Tired of Bad Church Art? Do Something About It!

by Jimmy Akin

in +Religion

Behold! The terrifying Metallic Ice Queen Virgin Mary that America "donated" to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth! (Thanks to Steve Ray for taking the photo for me on a recent visit!)

Some years ago I went to a travelling exhibit of the Vatican art treasures.

One thing leapt out at me really clearly: In contrast to all the art treasures from previous centuries, the “art treasures” from the mid-2oth century onward were terrible.

Sometime I want to post a picture of the “Millennium vestments” they designed for John Paul II. They look like some kind of alien dignitary costume from Star Trek Voyager.

And bad Catholic art is by no means confined to the travelling art treasures exhibit.

The less said about the American “contribution” to the portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the better (pictured).

And there’s that horrible, goofy statue in the foyer of the Vatican Museums of a man holding a cell phone fused with a smiling John Paul II. It looks like a transporter accident (see below).

And there’s that sculpture in Rome of John Paul II that looks like the pope’s head on top of a telephone box or bus shelter that’s about to gobble up whoever steps inside it (see below).

And then there’s that weird sculpture in the Paul VI hall that you see behind Pope Benedict when he’s giving his weekly audiences. It looks like some kind of alien shrubbery from a show with a low budget for sets (see below).

And then there’s . . . okay, enough!

I’m sure you’re as sick of all the lousy Catholic art as I am.

So why not do something about it?

“Like what?” you say.

Well, how about supporting Catholic art education so that we can get better Catholic artists?

I’m glad to introduce a chance to do just that at the Chesterton Academy, where my buddy Tim Jones teaches art.

On his blog, Tim writes:

Since September 4th of this year, I’ve had the privilege of being the art instructor for the stupendously amazing 9th-12th grade students of the Chesterton Academy, in Edina, Minnesota (the West Minneapolis area).

Florin Pieta
Artwork © 2011 by recent Chesterton Academy graduate Alea Florin.

This delightful private Catholic high school was started as a grass-roots movement of parents. The school opened its doors in the fall of 2008 with just ten students; the following year it had twenty. In its third year, it had forty-two students. This year, over eighty students are enrolled, and the school is drawing national and even international attention. Chesterton Academy was just named one of the Top 50 Catholic High Schools in the United States by the Cardinal Newman Society.

Chesterton Academy  “strives to offer a classical curriculum, one that draws on the great Western traditions of faith and reason wielded in concert” as part of “a meaningful education in an authentically Catholic environment”. This includes a classical approach to art, where every student – in all four years – learns traditional methods of painting and drawing, art appreciation and art history from the cave art of Lascaux, to Egypt, Greece and Rome on up to the present day.

Paper II
Basic geometric forms.

Our classical approach to studio art involves drawing and painting from real life, using a variety of objects and “casts” as visual references. As our program has grown, our need for casts and other art supplies has expanded as well.

Eye Cast
A simple plaster sculpture cast.

One miraculous hallmark of the Chesterton Academy has been their continual ability to accomplish so much with so little. Their frugality is a virtue, because one fundamental goal of CA has been to make the classical education they offer as reasonably priced as possible, so as to keep it within reach of as many families as possible.

So there is a great opportunity, for those interested in encouraging young artists, to contribute in a substantial way that will be of immediate and direct help to these art students. Contributions of art supplies – like the plaster cast above, or drawing and painting materials – are tax deductible, and the Chesterton Academy (501c3) will provide a letter acknowledging your donation for that purpose.

But mostly, it’s a great chance to be a part of this joyful and growing revolution in education.

Thank you!! Please e-mail me at timjonesart@yahoo.com or post a comment and I will be in touch with more information. Meanwhile, here are some useful links for your perusal (but we will be very grateful for any kind of assistance you can offer!).




or, you can very simply donate directly to the Chesterton Academy;


(Jimmy again:) I hope you’ll support the cause of Catholic art education.

Remember! If you don’t then we may continue to be subject to art horrors like this:

"Crossing the Threshold" statue from Vatican Museums

"Crossing the Threshold" statue from Vatican Museums

And this:

John Paul II statue at the Termini in Rome

And this:

"Resurrection" sculpture in the Paul VI audience hall

Please be generous, won’t you?


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Alan McCann October 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm

When doing the Vatican Museums tour several years ago, my shock at the transition from pre- to  post -1900 art was incredible. I am no means an art student, but it was as plain as day that something had gone wrong in the human soul.

Amy October 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm

So true.  At a local (and generally wonderful museum) they’re having an exhibit of an artist (20th century sculptor) who, sadly, has quite a few religious pieces.  They are sooooo lame.  Blah.  Etc.
I try with my whole heart to appreciate them, but simply have to give up.

Tim Jones October 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm

You’re the best, Jimmy! In the immortal words of Bartles & Jaymes, “Thank you for your support”.

Tim Jones October 28, 2012 at 5:58 pm

That faceted aluminum Mary makes me think of Box, every time.

Jimmy Akin October 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm

@Tim Jones It makes me want to make like Logan . . . and run!

RaeMarie October 28, 2012 at 6:15 pm

I am a Catholic artist. To be honest, most people in my church just ignore my work.

RaeMarie October 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm

I am a Catholic artist with an art degree who does better work than these silly sculptures here. I think there are good Catholic artists out there but sadly the Church may be ignoring them. I know that my wishes to contribute to Catholic artistic culture in both art and music get frequently ignored by those in my own church. I guess my point is that there are Catholic artists out there in the 21st century who love beauty and seek beauty- they are simply overlooked.

Tim Jones October 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm

@RaeMarie I had the same kind of experience at my parish, RaeMarie, but all we can do is keep trying, and don’t judge people too harshly. One day, you may test the water and find things have changed. Pray for God to open those doors.

RaeMarie October 29, 2012 at 9:11 am

@Tim Jones Thanks!

avhulse October 29, 2012 at 9:14 am

It doesn’t have to be modern art to be bad. All the pale, simpering and sickly Mary’s and Jesus’s from the last 19th and early 20th Century are just as awful.

Tim Jones October 29, 2012 at 9:37 am

@avhulse True enough, avhulse, but those were bad at least in a natural sort of way, like you might talk about bad milk or bad meat. A shame, but not a shock. Bad modern art is actively and assertively bad, like a rabid dog… or a dissident nun. An egregious assault on the sensibilities.But, yes, if so much of19th century academic art had not been so insipid, the Moderns would never have got the traction they did.

yan October 29, 2012 at 9:26 am

Too funny:  ‘Metallic Ice Queen Virgin Mary’…you’re killing me Akin.

johnnyvoce October 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Or (shameless plug warning) you can support a new nonprofit in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with ideas of expansion called The Ministry through the Arts Project: http://www.mapindy.org!

xmenno October 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm

When my husband and I were in Rome last year, we went through Termini many times and we laughed about the Pope John Paul statue every time we saw it.  The Vatican museum experience rings true. We visited the motherhouse of the order of sisters that is affiliated with our local Catholic university; the art in their modernized chapel was truly painful to see. Art after 1876 abandoned beauty and rationality, and embraced fracture and disharmony. For the Church to tend in that direction belies all that she teaches, and is incongruous at best and demonic at worst.

runstop October 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Here is a sculptor from Oregon who does amazing bronze sculptures including ones of Chirst’s crucifixtion, Joseph with pregnant Mary, the Baptism of Jesus, and the family of Christ…worth checking out.

Elizabeth October 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I so agree with this post.
And I’d love to put in a plug for my dear friend and iconographer, Claudia Daniel, and her amazing iconography:  http://www.leonefamily.org/ClaudiaDaniel.html
Now THIS is gorgeous Catholic art work.

wirewrapper October 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I agree with much of this post, but being an ex-artist who was much more into the theoretical end of what art is disagrees with the idea that Catholics should make “art.”   Art in and of itself leads to a connotation of something being crated that is a human project and was created by that individual without any other guidence.    A good Catholic needs to be a good Craftsman before making anything that has already been given by God.   Art in its present form and idea is something that is created by a person and elevates the creative indivdual to be something on par with God.     I am just very much against this ideology that is trying to create secular/ atheistic priesthood/ religion based on all things secular which you go and “worship” or mediate on at the local muesum.

Linebyline October 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Let’s be fair: If that piece had *actually* been called “Metallic Ice Queen” (and if the face didn’t look like a pile of cat poop glued on the front) it would actually be fairly good.
There’s bad art, and then there’s bad art. The poop face is an example of bad art that is simply art done badly. I have drawers and drawers full of such art that I have produced myself. The rest of the sculpture is bad art in the sense of art that fails the most basic test of what it is supposed to be.
Remember, art is expression. That means it’s supposed to express *something*. Expression cannot be content-free. If what’s supposed to be expressed (the Blessed Virgin) is not what is actually being expressed (scary ice/metal/poop robot), then the attempted act of expression–the attempted work of art–has failed.

kej0 October 30, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Why do you call this Catholic art?  If you have seen it at a junk yard you would not think it is art, would you?  All real art comes from the Holy Spirit, and that includes non-religious art too.  But for more than 50 years now either the Holy Spirit found no receptive soul to inspire to create real art like Michelangelo or Mozart, or those who control the art world hide the real works of art.

John Niemann October 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm

The key to changing the culture is changing education. Few can appreciate true art because few are educated  to see art as anything but an agenda delivery device. That is why (shameless plug) we are blessed at Chesterton Academy to have Tim Jones teaching our students. Technique matters, as does art’s connection to truth. There is nothing true or beautiful about the abominations highlighted in Mr. Akin’s post. Yet our children have been continually taught that such narcissistic detritus is art. Gird your loins for more of the same until education is reformed.

Allen October 30, 2012 at 7:23 pm

And then there is the 150-foot tall neon multi-colored painting of Jesus in the Cathedral in Las Vegas…
And there is THE Cathedral in Las Angeles…

Allen October 30, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Please post the picture of the millenium vestments!  I always wondered what the Pope wore in Star Trek Voyager!

kej0 October 31, 2012 at 2:31 am

to John Niemann
Of course techniques matter! They are the fundamentals of creating art.  But techniques alone are not art. And how do you change even Catholic education?  At least two generations of teachers have grown up on Picasso and band noise.

John Niemann October 31, 2012 at 6:32 am

@kej0 We’re changing Catholic education every day here at Chesterton Academy. You’re right that it’s been 50 years of bad education to get us in this hole, and it will be a long climb out. But the tide has already turned.

kej0 October 31, 2012 at 7:49 am

To John Niemann,
I’d like to help you, but I am old and too far from Chesterton Academy.  Maybe you can use my free website: http://www.architecture-as-space.info/ 
I have turned off its Forum page, but you can reach me through the website.  Keep up God’s work for His little ones.

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