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Sacred Art as an Antidote to Pornography

I profiled the sculptor Dony Mac Manus, and he told me about how he sees his figural art as a way to help heal a pornified culture. He also discussed a time a giraffe lifted him up by its tongue and dislocated his shoulder.

"Though he’ll happily point to the ways his work grows out of Catholic teaching and practice (a sculpture inspired by the papal encyclical Humanae vitae is a favorite of his), Mac Manus sees himself not as a “Catholic artist” but as an artist who is Catholic. “The primary vocation of the artist is to be an artist, and to be the very best artist he can be. And then your Catholicism will naturally overflow from your interior life into your artwork,” he told me. “You’re not illustrating the faith, but you have a natural artistic overflow of your faith into your art. Which is much more compelling and much more transformational for the artist themselves and the audience.”

As for that giraffe? Believe it or not, the story provides a window in Dony’s formation as an artist. In the early 1990s, Mac Manus attended a sculpture program at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, where he clashed with the dominant philosophy of the art establishment. Deconstructionists made a statement by pushing plaster sculpture casts out of a third floor window. Mac Manus was horrified.

“It took five seconds for them to land on the ground and crash into tiny pieces—it took me five years to reconstruct that understanding,” he said.

Looking back, Mac Manus sees this act of aesthetic vandalism as a symbol of a broader evil: “We’re in a very destructive period in Western culture. We’re in free fall, culturally. All I’m trying to do, essentially, is at least slow down that free fall, if not turn it around.”

Seeking an escape from the oppressive environment of art school, Dony started wandering the Dublin highways and byways, looking for things to draw from life. He spent a week drawing in the Dublin zoo: He angered a silverback gorilla and had his sketch pad stolen by a chimpanzee. Most fatefully, he tried to feed a giraffe.

Dony held up some hay and the giraffe leaned out of its enclosure and wrapped its tongue around not only the food but all the way down Mac Manus’s arm. The giraffe lifted the petrified Mac Manus three feet off the ground (“I was a skinny art student at the time,” he explains) and then dropped him in a painful, undignified heap with a dislocated shoulder.

A metaphor for Mac Manus’ art career? It is certainly true that Dony’s life and work are characterized by startling confrontations with embodied reality. Perhaps it’s no surprise he cites John Paul II’s teaching on Theology of Body as a major inspiration."

Statue of St. Joseph

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