This month my art show at the Liriodendron ends. I want to thank everyone who came out for it, and for all of the nice and interesting comments on my work. Many of the works were familiar to us as they have been gracing the walls of the parish hall and my office for some time. The history behind that is that we needed some decorations for the walls but did not have any money budgeted for that. So, in consultation with the vestry, it was agreed that I could hang my works in the parish hall on a temporary basis. This was always meant to be temporary. One of my professors in college, a sculptor, once told us that it is not good for an artist to be around his own work all the time. I would tend to agree with that. So after the show is over only one or two large pieces will return to the parish hall and maybe a couple of small icons.
The work currently hanging in the parish hall is that of my late first cousin once removed, Noel Kavanaugh Edwards. Noel was an artist and naturalist based in Redding, CT. Over the years he created many wonderful pieces in all sorts of mediums (charcoal, graphite, oil, watercolor, etc.). I hope everyone enjoys looking at his art and feels closer to nature and God as a result. Some of the work will come down or be moved when a few pieces of mine return to the walls, so there should be a nice balance of art in the parish hall in a few weeks.
We are also moving the bulletin boards back into the main portion of the parish hall. This is because I have noticed that many people do not make it over to the back end of the hall were they have been hanging, and so no one reads the vestry notes, financials, articles, diocesan news, and other announcements that are posted. Having the boards in the part of the hall were most of us gather to fellowship after services will hopefully get more people looking at this important stuff. The boards will have lettering put on them so we all know what is posted on them.
One of the things that I will miss when most of my work leaves the walls of the parish hall is the fascinating questions and comments that I would get about them. In fact I think I got more comments about my art than my sermons! Some people would look at certain pieces, such as “The Triumphal Entry” and “Holy Trinity Enthroned With Saints,” and remark that a hand was in the wrong place, or that something was not correct spacially. It was very enjoyable for me to explain that the painting was supposed to look that way! Other people commented on how peaceful my painting “Virgin and Child Enthroned With Saints” made them feel. It was really great to hear so many great and wide and varying remarks about my work.
What was also interesting was how some people only commented on the paintings when they were hung in the show - not when they were hung at church! This is a good indicator of how we look (or fail to look) at things. There is so much that we see in life that we think little to nothing of… and don’t even notice… because though we look at everything we often fail to truly see. This reminds us of what Jesus said about people having eyes but not seeing, or ears but not seeing. When I worked in stained glass restoration I’d occasionally point out a grossly bowed section of glass in need of repair to a client and more often than not they would say, “I never even noticed that! And I sit next to that window every Sunday!” Maybe the same thing was going on with my art. It was there in church every Sunday, but a lot of people - including myself at times! - didn’t really “see” it. But when it was in a gallery setting we all had a better chance to look at it a bit more closely.
A lot of people laughed at me when I went off to study art years ago. “What are you going to do with that?” they asked. But studying art was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. Art is not only a great mode of self-expression, it is a way of exploration into the human person, the world, and the nature of reality. It helps us better understand ourselves and the world… and as Christians, God. The prominent NYC-based figurative artist, Eric Fischl, speaks of painting in particular as being a primitive language. Language, as we know, is expressive. But it is also creative. The philosopher Martin Heidegger reminds us that language is “the house of being.” That is to say, language plays an important role in shaping our world and us - how we think, what we believe, etc.
This is what the language of art does. It is not only a means of personal or even societal expression, it also shapes the world into which it emerges… one need only think of Picasso’s Guernica - his incredible mid-20th century commentary on the Spanish Civil War, which brought worldwide attention to that conflict. Pop culture entertainment, for better or worse, does the same thing. It pushes boundaries and reshapes our imaginations, assumptions, and narratives on any number of subjects. If that is what art in general does, and how powerful it is, then what does art that portrays images of our Lord, and other scenes from the Bible do? It keeps these narratives on the scene, as it were, and reinterprets them for a new age and generation in order to subtly but powerfully shape the weltanschauung (worldview) of alienated and despairing people in a postmodern world! Perhaps more Christians should take up painting. It is a most profound and rewarding practice, and one that has the potential to bring about much good in the world.