Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Door to the Infinite

On several occasions in recent months, I have recalled the need for every Christian to find time for God, for prayer, amidst our many daily activities. The Lord himself offers us many opportunities to remember Him. Today, I would like to consider briefly one of these channels that can lead us to God and also be helpful in our encounter with Him: It is the way of artistic expression, part of that "via pulchritudinis" -- "way of beauty" -- which I have spoken about on many occasions, and which modern man should recover in its most profound meaning.

Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another -- before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music -- to have experienced deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter -- a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds -- but something far greater, something that "speaks," something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul.

A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man's need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, [opened] to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward.

General Audience, August 31, 2011

Reflection – This past Sunday one of our Madonna House artists set up his canvas and oil paints on the front lawn of the house to capture something of the fall glory on the Madawaska shoreline in a painting. Unlike many artists, he is a chatty gregarious fellow when he works and welcomes spectators and kibitzing on the work in progress.

(In this he is the polar opposite of another MH artist, Joan Bryant of happy memory, who used to have a sign posted some feet away from where she was painting which read, “If you can read this sign, you’re standing too close to me.” Come to think of it, we could all do with a sign like that on some days… but I’m getting distracted).

Oh yes, art…  I watched him work for a while; not being slightly artistic in any visual medium I was fascinated to watch the little blobs of paint on the palette slowly arranged on the canvas… at first a formless melange of shapes and hues, and then… autumn! Water, sky, the fringe of red and yellow leaves on the shoreline trees, and the distant hills aflame with color and flame. To non-artistic me, it was quasi-miraculous, like the water changed to wine at Cana.

Of course by the end of the afternoon and the attendant loss of light it was still a rough beginning of a painting, but I’ve seen lots of this guy’s finished works, and know what to expect. He takes a sliver, a piece of the landscape, generally a fairly ordinary one, and reproduces it realistically, faithfully on the canvas. And it is breath-taking – the beauty, the splendour, the magnificence of a hay field, a river, a cloudscape, a fence. Seen for the first time, these ordinary ‘nothing special’ elements acquire a new depth and meaning.

This is the power of art, although I know there is much more that can be said about it. To take what is and hold it up in a mirror for us—the mirror of a painting, a sculpture, a poem, a song—and we see it in that mirror and realize we have never seen it at all, at all. I know something about dappled things because of Hopkins poem; I know something about love and loss because of the songs of Leonard Cohen; I know something about a certain time and place in America from the paintings of Hopper.

Artists show us what is, and in that showing, we see a glimmer of What Is – the hand of God resting upon his creation. ‘The door opened to the infinite’, as the Pope says, but that door is already present in the thing itself. The artist, I would suggest, provides the key to open that door, so that in their artistic light another Light at least begins, even in the most secular artists,  to seep through.

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