Thursday, September 27, 2007

Converts to Anglicanism

I had the opportunity recently to talk at length with three men who are converts, or on the path to conversion, to Anglicanism. They had lots of questions about a variety of doctrines and practices, and had had interesting faith journeys. One of the things, I think, that is so important for us to communicate to converts and help them grasp is that our tradition appeals ultimately to that of the undivided Church. Classical Anglican Reformers, such as Cranmer, Laud, Hooker, Taylor, and others, sought to conform their thought and praxis to the ancient church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. So when they ask (as they often do), "Do I have to believe X to be an Anglican?" Or, "Can I be Anglican and believe X?" (and it is always some "hot button" issue), they really have to ask themselves if it is a doctrine that has an ancient, catholic precedent to it. That is the ultimate test. When we do that, certain "extreme" beliefs and practices can automatically be ruled out as un-Anglican.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Icon-Style Guitars

Here is a picture of two icon-style guitars that I recently completed. Actually I just did the painting. Lee Connah built the instruments, which are modeled after a Martin Backpacker Guitar. I call them "icon-style" guitars because these are not real icons, in the sense that are meant for devotion. The guitars are built out of found objects (such as siding), plexiglass, and various guitar parts. The painting is done in egg tempera. Parts of the guitar, such as the neck and the siding back have been left in their unfinished state. Originally the guitars were going to have a cycle of paintings on them based on the lyrics from Lee's album "Folk Hero Sandwich", but I did not realize he wanted these so soon for a show, so I did not have time to develop that idea. Instead I went with what he originally requested: icons. A rather strange request, but then again my buddy Lee is a strange genius! So it's quite fitting. Overall, they are truly a collaborative artistic effort. I hope they get a good response at the show.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Art Belongs to the Practical Order

There are two virtues of the mind, or orders, according to Maritain: the speculative, the sole end of which is knowledge, and the practical, which tends to something other than just knowledge - mainly putting something you know to use to create something. Art belongs to the practical order because its orientation is towards doing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Art and Scholasticism

While on vacation I swung by the Newman Bookstore in Washington and picked up a copy of Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain. As I have been personally studying St. Thomas this year, and especially Thomistic philosophy, I thought this would be a good read, and a way to bring two of my interests together. I plan on writing a summary of each chapter for everyone's edification. I will say that it would have been nice if Etienne Gilson had written the book... I find him much easier to understand than Maritain. But then again, maybe the translator is to blame. Or maybe it's just me.

So his first essay is "The Schoolmen and the Theory of Art". He says that the Schoolmen never composed any treatise specifically about art. Instead, what they thought about art is to be gleaned from their writings on other topics, such as logic, moral theology, and more. One can find a far-reaching theory of art looking through all of their works in this way. Interestingly, Gilson, in his book "The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas" says much the same thing about there being a "Thomistic" philosophy. It is an anachronism to some degree to say that there is such a thing. The so-called philosophy of St. Thomas is something that has been gleaned from a larger body of work that is theological and devotional in nature. But, back to Maritain, he says that the theory of art that can be uncovered is a theory of art in a more "general" sense... not merely fine art, which is a modern error. Art includes the art of the shipwright as well as the art of the painter. Recourse must also be made to the "... metaphysics of the ancients..." and specifically to their understanding of beauty.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Collaborative Art Project

I am currently working on a collaborative art piece with artist/musician Lee Connah. He is having a show at a gallery in Baltimore in October of some of his handmade musical instruments. I am working on two "icon" backpack guitars for the show - it should be interesting. I will post a picture of them when I am done.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Tale of Two Cathedrals

My wife and I just returned from vacation. While away, we got to visit the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, which had recently undergone a huge renovation. The last time I was there was to see the famous "Timla Relic" a few years ago. Unlike some horrific church renovations that have gone on in recent years that were supposedly meant to "update" the church, this restoration was meant to "return" the interior of the building to its original Federal-period design. And I must say that it a very tasteful renovation. They did a really good job. It looks almost like an old early Episcopal church - white washed interior, minimal designs, etc. The interior is now very bright because they removed the stained glass (dark blue Willet windows), and uncovered the original skylights in the dome. They kept all of the good stuff (the high altar, altar rails, etc.), and brought some cool old stuff back (e.g. the nation's first RC episcopal throne). The basilica (technically a minor-basilica) was designed by Latrobe, and is the nation's first catholic cathedral. It was built in the neo-classical style rather than the gothic because the former was seen as being enlightened and forward looking. It was the site of many famous plenary councils of the Roman church in America. They have a museum below in the newly designed crypt which includes vestments and appointments of many famous American prelates, such as Cardinal Gibbons (see picture of his vestments used at the 3rd Plenary Council above). All in all, it was a great place to visit, and if you are ever in Baltimore I highly recommend a trip.

The other cathedral we visited was the National Cathedral. It's always fun to visit that place and imagine that it is still the "good old days" in American Anglicanism. My favorite artistic part about the cathedral is - everything. The windows, woodwork, stonework, etc. is unparalleled in my opinion here in the USA. The bookstore had some nice titles, but also some weird, new age stuff as one would expect. The cathedral contains a number of wonderful stained glass windows and mosaics by Rowan LeCompte, who is one of my favorite church artists and a fellow "Balti-Moron".

Here is a picture of some of the great wood carving in the National Cathedral (from the choir). It shows an Anglican consecration (making a man a bishop). I couldn't find a plaque explaining if it was supposed to be a scene from history, or if it was just decorative.