Now on its second run, the Jacques Maritain Prize for Nonfiction was created to highlight and honor the best essays published in Dappled Things during the previous year. As our contest page states, “Maritain was an influential 20th century Thomist philosopher and Catholic convert whose work covered a wide range of topics, including metaphysics and epistemology, ethics and politics, and—significantly for us—literature and art. His book Art and Scholasticism has been a major influence on Dappled Things’ own approach to aesthetics.” Much like Maritain himself, the essays published during the past year covered a broad range of subjects. Our prize judge this year, Sally Thomas, found much to praise in all of them, but in the end she chose three essays as this year’s prize recipients, about which she had the following to say:
Winner ($500 prize): Daniel Mitsui, “Why You’re Wrong About Medieval Art”
In a field of strong contenders, Daniel Mitsui’s “Why You’re Wrong About Medieval Art” stands out for its animate, lucid, particular voice, as well as for its engagement with the spiritual underpinnings of an aesthetic vision. There is always something uniquely compelling in an artist’s account of why he does what he does, unveiling the mind behind the hand; in his crystalline prose, Mitsui offers a careful accounting of his own conversation with artistic tradition that is both intensely personal and almost effortlessly authoritative. His central epiphany, that Gothic art, with its seeming lack of perspective, represents a view of earth from the threshold of Heaven, asserts the theological integrity of the medieval aesthetic, which deserves to be understood on its own true merits, and to occupy the high seat in our contemporary Catholic understanding of what is beautiful.
Runner-up ($300 prize): James Matthew Wilson, “Jacques Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism and the Recovery of a Beautiful World” (available only to subscribers)
James Matthew Wilson’s “Jacques Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism and the Recovery of a Beautiful World” represents an impressive re-articulation of and corrective to Maritain’s conditions for beauty. In inviting Maritain into conversation with Umberto Eco, Wilson interrogates Maritain’s seeming agnosticism on questions of form and proportion, suggesting that a further condition of beauty involves order. Because Wilson is a poet, it is easy to see the connection between this emphasis on right proportion and a case for traditional poetic forms, but more than that, in this vision, any artistic endeavor would echo the work of Isaiah’s God, “designer and maker of the earth, not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in.” In an era which privileges the subversive, the transgressive, and the deconstructive in art, usually marking these qualities as hallmarks of authenticity, Wilson’s essay represents an important contribution to a philosophical discourse in which another, truer artistic authenticity may be recovered.
Third place ($200 prize): Michael St. Thomas, “Catholic Novelist, Confused Apologist: William Giraldi and the Nature of Religious Fiction”
“The role of the artist,” writes Michael St. Thomas, “is to transform the world into something more, not less real.” In his consideration of William Giraldi’s novel Hold the Dark, St. Thomas takes issue with the notion that piety in well-intentioned religious art represents in any true sense what Catholicism is. He maintains that art, by definition, seeks to do something essentially religious: “to yoke matter and spirit” in its attempt to render into language, as in fiction or poetry for example, something objectively real. Extending the boundaries of what may be considered Catholic art, and noting that the Catholicity of a work may have little to do with the artist’s conscious or stated intent, St. Thomas’s essay offers a valuable lens through which the reader may discern eternal truth in a fictional world.
Congratulations to all the winners! If you would like to be considered for next year’s prize, you have through August to submit your work.