Wednesday, August 29, 2007


What spiritual direction is to faith I need the equivalent in some aspects of modern art and architecture. I went to the see the new addition to the Akron Art Museum (a post for another day) and spent some time in the modern art section. I went to my most troubling pieces and tried to spend some quality time with them. There was one piece in particular I was going to try to “figure out”. I read the artist’s and curator’s explanation. Best of all I was able to be there while some people who did love the piece were able to coo over it. “Look at that line,” one said. Another, “look how flawless that surface is.” They bent and stooped over it, taking it in at different angles and obviously admiring it greatly. (I was hoping that there would be a picture of it on their web site so that I could share it with you but alas, there is not.)

It just didn’t work for me. I could appreciate the great skill that went into the piece and feel that it should be preserved for others to see as a technique of art that could be incorporated into something else, but I have a hard time classifying it as art. That does not mean that it is not art. Here are just some possibilities:

1 My definition of art is too narrow.
2 It is so far ahead of me that I just don’t get it. For example, it took me a long time to appreciate icon.
3 It speaks to something that I just happen to have no interest in but need to appreciate because to someone else it is extremely relevant.
4 The key to understanding it has not been revealed to me.
5 There is nothing to get, I am just reading too much into it.
6 It isn’t art.

So I am trying to stay open. If I am going to have a good opinion on this however whether it be positive or negative (or somewhere in between) I am going to have to meet with a qualified “spiritual art director”.

That is the kind of approach that is needed when one questions the faith life. I find it interesting when someone vehemently disagrees with Church teaching and when asked why they disagree with a particular teaching the response is, “It’s not fair,” or “I don’t like it,” or “God wouldn’t say that.” When pressed for further details such as how do they know or if they know why it is that the Church teaches as she does, the conversation is blown away with the swipe of the arm as if going after an annoying fly thereby brushing off any chance that a meaningful exchange of ideas could even occur.

No teaching of the Church stands on its own. It is like a carefully constructed ball of yarn and to yank at one thread is most likely to effect many other teachings. Each teaching is not a referendum item that can be voted in or out without effecting the greater understanding of the whole.

For example many people want the Church to change her teaching on same-sex marriage. Ultimately that teaching would not stand on its own, it would effect the teaching on the meaning and purpose of marriage, sexuality, the purpose and meaning of man and life, and ultimately the way Scripture may be interpreted and how Tradition and the lived experience of the faithful for the last 2,000 years are seen. In truth, it would change the entire fabric of the faith.

That is the artwork of the Catholic take on faith. A visceral response to a limited understanding of its teaching does not make it false or untrue or unbeautiful. I find even those who make the time to understand the depth of a teaching and still disagree with it at least respect the logic, breadth, beauty and history of it while holding a contrary or modified position.

Does some teaching of faith from the Church strike you as wrong? Sit with it for a spell. Learn not just that it is being taught but why. Speak to someone knowledgeable about it. Be open to the possibility that it may be something more than what the newspapers report it to be. There is the possibility that it may be art and that it may touch you. And if it turns out that it doesn’t, you will not have lost out on anything but will at least understand better your brothers and sisters point of view.


Anonymous said...

This right here is proof of God.

Who but He could've fashioned a mind and heart that think and mesh as beautifully as yours do, and then asked both into the Priesthood to teach others?

There is one trouble-piece in my life; no matter how I look at her, I really can't stand her. I all but find her evil. She is of God's art, God's fabric, God's sculpting, God's mysterious design, tho', so I ought to keep trying, even tho' I am trying always to leave her behind... what can I say, except that this post sent me back to that section of the museum again. She, too, is part of the whole; I can't have God in my heart without having her in as well. I must indeed be missing something...

Darn, and this day started off so well. :-p

Fr. V said...


Thanks! Good luck with your art piece! Sometimes something clicks and all of a sudden it is the most beautiful piece in the collection. I see that over and over again when people say that "such and so" teaching almost kept them out of the Church but then it was exactly that that brought them in.

Hope yours is an ugly duckling in disquise. Prayer coming your way.

Anonymous said...

No, this duckling is too ugly, but I hear what you're saying--

I (a cradle Catholic) had had such an aversion to Mary for so long. It was built of many loose planks: are some of us replacing Jesus with her? what's with all these apparitions--is Sacred Scripture, Tradition, Catechism not enough? she is co-what??, etc., but fortunately they were all of childhood's balsa and were easily replaced with a solid structure, tho' my own more mature elbow-grease was called for in the dismantling and rebuilding. I've no doubt, now, that she shows me something incredibly wonderful in every Rosary, and in every time I call upon her for help. I still seize up if someone gets too sugary about her, for she was a real woman, real hardships, real pain, real grief, real love..and she was tougher in her loyalty in the midst of total vulnerability and devastation than I could ever hope to be, and I am now in her corner, for life. But even too much sugar is better than vinegar.

It is likely that the woman who bothers me so much is, in part, a mirror of the part of me that I cannot stand. Which you probably knew, but anywyay, thank you for your prayer.

Anonymous said...

btw, in all the years I helped out in RCIA, I can't tell you how often it was that someone (Protestant) would say Mary had led them in some way to the doors of the Church. She may be stumbling block to some, but she is a smoothed path as well.

Anonymous said...

i'm sure i referenced this particular scripture passage here before, and i'm gonna do it again.

Art. What is art?

i really like Phil 4:11 as a descriptor of those things artistic.
too, general, you say? i say, dwell there awhile.

Anonymous said...

There was some survey asking people in the art world what was the greatest piece of modern art ever made. A photograph of a urinal was voted number one. I used to think I just didn't "get" modern art, but now I think it's just a case of the emperor's new clothes.

Anonymous said...

alright, already!
i got the citation wrong ... and i can't blame it on being a typo - it was a plain old blunder of the alzheimer variety, or as used to be called, "dimmentia". some would just call it forgetfulness.

PHIL 4:8 is what it was suppose to cite.

Odysseus said...

-A photograph of a urinal was voted number one.-

I don't know about art, but, speaking as a man, the urinal IS a great invention.