Pope St. John Paul II understood that if artists are not supported and encouraged by the church, they would earn their keep by secular pursuits, filling the world's demands for Godless imagery. He exhorted artists to create works which would inspire the faithful, and to pursue excellence in their task.
Yet many artists flood the internet, wondering why the church is not responding, to their eagerness to glorify God. They conclude that "false economy" has overtaken the virtue of thrift, where the drive is to think short term.
Recognising God as Artist...
Fr. Ian Petit OSB in his book "How can I pray?" describes how, as a child, he first perceived an encounter with God:
"The fields and hills filled me with awe and reverence, excitement and wonder...
He ponders on the artist, and God as divine artist :
"I have often seen some work of art and felt a desire to meet the person who could create such beauty... that within them something of that beauty must reside.....
After the now famous "Ecce Homo" fresco was defaced in an Italian church by an amateur artist some years ago, I hoped such a mistake might not be repeated.
Then I read of the amateur "artist" who had attempted to restore a Madonna statue in Canada. Ms. Wise had offered her services "for free", and as she was not Catholic, the results were fated to be somewhat dysfunctional.
The Parish Priest responsible for allowing the artistic faux-pas, excused it by admitting that he had not been taught at Seminary about "these things". (Thankfully, people will always forgive a good priest some of their more silly mistakes. )
When Ms. Wise met Lisa.
Considering the words of Fr. Petit, one asks what kind of encounter with God should we expect when viewing Catholic Art? When the amateur artist Ms. Wise met "Christ", it seems she thought of Lisa Simpson.
That is the danger of the church no longer leading culture but reflecting it. The world needs Catholic artists, and Catholic Artists need the support of their church.
As St. Theresa of Calcutta said; "together we can do great things for God."
When is church art considered good or bad?
I suppose at this point I should define what I mean by "Bad church art."
Bad church art is anything that looks like it should belong in a domestic setting, or is mundane ( indifferent in appearance) or leads the viewers thoughts AWAY from prayer rather than to it.
It is anything that could confuse a person for example, on key doctrinal issues such as the modesty and purity of the Blessed Virgin.
"Good" church art then, is none of the above.
Its not as though one has to continually hark back stylistically, to produce "good" church art, as that would be to put a straight jacket on creativity and progress. It would help though, if the artist concerned understood the reason church art exists, that it has its "raison d'etre."
For example, if I employed a central heating engineer to fix my hot water system, I would want one who was a very least familiar with his subject. Even better, if he belonged to a long line of plumbers/electricians. I would want my heating system to be the best I could afford for reasons of long term efficacy.
If, (as in the case of the Ely cathedral madonna) the invitation to produce church art work is given to someone with no particular interest in Christianity and has atheistic and pagan tendencies, then they cannot have taken heed of HOSEA 8:7 " They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind."
"Good" church art is imperative to building faith, because they have an ability to by-pass the intellect and enter straight into the heart, they have a sublime quality.
From the moment we open our eyes at birth, we continually collect information about our surroundings and our place in relation to it. By these means we define the "who" we are and the "why" we exist. For this reason, we owe it to the faithful to give them "Good" church art, which can affect their hearts in profound ways.
And this is why I make no apologies for finding the Ely Madonna distasteful in the extreme. (even though some Anglican churches contain beautiful works of art.)
I do wonder when, if someone who can, will be brave enough to admit that commerce and curiosity aren't good enough reasons to draw people into a Cathedral church. Visitors deserve more than the after-taste of a scowling Valkyrie in a tight T-shirt. After all, those kinds of maidens can be found with regularity on MTV.
Thanks to " Duck Dynasty" Beards have become associated with "manliness" and lets face it, a lot of male Biblical figures and Catholic Saints have sported hair on their chins.
Beards in religious art tend to convey a sense of leadership and old- timey values.
Recently, we have been restoring a bearded shepherd, who'd had some optimistic but sadly un-salvageable amateur repairs applied to his arm: Amputation was in order.
A local church happened to have the exact same shepherd figure, (with similar catastrophic amateur repair works); so they kindly donated what was left of him, enabling us to practice the art of what my Grandma called:
"Waste not, want not."
With the one good arm from the less - fortunate statue, we were able to make the latter one whole again.
(Is this making sense?)
Good, then I'll continue...Back to those beards!
While the facial expression of the shepherd on the right shows that the artist has been thinking " in the moment" (when he sees the baby Jesus is seen for the first time); the shepherd on the left appears to have whipped out some lippy from his shepherd's purse to look his best for the occasion.
Both representations are o.k. but I think the guy on the right with his prophets beard and surprised expression tells us more about the moment of the Nativity.
That's why when restoring a statue, getting the details right does matter.
Its useful when sending images in emails, to be able to resize them first. So here are some guidelines of how to do this using the popular windows "PAINT" programme.
This story is about two people being in the right place at the right time; what St. John Paul the Great would call a "God- incidence" rather than a "co- incidence".
Commissioning a statue of Our Blessed Mother isn't just a matter of commerce or duty; according to St. Louis de Montforte they are vehicles which encourage us to holiness.
In his famous treatise, St. Louis lists twelve interior practices which indicate "True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin" (Article 115)
Here are three which concern religious statues:
9) Taking charge of her confraternities, decorating her altars, crowning and adorning her statues.
(I will post further progress on this sculpture as time allows.)
Yep, there was definitely fourteen and not fifteen figures when last I counted.
Well I suppose there may have been a sheep dog at the Nativity...(The waggy tail gave it away...)
Occasionally, someone will bring me a statue known as " the Sacred Heart" because of their love for Jesus, or perhaps it has been handed down to them by a relative.
They don't always know the reason for the heart , so the following quotes, taken from the Autobiography of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque; provide some explanation of why Catholicism sometimes depicts Jesus with a fiery and pierced heart:
Saint Margaret Mary here describes the vision upon which the imagery of the Sacred Heart is based:
My childhood church, is the church of St. Matthew in West Derby Liverpool.The building is listed as Grade II, and the interior architecture has the appearance of a downsized basilica.
Its bell tower is tall, and points to the heavens like the finger of a saint; it has long been a local landmark.
I remember how the iron cross laid in the main road nearby reminded men to doff their caps in reverence for the Lord as they passed by.
The place was always full on Sundays, at all four masses, and there was always a priest on hand if needed.The Choir loft held the organ that had the most imposing sound which rung the rafters along with the congregation. No faint-hearted crooners here!
Gradually, as time passed, the bells in the tall tower that had reminded us it was the Lords day, and a day of rest became silent. Muted by a growing number who preferred to not be so reminded.
A selection of images of Our Lady (Church approved for devotion) - wearing different coloured garments.
Lewis and Lewis
is a Catholic family run business: specialising in statue restoration, and church interior projects.
Jeanette is a professional sculptor/fine artist and designer; husband David is a traditional upholsterer/technician.
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