Yes, But How? A Reflection on the Mystery of Art

I cannot draw or paint. Yet I have always marveled at how some can take an empty canvas and bring it to life with color, form, depth, and shadow. And, little by little, from the painter’s brush and soul a picture emerges. So too with sculpting. A mere block of marble, with each blow of the sculptor’s tools, it comes to resemble the form of a human being or some other reality with nature.

Some years ago, there was a painter, on PBS (Bob Ross) who would, over the course of a half hour paint a picture and describe what he was doing as he went. I watched that show most every week for a number of years and, though I watched him, saw what he did, and even heard him describe the techniques, I never really ceased to be amazed by the mystery before me. How did he do it? Yes, he spoke of method and technique, but there was some deeper mystery at work; a power of the soul, a gift. He claimed we all have it. But I am more inclined to think some have it as a special gift.

Michelangelo famously said, Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. He also said, I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Yes, but how does he see it? How does he set it free? Indeed, another great mystery and faculty of the human soul of some.

As with music, the art of painting and sculpting seems a unique capacity of the human soul. Animals do not draw, they do not sculpt, they do not even appreciate art. It is a special gift to the human person to be captivated by beauty, and for beauty, once seen and experienced, to emerge from his soul in expressive praise. There are special glories and a unique gifts given only to the human person, a mysterious gift to be sure. It is caught up in our desire for what is good, true and beautiful, caught up in our soul’s ultimate longing for God.

Perhaps Michelangelo should have the last word: Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all are come.

Picture: A Painter in his Studio by Francois Boucher

Here’s a painter a work on a speed painting with a surprise end:

David Garibaldi: Jesus Painting from Thriving Churches on Vimeo.

Here’s a video of Bob Ross, the Joy of Painting show I mentioned above. In this brief passage he teaches us to paint a mountain and gives a little philosophy as well.

If you have time this video shows a remarkable transformation of a block of marble to a face.

7 Replies to “Yes, But How? A Reflection on the Mystery of Art”

  1. Msgr.,

    Thank you for sharing this last video. Amazing beauty. The first one reminded me of “The Chalk Guy” who we had come to a youth group I lead in Indiana. It was really quite amazing, but nothing compared to the beauty of the face carved in marble. It really does make your soul soar.

  2. Thank you, Msgr. One would hope that your beautiful gift to us today would even be able to reach an atheist’s heart and soul. Somewhere I read that there have been many Japanese visitors to the Vatican who have converted to Catholicism mainly because of the beauty of the art which spoke to their souls and took them to greater heights and stirred in them the ultimate longing for heaven.

  3. Good thoughts. It’s sad to think that many artists in the late modern and postmodern world have set about attempting to deliberately deconstruct and even destroy the beauty traditionally found in art. We need a genuine revival of a classical appreciation of beauty.

  4. Msgr, you began with a blank page and came up with a beautiful piece of blog. There is an artist in you, too.

  5. Maybe I should have read today’s blog post prior to responding to yesterday’s. At any rate, watching the dance in the front video gives me an, as yet, tentative idea.
    If I have any artistic talent it seems to be totally within my use of words and think that perhaps I could rig up the sort of belt mounted tray that “cigarette girls” used to where in night clubs 50 or more years ago. With a sort of strap from shoulder to the edge furthest from me, to help with stability, I could set my lap top on it and try dancing while composing Christian poetry for the Gospel as “guy film” adventure.
    It may improve (or not) the quality of work ………….. If my laptop survives.

  6. @Scotty Ellis

    Hm, not really. Post-modernism might be truly in ‘vogue’ around mid to late 90s, but that is long gone. What is it replaced by? “Superheroism” which revives the Greek ideals in form and beauty. Think Computer Graphics art. They are drawing inspiration from Hell a lot, which begs another question, but there is no question the art is ‘real’ and conforms to classical teachings. See some samples here…

    I was an artist in that mold, but I’m trying to direct my art direction towards the Catholic view of beauty these days (Velaquez and Baroque namely).

    Nice post about art! There simply isn’t enough in the Catholic blogosphere about painting, sculptures, et al.

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