“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.”
Tag Archives: art
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.
1. The arts show us the possibility of transformation, sometimes art is made from the most unlikely sources
2. Even the worst can be woven into God’s purposes
3. Art reveals the interplay between the given (tradition) and the unexpected (the response to the occasion)
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?
In the book of Revelation the apostle John relates his vision of the church while he was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos. One of the splendid images he beheld was of a woman, “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Revelation 12:1) Most have interpreted this woman to be a sign of the church as well as reminiscent of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus as the church “gives birth” to the word of God throughout the world. This image has of course appealed to artists of all times and can still be seen in the banner of the Virgin of Guadeloupe.
Recently I visited the National Gallery of Art to explore this image in their collection of paintings. Walking from painting to painting one feels as if Mary is evolving right before your eyes. From a symbolic image copied with little variation in the Byzantine era to a more dynamic character of a narrative still clothed in her symbolic imagery to a personality with a subtle nod to tradition until the stars and sun have disappeared altogether and Mary is no longer a sign of the church herself but a sentimental portrait of an individual’s imagination.
It struck me that the curved throne resembles a crescent moon, the halo the sun and the linear folds of cloth are like the striations of starlight.
Here the cloth is very similar to the Byzantine style. The sea shell alcove in the background is a common theme. Perhaps this is because an alcove created a natural frame but also perhaps because the lines reinforce the imagery of the sun. Around the alcove are the circling starry hosts.
Here we see a very lasting image. Mary is cloaked in blue to remind us of the sky with a single star on her shoulder. She is still adorned with a halo – a halo and a crown are both types of the sun. Both symbolize honor and distinction. A halo is usually a mark of heavenly distinction and a crown a mark of earthly distinction. In the Byzantine era square halos were used to designate earthly authority.
Here the gold is not only beautiful and rich but is reminiscent of the glory of heavenly bodies. Mary is not clothed in blue, instead the cloth is decorated with a star-like motif.
Here the picture is much more about characters. With Mary and Jesus are Saint Jerome, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and various angels. Mary still is cloaked with symbolism in a blue cloth with golden stars. Her head is also surrounded with a golden halo that reads, “Hail, maiden full of grace,” part of the angel Gabriel’s greeting to her when he came to announce her pregnancy.
Here Mary is cloaked once again in blue with stars and her halo is clearly symbolic with the angel’s greeting inscribed once again. This is a tradition that seems to hold for a while until eventually she is simply clothed in blue and only adorned with a tiny halo or none at all as in the paintings below.
This last painting is not at all a symbolic one tied to the tradition that had come before. Although much more “realistic” like a photograph it is portraying the personal experience of a man adoring the virgin Mary. Mary’s gaze is gentle and seems to urge the viewer to do as the man. During the Counter Reformation the Roman Catholic church paid many famous painters (including Peter Paul Rubens) to create images that promoted Roman Catholic distinctives like worshiping Mary and the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Trompe-l’œil is a sort of visual sleight of hand. With great skill an artist can paint a canvas so that it looks like a framed picture, or a shelf or a window. Such a trick invites you too look closer and question your expectations. Karen LaMonte’s “Reclining Dress Impression with Drapery” is a beautiful expression of such artistic skill in an unexpected medium. She has cast rigid and fragile glass to appear as liquid and supple satin. And it is no dress on a hanger – you can easily see the intimate creases and folds where the woman’s body would be – if it were there. Which it is not – why not? The dress reclines alone in the artistic posture usually reserved for objectified nudes.
“I am not a feminist, I am pro-feminine,” she declared in an interview with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, “The works are in no way objectifying the female body but celebrating it.”
These lessons could be modified for any age but I designed them with 4-5 year olds in mind. Week 4’s topic is abstract art and week 5 is perspective. These are some really broad topics for little ones to grasp. In my experience children this age are eager to explore and can be easily frustrated when they are trying to draw a certain thing, like a correct “m” for example. These lessons focus the broad topics suggested in the Classical Conversations program and make them more fun and more accessible for little hands. I definitely must give credit for my inspiration to both Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and Mona Brookes’ Drawing with Children.
For the abstract art lesson, for instance, I suggest hanging up pictures of each of these characters and asking the kids to tell about them:
Here is the PDF of the lessons: