“How beautiful you are, my friend, How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are doves behind your veil…
Like a scarlet strand, your lips, and your mouth—lovely!
Like pomegranate halves, your cheeks behind your veil.”
I’m a frequent visitor of art museums. From modern minimalism, to rococo ornamentation, to the still-life portraits of the Dutch, I love it all. As an artist, I draw inspiration from every era, every style, and every culture; but if I had to name one common denominator, I’d say that all of my favorite works of art are beautiful. That doesn’t mean they’re all conventionally beautiful, but in some way, they display beauty.
The modern world makes evangelization very difficult. Misinformation is rampant, and biases and preconceived notions are stronger than ever. The Protestant Reformation has split up the Church into thousands of sects, and sin has alienated many to fend for themselves in regards to their spiritual life. How are we, then, to reach out to the souls placed in our care? When it seems as though differences outweigh the similarities, we have a very powerful mode of evangelization still available to us–the power of art. Beautiful art, that which displays goodness and truth, has that capability. Our brokenness and self-alienation are somehow dissolved when we join together in song at a concert, or share a touching moment at the movies, or cry with a friend over the concluding chapter of a novel. Strangers gather at museums to collectively experience art in all of its forms, no matter their beliefs and backgrounds. We, as Catholics, should take notice of this.
Beauty has a way of captivating the heart like nothing else. The reaction is uncontrollable and passionate. Beauty fuels artist’s minds, enriching creativity and imagination. If something is beautiful, no matter what it may be, doesn’t it in some small way reflect God, who is all that is beautiful and good?
In his Summa Theologiae Part 1 Q. 12, Saint Thomas Aquinas writes about how creation serves as a mirror, revealing, in an albeit imperfect way, God’s essence–the ultimate GOOD and BEAUTIFUL and TRUE. We know that artwork gives us a glimpse into the mind of the artist. In other words, an artist’s fingerprint is inevitably endowed into what they create. Until we see and know God fully in heaven, here on Earth we can know God in a limited way through his creatures! Art, then, is an automatic creative tool for evangelization. It’s a gentle, unobtrusive method of sharing Christianity with those whose heart might be hardened to logic and reason. How wonderful is art, indeed.
Song of Songs is my favorite book of the Bible. As a cradle Catholic, I’m sad to say that I never knew anything about this book until I studied it in college. It’s arguably one of the most controversial and confusing books of scripture, and rightly so, for it contains various layers of interpretation and symbolism. Once you actually study the poetry, however, you realize just how important its story is for every Christian throughout history. It’s not just an erotic poem of marital love, but rather it expands our concept of Christ’s love for his bride, the Church. The loving unity and passion between the couple in the poem is undoubtedly an analogy of how deeply Christ desires to be united to us. I love re-reading Song of Songs, and finding new books that break it down line by line, digging up new meaning that I hadn’t read in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.
When I began my photography business three years ago, it didn’t take long for me to decide on a name. I had no desire to tag my business under the umbrella of my name. My art isn’t about me, but rather about the people I capture. After studying Song of Songs, and understanding the importance of the poem and what it meant to me as a Catholic artist, I knew Song of Songs needed to represent my work. As one who focuses on the couple from engagements through maternity, what better name than the most romantic, passionate, and undeniably beautiful book of the Bible?
“My lover speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come!
For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the turtledove is heard in our land.'”
Three years later, and I look back on the fruits of my labor, capturing a couple starting their journey together, and then photographing their family as it grows and grows. Real art takes time, and beautiful art takes even longer. It’s important for artists to understand where their talent comes from, what the purpose of that gift is, and how to then use it in service of others, both for the sake of their clients, and for all those who lay eyes on their work. I truly consider my job as more than just artist and photographer, but also as a silent evangelist for the Catholic faith. Who knows–an eye for all that is beautiful, good, and true may one day pierce a hardened heart and open their eyes to the creator of it all. That is my prayer.
Ariel has over ten years experience as a film photographer. She shoots on medium format and develops her own black and white film. Ariel has been featured in Alabama Weddings Magazine and on Wedding Sparrow, an international blog for exceptional film photography. She specializes in weddings, bridal editorials, and maternity photography. You can visit Song of Songs Photography and contact Ariel here: http://www.songofsongsphotography.com
*All photography courtesy of Ariel McKinney and Song of Songs Photography.