The Efficient Cause of Works of Fine Art



Artist and Tools

It is obvious that works of fine art are made by men and women who are artists; they are principal efficient causes. They also employ various tools, the paint-brush, the chisel, the musical instrument. These latter are the instrumental efficient causes of a work of art. The study of such tools is quite interesting and should not be neglected in trying to understand the arts. We cannot fully appreciate a symphony or a concerto, for example, unless we have at least some awareness of the way in which the composer has skillfully employed the tools of his art.

Here, however, we are going to pass over the instrumental causes Of the arts, and consider only the artist himself and the art which makes him an artist.

Art as Expression

No one doubts that every work of art bears the individual stamp of the man who made it, since an effect must resemble its cause. Hence we say that a man expresses himself in his art. This is true of anything that a man makes, but undoubtedly it is especially true of the fine arts since their content and style depend so much on the individual experience of the artist.

But it is important to remember the difference between an accidental and a proper cause. A doctor may be a musician as well, but if be sets a broken leg he is acting precisely as a doctor, not as a musician. As doctor be is the proper cause of healing, but as a musician be would be a proper cause of music, and only an accidental cause of healing. Similarly, an artist may be a good man or a bad man, he may have many abilities and peculiarities. All of these are accidental to his work as an artist, which is good or bad because of his art, and not because of the kind of man he is, Of course no one doubts that his other characteristics may hinder or help his work as an artist, but they only indirectly affect the work of art itself.

Hence if we say that fine art is an expression, we either mean that it is an expression of a man as he is an artist, or that it is an expression of him in his other, non-artistic traits. If the latter, then we must admit that this is a real defect in a work of art, just as if the doctor while operating paused to express himself as a musician by singing a song. The artist who intrudes his personality or his autobiography into a work of art is a poor artist.

On the other hand, it is perfectly true that the work of art is an expression of the man's art. This art is greater than any single work which it produces, and it is legitimate for us to admire the various ways in which the vision of a supreme artist is reflected in his different works. There is little doubt that the different works of an artist cast light on each other, so that we understand each play of Shakespeare better by comparison with his other works. Nevertheless, if we concern ourselves with the greatness of Shakespeare rather than with the greatness of each work, we are moving outside the realm of 'It into the realm of moral philosophy.


Is an artist "born" or "made"? Experience shows that whether he requires great gifts at birth or not (we will discuss that below), be cannot become a great artist without acquiring a habit or virtue of art. Some artists have produced remarkable works when still very young, but the first works of an artist are never masterpieces, and most artists do not do their best work until after a number of years of constant effort and practice. That the habit they acquire is truly a habit and not merely a disposition is proved by the ability of the mature artist to do consistently fine work.

There have been artists who have produced one or two fine works and never been able to succeed again. In such cases, it is not clear that the quality of these works is more than accidental; but when the great artists turn out a flood of fine works, even the poorest of which have distinctive quality, we can be sure that they possess a true habit. Since this is a habit of producing a work of genuine value for human life (as we showed in the last chapter), it is a virtue. Since it is the power to plan and direct something in a rational way, selecting the appropriate means to achieve a definite purpose, it is an intellectual virtue.


The fine arts thus belong among the intellectual rather than the moral virtues, because they give a special power to our reason, rather than to our appetites. There are five kinds of intellectual virtue: insight, science, wisdom, prudence, and art. Restraining the immediate impulse to place the fine arts under "art," we must consider each of these possibilities.

The habit of the fine arts cannot be insight, because insight deals with immediately known truths. To be sure, there is a strong element of intuition or insight in the fine arts, and the contemplation of the beautiful is a kind of immediate vision of truth. Nevertheless, the artist cannot produce a work of art merely by insight. He may have an intuitive view of the ultimate effect he wishes to produce, but he must choose the means to the goal. This requires deliberation and reasoning, and we may define art in general as "right reason about making."

Neither can the habit of the fine arts be wisdom, although many have exalted poets as seers, prophets, and the wisest of men. True wisdom is a knowledge of the ultimate causes of things, and these ultimate causes are not anything that man can make or control, or even adequately represent. The habit of the fine arts certainly deals with a work of art which man himself produces, and hence can be "wisdom" only in a wide sense. An artist may, indeed, be a wise man, but his wisdom is not his art, nor his art his wisdom.

Could fine art be science? Most people today would immediately reject this suggestion, on the grounds that art is emotional and intuitive, while science is cold and abstract. Yet it can hardly be doubted that every art is based on a real theory which establishes certain principles and rules of artistic construction. Such a theory is science, since science is reasoned knowledge. Some, it is true, have denied the possibility of an artistic theory or artistic rules, but this is contrary to the fact that many great artists have expounded such a theory, and many great critics have shown that such a theory is implicit in all art.

A stronger objection would be to say that the virtue of science, strictly speaking, is a theoretical and not a practical virtue; it is concerned with knowing, rather than doing or making. Yet the ancients pointed out that certain theoretical sciences are also liberal arts, because they make a product which is internal to the mind, namely, the sciences of logic and mathematics.


Poetics and music were considered by the ancients to be liberal arts. How can this be correct? Do they not seem to produce something external to the mind? The poet or composer must first hear his composition in his imagination, which is outside the intellect, and then produce it in physical sounds.

This objection is not fatal to the ancient classification. All human thinking makes use of images. Since, however, poetics and music are pure instruments of thought, formed spontaneously and without any deliberate manipulation of physical matter, their use does not require a servile art. As for the external sounds, these need not be produced by the poet or composer; their work ends when they write down their piece in words or musical notation.

A skillful reader can recreate the work in his imagination without any physical production whatsoever, and when a poem is recited or a piece of music performed this can be the work of some one with a quite different sort of skill than that possessed by the poet or composer. Hence the arts of composing poetic or musical works do not involve matter external to the mind, and they remain truly liberal.


Granted that poetics and music are liberal arts, should they be classified as logical or mathematical, or should they be placed in some third division? A third division is not possible for the following reason: To make something in our mind we must have some kind of matter" capable of existing in our mind from which to construct it. This "matter" is either real physical matter or not. If it is real physical matter, then we can make something out of it mentally only in the sense that we mentally divide it into parts and figures. This is the work of mathematics (see pages 303 ff.). If it is not physical matter,

then it is "matter" only in the sense of the multitude of concepts which exist in our mind and which may be combined or ordered in various ways by mental relations. This is the work of logic.


If we ask whether a work of poetics or of music is logical or mathematical, it is apparent at once that the poetic work is more like the things which logic produces, and the musical work like the things mathematics produces. A poem is made out of words and consists in a certain order of concepts. A piece of music is made out of tones arranged in some kind of quantitative pattern.

1. Art as a kind of logic. Nor is it too difficult to discover the position of poetics among the various kinds of logic. It certainly is not the same as theoretical logic (logica docens), which is concerned with proving the validity of logical forms, or establishing the logical requirements of proof. Rather it pertains to applied logic (logica utens), which considers the employment of these forms in particular usages. (See pages 18 f.). It is not, however, a demonstrative use of logic, since this pertains to the diverse special sciences, and poetry can treat of any subject whatsoever. Nor is it the dialectical use of logic, since the dialectician makes no appeal to the emotions. Nor is it the rhetorical use of logic, since the rhetorician, although he appeals to the emotions, does not produce a catharsis leading to contemplation. Thus poetics is a special use of logic having this last purpose: to produce a catharsis which leads to contemplation.

2. The logical form of art. What forms of logic does it use? A logical form is an argument, made up of statements, and these statements are made up of terms. The two basic kinds of argument are the syllogism and induction (see pages 140 f.). The syllogism uses universal premises, so that in a poetic work which must be an imitation (and hence the representation of something singular,) such an argument is not feasible. An induction, however, proceeds from the singular to the universal (or sometimes from singular to singular). The abbreviated form of the induction called an example is a singular typical case from which we pass to a universal (or to a similar singular).

This is exactly what a poetic imitation does: the imitation presents a singular in a way which renders it typical (see page 257). Hence in reading the story of Macbeth, we see embodied in his example a universal human experience. Rhetoric too uses examples, but in order to lead us to action (singular to singular), while a poem presents an example in order to reveal the universal. Thus Aristotle says: "Poetry is something more philosophical and serious than history, because poetry rather gives the general and history the particular" (Poetics, IX, 1451b, 3).

3. Poetic statements and terms. The statements out of which the story (the example or argument) is composed must seem plausible. They are things that could or should happen (ibid., 1451b, 1). Such statements are presented as true; although in themselves they may not be true, yet they are not lies, because they are intended only to exemplify some universal truth. It is only when what they exemplify is false that the author may be judged a liar.

The terms of which these statements are made are frequently metaphorical (see page 50). Aristotle pointed out that both poet and rhetorician use all sorts of figures of speech, but that a poet especially excels in metaphors: "The greatest thing by far is to be master of metaphor. That alone cannot be learned, but is the sign of genius, since the right use of the metaphor means an ability to notice similarities" (ibid., XXII, 1459a, 5).

The reason that metaphors are especially suited as terms in an argument through example is that by means of metaphors a poet can represent even very abstract truths in a concrete and sensible fashion. Today some critics are inclined to define poetry as the use of metaphorical language, but this is a mistake, since it is not impossible to compose a poetic imitation of human action in words which are purely literal.

Music and Mathematics

Since music and all the fine arts also make imitations just as poetics does, they too might be considered as parts of logic, differing from poetics only in that they use natural rather than conventional signs. Yet their logical character is much less evident, since, as we have seen (page 264), they imitate emotion and character, and only remotely imitate human thought and deliberate action from which examples can best be drawn. On the other hand, their mathematical character is quite evident, since they produce musical and visual patterns (see pages 249 ff.). Thus the ancients were right in regarding music as a mathematical liberal art, rather than as a logical liberal art, classifying it according to that in which it excelled.

The Other Fine Arts Are Servile

The ancients did not consider the other arts to be liberal, but to pertain to the virtue of art taken in the strict sense as servile art, producing an external work. Thus the arts of performing poetry and music (elocution and musical performance) and all the visual arts (dancing, architecture, the crafts, painting, and sculpture) were considered servile, and were generally grouped together as theatrical art and architecture (including crafts, painting, and sculpture).

1. Painting and sculpture. Today this seems rather curious, for we honor these arts as liberal professions. Yet again the ancients had a good reason. None of these arts can produce a work merely in the imagination nor commit it to notation. A painter must himself execute his own painting, the sculptor his own statue-or at least he must put the finishing touches to his work, if the result is to be perfect. This is not accidental. It is due both to the fact that the material of these arts is more unpredictable than the material of poetics and music, and also to the fact that these arts do not have so exact a formal theory as does music. The painter and sculptor must constantly work by trial and error, constantly readjusting the form to the matter. Until they actually see the result they are not sure whether their idea is good or not.

2. Architecture. The same is true of the actor and dancer, but we might wonder if it is true of the architect. Certainly the architect can draw up a blueprint and entrust it to a builder. Yet most building plans are also adjusted by trial and error in the process of the actual building, and the architect prefers to have control of this adjustment. In any case, there is a second reason which makes architecture and the crafts servile, namely, that they essentially involve usefulness as well as imitative value, and all the useful arts are servile.

3. Conductors and directors. An objection might be raised that besides the composer and performer there are such people as the conductors of music, and the directors of plays. Their art is a mean between the art of the composer and the art of the performer, since they have to interpret and complete the score of the composer or the script of the poet. Solo performers have the same character, since they interpret as well as perform, acting, so to speak, as their own conductors. We must admit that such an art participates in liberal art. But it ought to be classified as servile, nonetheless, since its chief concern is with the guidance of the actual execution of the work of art in external matter.


We have seen that the arts of composing poetry and music pertain to the kind of intellectual virtue called science, while the other fine arts pertain to servile art. What about their relation to the other type of intellectual virtue, namely, prudence? Prudence directs human acts to the goal of happiness. The artist need not be a prudent man. His task is complete when he has produced a good work of art, and some great works of art have been produced by men who seemed quite imprudent.


Nevertheless there is an intimate relation between fine art and prudence. First of all, because the artist not only must have the virtue of art, but make good use of it, and this requires prudence. The history of art shows not a few artists who have wasted their abilities, or used them for distorted purposes. It is not possible for a man to misuse a moral virtue, but he can misuse an intellectual virtue. Eventually this misuse of an art destroys the habit in the artist himself.

What is the prudent use of fine art? It must be used for the true end of the art, namely, for contemplative recreation (page 281). When an artist uses his art merely to make money, or for rhetorical purposes (even good ones), or as a pseudo-religion, or to tempt others to sin, he misuses it. Granted even that he uses it for the right purpose, he must also consider other circumstances. Recreation can be excessive, and must be sacrificed to greater and more important goods. Sometimes an artist must sacrifice his art to become a soldier, or a teacher, or a priest, or a mystic. Sometimes, too, he must consider that his pictures will be shown in theaters to all kinds of audiences, some of whom are very young and some very weak or ignorant. A work that is itself good for a mature audience might be an occasion of sin to such an audience as this.

Furthermore, the Christian artist will be guided by a higher supernatural prudence which will suggest to him that he must take into consideration the great weakness of men which results from original sin, their materialism, their discouragement, and he will strive to make works that quiet the passions, raise the soul to a spiritual point of view, and instil a sane hope and a firm courage. Yet he will also not fail to humble human pride and expose hypocrisy and smugness.

A second reason that prudence affects art is that an artist must make use of his own experience in imitating human life. Hence an imprudent artist will have great difficulty in imitating life in a convincing fashion.


If he is a great man, then as an artist he might choose himself as an object of imitation and produce self-portraits or autobiography. This would have the advantage that he might know himself and his own experiences very well and be able to render them better than less familiar objects. Hence there is no doubt that all artists are somewhat limited in their material by their own personal experiences. Italian painters will paint Italian landscapes, and a Dickens will choose his characters from the streets of London, and from among his own friends and the incidents of his own life. Of course, the wider the power of the artist the less this personal limitation will appear. On the other hand, the artist who makes the mistake of dealing with subjects utterly remote from his experience can hardly produce a living result.

But there is also a disadvantage to autobiographical imitation: it is difficult to be objective about oneself, and the artist needs to produce a work which conveys its subject without the need of our being acquainted with the author, etc. Many defects in art are due to the incapacity of the artist to disentangle his preoccupations as a man from his work as an artist. The greatest writers, like Homer and Shakespeare, often remain utterly shadowy, because we cannot find them in the wonderful objectivity they achieve. On the other hand, a supreme artist like Dante is able to see and paint himself with marvelous objectivity and yet with the intimacy of personal knowledge.



We have seen that the artist must have the intellectual virtue of art, and he will use this well only if he also has prudence and experience. All these are acquired. Must an artist also have native abilities and a certain kind of temperament in order to acquire the virtue of art?

Necessary Native Capacities

Any normal human being can acquire any of the intellectual virtues with sufficient training and effort, since they are the proper perfection of the intellect which is essentially the same in all men. Consequently, anyone can learn to paint, or to compose, or to write a poem reasonably well. Nevertheless, for some people this would require long effort and very careful guidance, and only a few persons in the whole population are ever able to produce works of art which have great or permanent value. It is a false notion, however, that sees the virtue of art as possible only for a few experts. In a healthy society all liberally educated people have at least one or two of these arts, so that they can recreate themselves and others.

For the great artist, however, certain native capacities are required. He must have an excellent imagination and other internal senses, as well as acute exterior senses. All the great composers, for example, had an extraordinarily good sense of hearing and a strong memory. In the musical and visual arts the capacity for space-thinking," or ability to form designs and patterns, is essential. The combination of mathematical and artistic ability is not uncommon for this reason. With this, however, there must also go emotional sensitivity. Mathematicians, for example, may have a wonderful capacity for forming patterns, but if they tend to be abstract and cold, remote from human feelings and sympathies, they will not be able to be good artists. The artist needs this emotional sensitivity in order to be observant of the human actions and feelings which he is to imitate. To this must be added a long experience of human life and of various types of characters of mankind, especially of great and good men, if he is ever to be able to portray such people.

Personal Problems

These very characteristics of acute imagination and feeling give the artist difficult personal problems. Too often artists become prey to their passions and live a life of misery and enslavement to lust, drink, or discouragement. So often is this true that the public frequently thinks of artists as "bohemians" and degenerates. Indeed, the Christian considering the vocation of the artist must seriously face the moral dangers that beset such a vocation. The actor and dancer face particular dangers because of the personal vanity to which they are liable and the irregularity of theatrical life, but the other arts also have perils which are very real. It is for this reason that fine art so often tends to portray life in its darkest and most degraded aspects, and is seldom successful in portraying what is really good and noble. This is because often the artist himself is not noble and neither are the people he knows.

Consequently, the great artist, in order to keep this sensitive and passionate nature in control, must also be a man of strong intellect and will. He must have an integrity of character and a deep prudence. Contrary to popular impression, such elements are found in the greatest artists; although few of them were perfect men, they had a nobility, courage, and wisdom which were admirable. It is only the lesser artists who lacked these qualities, and they were only able to succeed in those arts where the imitation of subjective personal emotion is all that is aimed at.


Dependence on Others

It has generally been admitted, however, that even when a man has great natural capacities, and has acquired the virtue of art, and the prudence to use it well, that he may still not actually produce great works of art. In addition to the foregoing he requires inspiration. Inspiration is not peculiar to the artist. No great human work can be accomplished by an individual alone. First of all, be needs the help of the society in which he lives, which provides him with the education and the materials and skills of his art. Great artists have usually lived in great cultural ages. The magnificent flowering of art in Greece in the fifth century before Christ and in the cities of Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries of our era is evidence of this.

Furthermore, an artist needs to receive the truths that he expresses from wiser men than himself. The virtue of art is directed more to expressing truth than to discovering it. Hence the artist normally receives from the philosopher and theologian the truths which he expresses. It is the tragedy of modern art that the artist has no one to teach him great truths to express in the form of his art. For this reason, artists without the Christian faith, or even a deep philosophy of life, have nothing to express in art except their own limited personal experience. This is why today art is so introverted, psychological, and emotional. Our best novels are largely psychological studies, and our best painting and music are "abstract" (that is, they imitate emotion).

The Need of Inspiration

When the artist has been inspired with some great truth, he has still the problem of rendering this truth concrete and imitable. This requires a wonderful harmony between his feelings, his experience, his imagination, his intellect, and his will. It is probably because artists particularly need this harmony of all their faculties that they most keenly feel the need of inspiration. In the other professions it is possible to produce a work at will, but the artist often finds himself unable to work as he would like because of factors beyond his control. He has to "feel right."

This fusion and harmony of the artist's faculties is often produced by a strong esthetic and emotional experience which fills him with a desire to produce a beautiful work. Such inspiration comes from friendship, from romantic love, from patriotism, from religion, sometimes from the beauty of nature about him. The artist who is to give us a foretaste of contemplation must himself be encouraged by the sight of great beauty. Hence in the lives of artists we often find that some factor of this sort has "inspired" their art. The disciplined artist, however, does not require constant inspiration of this sort; he is able to revive in himself the vision of beauty which first awakened him to his vocation. Dante lived all his life under the inspiration of his boyhood love for Beatrice, whom he did not see for years and who died long before his greatest work.

Finally, the inspiration of the artist, like all inspiration, must come from God, without whom nothing excellent can be done. No doubt God often helps artists through the ministry of the angels, who not only protect men from evil but assist them in their nobler works. When the ancient poets prayed to their "Muse," we may well believe that their angels heard them and assisted them in their good purposes to make virtue lovable to men.


This brings us back to the point at which we started (see page 281), a consideration of the artist's likeness to God the Creator. Today it is common to speak of the artist as "creative." This usage reflects the atheistic atmosphere in which we live, in which there is always a desire to attribute God's attributes to creatures. Properly speaking, only God is the Creator, and this power, unlike many of his other powers, he cannot share with his creatures. St. Thomas teaches (Summa Theologiae, 1, q. 45, a. 5) that God cannot give the power to create to any creature, not even the highest angel, although he can give such tremendous powers as absolving sins or celebrating Holy Mass to man.

It would be more reverent, therefore, not to speak of artists as "creative." To create is to make something from nothing. The artist makes out of matter which he did not make, but which is the creature of God. Furthermore, in making a work of fine art, he imitates some natural object from which the beauty of his own work is derived.

The Originality of the Artist

We would fall far short of the truth, however, if we did not admit that, even if the artist cannot create, nevertheless he can originate, he can make something really new which has never existed before, and in this power to originate he manifests his likeness to God the Creator.

Certainly we are all struck by the originality of art. The fancy of the artist seems to create new beings, strange animals, undiscovered lands, unique characters. Art seems to take us into a fairy land, a different order of reality. Moreover, every artist seems to create his own new style and a new subject matter. There are no really fixed species of art; for every work is unique, and in the hands of a great artist old forms are completely transformed. This is confirmed by the fact that it seems impossible for one artist to reproduce the work of another, or the style and subject of another age. If he attempts this, his work is always inferior, not only to the original, but even to the less ambitious but more original works of his own contemporaries. A gas-station done by a good architect today in the contemporary style is usually better architecture than an attempt to build a Gothic cathedral in the twentieth century. Hence originality seems an essential characteristic of fine art.

Yet if the artist does not make his matter, and if he takes the form he puts into this matter from an imitation of nature, then what does he make that is new?

How Man Can Make New Things

Man's thought and art are essentially imitative of nature and God. Man can, however, co-operate with God, not in creating, but in perfecting the universe, and indeed God wills that he should. God has left nature unfinished, so to speak, and wishes man to assist him in finishing it. Since the fall, nature has been disfigured, so that God also wishes man to assist him in restoring it, and elevating it to a supernatural perfection.

Nature has two purposes with respect to man. First, it furnishes him with his material needs, and through the artful use of these materials man further perfects nature. In doing this he imitates nature, learning its processes and then co-operating with them. The doctor imitates the healing processes of nature, but also perfects them. the other purpose of nature is to be known by man, both because it is wonderful in itself and because through it man knows himself, but above all because through it man comes to know God. This purpose is the more important of the two, and man also imitates and perfects nature in this second regard. Nature is made to teach man because it exhibits properties, actions, and order through which man comes to know the essence of natural things and the God who made them. But these signs are obscured by the potentiality, materiality, and chance of the natural world. Man, by ordering and beautifying the world, makes it more intelligible.

Making Nature Reveal Itself

It is in this way that the landscape gardener works with nature, but by his cultivation of the plants he causes nature to become more beautiful and orderly. The work of the experimental scientist is really the same sort of thing, because his carefully planned experiment and the instruments which he has devised to extend the power of his senses cause nature to reveal itself more clearly to the mind. Thus man perfects the intelligibility of nature, first of all by simplifying it, removing the confusion produced by chance, allowing it to develop fully without hindrance. We have already seen that the fine artist also does this by simplification and idealization of his object of imitation.

In this respect the artist is the cultivator, the midwife of nature, helping her to reveal herself. Furthermore, he is a parent, since he produces individuals within a species. A father does not create a new species but he produces a new human being which is his likeness and yet a unique person. Similarly, the artist does not create man, nor human life, and yet he can individualize them in unique characters and stories in a particular work. He does this by adding individualizing characteristics in a new combination, and signifying them through the unique design of his work.

Producing Original Combinations

In mathematical designs there can be real origination, because quantity contains a potential infinity of parts and figures, and we can divide a plane or a solid in ever new ways. These new parts can then be ordered. This order must already be known by the artist, but in applying it to new parts he discovers new relations which he did not previously know and which indeed did not exist. Moreover, he can embody these designs in different materials.

Again, the artist deals with signs, and signs are connected with what they signify by associations, by cause and effect, and by similarity. All of these connections are indefinite in number, and the artist is free to discover and use new connections and new signs. Indeed, as Aristotle says, it is the mark of the poet to notice unsuspected similarities and metaphors which can be used in this way.

Originating New Species

We may ask finally whether an artist can originate new species of things? He certainly can originate new species of works of art in the ways we have already described, but can be originate new objects of imitation? What of the figures of mythology or science fiction which were never seen on land or sea? Such fictions are made by comparing one creature with another. Within the genera of creatures (animals, plants, etc.), there are unlimited species which God could create. Many have actually existed during the course of time. Man can conjecture to such possibilities, although he cannot be sure that the thing he imagines is really possible until it is produced by guiding natural processes, as we do in synthesizing new chemicals or breeding new varieties or hybrids of animals.



By collecting the different elements which we have treated in the previous chapters we can now give a definition of fine art:

    A fine art is a liberal or servile art by which is produced a work composed of words, colors, or sounds, so ordered as to imitate human action and thus provide man with virtuous recreation by purifying his emotions, so that he may enjoy the contemplation of the beauty in the work.

In this definition the genus is "liberal or servile art". The difference is provided by a definition of the work of art itself, since a virtue is specified by its object. The work of art has the following four causes:

  1. Efficient cause: A man having the art.
  2. Material cause: "word, colors, sounds."
  3. Formal cause: "imitation of human action."
  4. Final cause: "to provide man with a virtuous recreation by purifying his emotions so that he may enjoy the contemplation of the (work's) beauty."

In order to make this a definition of Christian art, we could add to the final cause the phrase "in a manner that will assist him to attain to the vision of the divine Beauty."


This definition should make plain that the vocation of an artist is a noble one, although not the greatest of vocations. The artist shares with the priest, the teacher, and the statesman the work of raising man from merely practical and everyday problems to a consideration of the contemplative goal of human life. He does not teach with the certainty and the authority of the priest, teacher, or statesman, but he brings truth to men under the form of beauty, which is so appealing. The work of art often gains a hearing where other forms of presenting the truth are ignored. After our Lord's first sermons were rejected by men, he then began to teach in parables.

Hence the Christian ought to regard the vocation of the artist as one which is especially fruitful in helping souls, since it is directed more to the spiritual than the corporal works of mercy, and the spiritual works of mercy are the greater. At the same time he must be fully aware of the moral dangers for the artist of which we have spoken, and not place himself in these dangers without providing the proper safeguards of prudence, prayer, and penance.

If he undertakes his work to help man and to honor God, with the counsel of wise men, and in a way which is approved by the Church and civil society, he has an assurance that God will provide him with the graces needed to make his work good. At the same time he has to realize that in this world evil and falsehood are permitted by God to try all those who seek what is good and true. Hence the Christian artist will often find his work misunderstood, undervalued in comparison to work that is cheap or dishonest, and often neglected even by those in positions of authority. With humility and courage be must persevere in producing work that he knows to be according to right principles and the laws of God, the Church, and sound civil culture, not being tempted by human respect, by money, or by a spirit of bitter independence.

All this is hard, but it is what is expected in every vocation if we are to follow Christ.