In the postscri…

In the postscript to this work, Hokusai writes: “ From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie. ”

Intrigued for some time by the power of Hokusai’s woodcuts, I was reading a short biography and came across this quotation.  Life is long and as lifelong learners, we will always be hungry for more, even to eternity.  Hokusai longed for eternity and seemed to see its promise in all the world around him.  “He who holds in the hollow of his hands the fabric of the world, who with his divine power supports, and with his Providence directs, the intricate pattern of the world, has himself by creation entered deeply into the world; at the heart of everything he lies hidden.” (Father Bede Jarrett, O.P., from Stratford Caldecott’s blog)

“Art has to end…

“Art has to endow all the objects with which man naturally surrounds himself – a house, a fountain, a drinking vessel, a garment, a carpet – with the perfection each object can posses according to its own nature. Islamic art does not add something alien to the objects that it shapes; it merely brings out their essential qualities.”

 This quotation is taken from an explanation of Islamic art that I read here.  I discovered it through Stratford Caldecott’s blog.

Call to Art: Excerpts from “The Catholic Writer Today”


Chaos – the art that the smallest of our community enacts on my carpet

In his essay “The Catholic Writer Today,” published in the December 2013 issue of First Things, Dana Gioia questions the lack of influence that such a large number of Catholics have on the arts of our country.  Speaking as a former chairman for the NEA and as a Catholic he delves into both what has been, what the problem is now and what ought to be.  Here are a few quotes taken out of the whole:

What has been:

The religious insights usually emerge naturally out of depictions of worldly existence rather than appear to have been imposed intellectually upon the work.

One of the problems:

In literature, at least, the Catholic media no longer command sufficient cultural power to nominate or effectively support what is best from its own community. Has this situation disturbed Catholic leaders? Not especially. The Catholic subculture seems conspicuously uninterested in the arts.

What absorbs the Catholic intellectual media is politics, conducted mostly in secular terms—a dreary battle of right versus left for the soul of the American Church.

If American Catholicism has become mundane enough to be consumed by party politics, perhaps it’s because the Church has lost its imagination and creativity.

The broader problem:

The collapse of Catholic literary life reflects a larger crisis of confidence in the Church that touches on all aspects of religious, cultural, and intellectual life. What I have said so far also pertains, in general terms, to all American Christians. Whatever their denomination, they have increasingly disengaged themselves from artistic culture. They have, in effect, ceded the arts to secular society.

The schism between Christianity and the arts has had two profound consequences, two vast impoverishments—one for the arts world, the other for the Church.

What ought to be:

A vigorous culture contains different voices, often in active debate. The voice of religious faith enlarges and enlivens the overall dialectic of culture, even among non-believers, just as the voice of secular society keeps religious writers more alert and intelligent.

The real challenge is not in the number of participants but in the arrival of a few powerful innovators who can serve as cultural catalysts. Two great poets are stronger than two thousand mediocrities.

Art educates our emotions and imagination. It awakens, enlarges, and refines our humanity. Remove it, dilute it, or pervert it, and a community or a nation suffers—becoming less compassionate, curious, and alert, more coarse, narrow, and self-satisfied.

A Catholic writer must also have hope.Hope in the possibilities of art and one’s own efforts. Hope in the Church’s historical ability to change as change is needed. The main barrier to the revival of Catholic writing and the rapprochement of faith and the arts is despair, or perhaps more accurately acedia, a torpid indifference among precisely those people who could change the situation—Catholic artists and intellectuals. Hope is what motivates and sustains the writer’s enterprise because success will come slowly, and there will be many setbacks.

The goal of the serious Catholic writer is the same as that of all real writers—to create powerful, expressive, memorable works of art. As Flannery O’Connor observed, “The Catholic novelist doesn’t have to be a saint; he doesn’t even have to be a Catholic; he does, unfortunately, have to be a novelist.” The road to Damascus may offer a pilgrim sudden and miraculous intervention, but faith provides no shortcuts on the road to Parnassus.

The Catholic writer must have the passion, talent, and ingenuity to master the craft in strictly secular terms while never forgetting the spiritual possibilities and responsibilities of art. That is a double challenge, but it does ultimately offer a genuine advantage.

Play Jesus


“Is it okay to pretend to be Jesus?” my daughter asked yesterday.  There are so many ways to answer this question . . . where to begin?  Kids ask the most penetrating questions.  Play is the way a child learns.  How wonderful that she loves the stories of Jesus and wants to pretend them!

It was Palm Sunday that provoked this question.  In our church we proceed to the front and take our palms and then march around the rest of the church to our seats.  It’s a real way in which the entire congregation makes art together.  We are singing and acting and in a way dancing.  We are enacting the truest performance art because it is real and not merely pretense.  We aren’t deciding on arbitrary symbols and sloshing them around to add volume to the latest social trend.  We are simply and humbly doing something that’s been done for hundreds of years, remembering a story that really happened.  In this reenactment we bind the past, our present and the future.  We do it every year.  Now with children I see the power of this simple act, this simple repetitive play.

I answered her clumsily, but it was something like this, “the pastor pretends to be Jesus every Sunday.  When he turns toward the alter it is like he is us and when he turns towards us it is like he is God.  When he gives us the wine and the bread it is like he is being Jesus.”  I had just been sitting in catechism class and this image was fresh in my mind.

The profound connection between drama and liturgy has long been observed.   If a priest can act as Christ in church, then why not a morality play on a wooden cart outside of the church?  Why not a movie?

I asked my daughter again tonight, “What do you think about that question you asked me?  Is it okay to pretend to be Jesus?”  “I don’t think so.”  She answered, “God is real and we shouldn’t joke about God.  If I pretend to be God I might joke about him because I get silly when I play.”  She was reasoning out the answer from previous conversations.  We don’t exactly follow the rule of St. Benedict in our house about not speaking useless words, “or words that move to laughter.”  We kind of laugh A LOT.  I do however draw the line at joking about certain things like: our love for one another, God, electricity, fire and the busy road outside.  This has landed us into a sort of primitive reverence for these things: God, true love and forces of power and danger.  It has also led me to wonder, are we teaching them that God is more like the danger of fire or like true love?  I hope both.

I still don’t have a neat and tidy answer to this question.  It teases opens so many other areas of consideration, but I want to keep pondering.  Any thoughts?

Questioning The Age of Innocence


“The Victory of Maize” original acrylic abstract, sold at auction to benefit


The Age of Innocence


  1. What does it mean to be innocent?  Who in the book is innocent?


  1. Is innocence something to be valued according in this story?  If innocence stands in contrast to “worldliness” what kinds of “worldliness” does Archer value and what kinds does he reject?


  1. Contrast the ways Archer describes May before he sees Ellen, during the engagement, after marriage and through the eyes of his children.  Is May a static or dynamic character?


  1. Edith Wharton was probably the most privileged American novelist, yet she criticized the society she came out of, how do her criticisms succeed?  How do they fail?


  1. Would Archer and Ellen have been happy if they had married?  If they had run away to a far country?  If Ellen had come to Archer once and then run back to Europe?


  1. What motivated Archer’s decisions in the book?  Did his motivations change as the story progressed?  Why or why not?


  1. Is Archer’s final action (or inaction) consistent with his character?  Does it change the interpretation of his love for Ellen or May?


  1. Do you think any characters from the novel reveal Wharton’s own character?


  1. In the novel, how is America portrayed differently than Europe?  Why do these differences exist?  After reading this book, why do you think Edith Wharton decided to leave America and live in Europe?


  1. Referencing the discussion of the rejection of “people who write” by members of society, why does Archer believe it to be important for these two groups to mix?  What are the dangers if they do not?

How to [Not] Visit a Museum

The amusing thing about having four children is that you can look back at when you had two and tell yourself it was easy.  It wasn’t, of course, but you can tell yourself it was.  I remember when I heard great things about the Pompeii exhibit at the National Gallery of Art and I was determined to see it.  Most of the day was spent taking my two babies, 13 months apart, there and back.  We took the metro and I don’t remember what happened there . . . it’s probably best that way.  I do remember that we practically ran through the exhibit.  I remember trying to look at the last painting and knowing that I shouldn’t as whines were beginning to erupt.  Here’s a picture of the kids on our way back to the car that day:


My mother took us to museums when we were little.  She always told other people, “When you take children to the museum be quick.  You want them to have good memories so that they will come back.  Count bugs in still lives, look for animals . . .”  I can hear her advice, sound advice.  I just remember being completely bored waiting for her at the end of an exhibit wondering what on earth she was looking at and if she would ever be finished.  Something in her method worked however since I’m now dragging my own children to museums.

Last week we went on a spur of the moment trip to Baltimore.  I thought, why not try and visit the Walter’s Art Museum?  It’s even kid friendly with a children’s area in the basement!  We had done an entire day at Port Discovery children’s museum the day before so what could go wrong?  Oh yeah, we had done an entire day at Port Discovery children’s museum the day before.  They were finished.

We parked and entered the Walter’s Art Museum only to descend immediately to the depths.  There had been an eruption of screams at the sight of a mummy picture.  The basement held many wonders.  There was a movie theater, a shelf of puzzles, a wooden castle, a table where we had a snack, and even a discovery area with canopic jars and insect specimens in plastic to touch.  It was very nice, but it was not what I had come to see.

I tried once more to take us upstairs.  No sooner had we exited into statuary hall than the three-year-old began screaming once again.  Greek statues?  Mummies?  Who knows why?  It was clear to me that we needed to leave.  Suddenly the older ones began crying because they wanted to see mummies.  Just saying the word “mummy” made my younger daughter cry all the more.  We left the building immediately and crossed the street.  Even the large man who ran the parking lot with an air of short-tempered superiority was silenced in the our wake of screams.  He took our money and gave me the car key choosing to yell at someone else instead.  When we climbed into our car I wanted to cry, only I didn’t get the chance.  Everyone in the back of the minivan needed hugs.  We left the Walters and we left Baltimore.  We’ll be back.  Maybe not for a few years but we’ll be back.

Now my eldest kids are practically begging me to take them back.  Now I know another strategy to add to my mother’s list of ways to make a museum interesting.  Take your kids and then leave suddenly and dramatically so that they are left wondering what was in there after all?