Here's a sample:
Both the old lady in California who wants to be uplifted and the Catholic critic who wants novels to be “positive”—the Scylla and Charybdis of the Catholic public, demanding sentiment or utility, but blind to art—, are confused about what a work of literature is in its essence: they expect it to DO something specific for them and are from the beginning uninterested in its representation of any unpleasant realities, which is to be uninterested in at least half of reality. 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.
There is, I think, at least a small place for the kind of "sentimentalism" that portrays an ideal, like holy cards of St. Anthony of Padua or the masterpieces of Claudio Coello, but thankfully the greater portion of Catholic art avoids sentimentalism for its own sake. In the vast diversity of sacred art there is both idealism and realism that aims not to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, but to give glory to what the art attempts to point toward. Good Catholic art attempts and achieves transcendence. It is by its very nature a vertical endeavor that merely uses the horizontal to achieve its goal.
A particularly powerful artist in the history of sacred art was Caravaggio, but his own life was nothing short of near continuous turmoil. He was a man of fiery temper and passion, a brawler and by the accounts of more than one of his contemporaries, a man of debauched character. Nevertheless, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio stands out as one of the greatest masters of sacred art.
Caravaggio's greatness was his ability to capture the dynamic interplay, and note well, not the contradistinction, between the harsh realism of the scene depicted and the divine reality permeating the same scene. For Caravaggio, the anguish or passion or violence or surprise of the material world accompanies the action of God. This interplay is demonstrated by his well thought out use of tenebrism.
In Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ, the violence and anguish fade into shadows caused by the illumination of the Person of Christ from a source off to the left. Christ is washed in the light highlighting His expression of real sorrow, but indicating that He also has transcended the violence and anguish that surrounds Him.
The same thoughtful use of tenebrism can be discerned in Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ, The Conversion of Saint Paul, and The Crucifixion of Saint Peter. All demonstrate how the transcendent finger of God touches matter and enters history.
Perhaps it is this interplay between Caravaggio's concupiscence and God's grace that informed his master works, but of even greater influence is the Catholic understanding of original sin, the struggle against temptation and sin, and the action of sanctifying and actual grace. Caravaggio inherited this Catholic understanding from his faith and from those who came before him. It would be a grave misunderstanding to come away from this treatment thinking that Caravaggio held some kind of monopoly on this grasp of Catholic truth in art. Rather, it can be discerned clearly in the early breaking away from the static forms of the Byzantine icon in the Romanesque and Gothic, and in the work of the early Renaissance masters such as Giotto di Bondone. It was carried on long after Caravaggio until the modern era wherein man no longer desired to be directed toward the transcendent, and instead settled on being mired in the dissonance of despair that results from loosing sight of the Divine.
Aside from Catholicism, there is no other religion that articulates with such clarity and fecundity what is known as the spiritual combat, because there is no other religion that understands so completely God's grace and the nature of man. Western Catholic art reflects with the greatest clarity the incarnational and sacramental nature of God's interaction with man.
There is a kind of teleology that distinguishes good Catholic art from kitsch. Man is fallen, but destined for a glorious end that only God's grace can accomplish for him. There is an ideal end, but a reality here and now that involves cooperation with grace, real struggle, in short, the spiritual combat. A sentimentalism that serves no other purpose than to elicit an emotional response fails to reflect this teleological element inherent to all good Catholic art. Such sentimentalism removes the real life of man from the contemplation of God, and fails to transcend the merely human and emotional. The dualism of this kitsch fails to engage us where we are, in the midst of the spiritual combat, and fails to direct our gaze toward God, the only source of grace that can accomplish our true end.
It is for this reason that I'm in complete agreement with Denys Powlett-Jones. It is hard to express it any clearer than this:
The conscience of the artist requires him to portray the world as he sees it, to be faithful to his vision in the work he creates. True religion clarifies and completes our natural vision, enabling us to see nature AND grace, virtue AND sin, comedy AND tragedy in their proper relationships. It enables us to see man as what he is, neither fully angel nor fully beast, but capable of both the bestial and the angelic by turns. The Christian vision does not require that either the artist or the reader close his eyes to the merely natural, the fallen, or any of the truths of life. It does require us to entertain the possibility that God is active even though he is not obvious—whether in life or in the representations of art. Only the faithless reader demands signs and wonders.