“Co-Creators” of Beauty
If you have ever set foot into a Catholic Church, chances are, you have probably encountered some form of art. From stain glass narratives to stoic saint statues, churches are embellished with these visuals which serve us in grasping the infinite beauties of God’s kingdom here on earth and above. Have you ever considered that you too can contribute to this universal gallery? This is an invitation, and I pray you will accept!
We are often encouraged to offer our time, talent, and treasure to God. Growing up, this was a challenging concept for me because I felt I had no ‘definable’ talent. I considered myself to be decent in a couple of areas like athletics and academics. I went to a Catholic K-8 school where the art program was nothing to be boasted about. Yet, I always felt a slight inclination to try a little harder and work on techniques in my free time. Pinterest was my guide, but I essentially just copied other people’s work and called it my own. When high school rolled around, the art teacher saw my potential and placed me in the advanced track. My technical skill was heavily lacking in comparison to the other students and I was often embarrassed of my progress. Nonetheless, I developed foundational skills and created lighthearted pieces. Throughout sophomore and junior year, my work increasingly diminished in meaning and passion. Simultaneously, school was more difficult, and I was dealing with other challenges. Towards the end of junior year, I was considering dropping art altogether. In the advanced track, the end of junior year is when we needed to start brainstorming for our AP Concentration (a series of related works) for our senior year. Everyone had interesting and complex ideas, and I felt as if I could barely look at a canvas anymore. My teacher, who recognized my struggle, really pushed me to think about what I loved most in life, so I created a list. At the top of that list was faith with Cuban food coming in as a close second. Although I was hesitant to pursue this concentration since I attended a public high school, I had a subtle, but stirring feeling about it. Being tight on time as well, I just decided to run with it. The following week we had to create a brainstorming sketch, so I combined some of my favorite elements from the church into one page. When we had class critiques, I shyly presented my plan, but to my surprise, everyone was amazed and excited for my future works. Long story short, my AP Concentration consists of twelve pieces focused on encountering God through various forms of prayer and sacramentals, portrayed through a first-person point of view.
I could conclude this blog by discussing the abundant fruits created in this year long process, some of which included evangelization and self-accountability, but I wanted to focus on the initial struggle as encouragement to give art a shot, to give God this opportunity to work in a new way. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is ultimately an invitation for you to participate in this universal gallery. You do not need fancy supplies or an arsenal of techniques, but just an open heart. I already know your first objection, “But I’m bad at art, I can barely draw a stick figure,” and to that I say, “Good!” When you were younger and you created that haphazard crayon drawing of your family next to the house with the smoking chimney that didn’t really exist and you presented it to your parents with such confidence, how did they react? They did not point out the anatomical and architectural fallacies. Instead, they posted it on the refrigerator, next to their bedside, or in the memory box. Whether or not you had an experience like that, imagine that kind of happiness when we create something physical for the Lord! The tips to go about creating are many, but to offer a few, I would recommend sketching the monstrance in an adoration chapel or reading the Psalms and depicting the beauty found in them using color. If you encounter His beauty through nature, then go outside and get painting! If you have a favorite saint, perhaps try drawing their symbols. Here is an overarching hint, you do not have to draw the human figure! Attempting the human figure often hindered my process, so I used this as an opportunity to think beyond the worldly components of faith, and more into the heavenly elements where our bodies will be no longer.
The common string with these tips is to think then simply do. Enable your mind to think of what it is that you love about our Father and His church and use your eyes of faith to portray it. This is scratching the surface of how we can be artists for the Lord, but I hope you will give it a try, especially now during Lent where we are called to challenge ourselves. You are already a masterpiece in the eyes of God, so when we produce such works, we become “co-creators” of beauty with Him. A pencil and paper can go a very long way through His grace.
Saint Luke the Evangelist and Saint Catherine of Bologna, patrons of artists, pray for us!