Thursday, March 19, 2015

SILENCE NOT THE CRITIC

Illinois Representative Aaron Schock, described by the Associated Press article as young, media savvy, fit, and having a certain talent for fundraising, abruptly resigned recently in part due to his extravagant office reportedly decorated in the lavish style seen on Downton Abby.  How do people feel about the beautiful space he created?  Opinions run from the uniformed and apathetic to the scandalized and angry.  Critics questioned the expense and appearance of extravagance and applied enough pressure that he decided to step down.
 
What would we do without the critic - the voice amid the crowd that cries out, "Are you sure that what you are doing is right and just?  I have another way of looking at this situation."  Like a conscience or the court jester, the critic makes those in power (if they are open) to at least stop and think for a moment.
 
Yesterday such a conversation took place in the comments section of this blog concerning a new painting installed at St. Sebastian.  The point in question, one that has been asked of the Church for hundreds of years concerning everything from the Vatican Museums to a new vestment at a poor parish, is, "Is art the best use of resources?"  There are those who would say, "No.  Before money is spent on art, take care of all the people in your area.  THEN think about art."  It is a statement that should make everyone stop a moment and think especially as they pass the person standing at the end of the highway ramp with a sign reading, "Any help would be appreciated.  God bless you." 
 
So I thought about it.  There are some ways in which I agree with the Anonymous person who posted yesterday.  We should be very careful in this regard.  Of course, we could, as a parish community EASILY just meet in the local school gym for Mass on Sundays instead of our church building but we chose to have a building.  Most people would give this a thumbs up.  But at what point do you cross over from prudent use of funding for such endeavors to a Downton Abby like scandal?
 
Large amounts of money are spent by the church every year on "art."  There is a new parish going up in our diocese and I have pleaded with the pastor not to buy his art out of a catalogue.  Now commissioning art can be dangerous and expensive.  But is it worth it? 
 
There are those who feel that the arts should be in free service to the Church (organists, painters, etc.)  For some reason the time and talent of artist is in a different category than roofers, HVAC personnel, the janitors, or even the priests for that matter.  But that is an extreme case - but none-the-less one that comes my way from time to time. 
 
This particular piece of art is attracting attention.  Half of the conversations I have are people telling me how this picture moved them.  Within 15 hours of this painting being posted online at Lighthouse Media, it has received 15,000 "like" hits.  (That's ten thousand an hour!)  People are already stopping into the church just to see it.  The conversation on this blog yesterday means that SOMETHING (whether positive or negative) is taking place.  People are talking.  That means the Church is making an impact on the cultural scene through art.  If we don't enter the scene here, we have begun to lose influence on our culture. 
 
Another aspect is that people don't stop to wonder where the money is going when true art is commissioned.  It doesn't get buried in the sand.  In this particular case a young man with a wife and three kids that he sends to Catholic school made a small portion of his living.  Since he was supported by the Church, hopefully he and his family will then take care of the very people that our critic hopes we would pay attention to.  Before people take care of the poor, they themselves must be inspired.  And long after the resources that would have been added to the large amounts that already pass through this parish to take care of the poor would disappear, the painting will remain to inspire and ITSELF BE A CRITIC TO A GATHERED COMMUNITY - WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO RELIEVE PAIN AND SUFFERING TO THE LEAST OF MY BROTHERS.  FOR WHEN YOU DO THAT FOR THEM, YOU DO IT FOR ME.
 
Not everyone will agree with me I realize.  And I hope they don't.  I hope they keep me on my toes, thinking and evaluating.  I'd rather my money go toward something like this than expensive cable and phone plans, fancy cups of coffee, and extra cushiony toilet paper.  And I will continue to sit back on my heels and think when such a critic (especially those I've met who purposely have chosen to live simply - small apartment - inexpensive car - volunteering in the community - working for non-profits) and evaluate very carefully if I believe in what I am doing. 
 
Even though at times it is a hard pill to swallow, the critic plays an important role.  Without the critic we may enter into the dangerous world of the unexamined life. 

16 comments:

Poor Stephen said...

Dear Father,
My taste in art runs toward dogs playing poker or Elvis on velvet.
I am more of a SpongeBob SquarePants kind-of-a- guy.

HOWEVER, I do not like the strong feeling of dread, sickness and pain this painting causes me to suffer. This painting makes me want to cry. Are you trying to make me cry?


MaryofSharon said...

I totally agree with your thoughts about how no one thinks twice about paying a just wage to a tradesman to fix the HVAC or rewire the lighting at a church. Money paid to an artist is NOT money thrown away! I wonder how much Eric ended up earning per hour on the painting—less than the contractors, I bet.

Just last month my daughter finally made a commitment to being an art major over at Akron U. She has been investing her remarkable artistic gifts for the glory of God for free in her Christian dance/drama company for the past several years. She knows it is unlikely that she will be able to earn a living doing the kind of art she loves the most, but I hope that at least some of the time she will be able to continue to create the uplifting and the beautiful, rather than just the commercial, profane, or banal. And I hope at least some of the time, she might be able to earn a just wage for creating things that overtly gives glory to God, rather than having to limit herself to what people will pay for, knowing that people aren't willing to pay for sacred art.

Cathy said...

Jesus was not opposed to money spent in His honor!

Matthew 26:6-13
The Anointing at Bethany.

Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, “Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor.”

Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me. In pouring this perfumed oil upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be spoken of, in memory of her.”

Cathy said...

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/03/25/should-pope-francis-sell-off-the-vaticans-art-collection-and-give-the-money-to-the-poor-the-answer-is-an-emphatic-no/

Annie Dixon said...

A fascinating couple of days here at Adam’s Ale for those of us who make our living designing, creating, and providing things of beauty for the church. It’s a tough prospect: offering fine art, precious metals, and quality craftsmanship –to a charity.

But would we really be better off if all the artists traded in their brushes for soup ladles? Even in the charity soup kitchens, volunteers use their talents differently: some cook, some clean, some counsel (and they have all made enough money at something else to allow them the luxury of donating their time). Should every donor be guilted into giving only to the food bank to satisfy only the most basic needs of the poor? The patrons of religious art feed the spiritual hunger of the poor and the wealthy, the young and the old, the learned and the illiterate of our communities.

Years ago, my husband and I were called to a church committee meeting in a very poor part of a large city and asked to design stained glass windows to help transform their dreary multipurpose room into a sacred space. When we returned with the simplest and least expensive approach he could design, we got a good scolding from the resident nun who informed us that we had been called in to create beautiful windows like the ones in our brochure and not to worry about what they cost; if we would design beautiful windows with depictions of saints who were inspiring to their community, they would find a way to pay for them. So, we did and they did.

I am humbled every time a commission comes through, whether from a poor or a wealthy parish, because they have made a decision that beauty is important and entrusted our studio to provide it. And, unlike anonymous critics in the blogosphere, I am proud to sign my name because I am proud of the work we do for the church and glad to debate its value –and to thank Adam’s Ale for a public square in which to do so, and Fr. V. for a parish that supports artists.

Anonymous said...

Father, we look forward to seeing this painting in person in a few weeks. We are happy that some of our clergy 'get' art. Now, what about about some more statues for the sanctuary?

Redearth said...

Amen Annie Dixon.

Anonymous said...

A statue of St Robert is needed in St Sebastian Church

Cathy said...

Not sure about statues in the sanctuary. I haven't seen the painting yet (tomorrow - can't wait!) but I think the design of the sanctuary is not conducive to more "items".
It is more clean lines. Too many things would be just too many things.
However, I do wish we could have an image of the Divine Mercy somewhere in the church so that it could be venerated the year through.

Cathy said...

Today, money is given to the modern-day version of the arts: the Browns, Cavaliers, Indians; shows at Playhouse Square; movies at Regal Cinema; monster truck, cage wrestling, gun & home/garden shows at the IX Center; computer games, smart phones, apps; and on and on. Glory and praise given to MAN.

No one suggests that the athletes and actors and programmers shouldn't be paid--often times outrageous sums of money. No one suggests foregoing their own personal entertainment and donating the time, effort and money to the poor.

...Yet, heaven forbid, Fr. V commissions one single beautiful piece of artwork that will uplift souls, glorify God, and draw present and future generations ever closer to Jesus! This is criticized?!

Abby Williams said...

Father, I agree with you completely! As an artist myself, I thank you for this post. You have brought up a lot of points the average person does not take into account. Art is a very misunderstood and hard profession, and local support is needed. People do not realize art is everywhere, and if it wasn't the world would be a dull place.

Art should cause different emotions.. It is a personal experience for everyone. You are right: good or bad, it is making a powerful statement that is being shared by others. You need to stir things up on occasion.

As for the painting, I find it remarkable and think it is a wonderful addition to the Church.

Anonymous said...

Of course, we also honor volunteers, many of whom give their professional talents for free.

MaryofSharon said...

I stopped by St. Sebastian yesterday afternoon and was blessed to be able to take my time pondering the painting, all by myself, alone in the big empty church. There is much to appreciate about it. Once again (as in his St. Irene painting) I love what Eric Armusik does, Caravaggio-like, with dramatic light and shadow, and his sky is spectacular.

Even upon seeing the image here in your post, I was struck by the uniqueness of the upward tilt of Jesus' unexpectedly-placid face and the way his fingers are reaching up and out, both of which indicate his connection with His Father in the midst of His agony. I had wondered what particular moment this painting was capturing, perhaps "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

So when I got to St. Sebastian and read the description about the painting published in the bulletin, my question was answered. What a remarkable instant to portray! The moment between that last word and His last breath, just when EVERYTHING was on the verge of changing: at the precipice of the defeat of Satan and the salvation of the world, just as all HEAVEN was about to break loose. The anticipation for what is about to happen is powerful. (What an image to ponder as one prepares to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and anticipates what really happens at each Mass. )

The description in the bulletin is in itself is a work of art! Eg. "The glass striking the tile floor, but before it begins to crack." Who wrote that? The artist? You, Fr. V.? I hope that it is archived for future generations to be able to read when they view the painting.

Anonymous said...

Hi Father,

I'm not a parishioner and I don't even live in your state, I did however read the post you are referring to. When I read it I thought of two things.

First, I thought of the actress (I have no idea what her name is) who wore a $150,000 dress that was studded with pearls. $150,000 for a dress is obscene yet I didn't hear cries of why not for the poor. Actually you would have heard it if you lived in my house.

The second was the danger of assuming. How do we know that the person who paid for the painting didn't donate money to the poor. We don't. As far as the poster knows this may have been a very generous person.

That leaves us with a question. Why is it "scandal" when the Church spends money on art which will benefit everyone, but not a scandal when someone spends tens of thousands of dollars on an item of clothing?

Cathy said...

Fr V, can you please post (on this blog site) the reflection on the painting that was available as an insert in the St. Sebastian parish bulletin from this past weekend? I was unable to locate the insert online. Thank you.

Ed Pfeiffer said...

I agree with the person who referred to the explanation of the painting included in last Sunday's bulletin as "itself a work of art." Would like to get copies of same. There is so much to appreciate in this painting, but for me the focal point is Jesus' face. It is after all a representation of The Face that we all seek (whether we know it oe not) to spend eternity appreciating, adoring, loving and being absorbed by, yes? Ed