comes through loud and clear in the Scripture readings of the Holy Advent season.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @9.35am claims beauty (in sacred art) when present is objectively present, it is not relative. There are at least one or two people who have commented on this blog who would, I think, disagree. I look forward to he/she/they contributing to this thread and explaining how it is only a matter of personal, subjective judgement and biased perspective for the people who do NOT regard this artwork as appropriate and do not regard it as holy, “gorgeous” and spiritually uplifting.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2.35pm.
So any great qualities in the music of Bach is solely a matter of personal taste? Are you serious? And you are claiming that THIS Nativity scene is “prophetic” and as challenging as holy scripture? Again, are you serious?
Dear anonymous, did you complete a 4 year arts degree degree that included courses which taught and explained that “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld” etc were as culturally significant as Hamlet and King Lear and the novels of Dickens and so on? Or a course in applied postmodernism which taught how wonderful it is to blur and blend all those terrible binary categories and distinctions?

But, I appreciate what you have contributed. I am now off to google: Patrick Dougher and Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion etc. By the way, my wife will soon be home from work at X college. She has an honours degree in visual arts. I will show her your contribution here and ask her opinion before replying further here....

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Liz Lev who lives in Rome and is perhaps the best known English speaking tour guide of the churches and art of Rome is the one quoted in the article I posted. She knows what she is talking about and knows how to critique art. Her opinion is to be taken seriously and most cardinals and bishops in Rome to include the Holy Father know her.

Anonymous said...

In the broadest sense you can say art is subjective and based on the whims of personal taste, but art also has a specific purpose depending on the context in which it will be viewed and we can judge it objectively based on that. What is the usual intention of a nativity scene and what feelings is it meant to evoke? Is the art meant for average everyday people or just people educated in art history (studies indicate the two groups react wildly different to modern art)?

Part of the reason Christmas is beloved is because of the nostalgic and familial feelings it evokes. People are usually looking for a nativity scene to speak to the connection between mother and child and often there's a balance between Heavenly glory and worldly poverty. It's not really the best context to "challenge" people, especially when the challenge is unclear and will likely be lost to most viewers. I could see this nativity working in some contexts in which a lot of explanation is present, but not at the Vatican leading up to Christmas where the work is supposed to be at least someone accessible and self-explanatory.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @2.35,
So you believe: “Beauty, is highly, maybe entirely, subjective”? Is morality also, maybe, entirely subjective? So if I felt a society was good, true and beautiful that allowed middle aged men to marry girls aged 9 to 12, and promoted antisemitism and the lynching of homosexual people and the imprisonment of women who had affairs or dressed immodestly and tolerated the honour killings of teenage girls and young single women and so on, then my view that such a society was good, true and beautiful would be true, subjectively true, to me and others - and that would be OK as there are no objective standards in life.
Also, Anonymous @2.35, what would your opinion be of an artwork that shocked, confused, upset and or insulted the vast majority of the world’s devout Muslims? On what grounds and by what standards would you judge such an artwork that seriously upset and insulted the majority of the world’s devout Muslims? Would you be as indifferent to their faith and sensitivities re the sacred as you are to devout Catholics? Would you tell the world’s Muslims or the offended Muslims in your nation that such a work was really “prophetic” and insult them further by stating that this offensive artwork was truly in line with the teachings in their Holy Koran?
I doubt it......

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 4pm,
Thank you for your contribution above. Very well put. Often “context is everything”, as they say. Also, it is great how you point out an obvious but overlooked fact, ie: re the usual (and dare I say “sane and normal”) INTENTION of a Nativity scene and the feelings it is meant to evoke.

At the very least, this is just so damned inappropriate and problematic in the way it could be said to ambiguously “challenge” the average Catholic in the lead up to Christmas. The place and timing of such an artwork could not be worse; and I honestly don’t think that is just a matter of what my family and other families in our parish subjectively think and feel.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2.35,
My wife said she is too tired and now too bored with this matter to give an academic’s reply and she just wishes her contribution here to be the same as our oldest daughter, that is “It is just so bloody weird!”

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2.35,

In 1987, a photograph by an American artist and photographer, Andres Serrano, won some awards. This photo was "Immersion - Piss Christ". The photograph is of a small plastic crucifix submerged in what appears to be a yellow liquid. Serrano described the liquid as his own urine.

Were people's reaction to this photo solely a matter of subjective opinion?

How do you balance up a handful of pathetic, modernist or postmodern art critics finding this photo " mysterious and beautiful" and "alluding to the perceived commercialization or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture" and so on ....
With millions of average Christians being shocked and deeply hurt by this photo? And would you state it was merely subjective personal taste and subjective artistic judgements that 99.9% of devout Christians who knew of this artist's photo regarded it as shocking and blasphemous ?

Are there any limits here at all?

And, again too, it is my subjective, biased personal opinion that I hate the hypocrisy and double standards of artists like Serrano in that he would almost certainly never insult another major religion, especially Islam, like he did Christianity. He would have been too much of a coward. Such "artistic" blasphemy towards Islam would have resulted in him requiring 24/7 military and or police protection for at least a decade in various motels or a secure location like a military base, if he was not to be slaughtered on a street. As was the case with Rushdie and others.

Anonymous said...

Just as the great poet Keats wrote “....Beauty is truth, truth beauty...and that is all ye need to know....” etc in his great poem Ode on a Grecian Urn, I truly believe a great poet of our era will write an equally great poem celebrating the beauty of the Vatican’s 2020 Nativity scene!!
The artwork in this modern Nativity scene is easily the equal of the best art of Ancient Greece and the Italian renaissance!!

Anonymous said...

It never ceases to amaze me how some allegedly educated, left liberal Catholics can be more influenced by Foucault, Derrida and good old Lyotard etc than Saints Paul, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. And I can’t understand how they can’t see that just as liberal, German, Protestant scholars, heavily influenced by Hegel, in the 19th century were never going to have the last word on biblical studies,
; so a bunch of hedonistic, disillusioned, Marxist, or former Marxist, French intellectuals and academics in Paris c. 1960 to 1990, are not going to have the last word on the meaning of everything from history, society, culture, art and morality.

Anonymous said...

Above anonymous who referred to the religious art of Marc Chagall and Patrick Dougher. I just checked out a large number of images of the work of these artists. And as it has already been said: Are you serious ? It is really clear and so easy to see how many Christians and non Christians, educated or uneducated, Western or non western etc could like and appreciate the beauty in their religious art; even for some to love it and be spiritually moved by much of it!
This ugly, garbage in the Vatican nativity scene is close to being in a class of its own for NOT being beautiful, and especially not appropriate and even more NOT being holy and spiritually uplifting for somewhere close to 99% of people who are unfortunate enough to view it!

Anonymous said...

"So you believe: “Beauty, is highly, maybe entirely, subjective”? Is morality also, maybe, entirely subjective?"

I don't see any connection between what we might consider "beautiful," which is a largely (entirely?) subjectively determined, and what we might consider "moral" which is a matter of, for Catholics, Divine revelation and, therefore, not subjective. Could you describe the connection?

People were insulted when Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" was debuted, but most people with critical skills and with faculties in place no longer have such a reaction. So, just because a person, one with or without "a 4 year arts degree" or "an honours degree in visual arts," thinks the Vatican Nativity is inappropriate doesn't make it so.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 5.45,

LOL !!!!

Great how with irony and parody you delineate, describe and clearly portray, the madness of extreme rejections of ANY universal, objective standards in art.

Anonymous said...

My memories of a past Catholic art exhibition, where a prize in Catholic religious art was to be awarded.... in a quite liberal, Catholic diocese -

There was a St Paul who looked like Benito Mussolini, a Senator McCarthy Moses moving in on the Golden Calfers, a gentle Judas quavering before a feral Christ and so on.....there were 4 or 5 messes, sorry, paintings, titled “Epiphany” and 3 or 4 called ‘Nativity” paintings and you could have labelled all the Nativities ‘Epiphany” and all the Epiphanies “Nativity” and they still have meant or conveyed as much or as little.....there was a messy vegetable prophet growing out of rock and blossoming into flowers sable and gold called “Isaiah after the Rain”......I recall some of the artists’ cruel, humanist half-smiles towards some priests there, some of who were far from naive and far from stupid and knew that several artists there enjoyed getting away with blasphemy under the guise of symbolism but just kept quiet about that and were also not going to bother to state the obvious to many artistic people there, ie: that bad religion simply can’t be made into good religious art......


Tom Marcus said...

Look, why are we quibbling over "universal objectives" for beauty with trollface? That's just noise. Let's focus on the signal:

The fact is, this "Nativity Scene" is just one more symptom of a very, very troubling papacy. We all know what this is about. We all know what this pope is doing. So why are any of us surprised by this retro flashback to the banal emptiness of 70's style Catholic art? When the people in charge are committed to the managed decline of the Church, we should expect this kind of visual feces.

We know what this pope is. Few of us want to admit it, but we know it.

Anonymous said...

Tom Marcus - Quibbling? No. Evading is what's going on.

Asked for the objective criteria for what constitutes a "beautiful" thing, posters here have danced - nay, they have jitterbugged around and around, all in a dither with nary a hint of a criterion in sight.

Always, ALWAYS, look askance at anyone who says, "The fact is..." in disputations about personal taste and preferences. The person using that opening is about to make a definitive statement that is as definitive as a snowflake.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @7.17,

“Can you describe the connection?”

With individuals and societies, historically, there have often been a lot of different connections. For example, there was a connection and or relationship between art and the society and politics of Renaissance Italy and Russia under Stalin.....If a Jewish person and artist was to totally reject Judaism’s teachings and traditions would not that probably have an impact on his or her future artistic work? If a formally devout Christian artist lost all faith in Christian beliefs and morality and embraced a nihilistic, hedonistic, secular life style would not that influence his or future artistic work?
If a personally ordinary but talented artist joined a crazy sect that indulged in sexual promiscuity and illegal drug use would not that influence his art work? Finally, can’t you see there could at least at times be a significant or simply some connection between good religion (which concludes good morality) and the creation of good religious art?


I think there is a lot more to this than a troubling and problematic papacy since 2013. I believe it is a lot more to do with a very troubling and problematic worldwide episcopate (with some exceptions.....) since c. 1970. Since c. 1970, if not before, there have been great numbers of Catholic priests and bishops who have in different ways both hoped and worked for an end to much of the “pre Vat 2 church, counter reformation Catholicism” etc .... and the birth of a quite new and updated modern version of Catholic is both sad and amusing that the core agenda of this modern, updated Catholic Christianity seems often to be quite similar to the core agenda of Green Left political a teenager, I can recall a radical priest in the 1970s telling my parents that the old Church, as we knew it, will largely die, will pass away, but what will rise in its place will be so much better!!

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:57 - You have not described any connection between beauty and morality. Rather you have described what you think may be a connection between the faith/morality of an artist and the art he/she produces.

Can immoral people make great art...?

Caravaggio was renowned for his temper. When he killed a man on a piazza in Rome, he had to flee the city. Yet, he produced beautiful art.

Benvenuto Cellini killed at least three people - facts he recounted in his autobiography, but I suspect you are an admirer of his art, as am I.

Fra Filippo Lippi seduced a young nun, had a child with her, yet he is renownede for is art, his religious art, his Catholic art.

Richard Wagner was a horrible anti-semite, Norman Mailer stabbed and killed his wife, Charles Dickens had an affair with an 18 year old, and Dr. Seuss drew terribly racist "cartoon" propaganda of the Japanese people which, later, he regretted.

Anonymous said...

Dear above anonymous,

Evasion? Jitterbugging around and around?
I have read Plato, Augustine and Aquinas quoted. Liz Lev has been quoted. Father Allen has accurately described how his parishioners and the general community in his city would react if he put such a nativity scene in his church. And a 1,000 plus other priests could have written the same or similar to what Father wrote here. Parents, here and elsewhere, have described how their children have reacted very negatively to viewing images of this Vatican nativity scene. Anonymous, you could check out a dozen plus Catholic blogs at random and read thousands of different Catholics, some more erudite than you, in a dozen different countries using different words to express their shock, sadness or sarcastic, mocking humour about this alleged “sacred art” or visual nightmare or “visual feces” could start again and reread the original article which started this post, which gave a good indication re worldwide feedback re this artwork....
In a matter like this what sort of criteria are you after? Rarely have I seen such a near overwhelming majority consensus among various Catholics as there has been or is now that this garbage is not good Catholic “sacred art” in any meaningful sense (does that indicate nothing to you ?!!) AND especially inappropriate when one reflects on the context here, ie - re what the normal, healthy and sane INTENTIONS are with displaying any nativity scene, either for the average people who visit the Vatican or any ordinary Catholic Church in the lead up to Christmas.

And as Tom points out it is very important not to lose focus on what the selection of this nativity scene indicates.....or what it is as another symptom of something or some things very wrong in the Church during this papacy.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 10.31am,

My guess would be that the artists and writers you refer to have clearly at times ACTED in sinful ways at times in their life, as has every artist and every human being that ever lived has at least occasionally committed immoral and sinful times very sinful acts...BUT such ACTS do not necessarily indicate a serious INNER core badness, evil or depravity within a particular person. Maybe, I think a person with a quite malevolent soul, a person without a conscience and little empathy for others etc, like the sociopathic types within the 3.8% of Americans with an antisocial personality disorder, would find it hard to produce a beautiful, spiritually uplifting piece of sacred art....

You mentioned Bach in a previous post. I think it likely a child who is raised in a family where he often hears Bach and Mozart (as opposed to openly satanic death heavy metal music or hard core gangster rap etc) and has parents who regularly read to him from books by Dickens to C S Lewis etc (as opposed to a child who often views the worst sort of pornography as that is what appeals to and is watched by his drunken parents and older siblings ....) I think a child raised 0 to 16 raised hearing in his home the best classical music and has parents read to him quality age appropriate literature would have a significantly better chance of being a person who acts morally than a poor child raised in the opposite way described above.....don’t you think ?

Anonymous said...

By the standards or lack of any objective standards for anonymous at 10.31AM, it is highly likely for him some of the “worst sorts of pornography” could be described as works of art, that possess beauty and can for some individuals be spiritually uplifting.
OR for anonymous as 10.31AM nothing can be judged as “the worst sort of pornography” as it is only personal tastes and preferences that creates such a subjective category as “the worst sort of pornography.”
Anonymous at 10.31, do you believe it could ever happen in our era, in our nation, that any individuals could in any way, to any extent, be significantly morally corrupted at least in part by repeated exposure to what 1% of the population regards as true art but close to 99% regards as sick pornography?

Anonymous said...

Check mate ?

Anonymous said...

Above anonymous,
Regarding any connections between beauty and moral behaviour and the artistically ugly and immoral behaviour.
Some would regard rap music and lyrics as art. I believe that the lyrics of much gangster rap music, which can be appallingly misogynistic and can celebrate assaults on gay men and so on, as ugly; and if rap music and lyrics are art, then such music and lyrics is, I believe, artistically ugly AND could quite possibly influence some young males to act in immoral ways if as teenagers they have listened to such rap music and lyrics for thousands of hours. Would you agree?
But back to the original subject matter here I think one of several ways in which the recent Vatican nativity scene “artwork” is so artistically bad and highly inappropriate for a nativity scene is how some of the figures look more like representations of sci-fi aliens or pagan idols than anything truly human. And as the art historian, Elizabeth Lev, said : it would be quite hard to find one person who believes that this so-called nativity scene has truly made them feel more Christian.

Anonymous said...

Plato, Augustine, Aquinas,and Liz Lev have been quoted about beauty. None of what I heave read offers objective criteria for determining what is beautiful.

For example, "Thomas Aquinas said that the beautiful is that which, being seen, pleases. Beauty, of its nature, gives delight. Beauty is objectively present, it is not relative."

Some are pleased and delighted with the Nativity in the Vatican Piazza, mant are not. Is the objective determination of whether a thing is beautiful or not then to be decided by a vote. "All in favor of saying the Nativity scene is beautiful, say AYE. Those opposed, NAY"?

Liz Lev also has an opinion.

The dance continues...

The voters are making a subjective determination.

Plato wrote “At the sight of beauty the soul grows wings”. Some, like me, find that my soul is uplifted in the spare, almost barren chapel in a Trappist monastery while some are inspired in a baroque explosion of florid decorations, gilt wood, and marble floors on ten different colors.

Again, that reaction is subjective.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

A @ 8:36, your attitude towards "universalism" that is, "all things equal" is a heresy and thus you are part of the problem not the solution since the Neo-iconoclasm of church art and architecture went on steroids around 1965 when this abomination was created.

Anonymous said...

Um, well, what?

I don't think all things are equal. A ton of gold has greater mass (is unequal to) a gram of gold. Sea Cucumbers aren't equal to orangutans, and The Sopwith Camel isn't a Boeing 737 Max.

The current Nativity figures aren't "equal" - whatever that means in this regard - to others. That's not the problem. Thinking that they are or should be is the problem.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony isn't equal to La Gazza Ladra, either. No one thinks they are or should be.

What are you talking about?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

"What are you talking about?" Perhaps you should do some research, commission a poll and find out how many like and hate this nativity. Report back with you findings.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 8.36 AM,

Professionals, art critics, art experts etc, when they’ve been asked cannot agree on a single definition on what makes art good. Some, however, have stated that good art sticks in your mind as a positive memory. I like and agree with that attempt at a definition of what makes good art.
How many devout Catholics who have viewed this year’s Vatican nativity scene will in the future have wonderful, positive memories of it? Not “some” but A minuscule number. How many will have negative memories? How many in the future will occasionally recall how sad and confused and or insulted they felt in December 2020? The vast majority. Don’t you think that has some significance?

I think it is quite fair and reasonable to judge this artwork as not at all good on the grounds of almost no Christian being made to feel more Christian after viewing it AND without doubt for 99% of people who view it, it will definitely NOT stick in their minds as a positive memory.

Also, it amazes me how you can dismiss Liz Lev’s words and claims re this whole sad affair as mere “opinion”. With her education in art, and her experience in her job observing how thousands of different people have personally reacted to hundreds of pieces of sacred art - you can simply state “that is just her opinion”. Can’t you see that is really quite silly?

As well, you have repeatedly claimed no one here has come close to providing objective criteria for what is good or beautiful art. Perhaps there is none, perhaps deciding the quality of a work of art is so very personal that one has to realise there is no universal definition, perhaps ........but there is so much others have contributed here that you have not really replied to. For example, would your views on this bizarre attempt at sacred Christian art, which has shocked, saddened and confused millions of Christians be the same sort of views were a crazy, bizarre attempt at Islamic art were to upset, hurt, sadden and anger the vast majority of the world’s devout Muslims? Anonymous, PLEASE attempt to answer THAT ?! Also, For example, the possibility of gangster rap music and lyrics not being a “good art form” on account of the misogyny and homophobia it frequently expresses and the likely negative influence it could have on some young men who have listened to thousands of hours of it.....dear anonymous, can you claim it is impossible to state a particular gangster rap song, which is terribly misogynistic and appalling homophobic, is objectively bad? Do you hold such a song can be good because certain young men who agree with the sentiments in the song find it to be a good that what you believe? Are there no standards at all ? Again, could you please reply to that specific example, too...

Based on what Fr M has here said, I have just then thought up a sort of criteria - not for what makes something good art BUT for what makes an artwork NOT good sacred art but clearly bad sacred art - ie if thousands of priests, pastors and ministers were to agree that displaying a particular attempt at sacred art either in or in front of their Church would shock, sadden and confuse - elicit a whole range of negative emotions ! - the vast majority of their congregation AND would result in their church becoming a laughing stock in their town or city - then that would provide sufficient criteria for a particular piece of attempted sacred art to be : NOT good sacred art.
Now will you disagree with that?

Anonymous said...

Your "Protestant" version of determining what is and what is not beautiful is very, very telling.

Anonymous said...

Father Allan,
I think anonymous here would simply reply that even if such a poll revealed that 90% or more of a 1,000 plus random sample of Christians strongly disliked the 2020 Vatican nativity scene that would not make it necessarily "a bad sacred artwork".

Yet if an individual artist made or attempted to make a quality piece of sacred art and that art was displayed in a gallery and then later the curator of that art gallery was to tell the artist that never had a piece of art in her gallery received such an enormous negative response from so many among the many people who visit this gallery - I believe that overwhelming negative response would probably be significant to both the artist and the art gallery curator.

Also, I believe the views expressed by anonymous above taken to their logical conclusions would make the work of art critics meaningless.

Anonymous said...

Is there any objective criteria for an artwork that will NOT launch a 101 mocking jokes?
Yes! (To make use an old legal expression) ie: the common sense of the reasonable man is, close to 99% of times, sufficient to objectively judge which attempts at sacred art will NOT be capable of launching a 101 mocking jokes !!

Dear anonymous at 8.36, your silly obstinacy is inspiring some interesting replies, in my subjective opinion.....

Anonymous said...

"Some, however, have stated that good art sticks in your mind as a positive memory."

Some people visit the Metropolitan Museum's Venetian sculpture gallery and walk away with few positive memories. Other enjoy it immensely. Some would view the current exhibition of Jack Whitten's African sculptures and be singularly impressed and forget everything they had seen in the Venetian gallery. Some here might think those people uneducated philistines, but that would probably reveal more about the person who thought it than anyone else.

"As well, you have repeatedly claimed no one here has come close to providing objective criteria for what is good or beautiful art." Posters here have claimed repeatedly that such criteria exist, so one awaits the moment of revelation.

Regarding your question about the Vatican Nativity scene and Islamic art, I'll start by disagreeing with your contention that whaty is currently installed in the Piazza San Pietro is a "bizarre attempt at Christian art."

As to the rap music you dislike I would say that I share your views. I don't like it - at all. I find it repulsive, as I find eating oysters, caviar, and freshly dug truffles to be repulsive. But that's ME.

Is it "objectively" bad? Tell me what objective criteria to use.

As to your last question my answer is "No."

Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people who think your way can have serious problems with any sort of hierarchy, Anon@3.09, but please reflect on the objective fact that finding extremely violent, homophobic and misogynistic lyrics of any song offensive and repulsive is, objectively, of a different order than not enjoying or strongly disliking the consumption of oysters.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:26 - They are alike in that they are both personal preferences.

Some people like the lyrics and the bivalves.

Some like one and not the other.

Some, like me, like neither.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,
Please do not try to weasel out of answering the question put to you about what conclusions you would draw from : ie : if an attempt at sacred art on being first prominently displayed resulted in millions of devout Muslims worldwide being hurt, upset, saddened, confused and angry etc What would you think of that ? What would you say about the people who gave this offensive (to Muslims) art such prominence at Muslims’ holiest time of the year - with near certainty how most Muslims will respond ? Would you consider, or would you think it helpful for another, going on a blog set up by and for devout Muslims and put to them similar points and arguments as you have here? Or perhaps your enlightened arguments could sooth a crowd of angry, hurt and deeply offended Muslim men about to start rioting (or worse) ?
You have put questions to others. Why can’t this question be put to you?

Oh, there was yet another interesting question put to you above you ignored. Would you claim individual perspective, individual subjective judgement can make a crucifix placed in a glass full of an artist’s urine acceptable sacred art? Or to put it another way, are there no reasonable standards so as that no one can claim that the artwork “Piss Christ” is truly sacrilegious and blasphemous and is in no sense true sacred art? Is that what you are claiming?


Harold Acton and Cyril Connelly.

Anonymous said...

Hal and Cy - I answered the questions in my December 17, 2020 at 3:09 PM.

It wasn't the reply youse guys expected or wanted, so you've said it is weaseling. That's your issue, not mine.

I am claiming nothing about whether art is or can be sacrilegious or blasphemous, nor will I. That's a diversion, a weaseling out of addressing the question at hand, which is "Are there objective criteria by which a thing can be declared to be beautiful?"

Some here have claimed that there are such objective criteria. As I have said repeatedly, I await the revelation of that list.

John Nolan said...

'Are there objective criteria by which a thing can be declared to be beautiful?' Not in the sense of a checklist with boxes which can be dutifully ticked - that is absurd. But aesthetics is not a strict science but a philosophy, and the idea of beauty (which is not utilitarian in the sense that it is not necessary for existence, and therefore can be said to have an objective reality) is part of the human condition.

Aesthetic comes from the Greek word for perception, and there is no reason to think that our prehistoric ancestors did not perceive beauty in the natural world before 'art' as we know it developed.

Anonymous said...

"But aesthetics is not a strict science but a philosophy, and the idea of beauty (which is not utilitarian in the sense that it is not necessary for existence, and therefore can be said to have an objective reality) is part of the human condition."


"The idea of beauty" originates in the person - it cannot originate anywhere else - who forms the idea, the concept, the appreciation of a thing he or she finds beautiful.

That "thing" may be a painting or a sculpture or a symphonic composition that many, even most, conclude is unpleasant or bizarre. The "thing" may conform to the dominant aesthetic, or it may be something completely new or unexpected.

And that "thing" is a joy forever, much as Selene understood.

Anonymous said...

Could it be argued “the idea of beauty” originated in the mind of God?

Anonymous said...

"Could it be argued “the idea of beauty” originated in the mind of God?"

Not as we are discussing it, since we are talking about what humans do and do not cosider to be beautiful.

Anonymous said...

What men and women, made in the image of God, do and do not consider beautiful? Is that what we are discussing?

Would it be possible for an individual, though made in the image, to have a disordered understanding of what is beautiful?

For example, if an individual saw a painting or a film, or read a book, that celebrated the worst aspects of homosexual S and M activity and thought it beautiful, could that be because that particular individual had a disordered understanding of what is beautiful?
Or would you just claim that judging that individual person disordered is merely a subjective judgement as is judging a hard core gay S and M film to be pornographic also merely a subjective opinion? Would you claim too, in an instance such as this, it is yet again what always happens with “the idea of beauty” originating in the person - simply yet another instance of a person forming the idea, the concept and forming an appreciation of what is beautiful?

Do you really believe that?

Do you believe it is incorrect or invalid for any person to claim a painting, film or book depicting and celebrating extreme S and M homosexual activity is definitely NOT beautiful simply because 0.01% of the population may perceive “beauty” in such a film, painting or book? Is that what you are claiming?

Anonymous said...

"Would it be possible for an individual, though made in the image of God, to have a disordered understanding of what is beautiful?"

Due to the effects of original sin, we ALL have a disordered understanding of what is beautiful. Well, "all" except Jesus and the preveniently saved Blessed Virgin Mary.

There are people who find beautiful what you and I find repulsive. Imagine the different ways a jeweler and a geologist might view the remains of a 12 carat diamond that has shattered when being cut. The jeweler weeps and calls her insurance company while the geologist delights, gets out his instruments, and starts mapping the dispersion of the shards.

Is the shattered diamond beautiful? The jeweler and the geologist might see the same thing . . . very differently.

Again, I don't think the beauty of an object is decided by the determination of the majority.

Anonymous said...

One Catholic with same sex attraction focuses on the rich and truthful representations of the body and beauty in traditional Catholic worship, art and theology.
Another finds "beauty" and meaning in secular buzz words about homosexuality and the reductive (and ultimately nihilistic ... in so far as it turns the body into a commodity for use) vision of "beauty" offered at LGBT Pride parades...

No objective difference here which makes one better than the other?