Recent Posts

Saturday, 16 August 2014

When We Saw The Faces of Saints

I have studied art all my life. In grade school, I had fantastic nuns who taught us art appreciated from Fourth Grade on up and Introduction to Basic Art. My family visited art galleries regularly, and I took art lessons at the local gallery as a young girl. In college, I was an art minor until I discovered philosophy and switched minors. I have sketched and painted off and on, when I could afford the art supplies. I just gave away two of my easels.

I have taught Art Appreciation and Art History both in high school and in college, as I was asked to do so, even though my main areas are history, theology and philosophy. I loved it. I created an introduction to art class at a high school for bored seniors. Most were guys and they loved it, after some initial murmuring. Art is part of the true Montessori Method, and I had art in my own Montessori school.

Teaching  the History of Art at the college level proved to be a treat! I loved every minute of a Humanities Course I taught which included Art History and Music History. Can one imagine getting paid to study and present such fun courses?

One thing I have noticed when studying and and teaching art has been the change in faces painted by the masters.

In the earliest days of portraiture or iconography, in depictions of the saints and the Holy Family, in Crucifixion paintings and paintings of the Scourging and the Crowning of Thrones, one can see a progression of facial expressions in the good and the bad "characters" of those paintings.

One of the things I noticed was that even the secular painters, those doing it for patrons or money, had insights into the soul which have been lost in modern times.

Yes, in our years of psychology and analysis, we have lost the insights into how to portray holiness and sheer evil.

Even Caravaggio, perhaps my favorite painter, understood the good, the bad and the lukewarm. Not a saint himself, and pained by an intemperate personality, this genius still could capture the holiness in the face of Christ, St. John and others. How is it that we have lost this sensitivity, this discernment?

We have, as artists, had to face to unfortunate truths in the past 200 years of painting. One is the demise of the person as a topic of interest, even Christ, and the other is the emphasis on the artist's feelings rather than those of the subject matter.

When I lived in Canada, I followed the Toronto International Art Show on the radio, as much of it, at that time, was followed by a certain station. In one interview, a young female artist shared her theory of art. It was this. That art was the expression of the feelings of the artist. Period.

The highly intelligent interviewer pushed this relativistic and subjective philosophy until the young woman finally said that even if she put a splotch of mud on a wooden board, that was art and worthy to be hung in the Toronto Show.

Like the interviewer, I gasped. Mud on a board.

Well, I knew from years of art stalking that the pursuit of beauty was out the window, that political statement art was "in" and that art was practically anything a so-called artist wanted it to be. I remember the students at Notre Dame when I was there making fun of a Christo exhibit by wrapping up the statue of the founder, Father Edward Sorin. Such is art criticism. It was hysterically funny, but the administration was not amused.

Art became propaganda under the Tudors and that idea spread throughout Europe, coming to America way before Stalin and Hitler magnified the problem. Propagandist art became popular again in the sixties, as did pop-art and all kinds of manifestations of the decadence of the modern artistic brain.

We had a respite with the excellent Sister Wendy, who was not afraid to call rubbish rubbish and who could beauty in certain paintings which baffled some critics.

But, in recent times, the purpose of art has been to shock, to "reveal" whatever, and not to praise God or show the dignity of man.

Sadly, the artists did lose their way be separating religion from art and philosophy from the pencil and paintbrush.

Not that I want artists to be philosophers, but an artist has a duty to think as well as feel and the best did: da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and so forth. Artists who are anti-intellectual usually create sentimentality, which, sadly in the Christian world, sells too well.

But the hay-day of sentimental Christian art may be waning, at last. The eighties saw the worst of it, with Evangelical artists taking the pencil and paintbrush into the realm of emotive art, which only appeals to the appetites and not to the intellect. In a way, we have been through the worst of emo Christian art.

But, not EWTN in the 2013 re-do of the mysteries of the rosary.

To whom and to what are they appealing on the staff? Excellent Christian art must appeal to reason and not merely the emotions. It must transcend and be universal and not "subjective" or "personal".

I had the hunch that some of the models for Mary were someone's daughter or wife. Not every model can be a "Mary". Only someone who understands the face of holiness can paint a convincing Mary, Jesus, Joseph.

And, some of the portraits of those people are not exhibiting holiness but sensuality.

It is hard to find an innocent to paint. The elders of our tradition manage. Why? I think more saints walked the earth.

Even young people, even children lose their innocence so early now because, mainly, of television and computer games. Women have been so brainwashed by the feminist lie that few have truly female faces. The face of a woman can capture some of the purity of a saint, if that woman "has it in her".

I am not sure we shall see great Catholic art ever again. Perhaps there is a reason for this. We have lost the time when we saw the faces of saints and could discern holiness.

A beautiful woman, indeed, has a beautiful soul. There are objective standards for beauty in the West. The relativists and subjectivists have destroyed objective female beauty in art. But, God knows what it is and He has shown it to us in the person of His Mother.