Maureen Mullarkey

Do The Arts Make Us Better?

Do the Arts make us better? Oxford’s John Carey asked that question in What Good Are The Arts? (2005).  A provocative little book, it rankled readers on both sides of the Atlantic when it appeared. It sank its fangs into a reigning cultural assumption that art’s mission is to improve people.
The belief that art can make people better dates back to classical times. Aristotle taught that music was character-forming and should be introduced into the education of the young. In listening to music, he maintained, “our souls undergo a change.”
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Cardinal Ravasi's Embrace Of Art And Fashion

Cardinal Ravasi’s embrace of art and fashion, the two dominant enthusiasms of secular culture, conveys a this-wordly moralism more theatrical than moral. Of all modern substitutes for religion, art is the most esteemed. It veils contemporary materialism in the language of transcendent values. The cardinal wasted no time embracing the peculiar nature of the high-stakes art world. Pope Francis was installed in March, 2013. Two months later Ravasi announced the Vatican’s first foray into the Venice Biennale. Beginning with a modest prehistory in 1893, the Biennale has evolved into the ultimate bazaar. Continue Reading
Courting Pop Culture: The Cardinal & The Rocker

Vatican surrender to compartmentalized culture—divided by age and social brackets—did not begin with Pope Francis. John Paul II initiated that trajectory.  (Try to imagine Pope Pius XII being made an honorary Harlem Globetrotter as was John Paul. Or the Vatican releasing a cartoon version of Pius’ life on DVD.) Under Jorge Bergoglio’s pontificate, the Vatican goes an extra mile in blurring the distinction between evangelizing popular culture and flattering it. Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has a knack for promoting the Church’s secular replacement. Continue Reading
John Paul, rock star, 1979.

Christmastide is over. Still with us, however, is Vatican preoccupation with youth culture and contemporary art. The showcased 2020 Nativity scene generated sneers and Mayday alarms. Demon-spotters went on high alert. Call the exorcist?  By now, temperatures have gone down but the infection remains misdiagnosed. It matters that we get it right. Dislocated indignation distracts from real afflictions. While this arts-and-crafts manger scene would have been unremarkable at Florence’s annual Mostra Internazionale dell’Artigianato, it was a sore thumb in St. Peter’s Square. Continue Reading
A Demon In The Demos

The bourgeoisie produces its own grave-diggers. The Communist Manifesto
  Can a culture celebrate those who want to destroy it and still stand? We are about to find out in this fateful November. Until recently, I thought the word “demonic” no more than a figure of speech. It carried a chill dislodged from religious myth and absorbed into literary aesthetics. As an accessory to prose, I liked the word. Not any more. Not on the verge of an election poised over an abyss for which this nation has no precedent. Continue Reading