I started out my adult life as an art major. It's not that I was extremely talented in that area, but it was something I enjoyed, and for a number of years I worked as an art teacher. When the Spirit led me into the world of theology, specifically liturgy, my life's path changed as I focused on new areas to immerse myself. However, I did find that art and theology went very well together. Over the years I would dabble in different art and craft forms, but I have always been drawn back to oil painting. My last attempt had to be eight or nine years ago when I started painting the Kousa Dogwood in front of our house. I never finished it. I don't finish a lot of things, which is something I need to explore, but the desire to paint is always there (even if it is just painting the dining room walls).
Another 20th century modern artist that I am fond of is Georges Rouault. I was introduced to his monumental work Miserere et Guerre when taking a course on Theology and Art at Notre Dame. Rouault created a series of prints that show that when the world suffers, God suffers with us, and that His mercy endures all suffering. If you ever get the opportunity to sees the entire work of 58 prints, you will not be disappointed.
My point in mentioning these artists is to show that contemporary religious art is possible and it is a shame that we do not see more of it. I was speaking with someone this past Tuesday, July 5th, about my thoughts on painting religious themes. Call it coincidence or not, but the very next day, I read that Pope Benedict XVI gave an address to artists on July 4th at an exhibit titled The Splendor of Truth, The Beauty of Charity, that was organized in honor of his 60th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. The following words in the Pope's address spoke to me:
"Dear Friends...never separate artistic creativity from truth and charity; never seek beauty far from truth and charity, but with the richness of your genius, of your creative impulse, be always courageous seekers of truth and witnesses of charity. Make truth shine in your works so that their beauty awakens in the sights and hearts of those who admire them the desire to make their existence, all existence, beautiful and true, enriching it with that treasure that never diminishes, which makes of life a work of art and of every man an extraordinary artist: [the treasure of] charity, love."
Wow, just what I needed to read to encourage me to pick up my brushes. I went in search of my paint box and lo and behold the tubes of oils are still good. I even went out and bought some canvases. So I am ready to begin...but first I have to finish my dogwoods.