Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
For more about the book and Andy Crouch, please visit

from "The End of Art," by Roger Kimball, First Things, June/July 2008 :: via Arts and Letters Daily

Fra Angelico, a deeply religious painter, was a great artist, but then so was Titian, a conspicuously worldly one. Bach was a pious soul and was possibly the greatest composer who ever lived, but what about Beethoven? If he was religious it was in a vastly different sense. Jane Austen was conventionally religious in her personal life, but her novels achieve greatness through their secular wit and wisdom. Art and ­ religion are both eulogistic words: Calling something a work of art endows it with a nimbus of value; the same is true of religious. But is that the same sort of value?

The twentieth-century Welsh Catholic poet David Jones had it right when he suggested that “no integrated, widespread, religious art, properly so-called, can be looked for outside enormous changes in the character and orientation and nature of our civilization”—changes, I think, that would be deeply at odds with our commitment to liberal democracy. Jones agrees that it would be nice if “the best of man’s creative powers” were “at the direct service of the sanctuary.” But that can happen only “if the epoch itself is characterized by those qualities.” It is not, he goes on to note, a matter of will: What is possible to the artist in the way of creating religious art “has little or nothing to do with the will or wishes of this or that artist.” Be a painter ever so pious, he cannot “change himself into an artist of some other culture-sequence.” Some things were possible in the Middle Ages that are not possible today.

The real threat to the arts, Jones thought, was the modern world’s increasing submission to technocracy, to a thoroughly instrumental view of life that had no room for what Jones called the intransitive—for the freedom and disinterestedness traditionally thought the province of religious experience, on the one hand, and aesthetic experience, on the other.