This past Sunday, my wife and I were watching Mass on Facebook Live. The presider, Jim McDermott, S.J., offered a prayer of gratitude for artists and creative individuals for “trying to help us and nourish us” amid the ongoing pandemic.  

Just like many housebound Americans, I find myself reading more books, watching more movies, and listening to more music. Art and culture offer comfort, continuity, and escape. Creative works provide us with windows into different places, experiences, and lives. They situate our current moment in a larger context. 

As difficult, challenging, and heart-breaking as this time might be, disappointment and loss and disease and death are inevitable parts of the human condition. Nevertheless, the human spirit shall live on and thrive in new, even wondrous ways. History reminds us of this. Philosophy reminds us of this. Faith reminds us of this. So does art.

J.M.W. Turner, The Fifth Plague of Egypt, (Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art)

Before COVID-19, social distancing, and self-isolation, art and culture anchored my professional life and personal identity. I’m a lifelong obsessive reader. I’m a writer. I work at the Center on Religion and Culture (emphasis mine). Nevertheless, an unexpected–and sometimes unwelcome–event might refresh and enliven any relationship. I find myself experiencing culture with the sense of discovery and excitement which I remember from my childhood. Yes, that’s just me. But I know that I’m anything but alone.

Since I’m hunkering down at home, I suddenly have the time and luxury to lose myself in a Victorian novel, a foreign-language film, or a light-hearted sitcom. Speaking of television, the above-mentioned Fr. McDermott and I recently began collaborating on a YouTube project entitled “Binge-Watching with St. Ignatius.” In this video series, we discuss several different television programs as mediums for spiritual reflection–another possibility art opens to us. 

Last month via Twitter, Pope Francis urged people of faith to pray for artists, noting that art and artists might “show us the path forward with beauty.” Pope Francis repeated his refrain this week on Twitter, asking “the Lord to bless artists, who make us understand what beauty is.”   

During this pandemic, artists and their work–regardless if one classifies it as art or entertainment–grant us a space of mental, imaginative, and even spiritual refuge. We need art and culture just as we need food, shelter, and company. 

Hopefully, we’ll follow Fr. McDermott’s and Pope Francis’s examples and pray for artists. Hopefully, we’ll appreciate what artists have gifted us when this moment passes.   

David Goodwin

David Goodwin is an urban historian, author, and Assistant Director of the Center on Religion and Culture.