No doubt many who read this I imagine will offer a sharp No! But suppose you disagree with my judgment when I say that I think a work of art is good – can we say who is right and who is wrong? If we look to Church for guidance here it doesn’t seem very helpful at first.
The Church doesn’t set out, to my knowledge, any hard and fast rules for what is appropriate style of imagery for our worship. This is a frustration to some, who wish that there were some so we could get rid of all the ugliness and sentimentalism. While to others it is their cue to allow just about anything into our churches and create the disaster of the last 50 years. If we lived in a time when the tradition of painting sacred art was still strong and living, then there probably wouldn’t be any question in most people’s minds, we would just happily and unquestioningly follow the current trend that and get on with it.
But we don’t, and therefore in choosing images for the liturgy or for the ‘domestic church’ or prayer corner, there will be an element of personal taste involved. The fact that the Church does not stipulate a cannon of approved style leaves room both within existing traditions for personal responses and tastes, the flourishing of local variations and the possibility development of new styles that nevertheless sit within the bounds of what defines that tradition; and beyond that it also gives room for the development of styles that are so distinct that they would represent the establishment of a whole new tradition. I anticipate that any new style, perhaps one that marks our era, will start with one maverick artist who goes against the grain and who, it turns out, produces something that is recognised by those who choose art for our churches and other artists as capturing something that speaks to a particular need of the time.
This was recognised by Pius XII in Mediator Dei: 195. “Recent works of art which lend themselves to the materials of modern composition, should not be universally despised and rejected through prejudice. Modern art should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the church and the sacred rites, provided that they preserve a correct balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to excessive “symbolism,” and that (Read More)