Dorothy Day was known for her appreciation of the arts. The great Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky were early inspirations and models for Day, and the famed American playwright Eugene O’Neill was a personal friend. Day herself was a novelist and playwright, as well as a journalist and activist. She notably recognized, nurtured, and provided a vehicle (through the Catholic Worker newspaper) for the visual talents of Ade Bethune and Fritz Eisenberg. Day’s sacramental vision of the world asserted that God had made it both good and beautiful, and the arts helped to communicate that fundamental truth.
(Secondary school teachers may wish to use this section as a starting place for exploring social justice themes in the arts more generally.)
Questions to Consider
- Dorothy Day was particularly influenced by her reading of the great Russian novelists Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose work is often deeply religious. Can you think of literature that you have read which has influenced your own social consciousness or the direction of your faith commitment? Do you think that literature or art in general can support a sense of vocation or call? If so, what might this say regarding our choices about what we read and how what we consume – in terms of art, media, or ideas – shapes who we are?
- What is your experience of art in relation to the church? Have you seen art used as a way of reflecting the teaching or ideals of the church? Or have you witnessed a strain between the church and the arts, with involvement in the arts seen as a secular (even sometimes dangerous) endeavor? In your experience, are there certain arts that are more or less welcome or more or less represented in the church?
- Do you believe that God can speak through the arts, even when they appear to be wholly secular nature (as in the average Hollywood film)? Have you had such an experience of God speaking to you through a work of literature, a film, a play, a piece of music or some other art? When and under what circumstances did this happen?
- Is there a particular work of art of any genre that you recommend (or would recommend) to others in terms of helping you connect to deeper levels of human experience or to God?
- Do you think our society takes art – and by extension, entertainment – seriously enough in terms of how they shape us individually and as a culture? Can you think of examples of art or works of entertainment (a popular Hollywood film, for instance) that have significantly shaped our culture, values, or ways of thinking about a particular subject?
Related Day Quotes
Ivan, in The Brothers Karamazov, protested that it was quite impossible to love man as he was, with his cruel instincts, his lust for power, his greed, his instincts of self-preservation. It was not a natural thing to think in terms of laying down one’s life for one’s fellows. In the same book however, Father Zossima spoke glowingly of that love for God which resulted in a love for one’s brother. The story of his conversion to love is moving, and that book, with its picture of religion, had a lot to do with my later life. (The Long Loneliness, 87)
I loved the Psalms and learned many of them by heart. And the anthems filled me with joy. I had never heard anything so beautiful as the Benedicite and the Te Deum. (The Long Loneliness, 28)
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