Art, Love, and the New Evangelization

by Monica Bushling


 

Local artist Lauren Dionne and the band Greg& Lizzy, who have played at Love Week in the past, address how the contemporary arts can be powerful witnesses to Christ.

As a creeping ennui threatened to suck the hearts of many Catholic communities dry, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI both called for a “New Evangelization” that would rekindle the Faith across the world. In their latest album, Now That I Have Love, the couple/duo Greg&Lizzy reach into the core of belief through everyday experiences of love and personal growth, showing the shifting interaction between music and religion. The album, now available for purchase at By Way of the Family, is accompanied by three interior illustrations by local artist and graduate student Lauren Dionne. Together, these young artists represent the growing voice of the New Evangelization in the arts. Recently, they shared their insights into their work with the Gazette.

The following has been extracted from two separate interviews: one in person with Lauren Dionne and another written correspondence between the Gazette and the band Greg&Lizzy.


 

Gazette (to G&L): How do you feel your music has developed over the years, and what influenced its growth?

Lizzy: Music has been an important part of our journey together in one form or another for as long as we’ve known each other.

When we finally were married in 2012, it really took this new form in our lives.  As we began experiencing this new life together within the Sacrament of marriage, with all its joys and struggles, we began writing together.  This quickly and naturally became one of the most important ways for us to process our experiences—we’d understand something more deeply about the mystery of God’s love in marriage…struggling to love and die to ourselves.

In terms of specific influences, I’d have to say there have been none greater than the witness, writings, and teachings of St. JP II, especially his works of Love and Responsibility, Theology of the Body, and his numerous encouragements addressed to artists. But it’s also important to understand that our music isn’t written about a teaching; it’s written about an experience.

Gazette (to G&L): What role do you see for music in fostering a new evangelization?

Greg: one of the things we understand about the New Evangelization is the call for an authentic witness to be offered to the world by those who identify themselves as Catholics… But the New Evangelization is a call to action, a call to be practicers of what we preach, a call to be the hands and feet of Jesus…real witnesses of an authentic Faith, a living Hope, and a perfect Love.  I was recently struck by the simple realization that there are literally people on this planet that will never encounter the love of Jesus except through an encounter with me, with you, with someone who understands (to an imperfect extent, of course) that we are “the sum of the Father’s love for us, and our real capacity to become his son.

Greg&Lizzy-Cover (1)

One of the ways we’ve felt this call is through our music, that in a sense becomes a witness of its own, to the degree to which it is the content of our own experiences, our own hearts, as lived through our lives of Faith with each other. I think that, in general, art and beauty have a unique ability to give witness to the Truth. They are the proof that it is alive, dynamic, deep, inspiring, and good. I think this is precisely what music and art are capable of doing, and this is precisely the goal of the New Evangelization.

We largely see music and art created for the purpose of self glorification, celebrity, and wealth, rather than for the glory of God and the building of his Kingdom… People need to see once again that our purpose in life is to receive and give love.  Art and music are especially powerful ways of conveying this message.  In the New Evangelization, music needs to be a witness, a bridge, and a doorway to the Truth, especially for the so-called “secular culture.”

Gazette: What about your own music and art? Do you see it as addressing a particular need in Catholic culture or society in general?

Lauren: I was so used to doing evangelization one way, but my understanding is changing. The way Greg&Lizzy are now going about it takes a bit of courage: not to blatantly say something is “Catholic,” but instead to create art that gives back the truth and beauty that was lost in the modern era when we began to distrust reality. So it’s reforming the way people experience themselves through what’s right in front of them, which is what we’re really looking for—making people aware of that reality by saying, “This is Catholicism at the beginning” and by speaking first to what’s human. This is Catholic art.

To meet other people who feel that way is exciting—whose work is not all directly sacred, but who just have this desire to do art that tells people that reality—creation—is good, that creation can be trusted, which is something many people have cut themselves off from.

Good art comes from the intellect: working from what we know and trying to be a strong communicator of beauty through truth. A lot of the art of antiquity has in it this trust of nature, which is largely missing from today’s culture. It’s a simple, basic thing, but we’re drawing that out as a way for our generation to understand something about the beauty of creation and how it can be trusted.

Lizzy: In a particular way, we hope our music sheds light on God’s plan for life, love, and human relationship.

Our music and our lyrics utilize very little in the way of Church language/vocabulary.  So the question we’re often asked: is your music Catholic??? The answer is yes. Everything we write is from our experience of life as Catholics, as two people striving to live the Faith.  I think what you’ll find in our music is that, regardless of it’s language, it is deeply Catholic in its worldview…we’re called to live this Faith both inside the doors of the Church building and outside of it.  We’re not even attempting to be secret agent-ish with our Faith and music…we’re simply writing our experience of lived life through the lens of our Faith as it happens on a daily basis.

Back(CMYK) (1)Inside of this pattern of writing, we’ve seen that our music is well-suited to meeting people where they are on their particular, unique, and unrepeatable journeys.  It connects with those who are already deeply involved in their Faith and their relationship with Jesus, because they can identify with many of the common experiences encountered in the daily living out of our Faith.  It connects with those who haven’t stepped through the doors of the Church, because they find in it the things that they’re largely still searching for, struggling with, still seeking to encounter.

Gazette: Specifically, how did you envision your latest project, both musically and in terms of the artwork?

Greg: The Purpose of this project was to use songs and paintings to look at a range of common life experiences, joys and trials that many of us have already or will one day encounter, and see how one might choose to love right there in that space.  In a sense the title of the project could be seen as a proposition: Now that I have love, what will I decide? How will it change the way I live? These daily decisions to love in all kinds of situations are important; they change the lives of the people around, they change the world, they change history.

One of the really cool things about the new album is that it’s not a one-dimensional work of art. It physically incorporates in a dynamic way the modes of music and visual art. In the modern music industry, album artwork is largely incidental and an afterthought for the sake of making a presentable product, but for this new project that we worked on with Lauren, it’s truly a collaboration, and the two modes are dependent upon each other to make one cohesive expression.

I think this collaboration of artists gives a unique witness.  It shows the beauty of relationships, the unity and variety within community, the focus of the artistic expression being on God’s glory, and not on a particular artist, the creativity of God’s own essence that can’t be contained in one mode of artistic expression…or any, for that matter.

Lauren:  With my own art, I was wanting to do something that at its heart was Catholic, but not overtly Catholic—something that was relatable, that had the truth of the Faith at its foundation, but that was also accessible.

The music itself actually made me think of Vermeer; he was kind of my visual inspiration. I got one image in my head, and after a couple of days of doing sketches this was the one image that kept coming up. There is a great dialogue between the two artistic disciplines; it was wonderful to find Catholic artists who were intelligent and serious about their faith, just to have that common ground.

I think each illustration should stand on its own as a point in the journey, but all of them relate to, and so have a deeper relationship with, each other.

Gazette (to Lauren): What do you hope others will take away from your contribution to the album?

Lauren: I hope it does have a dialogue with the music and that they look at where they themselves are in life and love it. That’s very important to me. I hope these are pieces they can return to again and again to be reminded of how exciting each point in our vocation is, especially in times of struggle—waiting, discovering, living it daily. Sometimes, we can get lost and forget that life is beautiful. And the gift of oneself to another is the best part of life. Along with the music and these images, I want others to rediscover that.

Gazette (to G&L): What advice would you give young artists and musicians struggling to make their art relevant both to a Christian and non-Christian audience and who want the Faith to remain at the heart of their work?

Lizzy: We’ve seen in our culture and even in ourselves a tendency to believe that being successful as artists is equated unequivocally with being celebrities… It’s a lie, by the way—our success as artists depends entirely on the degree to which we’ve made a faithful response to God’s call in our lives, the degree to which we’ve said “Not my will, but yours be done.”

The same is true for every college student out there working hard, making big plans, striving for great things…keep going, it’s so good! But remember always the importance of this posture of responding to God’s initiative, God’s will first.  This means that at times a mess will be made of our plans—just like a mess was made of the fishing nets and boats when Jesus commanded the disciples to cast their nets out again, the abundance of fish tore everything and began sinking the boats… Your success in artistry, in college, career, or whatever depends not on worldly standards, but entirely on the grace of God’s call in our lives, and the way we make a loving gift of ourselves back to Him.

***

Greg and Lizzy Boudreaux hail from New Orleans, where they are currently based. Greg works with Dumb Ox Ministries, a nonprofit ministry that works to form men and women of all stages of life in authentic masculinity and femininity through the Theology of the Body. More information can be found at www.dumboxministries.com and at www.gregandlizzy.com.

Lauren Dionne is a graduate student in Theology at Ave Maria University and an acclaimed local artist.

In addition to their latest album being available at By Way of the Family, both of Greg&Lizzy’s albums can be downloaded on iTunes and Amazon or ordered from gregandlizzy.com

facebook.com/gregandlizzy

twitter: @gregandlizzy

 

Images: Cover of the latest Greg&Lizzy album; Greg and Lizzy Boudreaux.

Cover image by marladelajuana.

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