HE FRENCH Neoclassical painter, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, was so sensitive to ugliness that his wife would throw her shawl over his eyes to protect him from seeing a particularly hideous beggar or cripple in the streets. Although I find this unmanly and furthermore un-Christian, I have to admit that I wouldn’t mind if someone threw a shawl over my eyes to protect me from much of the artwork sold in the average Catholic bookstore.
Not only are the devotional images sold poor quality reproductions, they are usually so saccharine or stale as to be utterly intolerable. Most of the images of Jesus depict him as feminine or cartoony or as a surfer. The statues are even worse: cross-eyed, air-brushed, plastic, garish… why? I don’t blame the people running these bookstores; I blame it on a lack of demand. We must remember the true value of sublime art and create a market for it.
Art is a sacramental! Beautiful sacred art has the power to send our thoughts soaring heavenward and to assist us during prayer. If you must get a reproduction, make sure that the original piece of art is superb: Caravaggio, Murillo, Raphael, etc. However, just as the radio is drastically inferior to live music, printed images are drastically inferior to original art. What happens when a painting is photographed and printed? So many things are lost: color, texture, detail, and (often) size. It is basically flattened.
Akin to the sentiments of John Senior in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture, I believe that seeking out authentic, quality experiences is the way to win the culture war. It is more satisfying to sit in front of a fire than to sit in front of an electric heater. It is more satisfying to visit a friend in person than to chat with him online. And it is definitely more satisfying to hang a framed piece of original art on your wall than to settle for a bad reproduction.
Let us sooth our frazzled nerves by taking a moment to enjoy the little-known painting, “Virgin with the Crown” by Ingres.