Divine Art and the Heritage of Beauty to Be Discussed at Chicago Conference

An invitation to ‘Return to Beauty,’ the Catholic Art Institute’s annual conference
By Lorraine Ferrier
Lorraine Ferrier
Lorraine Ferrier
October 9, 2021 Updated: October 11, 2021

The late philosopher and writer Sir Roger Scruton famously said: “I want to persuade you that beauty matters; that it is not just a subjective thing, but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”

Catholic Art Institute
Philosopher and writer Sir Roger Scruton made the keynote address at the 2017 Catholic Art Guild (now the Catholic Art Institute) conference: “Beauty & the Restoration of the Sacred.” (Courtesy of the Catholic Art Institute)

The award-winning classically trained painter Kathleen Carr founded the Chicago-based nonprofit Catholic Art Institute (CAI) because she felt that we had already drifted into that desert, she wrote in an email.

“Today our cultural heritage of beauty is threatened. Within academia, in major art institutions, in our culture at large, and regrettably, within the church itself, traditional standards of beauty are often seen as irrelevant or are directly attacked,” she said.

The CAI exists to quench our inherent thirst for beauty. It ardently focuses on “restoring a culture of beauty, truth, and goodness,” according to the institute’s website. To achieve such noble goals, the CAI supports artists who offer their gifts for the greater glory of God, through prayers, networking, and educational events.

After missing two years, on Oct. 24 the CAI will resume its largest and most prestigious event: its annual conference and gala. The conference will bring together leading artists and scholars to focus on the “Return to Beauty.”

Catholic Art Institute
Architect Duncan G. Stroik presented at the 2017 annual conference. Presentations for the 2021 Catholic Art Institute conference will be held in the same room, the Grand Ballroom of The Drake Hotel, in Chicago. (Courtesy of the Catholic Art Institute)

Following a choral High Mass in Chicago’s historic St. John Cantius Church, speakers will present in The Drake Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, followed by an elegant banquet. The event will conclude with a question and answer panel discussion moderated by The Federalist’s art critic William Newton.

Scruton gave the keynote address at the CAI’s inaugural conference in 2017, when the institute was known as the Catholic Art Guild. This year, the keynote speaker will be Rome-based art historian, author, and tour guide Elizabeth Lev. In her talk, titled “Returning to Wonder: Lessons From the Giants of Italian Art,” Lev will discuss why Christians initially became involved with art and how they employed human creativity to underscore key Christian beliefs. She will demonstrate her talk by looking at masterpieces from the Renaissance, the Counter-Reformation period, and the Baroque era, covering “giants of Italian art” such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini.

Other speakers include New York Post op-editor, columnist, and author Sohrab Ahmari, who will talk about “liminality, communitas, and beauty” in reference to cultural anthropologist Victor Turner’s defense of the Tridentine Mass, the traditional Latin Mass.

In his talk, “Beauty Will Save the World,” producer and director Cameron O’Hearn will discuss how art changed the course of his life, and how artists can change the world by reminding us of our purpose.

As Scruton reminded us: “The great artists of the past were aware that human life is full of chaos and suffering. But they had a remedy for this. And the name of that remedy was beauty.” The CAI’s conference “Return to Beauty,” could be just the antidote for these tumultuous times.

All are welcome to attend the Catholic Art Institute’s “Return to Beauty Conference & Gala”; attendees need not be Catholics or institute members to attend. To find out more and to purchase tickets, visit CatholicArtInstitute.org