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 also for beauty, once it is 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 at work on a speed painting with a surprise end:
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.