I HATE Modernism. The most vile heresy known to Christendom, its spawn are everywhere and have infected virtually everyone. I must devote my life to combatting this monster in every way I can. Studying theology, Church history, and art history over the last few years, I uncovered an open secret. When you study how Modernism (and its ugly child Relativism) took the world by storm in the 20th Century and ravaged everything that Christian society believed and held dear, you notice a surprising fact–it all started with…art. So I’ve realized that a powerful way to combat Modernism is going to be by filling the culture with the beauty of Catholic art.
All of this madness started in the art world? Yes. In order to destroy our society’s moral sense, the Modernist architects of society’s downfall had to first destroy our aesthetic sense. Look what happened in the 1960s: art and architecture became completely divorced from symmetry, geometry, nature, proportion, tradition, and beauty itself. (Just scroll through some examples of architecture and “art.” Really? Really?) It was all so modern, so enlightened, and the elites approved of it–so who was anyone to say that it wasn’t good, it wasn’t right? Surely these forms of expression had a right to co-exist with other, older forms–after all, art is only a matter of taste and individual judgment! And so after all this modern trash became popularized, vogue, and fashionable, then what happened? Modern man’s God-given moral sensibility has been ripped away, shredded and scattered to the winds as just so much personal opinion and individual taste in lifestyle choices.
Does it still seem like a real stretch for me to be connecting these two ideas, artistic expression and cultural morality? Go over the Institute for Catholic Culture and listen to this artist’s lectures on the Christian tradition of art. Also, college professor Dr. Peter Kwasniewski sums up Catholic thought on art and culture in this post at CCWatershed’s blog: “Since the fine arts are one of the most important elements of a culture, they will serve as a barometer of the ideals, or lack of ideals, by which a group of people live. This means that we can accurately gauge the spiritual health of the Church on earth by looking at the physical churches Catholics build, listening to the music Catholics sing, watching how Catholics celebrate their liturgy.” Art shows who we are.
Sooooooooo…if it is true that our culture oozes with ugliness, that many of our parish churches stand desecrated and in barrenness of God’s beauty, there is a sobering imperative implied in these admissions: in order to restore the culture, each and every Catholic must be an artist. Whatever God has given you–and He has given each and every one of you so much aesthetic sense and artistic ability!–you must use it daily in His service. Done in faith and with prayer, this is what will help put the pieces of our culture back together. You don’t have to be Michaelangelo to make art in the service of God–you will simply use the sense and ability within you to make the things around you beautiful, that they may speak of God’s Beauty to all who see them. In your Domestic Church you will restore beauty to your small corner of the world by carefully creating, decorating and beautifying things with great love for God.
How to Be an Artist
- Take a skills inventory. What are your skills? Can you draw even a little bit? Can you sing? What about sewing/quilting/cross-stitching? Can you arrange flowers or do calligraphy, decorate cakes or paint a chair? Each one of us is able to do so many things, but these things may not seem like art to us. Your skills are the seeds of your artistic endeavors, and you need to believe in them, use them, and improve them!
- Take a supplies inventory. What supplies do you have at hand right now? Pens, pencils, construction paper, tinfoil, acrylic paint? What are some things you can get very easily at yard sales or for free from friends and neighbors? Write up a master-list of all potential project materials–this will be both a handy reference for the future, and it will get the creative wheels started turning in your mind now leading to ideas for potential opportunities and projects.
- Check your calendar. There is usually a high feast day or season of the Church Year, or a family member’s sacramental anniversary or saint’s day coming up soon, and the Catholic artist can get inspiration for ideas with a future day in mind. Hand-sewn rosary pouches for the family for May or October? Framed saints’ quotes done in calligraphy for your spouse’s patronal feast day? A hand-embroidered missal cover for a child’s Baptismal Anniversary? Does your home altar need a new display or a fresh flower arrangement right now?
- Sketch out a plan. For whom will you be making gifts/favors for this feast day, occasion, or season? What colors/textures/flavors will you need? How much time do you have? Pick something you enjoy doing, and brainstorm the design. Learning to recognize and use Christian religious symbols in your projects will add theological and sacred beauty to your work.
- Prayerfully create. The Catholic artist goes to the work of creation in and with prayer. As St. Benedict wrote, “Ora et labora,” or “Pray and work.” Like Our Lady, you seek to “magnify the Lord” while you create, and you should ask her to pray for you during your working time, and for all the people who will use or see the finished product after its completion. Make the atmosphere of your working area beautiful and prayerful–I love to listen to Sacred Music (sung prayers, such as St. Hildegard’s pieces) while I work. If you ever feel uninspired or intimidated, keep trying–you are not alone! As a Catholic, you have 2000 years of tradition with you and around you as you go to work.
If we spend time making something for God, the time as well as the final project becomes a holy offering to Him. We will mirror God’s work of Creation in a small (but important!) way when we make something beautiful to honor Him. And we will be creating something that will force others to stop, stand still for a moment, and think about how great God must be, as they meditate on the time and effort and intense care we have given to making something. They will not be able to help it, but must glorify God as they enjoy it and marvel at it. Stirred at the evidence of your love and faith, their hearts will hopefully open that much more to His beauty. And thus, by bringing hearts and minds to God each in our own way, we can help stop Modernism right in its tracks, and begin rebuilding our great culture!
(One of my hobbies is paper-quilling, so here is one of my partially-completed projects for this Easter–quilled Easter greeting cards! What will you be making for Easter this year?)