My blog is back home where it was before it migrated to FT’s server. Some cryptic stuff under the hood is still being tweaked. But there is enough in place to get going. But first, a clarifying word or two.
The blog began in 2009 with the name Studio Matters. That is why Gustave Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio occupies the header. Courbet’s full title is too sententious for general use: A Real Allegory of a Seven Year Phase of My Artistic and Moral Life. I used to think it cumbersome and self-regarding. Truth to tell, I still do. Nevertheless, it strikes me now as having relevance here. Restored to itself in its entirety, the blog and its archive is now A Real Allegory of a Six Year Phase of My Writing and Moral Life.
Studio Matters has always been completely independent, an outgrowth of my life as a painter and art critic. It moved to First Things’ server in January, 2013, at Rusty Reno’s invitation. The transfer followed a standard promotional model: A publication seeking to draw readers—“hits” on a web edition—hosts an appealing blog. FT promised complete editorial freedom. I was not an employee and was paid no salary.
In December, 2012, Editor Reno gave reason for taking the blog aboard:
You have a fierceness as a writer that is very engaging, but also probably dangerous. Do you know Paul Griffiths? You have much in common when it comes to intellectual style. The marble must be struck for it to take form, and as a reader I can see both of you striking the blows in your prose.
When the prose struck Jorge Bergoglio the weather changed. What had previously been solicited for its bracing charm took on a threatening air. Brows wrinkled. A donor gasped? A board member frowned? Even a small press—especially a small one tilted toward academia—is, in its way, a court. It designs and climbs like any other. Fr. Ray Blake’s recent comment on a far more significant court applies as well to a petite one:
In the mad world of any court it is not those who communicate unpleasant truths but those sycophants who drizzle honey into a rulers ear that are the most dangerous, they drag him into their own rather unpleasant world. In the Church they are the one’s who protect their backs, the one’s who are more committed to their ecclesiastical careers rather than service either to the teaching of Jesus Christ or his people. These are the one’s who the Pope should be lambasting as ‘Pharisees’ or ‘Doctor’s of the Law’, these are the true ‘leprous courtiers’.
At court, vanity and ambition grant license to what decency—and the truth of things—would forbid.
This brings me to Ross Douthat’s go-round with the roster of Jesuits and academics who pulled their hems back from his published dismay over the agenda of our bien pensant pope. Without a doubt, I am in Douthat’s corner. Full square. I have only one demurral from his rousing public apologia.
In his “Letter to the Catholic Academy” he states: “A columnist has two tasks: To explain and to provoke.” To explain, yes. But to provoke? That is the role of pamphleteers, not journalists. It implies a willed effort to inflame, agitate. Hacer un lío—rock the boat. That is Francis’ preferred modus operandi. It is not mine, and never was.
No serious journalist—and Douthat is unquestionably serious—needs to make an effort to provoke. Provocation comes unbidden when writers try to tell the truth as they understand it. The truth shall make you free, John told us. But not everyone wants the truth for fear of the very freedom it brings.
Freedom is not universally welcome. It carries obligations. One of them is the responsibility to make discerning judgments. When these include judgments about the words and behavior of this pontificate, ultramontanists, assorted Rex Mottrams, and professional Catholics go into high dudgeon.
Truth-telling is provocative enough. Like self-expression, provocation does not have to be sought after. It comes naturally in the wake of candor.