Friday, December 31, 2004


Here's my latest from Catholic Exchange. They've had it as the headline today, and I am getting some interesting email feedback. Go read the article, then come back here and read some of these follow-ups...

Here's one...

"Thank you for your interesting article on the arts. Your statement that "The achievement of a Master of Fine Arts in whatever discipline, from even a top university, says nothing at all about whether an individual is an artist or even a competent craftsman." is, sadly, too true. Unfortunately I have learned this by direct experience, having earned my Masters in Fine Art (I am a painter) from a medium-sized state university.

I found my undergraduate work similar to an art survey, sort of a hands-on art appreciation course. The further I got in my graduate studies, the less actual technical instruction I received and the more things turned to philosophy. This would have made more sense if I had been an accomplished painter at that point but I was, in retrospect, barely competent. Technique was rarely discussed and I think that may be because the professors felt it somehow unfair to influence my technique to any great degree. It was assumed that all techniques are created equal and that everyone should be free to "do their own thing.". The same was true of subject matter.

Oddly what REALLY mattered in University was being able to talk, or better, write well about your work. Years later I came to the conclusion that it would not have mattered what you painted or how you painted it, as long as you could spin it with panache. And running underneath it all was the unspoken assumption that you didn't want to be like THEM. You know, the popular artists. Not popular with the art press, but popular with the people. Names like Norman Rockwell were never spoken without a roll of the eyes. It was made clear over the course of time that if your normal, average guy off the street could walk up and appreciate it, it wasn't art.

So most of my growth as an artist has come since my university training ended. The encouraging thing is that I see a return to the classical fine arts beginning to take hold around the country. I have recently opened my own art gallery, studio and fledgeling art school. I hope to influence young (or not-so-young) artists in the ways you mentioned. Your article helped me to affirm that it is not only possible, but necessary. Wish me luck! - no wait- pray for me instead...."

TJ from Arkansas

Here's another...

"I would add to your observations one that attempts to make explicit that
which you have implied.

True art of the finest quality does begin in the soul, but it is only brought out by the sweat of one’s brow (all thy strength) and the critical thought of one’s intellect (all thy mind) through steady and passionate perseverance (all thy heart). The four pillars of Love that Christ teaches us are intertwined in the arts, and the failure of the fine arts in institutional academia is, no doubt, the result of the explicit separation of the soul from the other pillars of Love. In reciprocal fashion, one can lead the arts back to a full embrace of Love if one openly and honestly embraces those pillars which one knows how to express well, even if the others do not come as easily. If one is of proper heart, the other pillars of Love will find expression in the arts, if perhaps less perfectly with some than with others.

This is best explained with an illustration: I conduct the coro that our Artist-pianist directs, and my own technique is quite flawed. Through no small amount of tribulation – including an initial rejection of proper admonishment – I have managed to learn enough that our liturgical music at least emulates art, if it does not always achieve it in plainest fashion. This has occurred largely because of my own willingness to expend great physical and mental effort to compensate for a relative lack of talent.

This is not meant to imply that effort and honest introspection can always compensate for lack of talent. However, given your description of sterile fine arts classrooms, effort and introspection seem to be requirements that the artist must develop on his own because they certainly are not imparted to him through his academic exercises. In other words, it is not just the soul that is missing from academia but the heart and mind and strength as well. The “anonymous rows of young people, most half awake, subjected to long cycles of monotonous lectures in sterile rooms” are evidence of this, which in turn suggests that the attempted separation of Love into its constituent parts for pragmatic application not only does not work but
cannot be made to work.

God created us as whole persons with greater and lesser gifts (talents) for different pursuits (charismas). When we cleave to that which God has created, we are not left with a simple collection of parts that can be put back together as we desire but rather with whole lot of nothing that cannot be adequately reconstituted until we move to order our parts back into the whole that God Himself created. In this sense, not only does academia betray the truly talented, but it also betrays the mediocre by telling them that it is possible to develop oneself at all without proper recourse to the fullness of Truth about Love.

Truly, not only does my soul not rest until it rests in the Lord, but my heart, mind, and body do not either."

CS from Texas

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