My enthusiasm has followed the activities of the Four Friends Market after experiencing for the first time the power of a what a group of creative women can do for their community of creators and shoppers alike.
These four friends have caught the pulse of the climate, beginning with an attractive photo booth.
I saw old friends there, Karen Rich sold scented jewelry made with polymer clay and oil based scents.
The crafts at the Four Friends Market have impressed me more than any other market I have seen. When I go to a market, I want to see the things I either could not make myself or have tried and can appreciate what it takes.
This painting by Kylee Blackburn, whose art print I purchased last spring. I said no art but this one has me aching. I love the post-impressionist style (I apologize to any art-historians if I am way off).
At the market, I met women who turned grandmother’s recipes into a commercial success and who are helping restore the dignity of women who were victims of human trafficking.
Craft fairs are personal events. You can meet the makers. Hear their story. These are not mass-produced objects. They were made with intention and purpose.
I only started covering these events as a journalist but recently. Already it has deepened my appreciation of these makers and these events by creating an avenue to talk and hear their story.
Next week will be our turn. Kyle Casey of Casey Music Service and I will be out at the Modshop Pop-Up during the Riverbank Wine and Cheese Festival selling his musically-tuned, hand-crafted wind chimes. Hope to see you there.
I find beauty means everything to me now. In this article from The Imaginative Conservative, Aaron Ames shares the great wisdom that our imagination is so important to our understanding of God because it is only through our imagination that we can possibly begin to glimpse what God is capable of and what God has in store.
I hear friends who blog debate, “I don’t know how much I want to share.” In youth group and professional work, I have seen those who want to bare all to get the reaction or attention they seek. This is an important consideration for those currently blogging or sharing from their lives with others. There several circles of intimacy around an individual. I share about my life here, yet there is a deeper level I will not share publicly. Maybe I share it with friends. Maybe I share it only with my spouse. Are you happy with where and how your circles lie?
If you are plagued by “shoulds” when it comes to writing, this may help. We tend to develop an image of what this type of person does and if we want to be this type of person, we had better check all out boxes. A bigger picture will yield different details.
With any project comes a level of vulnerability. Here is some practical advice on dealing with automatic negative thoughts. For me, the negative thought that pops into mind some when something goes wrong is “here we go again” or “of course,” as if our good times can never last or we could always expect something to go wrong. At least, with the latter, I am able to stop myself and count my blessings. A lot of things go right for us, even if some big things went in the direction of greatest difficulty.
Motherhood has a strange loneliness. This blog helps put it in perspective. The author writes, “For now, I’m viewing loneliness as one of the small (sometimes big) purposeful crosses of my vocation. It’s a cross that will turn me toward Our Lord if I let it.”
Think it is hard to manage kids in a pew? I rather resent pews on Sundays as my children pile on top of me and there is no place to put my feet. It brings me delight to know while there is a tradition of pews in churches, it is relatively new.
I fell off the wagon with Facebook and starting checking 2-3 times a day. I admist, it was relaxing. At the same time, I also stopped reading. My goal is unchanged. Time to start again. During the week we traveled to San Francisco for doctors appointments, visited the Legion of Honor and I contemplated the beauty of life and art. I am going to start practicing my Thursdays again, time away for reflection and short-form writing, and implementing writing days, 3-7 hours away from home to work on long-form writing. The husband and I also discussed a Writer’s Retreat (for both of us, separately). He could spend two nights away in the wood somewhere composing his heart out, and I could do the same on a different weekend of the year.
In A Million Little Ways, Emily P. Freeman encourages the reader not to fear if someone has the same message because you have a different way to say it. That way of saying it might be just the right way from some recipient, who would not otherwise be heard or been penetrated by the core message. Freeman’s book, Simply Tuesday, does just this with St. Therese of Lisieux doctrine of the Little Way. Does Freeman know about St. Therese or the little way? I do not know, and it does not matter. The message is beautifully put in her lovely writing style which takes a scene or a moment or an object from her personal life and holding that image in mind, she reflects on its meaning and its application to our life.
Not only is Freeman’s prose impeccable, it is filled with a gentle rhythm that makes her work a proper meditation on maintaining peace in a chaotic life, and quieting ambition in our typically hectic work. She allows her words and images to build organically. Her tactic of returning to images from previous chapters as she includes new ones connects each of the concepts of the book, going ever deeper in reflection.
Rev. Francois Jamart, O.C.D., summarizes the little way as this:
We must fully recognize our spiritual poverty, our incapacity, and accept this condition.
We must have recourse to God with blind and filial confidence, in order that He may accomplish in us what we cannot do by our own powers; for God is our Father; he is Love infinitely merciful.
We must believe in Love and apply ourselves to the practice of love.
Spiritual poverty, described as smallness by Freeman is considered at length between the smallness of humiliation and the smallness of wonder. She invites the reader to embrace the smallness of wonder and the ordinary moments of our lives, which she encapsulated in the concept of Tuesday.
There is a bit of the lady bug philosophy, that when we learn to sit still is when ladybugs will come to us, that grace will come to us. God has called us to these moments, so let us sit and reflect and calm the rush of daily life.
In the third point of the little way, the practice of love, Therese emphasizes the importance of practicing love in the mundane tasks (because in our spiritual poverty or smallness, this is all we can do). You will find the same message throughout in Freeman’s work.
Does this cheapen Freeman’s reflections as something copied? Most definitely not. The message may be the same but the telling is wholly original. Therese wrote her little way as pieces of her autobiography and as a response to the direct request to write out this belief and practice. In that, it is not more ornate or poetically written than came natural to Therese to explain her ideas.
Freeman’s book is a verbal painting of the little way. This little way is at the heart of scriptures, wholly original and wholly tradition, and Freeman, by engaging the scriptures, with the help of others in her life, describes herself as being on this path.
This is the second book by this author that I have made my daily companion, an event of each day when I stop what I am doing and meditate on the chapter where a business card marks.
Reading her work, I have become more reflective and more appreciative of the small moments. It has helps me to act more intentionally and to move a little but further on the path of regaining peace and balance in my life. I heartily recommend Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman.
The moment I read the author thought he should not have hidden his naked body but danced joyfully in the front yard, I thought perhaps something was off about this book.
The first chapter was wonderful.
“The great divide is not between those who are artists and those are not, but between those who understand that they are creative and those who have become convinced that they are not.”
I wrote about this recently in my article, “What is Art?”
“There is an order to the creative process: we dream, we risk, we create.”
That is beautiful and deep, though I cannot say he expands on it more. Once could write an entire reflection series on that quote.
There are other reflections on the way that as art comes from us and we are made in the image of God, so beautiful art will, essentially, reflect God. The best art is authentic to who we are. This is why it is so jarring to see ugly “art” in the fine arts because it reflects our brute nature rather than our angelic nature.
Soon, his theology gets a little wonky; his philosophy a little sloppy. I think he actually says we are all drawn to the good, without referencing Aristotle.
It contains a reflection on craft distinguishing it from product. A craft is handmade. A product uses people. I could think of tidier definitions.
This highlights how things that are not part of the fine arts can still be done as an art, along with how those who are creating in the field of fine arts, can create garbage or art that is not moving. It is an important distinction.
Artists love without reservation. They give their hearts completely and leave nothing on the table. They are naked and unashamed…but not without struggle. This path is not an escape from life’s wounds and disappointment. To live from our souls is to pursue our greatest passions and expose ourselves to our greatest pain. We cannot live to create and be surprised that we have traveled through failure. We cannot live a life of passion and not know sorrow… All creativity emerges from struggle. All art is born out of the pain of labor. The artisan soul must be both tender and tough.
Wonderful insights and great explanations as to why it seems the great artists all suffered so much. Not because art makes us suffer, but that suffering finds expression and hopefully, healing, in art.
All well and good. The subsequent chapters I take issue with.
In Chapter 2, McManus discusses the role of our internal voice/narrative. He writes that some think a narrative of pessimism (despair) means only darkness can be authentic. He proposes a narrative of hope (optimism – but it’s not really) can show authentic art to be happy and about love.
The fault here lies in conflating pessimism/optimism with despair/hope. In psychology, these are particular terms. I think is one is making an effort tot write a book, it is important to have one’s terms clear. A better interpretation of his point would be an interior narrative of hope can make our art transcendent, lifting it out of darkness (negative emotions, brokenness) into light (love, self-gift).
In Chapter 3, McManus writes interpretation is more important than truth, and truth exists because God is trustworthy. It hurts to even repeat that. The fault here lies in a belief that truth can and cannot exist. It gets us into the realm of “your truth” and “my truth.”
A better interpretation would be truth exists regardless. By trustworthy, I think the author means reliable. Reliability is proven by experience. If someone earns our trust, in that we seek answers from him, it is because of how well they conform their lives to the truth. Others we can trust will answer in a particular way (honest or dishonest). That implies reliability. Interpretations of life are unique, but if they do not conform to reality they are insane. If they do not conform to a transcendent truth, they are limited, often depressing or vapid. Truth matters a great deal because it grounds interpretation to something anyone can access, even if one might interpret it differently. It is the thread that unites us.
In Chapter 4, McManus discusses the concept of vision or imagination. He writes, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” Quoting Picasso, a point is made that Picasso’s gift came not with technical genius but imagination. The child imagination is praised. Yes, children have imagination. They do not yet possess not knowledge or skill. The fault here lies in believing imagination and knowledge are opposed to each other.
A better interpretation would be imagination without knowledge belongs to the child while imagination maintained in the adult is refined and focused by knowledge. Learning the art can be seen as having the imagination (creativity) to apply the skill in new and interesting ways. The author also touches on concepts of wonder and awe, which are different. This chapter wanders more than previous chapters. By now his writing feels tangential as well as repetitive.
I could read no more. If one will write about God like this and one is Christian, then let him reference Christian theological tradition. I know this may not be promoted in some Christian denominations, so I do not blame the author, but this book is not for me. Too many insights we have come because we are nested in a culture with a knowledge that has been passed down. What we think we access all on our own has been seeded by our culture and academic tradition. Let us give it some credit. And let’s define our terms.
Recently, my husband and I find ourselves among jazz musicians. We are seeking them out. Sitting at a restaurant, listening to his coworker and friends jam, I ask him, “don’t you just sit here and want to be a part of it? Don’t you want to join in?” He smiled, shook his head and said, “no.” He pointed to himself and said, “introvert.”
When I see something happening, I want to be a part of it. Extrovert. I eagerly want to join in. I cannot stop thinking about it. I daydream about it.
But then, I am human. In my daydreams, I can do anything. When I do it in real life, I am embarrassed beyond belief.
This happens every Halloween. I want to dress up. I see costumes. I daydream about putting one together. I may gather the components. But if my costume does not consist of terribly normal clothes, I am unsettled all evening. I become self-conscious.
I feel very good about the projects I have tackled lately. Mistakes in sewing and painting do not bother me. I am generally good at that which I approach. Writing is going well. There is an 80%-finished painted dresser in the garage and the color is lovely. A started but stalled sewing project sits on my desk. A wood sign languishes in the background because I lost interest. None of these phase me. It is personal and private. I love those projects and I miss out on nothing if I do not finish them.
When it involves people, perhaps it is a different story. And jazz.
A lady sang. She only sang in front of people once before and everyone cheered for her. I want to do it, too.
I sing in front of my kids. I sing at mass. She is singing in front of people, and she is an amateur. Surely I can do it, too. I want to be part of the group.
My husband is excited. We cannot act spontaneously because—introvert. He gathered the music, plays the piano, and asks me when we will practice.
Finally, it is time. We saw those jazz musicians again last night. Another woman sang. That could be us! We could jump up there and sing “Cheek to Cheek.” What fun it would be!
I stand with my husband, hold my sheet of music and get ready to start. He presses the keys with a jazz-like spirit and I begin…laughing. And I laugh the entire way through. Not one word comes out because I feel so goofy and silly and self-conscious that I cannot stop laughing. Thank goodness we did not jump on stage!
We try again 30 minutes later. I manage some words but sing low and quiet trying to pair the words and music together. I have only ever sung this song alongside Doris Day. As I sing the refrain, I can feel my confidence glide down a funnel and out of my spirit. The more that drains, the more I want to shrink into a corner and give up.
He records the music so I can practice alone. The man is a teacher. I am not the first self-conscious creature under his wing.
I will not give up. We will keep trying until I feel comfortable. This is what it is to be taught a new art. Some you will take to naturally. Some will try your basest instincts. If you do not give up, in the end, you might just have a lot of fun.
If my hobby is painting, but my day-job is a postal worker, can I call myself an artist? If I screw together basic shapes of wood and make a table, am I an artist? If I crochet blankets for my grandchildren, am I an artist? Some would say not. Some would hesitate to say so about themselves. I propose that art is something anyone can make. Anyone can be an artist. And anything has the potential to be an art.
Art is a way of making something that builds on a skill. In applying the skill, art requires the intuitive judgment of the maker on how to apply it just so. While making art, we engage with the spiritual side of ourselves. We give it a transcendent quality. To make art is to take that which does exist, and transform it into something that goes beyond its original state.
Some feel to say “this is art” or “this is my art” or “I am an artist” is too lofty or grandiose because we attach the artistic quality of the work to a special quality the maker naturally possesses. “He has a gift,” we say. But what he has is a way of taking this skill to the next level, applying more than just a science to it. To consider oneself an artist is to see a vocation, or calling, of oneself to this particular art form. It implies a commitment to seek opportunities and produce this particular art.
Craft is to make a thing that can be used. The art one makes may or may not be useable. It may be visual or performance. Art is a quality superimposed on the craft. We do not need terms like crafters, creatives, or makers. For those who put their heart in the things they make, let them call themselves artists.
Start with a skill, and allow time to ponder its production, to get lost in the effort or plans of making it. Continue with the skill. Learn the rules in order to break them. Do not set out merely to break them.
Make beautiful art.
What type of art can you make? Emily Freeman in A Million Little Ways encourages us to find the things that give us joy, that we desire, that make us feel the thrill of being alive in a healthy way and then do those things. One’s art could be painting furniture, pencil sketching, making music, dancing, computer programming, gardening, or practicing medicine. As there is no limit to the tasks we may encounter, so there is no limit to the types of projects that can be considered art when approached with a fullness of intention and freedom of spirit.
How can I make great art? Renowned artist, Robert Florczak, describes great art as demanding the highest standards of excellence, improving upon the work of previous masters, and aspiring to the highest quality attainable. We can bring this down to a beginner level with the intention to give every work our best. It is not worth it to merely turn out quantity, we must aim for quality, even if it means we produce little, but what we do produce is magnificent. For most of her lifetime, Harper Lee published only one novel; and it is one of the most beloved American novels in existence, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Next, educate yourself on what others have done and what others are doing, start by copying in order to develop your techniques. You learn the skills and techniques in order to later make them your own and find what works best for you. Lastly, continue to learn and seek to grow with every endeavor. There is always more to learn. You may only paint one tree, but if you love that tree, there is nothing wrong in painting it over and over again.
To put it gently, I find this cover art repugnant. There are several reasons.
1. Art that depicts our Lord ought to have a certain sanctity about it.
Artistically, this is more like an animated cartoon on Cartoon Network than a piece of art for adult consumption. It is more like a cheaply thrown together piece for amusement rather than meditation. Any image of our Lord, especially him crucified ought not to be for amusement but be done with reverence and respect. In the Bible Jews did not even say or write the name of God, as he revealed it to Moses. In the past decade, OCP finally removed the name “Yahweh” from it’s songs, catching on. Muslims will not allow any depiction of Muhammud. But I guess Jesus is one of us, so we don’t need to give him reverence. This over-emphasizes his humanity and forgets about his divinity. In the end, God is God and his disciples did not even recognize him.
2. The representation of those at the cross lack subtly, quality or care and represents a substantial break from tradition.
In order to make the cats jive with this cool and mellow art, Mary (Theotokos) and Mary Magdelene and John all look about the same age as Christ. Of course, Mary would need to be older than Christ, in her late forties following the tradition; John is usually depicted as a younger disciple, often without a beard; and Mary Magdalene is usually depicted younger than Mary. Mary and John are traditionally depicted standing at the foot of the cross, the Mother of God in varying stages of grief depending on how the artist chooses to render it.
Mary Magdalene traditionally is depicted with a more passionate expression of grief than Mary the Mother of God, likely referencing, in the degree of expression, the passion of a woman who would burst into a room in tears and wash his feet or a woman to whom Christ would later say “stop holding on to me.”
Not every portrayal need be traditional, it is true.
Breaking from traditional images, using a method more abstract than realistic, can be an effective way to communicate a message.
So what message does OCP seek to communicate?
3. The message conveyed in this image cheapens Christ’s act which atones for our sins.
The artist replaced “INRI” (Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews) with “Cristo Rey” (Christ the King). Christ the King is a reverent title and solemnity celebrated by the Universal Church (properly the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe). “Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews” was written and posted on the cross as a form of mockery. This change is unnecessary and distorts the meaning, lessening his suffering on the cross.
Richard John Neuhaus in the first chapter of Death on a Friday Afternoon offers us steps we can take in understanding the mystery of atonement.
“First, something has gone terribly wrong. We find ourselves in a distant country far from home.
“Second, whatever the measure of our guilt, we are responsible.
“Then, third, something must be done about it.
“[Fourth], whatever it is that needs to be done, we cannot do it. Each of us, individually, the entirety of the human race collectively—what can we do to make up for one innocent child tortured and killed?
“Somebody else will have to do it.
“It must be someone who is in no way responsible for what has gone wrong. It must be done by an act that is perfectly gratuitous, that is not driven by necessity, by an act that is perfectly free.”
God becomes what we are in order to save us.
Is that not enough? Does he need to come down from the Cross, clean himself up and give us one big group hug? If we cannot be comforted by his gratuitous act of love, is a hug really going to save us? If Christ is able to come down from the Cross to comfort those with him, has he really given all?
4. It also cheapens the grief experienced and the sacrifice made by the Mother of God.
Again from Neuhaus in the third chapter of Death on a Friday Afternoon,
“The Greek word for this self-emptying is kenosis, it is the surrender of all that we hold most dear, and for Mary, it was the surrender of her dearest…’Mary had nowhere to rest her heart.’ and now it had come to this, she pondered in her broken heart, in her heart that by its breaking was made whole. That is the way it is with discipleship. The way of the cross is the way of broken hearts.”
“In all this, Mary was following her son, step by inexorable step. Her kenosis mirrored his kenosis, her life’s song was entirely attuned to his, a letting go into the vastness of whatever will be, trusting that at the end will be glory. Now his hour had come, and his hour was completely hers.”
If Jesus would, metaphorically, allegorically, figuratively or literally, come down from that cross to comfort her in that hour than her hour had not come. It passed her by. As Neuhaus reminds us again and again of Christ’s words, no disciple can be above his master. Mary shows us the way of trust, of discipleship, of following Christ to the Cross.
OCP’s cover art would encourage us to trade this in for momentary comfort. That we are not to offer our lives to and along side Christ, but rather to seek him for comfort. What higher gain is this, than the comfort of Christ? After all, this is in tune with his message, “unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” Oh, wait.
The message of a cleaned up Christ inviting us to his dinner party doesn’t sell, man. It isn’t the message of the New Evangelization.
“Reconciliation must do justice to what went wrong. It will not do to merely overlook the wrong. We could not bear to live in a world where wrong is taken lightly, where right and wrong finally make no difference. In such a world, we—what we do and what we are— would make no difference. Spare me the gospel of easy love that makes of my life a thing without consequence” (Richard John Neuhaus).
5. The Resurrection is the antidote to the grief of death.
Christ did comfort his disciples and his mother, as he comforts us today. It isn’t necessary to subvert the message of the cross. As Neuhaus exhorts us as he begins his book, stay with the Cross, do not rush so quickly to Easter.
Do not be afraid to stop and stare at the man on the Cross. Stay a while with your grief.
We come to the final section of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings, a series of reflections on art and contemplation. Follow the links to read my reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. Below is my reflection on the third talk of this final section.
Vita Contemplativa—The Contemplative Life
What is contemplation?
“It’s immediate and direct meaning indicates seeing, beholding, perceiving some reality
“…To contemplate means first of all to see—and not to think!
“…Also contains a special intensified way of seeing. – The gift of retaining and preserving in one’s own memory whatever has been visually perceived.”
“…it certainly perceives more than mere appearances.”
To see and not to think. Thus are more of the Church’s mystics women rather than men. There is something in the nature of woman that enables her to simply sit, to enjoy, to delight. She does it most naturally with her children, perhaps in a quieter age. So this features opens her up more easily to contemplate, to actively receive, to see the divine. Man is able as well, but woman has a particular inclination to simply sit and watch and see. Typically, man would analyze, and act.
I am not so simply made that I think this is always the case. My incredible levels of energy cause me to do quite often. But I see between my husband and myself a difference. Although I am the achiever and one more likely to want to discuss, between us, I am the one who can more easily sit with the children, just sit, not think, just be and watch.
This piercing of the word contemplation also calls to mind my work, as in an earlier section. I must sit and contemplate the information and the person presented to me.
“The eyes see better when guided by love; a new dimension of “seeing” is opened up by love alone! And this means contemplation is visual perception prompted by loving acceptance!”
“And yet, nothing in this affirming closeness to reality smacks of false idealization, nothing is embellished as if all reality were wholesome and without rough edges.”
I think back to an earlier reflection on the art of the work I do, working with people. I must see them as they are, with love, in order to give them what will really help them. It is not uncommon for me by myself to take a moment after meeting with a troubled client to contemplate the story they have shared. I do not analyze it. I take it in, I let it “simmer” so to speak. Inspiration comes.
“Those who have seen enough…who are satisfied with the outward appearance of things, may easily be content with contriving some smooth and crowd-pleasing yet shallow fabrication.”
I hear stories often about therapists who have not been helpful, who have rambled or given simple strategies but not fully entered into the story the client has shared. I suppose they have seen enough.
We cannot contemplate in a crowd. It calls for silence, for us to be alone. I have always needed to see art alone. I am an extrovert. I am too inclined too talk, too inclined to awareness of the feelings of those around me. When I am alone, I could stay and look and remember that the art evokes. I could really take time for prayer.
If we grant Pieper the truth of his statements, art becomes a teaching tool for children. If children are surrounded by beautiful art and given space from technology and media, they will have the opportunity to recall, to allow the great art to resonate inside them before they even have words to recognize it. They will be too young to sit and contemplate. But if we believe it to be true, opportunities will create a greater facility to contemplate and to love, to understand deeper mysteries of the universe. It is a tall order, but if we believe it to be true, it can do great things.
It will do great things if we allow our senses to be restored to the real. First, the church’s were stripped of their art, their tactile and aural references to the divine. Second, technology came about to help facilitate active participation by project song lyrics on the blank wall. The artist in me recoils at the thought! When people desired some color or change to the building, they hung plain banners, for art had grown too foreign and expensive in the culture. Or too ugly.
But art has great power. Harnessing that power, bringing art and beauty back into the life of the Everyman, we can re-awake his consciousness to the divine. He can see again and be reminded that life is more than simply the task at hand or the news on the screen. There could be hope. There could be joy. There could be a festival.
We come to the final section of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings, a series of reflections on art and contemplation. Follow the links to read my reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. Below is my reflection on the second talk of this final section.
Those “Guests at the Festival”
In the first section of Only the Lover Sings, Pieper explores the nature of a feast and the ability to celebrate a feast. He described the “festive contemplation of universal realities and their sustaining reasons” as the key to leisure. In this section he tells us, the festive character is “at the same time the remembrance of primordial bliss and the anticipation of future fulfillment.” It is for this task we need the poet and the artist. Understanding the celebration of feasts, Pieper finds the “connection between fine arts and festival becomes evident. Both build on a loving acceptance of the world and of human existence.”
“What good are poets in barren times?” he quotes. Indeed. This line strikes me, as Pieper interprets these barren times to be those times when we have lost the ability to celebrate a feast, to be at leisure, to contemplate our original state, the purpose for which we live, and the promise that lies before us. I feel myself living in these barren times.
In a rural land, little time is spent in such leisurely pursuits. The questions seem superfluous to many, as do the arts. Why would you drive a distance, spend two hours listening to an orchestra when you could be home, doing something? Music in the liturgy becomes utilitarian, meant for people to participate, rather than an instrument to lead us to contemplation. Barren times. When one is struggling to fulfill the bottom levels of the hierarchy of needs, he cannot see any benefit to those spiritual pursuits which seem so distant from his immediate needs.
And yet, we are not so rural here. We go to grocery stores, have neighbors within fifty feet, do not own livestock. Yet the mindset persists. It can be so difficult for an artist to find their place in a town, where neither religion or community tradition occupy the central space of culture, only existence, one step to the next, one click to the next, mindlessly, numbingly walking through life without stopping observe the flowers in bloom or the warmth of the sun. Barren times.
The hierarchy of needs it not fully accurate because we are made by God. Therefore the spiritual can imbue each level with life, making up for deficits. Suffering at each level becomes filled with meaning and is then bearable. So art and beauty at any level are a benefit to man, they can remind him of a life worth fighting for.
We come to the final section of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings, a series of reflections on art and contemplation. Follow the links to read my reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4. In my attempt to finish this reflection, I come to realize I need to divide my posts it into two separate reflections.
Three talks in a sculptor’s studio
On a special occasion, Pieper presents this series of three talks in the studio of a sculptor. In his first talk, he considers the mythology of the Muses, who inspire remembrance. Remembrance of what?
“Something that all too readily is ignored and “lost”—precisely because it is ‘different’ —yet must not be forgotten if our existence is to remain truly human.”
Art evokes a memory in us of paradise, of what it truly means to be human. As there are “large areas of reality in danger of being thus forgotten” the role of the artist is revealed with greater depth.
“Here we somehow sense the artist’s inner relationship to the priest, who is called, above all, to keep alive the remembrance of a face that our intuition just barely perceives behind all immediate and tangible reality—the face of the God-man, bearing the marks of a shameful execution.”
Goethe refers to the artist as “someone called to be the custodian and eager herald of an avowed sacred reality.”
First, the artist:
What a massive undertaking! The risk of distraction, losing direction and aim arises. An artist may have great technical skill, but if the artwork lacks substance, “such a product, above all, contains no remembrance nor any power to elicit remembrance, and thus has nothing to do with the Muses.” The artist must shield himself from the numbing of thought and attention that occurs when one takes in the culture and the life on the internet and the endless onslaught of images. A good artist would have to take to the hills or to the sea; to seek solitude as Anne Morrow Lindbergh reminds us, in order to reach that quiet place inside oneself, where one can breathe and create again. We cannot remember in constant noise. We cannot create. We must retreat. The artist will not find his muse without the quiet of his studio, his interior hide-a-way.
What if he does not? What is the danger other than banality? Ugliness. And I don’t mean modernity, but the kind of image that makes one desire to turn away and erase it from their mind. Because art is a powerful thing. The ugliness by an artist who has ceased to believe that life matters, that there is purpose and meaning, invites the viewer into his emptiness and says “you belong here too.”
I think there is devastating art by artists full of despair, but their art reveals a longing for something greater.
It is that art which has no longing that hurts us, that I refer to. Sigrid Undset is a beloved author of mine, author of Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. Before those novels, before her conversion, she wrote a novel called Jenny. I would describe the plot as watching the deterioration of a young woman, and it is devastating. Undset’s insight into the person is remarkable, but at the end I am shaken. I experienced a similar feeling after watching Revolutionary Road, a film about the deterioration of a marriage.
Second, the viewer:
Turning from the ugly to the banal. We can recognize such art. If one is sensitive to this sight, or remembrance, he or she will find that art without substance evokes nothing. It leaves us empty, without reaction.
It’s nice, but does it leave us with any other feeling? Doesn’t our Lady look bored? I imagine the church goers who feel the same. They simply sit. Nothing stirs them. Some preachers simply speak louder and for a moment might have their attention. But when the preacher’s speech is banal, the viewer settles back into his pew.
When in town to interview for graduate school, I wandered around the Smithsonian museum. I happened upon a replica of this piece, The Kiss. I was so struck by it, I paused and took it in. Oughtn’t I be embarrassed by it? But I was not. It was beautiful, striking, and spoke to something deep inside. The passion with which she holds him, the delicacy of his hand which slightly touches her, but will not grasp. The artist, inspired by his muse, whether he realizes it or not, recalls the original innocence and self-gift John Paul II illuminates in the Theology of the Body. I do not think I have ever seen a more beautiful statue, and this photograph hardly does it justice.
I should use a closer comparison to the bored Virgin Mary, now. Below is Bouguereau’s Piet, which you can see in San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.
Great art must be view in person. It is only in person that can you can be drawn into the depth of her suffering in her eyes, into the largeness of her suffering by examining the weight of Christ upon her. This is art with substance, which recalls, which invokes.