Many artists, especially those basing their work on traditional forms, are familiar with the "cult of the new." There seems to be an idea, within the rarified world of fine art, that "new" is better than "good," or "beautiful." This has led to some of the more extreme examples of modern art that sell for staggering sums and leave people shaking their heads over what is perceived as "art."
But outside of this "art bubble" there are artists who respect the traditions of the past and build on them, taking those ancient forms and breathing new life into them for a new generation. These are artists who recognize that their role is to pursue beauty and show it to the world, even if the world around them no longer understands the power of the beautiful. The traditions of the past have proved their worth and their strength, they have proved their staying power by withstanding the test of time. How much so-called "modern art" will still be admired 500 years from now?
The Beauty of the Past
To reclaim the power of beauty we look to the past, to those forms of art, music, and architecture that are still regarded as beautiful hundreds or even thousands of years after they were created. Beauty is not as subjective as most people think. It can be said that what is beautiful is that which has been considered beautiful by the greatest number of people over the longest period of time.
There is power in the Beauty of the past.
But we are on the clock. We live finite live and the work before us is vast. We must be unrelenting in our pursuit of the beautiful.
The Need for Urgency
For most of his life, the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo worked alone. Probably he just found it easier to work by himself rather than try to explain his vision to someone else. This would have added to his reputation as being aloof and a little grouchy. But later in his life, in his eighties, he did allow assistants to help him in sculpting the massive marble figures he had become so famous for. It is not hard to imagine, given Michelangelo's passion for his work, that these younger apprentices worked very diligently in the master's studio. Nevertheless, when Michelangelo took up his hammer and chisel, he put them all to shame. The marble dust and chips flew so furiously he appeared to be engulfed in a snowstorm.
Michelangelo seemed to approach all of his work with the same energy and passion. God had given him great gifts, as He has done for each of us, but it is up to the artist to develop and enhance those gifts as a way of giving back to God. Michelangelo worked with a sense of urgency as if he were afraid he would not have time to explore all that he saw of God's beauty in the work he created.
The Artistic Vocation
That is the vocation of the artist, beauty, and as beauty can never be exhausted, its pursuit can consume the life of the artist.
This is a model for Christian life. We spend our lives sculpting and modeling and forming our souls in the image of Christ. As God is eternal, and we are finite, this is a process that will take up our entire lives.
As a work that gives glory to God we cannot weaken or cease our work. If we continue, always learning, always forming ourselves, always following the path God has set us upon, then we will remain strong, even in our old age.
Lawrence Klimecki is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog atwww.DeaconLawrence.org