Friday, January 20, 2006

Art is a communion

It occurred to me last night in a conversation with two other artists that for many of us art is a reaching out to the world, to reality and to the ideal we are longing for not a 'teaching' about goodness, truth and beauty. This isn't to say that that which we seek in art is not being expressed as goodness, truth and beauty. It is the experience, the feeling of being close to the Spirit as we come in contact with our longing and that for which we long and because of this experience, this religious experience, (for that it what it is) our artwork is able to be a vehicle. I think this is the source of art--our longing for our 'true home', as Christopher Derrick so rightly puts it. It is precisely this point which ought to inspire us artists who are Catholics to encourage, seek out and create an exchange between us and the Church who is our 'motherland', our home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The first thing I should say is that I realized I could change a setting allowing anyone to leave a comment not just those registered at So, feel free to click on comments and type away.

I am trying to locate an essay written by Archbishop Stafford that was published by Image magazine or journal a number of years ago. It is a really great piece worthy of consideration. Let's hope I can nail it down.

Allow me to continue with Tarkovsky's second chapter called "Art-yearning for the ideal".

"Art could be said to be a symbol of the universe, being linked with that absolute spiritual truth which is hidden from us in our positivistic, pragmatic activities. . ."
" Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual, for the ideal: that longing which draws people to art. Modern art has taken a wrong turn in abandoning the search for the meaning of existence in order to affirm the value of the individual for its own sake. What purports to be art begins to look like an eccentric occupation for suspect characters who maintain that any personalized action is of intrinsic value simply as a display of self-will. But in artistic creation the personality does not assert itself, it serves another, higher and communal idea. The artist is always a servant, and is perpetually trying to pay for the gift that has been given to him as if by a miracle. Modern man, however, does not want to make any sacrifice, even though true affirmation of self can only be expressed in sacrifice. We are gradually forgetting about this, and at the same time, inevitably, losing all sense of our human calling..." (p.38)

This paragraph is so powerful it is like a punch in the soloflex of all selfish art whatever soul it lurks in. I don't think it is going too far to say that this paragraph sums up THE main problem facing modern culture: that freedom sought after by the human family and expressed artistically is only attained in a Christian world view. Who else but Jesus Christ can stand before the human family and say 'follow me and follow my example and you will have life and life to the full.' He has proven that self donation and it alone is the key to happiness, freedom, joy, true spiritual vision. Artists, and the modern culture we represent, are doomed to frustration if we don't lift this flag of truth to remind us who we are and what our role is every time we pick up a brush, pen, camera or any other medium. In keeping with this theme of Tarkovsky's I am remembering one line from Cardinal Stafford's essay where he says that artists are like windows through which a vision of God passes through. Originality for its own sake can be a mirage for artists, myself included. Of course we are all truly original; as beings we are unrepeatable, it is only because the Spirit shares the gift of life and creativity that we are able to be creative. The ultimate question lies before each of us, "Who do I serve?" Each of our actions is an act of creation. And each action issues forth from the will it is either directed toward the good or directed toward a selfish end. Enough said. I can't get too deep into the discussion on the good as the object of the will or my cousin Jules will have me in a philosophical headlock!

Tarkovsky has much more to say. I want to let him speak...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Still life by Ted Crisman
artist: Ted Crisman
I was thinking of Michael O'brien today, I don't know if you all know who he is (an honest artist), at any rate he sent me some prints of his religious artwork and one was of St. John Vianney. I'm sure it's the most expressive and human portrait of the saint I've ever seen. I would like to publish it on this blog, but I don't have his permission, yet... (another little project; well worth it!). I think it is particularly wonderful to think about this saint after meditating on Michael's image because it shows the serenity, joy and peace of this most humble of saints, and yet one of the most impressive in his commitment to the cross and the call of the priesthood. He loved people--their lives, their sorrows, their joys, their souls.

Monday, January 09, 2006

I would like to imagine that I have something to say about this wonderful subject. Well I do have one thing to say today which begins in the place where all art truly begins, in the heart. So often people view art from the standpoint that the artwork must 'please' them and nothing more, no thought, no reflection about the real meat of the work. (Sometimes there isn't much meat if any to reflect on.) For example, some may not like many of Rembrandt's pieces because of the simple use of color and because they are often times dark. It never occurred to them to ask the question whether Rembrandt intended his paintings to be such and if so why. The heart must be in a way disciplined and open to the real matter of a work of art if it is to touch the viewer. If the viewer is looking at a painting to be satisfied almost like the approach or experience many of us have with dessert: that "nothing could feel better to this already stuffed body than some sugar." It's that syndrome or habit of looking for more when we've had enough.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A new friend of mine pointed me in the direction of an artist living in Ireland who I wasn't familiar with, Patrick Pye. I am in the process of reading and digesting an interview published in Logos Journal by St. Thomas University. Here is a quotation from Pye who is responding to a question about intelligibility and meaning as well as pleasure in his own art:

"Well that is another very difficult question because in a way the artist doesn't know what he does. That's why the whole business of seeing is so preposterously difficult because it is impossible to see without meaning. We are human beings. We have our search for meaning deep in our personalities and even though we can't put it into words, what things mean to us, we are concerned to express a feeling meaning or a meaning within feeling. [Pye had earlier written that the artist, 'is thrown straight at the deep end of the metaphysical question...The artist is naturally in line with the writers of the gospels for whom the heart was an organ of understanding, not of feeling. The artist must learn to see with the heart.']"

This view expressed by Pye seems to me to be harmonious with Tarkovsky in his view that artists exist in the metaphysical realm. That question of meaning in being permeates one's life. I'd like to think more about this. I thought it was in line with my last blog and Tarkovsky excerpt.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Some of THE questions

Well here we go. I want to say that I am not trying to write a book, a dissertation, convert readers, etc. I would like to share some thoughts of mine and thoughts of others to come to a clearer understanding of the soul of art and its role in culture today.

I want to begin with some words of a man who wrestled with being an artist and struggled to make his art in an environment not at all conducive to honest expression, but ironically an atmosphere ripe with meaning regarding the role and responsibility of the artist to the world. Andrey Tarkovsky (1932-1986) was a Russian film director/writer who lived and worked in the Soviet Union. He is considered by some to be one of the greatest directors of the cinema. He wrote Sculpting in Time to discuss his art and his thoughts about the artist. His thoughts on the aim of art are incredibly relevant to any discussion on art. (Please be conscious while reading these quotations not to do violence to the text, i.e., to discount, discredit, or even to disagree without thoughtful reflection. Also, I think it is good to realize that the one speaking has spent an incredible amount of time and energy thinking and then doing his art, praying and then acting. Let us take care to do the same.)

"...the goal for all art is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of his existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question." Tarkovsky then goes on reflecting on the creation narrative and the search man is forced into: the search for Truth. "In a very real sense every individual experiences this process for himself as he comes to know life, himself, his aims. Of course each person uses the sum of knowledge accumulated by humanity, but all the same the experience of ethical, moral self-knowledge is the only aim in life for each person, and, subjectively, it is experienced each time as something new. Again and again man correlates himself with the world, racked with longing to acquire, and become one with, the ideal which lies outside him, which he apprehends as some kind of intuitively sensed first principle. The unatttainability of that becoming one, the inadequacy of his own ' I ', is the perpetual source of man's dissatisfaction and pain. And so art is a means of assimilating the world, an instrument for knowing it in the course of man's journey towards what is called 'absolute truth'."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Apples and Pears by Ted Crisman copyright 2002.
artist: Ted Crisman

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I need to check the status of some of my settings by posting again...

The Beginning

Welcome to what I hope becomes the forum for discussion of the arts. For four years now, my wife, some fellow artists, and I have been discussing how we can draw together artists and those who love art into discussion and hopefully as a result achieve a solidarity in the arts. There already exists a kind of solidarity among many of us, but there are many reasons we aren't able to engage others or share our thoughts. This blogspot, hopefully, will be that conduit, that gathering place for the sharing of what already exists in our hearts and minds and a sharing of new ideas and experiences to come.