A link to it was posted on Facebook to a chorus of oohs and aahs from earnest readers saying how wonderful it is that this miraculous gift was given to this little girl...blah blah blah...Of course, being me and all, there was just no way I could let it pass.
Is it important? Yes. Because bad religious art is bad for the Faith, even when it is "granted miraculously". And religious believers calling bad art good art only because it's religious art is bad for the Faith. Frankly, it makes us look like chumps.
It reminds me of that dreadful film about St. Therese of Liseux that all the nice sincere Catholics were raving about a few years ago. It was truly dreadful, but because it was "orthodox" it was automatically supposed also to be great art, and a great "advertisement" for the Faith in the secular world. But it wasn't. Lordy, it really was dreadful, and I argued at the time that it sent the worst possible message to the secular world, about Catholicism, about Catholics and about St. Therese.
So, yes, it's certainly nice that a sweet little girl was "miraculously" given the gift of faith by God, and in person I'm sure she's a sweetheart, as most little girls with sincere religious belief are. But is it a good idea for her to become - or more specifically for her parents to have allowed her to become - a postergirl for this kind of naive religious enthusiasm? And is it helpful for the Faith in general to have more religious shmaltz posing as divine revelation?
Click over there for a moment and, while looking at one of her paintings, imagine that it was done by Some Guy instead of this (highly marketable) little apple-cheeked poppet. Do we still think it's art worth ten grand a pop? But more importantly (really, who cares if people want to spend that much on more shmaltz, it's their money, after all) is it good for the Faith to be represented this way?
Flannery O'Connor would doubtless have said no and would have said that it is not a trivial matter. From “The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South”,
…the average Catholic reader…(is) more of a Manichaean than the Church permits. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliché and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence…We lost our innocence in the Fall, and our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality…
Denys Powlett-Jones, writing on the Catholic public's desire for sentimental novels, puts his finger on it:
Cardinal Spellman’s Foundling seems to serve as a watchword for all that she found defective in mid-century American Catholic letters: dreary prose, implausible characters, a sentimental plot built upon moral pieties about what ought to happen, all derived from an underlying mistake: the confusion of subjective intentions, however noble, with artistic skill, which is the only thing that can justify a work of art.
To want only simplistic sentimental stories is really to want to be lied to, and while there is no shortage in our age of those willing to lie to make a buck, the Christian artist, bound by his theology to see the world as it is, and sanctioned by his morality against deceiving anyone, cannot in good conscience join in.
Which, I suppose, is why on the one hand I actually recoil from the sentimentalist, enthusiastic rubbish this nice little girl is producing, and on the other, why I find such spiritual solace looking at a good still life of a peeled lemon.
And why I'm not myself ever going to produce art for religion's sake.