Thursday, December 2, 2010

Journeys in Hooker

While in seminary I read through bits and pieces of Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as I was told (or discovered myself) at some point that this work addressed many of the Puritan party's complaints against the established Church of England, particularly in the areas of liturgy and ecclesiology. This in contrast to earlier Anglican apologists, such as John Jewel, who wrote mainly against Rome. Growing up Presbyterian, and having imbibed the works of J.I. Packer - an Anglican of English Calvinist persuasion - I figured that Hooker would of especial interest to me... and he was, but I never got beyond those bits and pieces that I read piecemeal.

Lamentably, while in seminary there was no time to give Hooker a more thorough read, as I was weighed down reading and studying interesting but no doubt non-Anglican works and writers (mainly documents from Vatican II, books by Avery Dulles and David Tracy, etc.). Never having read through Hooker's Laws completely, however, was troubling to me, and something that I have always wanted to do. (NB: I am astonished how many people do not finish reading books - not only sets, but even a single book. Indeed I was shocked when I was told a number of years back by someone whom I thought to be an aspiring academic that "she never finishes books.")

So now that I have some time on my hands I have been working through Hooker, beginning at the beginning, and outlining each section of each chapter or each book. I have found it necessary to summarize each part for my own study as the whole work is written in a ponderous Elizabethan style. (It is interesting by the way, the predicament that those wishing to read the Anglican reformers face. Because the works are in "English" they do not have to be translated. But in fact they do require translation as they are written in a very archaic and usually difficult to comprehend English.

It has been quite worthwhile and interesting so far, especially as the first part of his Laws is essentially a restatement of basic Thomistic thought in the areas of law: eternal law, natural law, divine law, etc. What I think reading the Laws piecemeal leaves out is that Hooker will build his entire argument in those later contentious areas of polity, liturgy, and sacraments, on this Thomistic foundation. This is noteworthy to me because many seem to think that Thomism came into Anglican thought only after the Catholic revival, but here one of the greatest Anglican thinkers of Elizabethan times structured his seminal work on the natural philosophy of St. Thomas! I think therefore it is fair to assume that in continuing to read the work as a whole it should be understood in light of its Thomistic foundations, not set in opposition to it as some would have.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Charles Burchfield Show at The Whitney

The New Yorker has a great article about Charles Burchfield. It memorably describes him as a "one man movement." His art has something of the lonely quality of his friend, Hopper (and maybe Wyeth?), but there is a psychological, tortured side to it, which the article describes as not so much a commentary on the small towns where he lived and worked, but rather on on his own interior struggle with gloom and spiritual unease.

One of my art professors compared a lot of my early work to that of Burchfield's. Not knowing who he was at the time, I looked him up and saw the similarity, though I think now my art looks rather different from his (not completely, but still different enough). But since that first comparison however I have always been interested in this great 20th century American master.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Moving Blues

My family is moving to Maryland in a few weeks so I can serve as rector of a parish there. Moving is always traumatic for the artist. 1) There is always gobs of stuff to move. Artists tend to collect more 'junk' than your average folk... pictures, props, supplies, etc. not to mention his own work, so moving always presents a major challenge. 2) Losing a studio space (especially a nice one like I have) is very sad, because the artist gets used to his environment and to some extent it plays an important role in the creation of his work. It takes me months to acclimate to a new studio, which is quite disruptive to the artistic process. 3) While packing the artist cannot work on art or anything else very easily; packing takes up all of your time and energy. So this move, like all of them before, will be an artistic nightmare at least for the short term.

But the bright side of it is that besides being closer to family and old friends we will be living in a major metropolitan area. There will be world class museums within easy driving distance, and lots of creative stimulus. Country life is nice in moderation, but at this stage in my life I am more interested in the conveniences and excitement of the city and the suburbs.

Still, I will always remember my time here in Virginia and in this church and this gorgeous country setting with fondness and nostalgia. I thanks God for this time and for all of His blessings while here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Moving to Maryland and Crisis of Vocations

In December the family will be packing up and moving to Maryland where I will serve as rector of St. Alban's in Joppa, MD. As I am from that area, and was ordained in that parish, it is something of a homecoming. It goes without saying that I will miss everyone at my current parish of St. Francis in Virginia.

Every time a priest moves to a new parish in our church it sets off a chain reaction, where the bishop has to scramble to find a man to fill the position that is opening up. In as small a church as ours his options are limited, whereas we do not have enough priests, and whereas those who are available may not have the desire or ability to move out of state, etc. I was lucky at St. Francis because I brought in a priest from an outside jurisdiction to help out, and he was later received into our diocese, and he will be taking over for me, but he was literally the only man in the region available to take over as priest-in-charge. The parish probably would have liked a choice of who the new incumbent would be (who wouldn't?) but the reality of the situation is that there was no one else available. Other clergy and parishes are not even that fortunate.

This is why we need more men - especially young men - to commit themselves to serve as priests. Without vocations the church will die. Yet many men do not see serving as a priest - especially in continuing Anglican jurisdictions - as a viable career option because we are so small, have so few options, churches, etc. Young men want to give their lives to something that is organized, focused, thought-out, and has a plan for the future... and that has a future. Yet these qualities are what is often lacking in our churches. I am not even sure if our churches have an overall plan or strategy to attract young men to the ministry... I never hear anything about it at the few meetings we go to, or reports that are sent out. Inasmuch as we do not have a seminary - or even a dream or plan for one, and inasmuch as we have only the vaguest guidelines for preparing for Holy Orders, I can only assume that this is a very low priority for our churches.... and yet this is one thing that the church depends on to survive, and more important to fulfill her vocation to be the sacrament of salvation.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Artist Websites

I advise all artists who are serious about trying to promote and sell their work to start a website of their own, and then have business cards made that have the web address on it, as well as other contact information. My website over the years has helped generate sales, shows, commissions, and other forms of publicity. While a fair amount of work has to go into maintaining these sites, the payoff is generally far greater than the work involved.

While starting and maintaining an art website is easy, organizing it is another matter entirely. There seem to be two approaches to organizing it: 1) it is simply an online gallery, showing your work over the years. Many successful, major artists do this. 2) it is an online clearinghouse and way to sell your work, with pricing and purchase information. Or 3) it is a little of both. I have to admit that I don't really know which approach is best. I've tried all of them over the years.

What I do now is more like a combination of all three. My site shows older works that are already sold but which I feel represent me and my style the best, and it also shows works that are currently for sale. But with the latter prices are not listed. This is to encourage people to contact me about pricing, which I can be flexible with, etc. depending on the circumstances (both mine and the buyer). In the past I had prices listed, but I think people were scared away by them, even though I am always ready and willing to negotiate prices, and they probably could have gotten the piece they wanted for a price they could afford.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What's in a name?

A woman I dated a number of years ago - a ceramic artist - suggested to me once that my paintings had uninteresting names... names like, "Two Figures and a Yellow Book, Old Man, Lonely Old Man, etc." So I started giving my art more fantastic names. Overall the reaction has been great, and I am glad I did it.

The name of a work is part of the work, just as a person's name is part of who he is, and even helps define that person. A more unusual name also alters the way a person views a work of art. "Gray Buildings" vs. "The Last Memento from a Torrid Love Affair" evoke radically different thoughts when looking at the work itself. In my experience the unusual name helps the viewer engage with the art more. So I think a lot of thought go into a name - it shouldn't be chosen off the cuff.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Art Opening: Asheville, NC - October 15, 2010

I will be having a show of my work at St. Matthew's Anglican Church in Weaverville (Asheville), NC from October 15th - November 15th. The show will feature some of my recent sacred art.

The real special thing about this show, however, is that it is a "three priest" art show! It is a triple bill of my work, the work of Fr. Johann Vanderbijl, and Fr. Paul Blankenship, SSC. A portion of the proceeds will go to help Anglican mission parishes in India.

Please come out and meet us at the opening, check out our art, and have a fun time of fellowship!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ecclesiastical Ambiguity

I sometimes forget that this blog is about life as an artist and priest, so I hardly comment on church matters here. But that has to change if I want to stay true to the theme of the blog.

An interesting book I am reading now - just for "fun" - is Anglo-Catholicism: A Study in Religious Ambiguity. The author, WSF Pickering, is a sociologist and priest of the English Church. It examines the Anglo-Catholic movement with particular attention to the ambiguities that characterize it, such as how a church (the CofE) which described or understood itself as protestant for several centuries later was asserted to be truly catholic. It examines other themes as well, such as the ever interesting topic of the homosexual subculture that characterized anglo-catholicism, as well as the idea of there being several valid ways of being "catholic" in the anglo-catholic world.

I'd be the first to admit that these ambiguities exist, but the reality is that similar ambiguities exist in other traditions, and even in the Christian religion itself. Learning to live with the ambiguities and charting a path through their midst to arrive at truth (a person, not a proposition) is what is key. I suppose life as an artist make living with ambiguities rather easy, as art itself is a rather ambiguous pursuit.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who owns the art?

An excellent article in the Wall Street Journal about art ownership, preservation, and the conflicts that can arise between the artist and the purchaser of art.

I think these sorts of conflicts affect those whose art is more in the realm of "untraditional" - i.e. installation artists, sculptors who employ lots of found object, and so on. But even straight painters deal with this stuff from time to time. Having had at least one mural destroyed (I will never paint another mural again, by the way), I can sympathize with some of the concerns in this article. It can happen to anyone, including great and famous artists (such as Diego Rivera, for example).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Time Management

We artists have to be excellent time managers, mainly because most of us pursue our craft as a side job. After working at the "day job", most people go home and veg out. But the artist can do no such thing. He must work on his a little bit craft every day, so he has to come up with a strict schedule and routine to make this happen. This is the case with all serious artists I think. Andy Warhol was known for following a very rigid daily schedule and working well into early evening. As responsibilities multiply, the need for making and following a schedule, and thinking through the artistic process, becomes even more critical. The ultimate game-changer as far as scheduling goes is having children.

We just had our first child and this throws a wrench - a good one! - in everything. Something similar happened when I got married and lost my art studio in Baltimore City a number of years ago. I could not paint in oils in our small apartment, so that was when I got into egg tempera and exploring iconography. Eventually I got back into painting in oils as I found space and my wife and I worked out our schedules. For right now I am still trying to adjust to life with a baby. I cannot bring him up to the studio with me because I am concerned about fumes, so I have to stretch canvases one day, prime them another, do sketches another, paint another, and so on.... all of this around my work and home schedule. I have to paint only when I know I will have a serious block of time available. I have to decide what medium is best to use considering these limitations.... e.g. this may be the time to do some more icons as I can work on them downstairs in the house and there are no toxic fumes.

All of this is to say that, contrary to popular belief, the artistic process has to be very rational, orderly, and well-thought out in order to be successful. An artist has to adapt to the circumstances, such as studio space, time limitations, financial limitations, success, etc. if he wants to even begin to have success.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Modern Art

While I appreciate the rediscovery and appreciation of traditional forms and approaches to art that are out there today with regard to sacred art I am somewhat troubled by the underlying message of some of the proponents of this type of art: namely that neo-Baroque, or neo-classical art and techniques are the best, and that anything modern or abstract is somehow lacking or unsuitable for sacred applications. Some of the greatest sacred art in the western world is in fact very abstract... abstract in the sense of not being representational but not realistic. The flat picture plane of many a painting by Fra Angelico, and the strange perspective of the works of Duccio have much in common stylistically with 20th century masters such as Ben Shahn. Those who think that traditional liturgical or sacred art must be neo-Baroque or neo-Classical are mistaken. The reality is that "modern" art can be used in any liturgical context and blend right in, as in this video of a Carmelite Mass... notice the very modernistic and abstract reredos behind the altar.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art and Priesthood

One of the major differences between being an artist and a priest - specifically the pastor of a parish - is that success as an artist is easily measurable and depends almost entirely on me, whereas success in the ministry is not so easily measurable and depends a great deal on other people. This latter fact is what makes the ministry so incredibly frustrating and even unfulfilling at times.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Currently working on...

I am currently working on a large oil painting of the Coronation of the Virgin. It will compliment some of the other large religious oils I have done recently (Annunciation, Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints, Baptism of Christ, etc.). Although these large paintings containing religious subject matter are notoriously difficult to sell, I find myself compelled to paint them from time to time largely, I suppose, for personal devotional reasons. They are a way for me to explore and somehow involve myself in the mystery of the event. But I also like to paint them for artistic reasons. Most of the great artists in the western tradition have painted religious subject matter, and I think every artist who wants to be a serious artist should attempt to tackle the great religious themes that have defined our culture (e.g. shown above is one of Andy Warhol's "Last Supper" paintings).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Art Studios

One of the greatest learning experiences of my life (in a variety of ways) was serving as a sales representative for a major stained glass studio out of the midwest. For a few years I represented the studio in the Baltimore and Washington, selling new stained glass and stained glass restoration for churches, universities, businesses, and homes. I even worked with clients at the beginning stages of projects designing windows, which designs were later given the studio's production guy to come up with an actual "cartoon" (the proposed layout of the window). We also made mosaics, doors and window frames, and even some furniture (the studio had a fully equipped wood shop with expert craftsmen on staff). Besides learning about how stained glass is made, cared for, and restored, I learned something of what goes into having a modern day ecclesiastical art studio. I would recommend that any artist who wants to start a major studio try to work with an existing one so he can see how the business works, and how one goes about dealing with and promoting his or her work to churches.

As I begin doing some commissions for churches, the next logical step may seem to be to start a "studio" that designs liturgical objects for use in churches. Honestly though, after my involvement in the stained glass studio and seeing what it takes to do that and make something of it, I can honestly say that is the farthest thing from my mind. In many cases the creative mind behind the studio - the founder for whom it is named - ends up running a business, not creating art. Further, one must have strong connections with the architectural community. Most new churches that commission new large works of art, such as altars, reredoses, and stained glass do so through the architect. An artist wishing to start a "design studio" has to know how to find out about new jobs, how to spec them out, whom to contact, and so on. It is very involved, and learning how to do that, and then call people, set up meetings, etc. is often too much for people not interested in sales to handle. In addition, many churches have higher authorities to answer to on large scale art projects - such as a diocese - and these often have regulations which make it hard for an artist to get work into a church: i.e. preferred contractors, ceilings on how much may be spent, etc.

None of that interests me. It is much more appealing to me as an artist who wishes to have complete control over the creative process, and be an artist, to be "small time" in the world of ecclesiastical art... to do a few commercial commissions here and there, but otherwise still create, show, and sell art that - if it is sacred or secular - meant primarily for private, individual buyers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Show Confirmed

There will be a show of my work at the Mauldin Cultural Center from July 1st to about July 16th. This is the cultural center's very first fine art exhibit, so it is quite an honor. The show will consist of about fifteen cityscapes. Do stop by and see it if you are in the area!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another show

I was just given the opportunity to show my work at the Mauldin Cultural Center in Mauldin, SC. While the details are still being hammered out, I believe it will run for the first three weeks of July, and will feature cityscapes and icons. Stay posted for details!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Brief thoughts on giving away art

I used to be much more generous in giving away art as gifts for special occasions as well as for no particular reason... just to be nice. There is nothing wrong with doing that, but now that I have been painting for a while I find that I will often sell works that are 4+ years old. Out of the blue someone will want to buy a painting that previously no one else had shown interest in. So I am reluctant to give away work even for special occasions that could otherwise be sold and help put food on the table.

One makes a investment to be an artist - time, and certainly money. Materials cost money. At some point an artist has to try to recoup his investment or his career will be very short-lived (unless, of course, he has an alternate stream of income). I would advise my fellow struggling artists and those just starting out to be very cautious in giving away works of art. I am not saying it cannot or should not be done (sometimes it can lead to sales), but don't sell yourself short, and keep in mind that you have to recoup production costs at some point!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thanks to everyone who came out for my show.

The show at St. George's was a success. Several paintings were sold, and more will hopefully follow. The organizers said it was the best show they ever had in terms of art, general effect, sales, and attendance. Fr. VanderBijl even arranged a newspaper article in the local paper which came out beautifully. Thanks to everyone else who made the show so wonderful and exciting.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Explanation of Links

I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor to go through some of the links I have on this blog and explain a little bit about the artist and his or her work and what it means to me. I hope that in so doing others will come to appreciate these artists and their work and also help the broader public think critically and intelligently about art and artists. The first article is actually before this post!

Many people think that good art is simply "what they like." Indeed while discussing the new "New York School" abstract impressionist stamps that are available a postal employee told me that she is "... just one of those people who knows what she likes. (in art)" In other words, she can't explain why she thinks one piece of art is better or more appealing than another. To me that is a cop-out. It is quite possible to study various works and learnt to articulate what is good and enjoyable or bad and unenjoyable about it.

Linda Sokolowski

[This is the first installment of my artist link commentary.]

I was recently informed of this amazing artist out of New York named Linda Sokolowski. I find her work to be quite moving and sublime. It is very subtle and understated in its use of color, shape, and value, but yet it is incredibly moving and powerful. Her work shows how some of the greatest art can be produced with a minimal use of the elements of art, but using them in a very skillful and deliberate way. Although they are generally rather low key (i.e. more on the darker side of the value scale) I find them to be very warm and comforting. She appears to work mostly on paper, especially in monotype prints.*

(*Monotype printing is a type of printing making where only one print is made (hence the name). The image is painted onto a flat surface, such as glass or plexiglass, and then a piece of print making paper is placed on top of it, and they are run through a press.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Art Opening - May 21, 2010

This month I will be having an art show at the gallery of St. George the Martyr Anglican Church in Simpsonville, SC. The show opens on May 21st and runs for about one month. It is something of a retrospective, as it will feature 40+ cityscapes and religious works produced from 2004 - present. Please do try to attend the show if you are in the area.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Power of Art

I have been meaning to post this link to an article I read in the Daily Mail about Peter Hitchens, the brother of the famous atheist writer Christopher Hitchens. It is fascinating on so many levels. But the reason I am posting it here is because in it he talks about how when himself was an atheist it was viewing a painting of the last judgement by 15th century artist Roger van der Weyden which lead him on the road back to God. What is even more interesting is that in viewing this 500 year old work he said that he came to understand religion as being something very much of the "present day" - not simply something from a distant and archaic past. This shows that traditional Christian imagery - even if hundreds of years old - can still speak to peoples' souls, and be used of God to bring about conversion in peoples' lives.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Painting Religious Works

Any artist who is worth his salt should have a desire to sell his work. I have always had this, and by the mercies of God have been able to sell a lot of work over the years. With my recent foray into religious art, however, I am taking a risk as far as sales. go. Religious art simply does not sell as well as secular art. I learned this when I was in stained glass restoration. The works of Tiffany Studios that bring the highest amount at auction are, in order, landscape/secular works, angels, and then his religious works. The idea is that religious works appeal to fewer people, so they are worth less than the secular pieces. With that in mind it is rather scary to be painting only religious works now!

But while an artist should desire to sell his work, the inherent worth of his work, and of being an artist, does not revolve around sales. Like Alasdair MacIntyre suggests in After Virtue the good of certain acts is the execution of the act itself. It is its own reward. Art is one of these. That is something that I remind myself of lately. My current focus on religious works is good in itself, as would be painting some other subject that is equally less saleable. But then for me, painting religious works also has a teleological aspect to it, and take son a deeper significance. That is, it deepens my devotion to God. I do it as an act of devotion - art in general, and especially the religious works. That is ultimately worth more than any amount of money!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More pictures of the oratory

This is a picture of my altar. It was here when we moved in, though I gave it a wash of dark paint, as one of the doors was a different tone from the other. The framing around the window will be covered over and painted the same dark brown, as will the triangular shape above it all, thus giving the appearance of a reredos. A sanctuary lamp will hang over the altar, on which will be two candlesticks and a tabernacle. A Crucifix will hang over the altar, fastened on the top of the window frames, and on either side of altar - to give the appearance of a diptych, will be icons of St. John and the Blessed Mother.

This is the door to the oratory, and the other source of light. As I do not want to cut a hole into it, I will have to leave it open to increase the light in the room. I will also have to construct a set of stairs or a ladder to make access easier. I currently have to climb in, making it very private.

This is a picture of the other side of the oratory. You can see the door to it. The small window below it is the only window to the "crypt" below (see previous post for explanation - there are no bodies down there!). Behind the oratory is our house. The red building the left are horse run-ins which the landlords use.

Another view of oratory. The building behind it and to left is my art studio. The one on the far left which you see part of the roofline of is our house.

The Oratory of the Holy Cross

This is the working name of my oratory that I am in the process of creating in an old 19th century outbuilding on the property. As a priest it is my desire to celebrate the Holy Eucharist daily. On the days when I am not at church I will celebrate here. It will also be used for prayer and meditation.

The building sits right behind the house and next to my art studio. It is two stories, but there is no interior access from one floor to the next. The door that you see is to the bottom, which I call "the crypt"... it has these shelves lining the sides that look are the perfect size for bodies. I use it for storage. The oratory is on the second floor, and it is accessed by a second floor door that is not in the picture. The window that you see is the only light for oratory, with the exception of holes in the wood panel siding. My altar, which is made of a "found object" box-thing, was already in the space (it had previously been used for storage and was rather full of junk). It is going to sit in front of the window - the only place for it, but the window is tall enough so only about half of it is covered. I'll keep the entrance door open when I celebrate to let enough light in.

The main challenge at this point is stabilizing the flooring, and working on the altar and appointments. The challenge is to make something rustic and country-looking, but also something dignified and early Christian - all with as absolutely little modification done to the building itself since we just rent this wonderful property. I am trying to make a faux reredos behind the altar - something that gives the feel of a reredos but isn't actually one, as I need to allow light to come through the window and can't cover it completely. I also want it to tie into the altar - which is a dark brown. The idea is to visually clean up the rough wood and framing around the window by installing some painted panels, and then make some pieces of art to go over those panels. I am also going to construct a crucifix, tabernacle and sanctuary lamp, some candlesticks, and a credence table. Eventually I'll make some kneelers. I'll post some pictures as I make progress.