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It is all too easy to be an armchair critic. I know. I am presently sitting in an armchair.

We are surrounded by ugliness and distress. It is easy to become resentful and attack, (from the armchair of course) all that is ugly.

However, as the great Michelangelo recommended: “Critique by making.” Great artists rarely wrote critiques. Instead, in response, they made beautiful things. They were fecund in the midst of the desert. Open to life in the midst of death and decay. They left us hopeful signs pointing to the Heavenly Kingdom. In their naivete, artists take the Heavenly Kingdom quite literally. Heaven is not just “Jesus and me,” it is the Heavenly City, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the communion of saints housed in beauty.

So, for Michelangelo, making was his critique. True, he wrote a lot of letters, but he was not a “Man of Letters.” And he wrote poetry, which is heightened language: making, but with words.

When we see ugliness, instead of just getting upset, we should try to improve in small things.  We do not have to make the Sistine Chapel. Make small things, send out beautiful new shoots. Hold off on the critique. Write no treatises. (He says, while writing a treatise. At least, keep the treatise short.) Take baby steps. Begin to replant the devastated vineyard.

Some artists wrote manuals, mostly to help other artists make beautiful things. At the heart of the matter the artist has to make. We not just homo sapiens, “man who knows,” we are also homo faber, “man who makes.” Made in the image and likeness of God, sharing in his creative powers, he takes nature and builds upon it. The Bible is full of builders.”Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. (Haggai 1:8). We hear in the Bible all about building the Kingdom of God even in the midst of sin and destruction.

The idea that “the building doesn’t matter” is untrue. It is true that the salvation of souls is primary.  It is the Church’s mission and therefor our mission as Catholic artists. However, for artists and craftspeople, our medium and methodology is our work. Unless artists engage the material reality of earth, pigment, and stone, all of society loses touch with reality.  We become a gnostic people, no longer in touch with the beauty of matter, with earth, pigment, and stone. Our Creator wants us to take the materials of art and build up the world,  not figuratively, not just spiritually, but manually, physically, all while reflecting His glory.

In Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton called art “the signature of man.”

In light of the disembodied technology everywhere, it is vital for us to see the artist at work, hands holding a brush or clenching a chisel. Some people see art as a religion in itself, but this is easier to forgive than those who don’t see art at all. In our materialistic world the artist stands athwart developments in the world that would crush humanity. When man is dehumanized, under attack from forces of evil or from his own brutal ideologies that say he is useless or worse than useless, the artist stands up against the destruction. He claims his baptismal identity as priest, prophet and king. As priest, prophet and king the artist is called to sacrifice, to teach and to govern, all through making.

Posted by Karen D’Anselmi, November 2016

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