Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures. —Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet.
On August 5th the Episcopal Church remembers Albrecht Dürer. Matthias Grünewald, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Artists.In doing so the Church commemorates all artists and the celebrates and give thanks for the role of art in forming faith and encouraging faith. I tend to be a “visual learner.” Seeing is, for me, the key to learning. As I think about art in the church I am amazed by how much of my faith is informed by what I have seen.
Pictures in story books and illustrated bibles, mass produced plaster and plastic statues, rosaries with beads of all kinds, crucifixes (I grew up Roman Catholic) with poorly formed bodies or bodies gruesome and bloody (but modestly clothed) in their depiction of death, and so on. The art was all around me; I was learning something, (most of which is still being “unlearned”), but mostly this art was simply “background noise,” static. My entry into mystery was unexpected and unforgettable. Having arrived in Rome to continue studies and seminary formation, a group of us were taken from the airport in Rome to the Piazza San Pietro and then into the basilica.
The proportions of the building were certainly awesome but the moment of mystery came as we moved to Michelangelo’s Pietà. In the blink of an eye I was moved from tourist looking at art treasures in a big church to a man in the presence of a profound mystery of life and death, of sorrow and hope, of brutal reality and fragile tenderness. I had forgotten to breathe, I was looking through eyes filled with tears. How did this happen? What just happened? How can stone have such power? How can a “mere mortal” find such power and mystery and beauty in a hunk of quarried marble?
Since that day I have continued to learn. I continue to seek out such beauty and mystery. In my own feeble way I have enjoyed opening my heart to the mysteries seen by the artist and shared with us. I am proud that our church chooses to remember all artists as we commemorate these artists. I hope that you have your own story to tell about the art that has whisked you from this world into realms unexpected, mysterious, and transformative. Please do leave your story here. Leave a comment, start a conversation.
We have selected one work from each of the artists commemorated by the church and will post them here with additional links and more information. Perhaps you would share some of your favorite works by these artists. Perhaps you will share links to your favorites. Keep the conversation going. Thanks.