Expressions of beauty uncut

Expressions of beauty

A round-up of Catholic artists

Humans are drawn to beauty, and that tug is inherently spiritual. “Every expression of true beauty,” Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “can be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus.”

Theology of the Body puts that concept into practice: Humans are set apart as reflections of the Creator, and hence, we are wired to create. The work of our hands can spread beauty, even in mundane tasks – snipping and scrubbing, tucking and twisting. A gift wrapped with flair and loving thoughts of the recipient. A shelf of canned food, lush fruits of summer preserved for brittle winter. A bedtime story read with silly voices and sound effects.

Family Foundations’ assistant editor Christina Ries asked six Catholic artists to reflect on the creative impulse. Here are their unabridged answers, which did not entirely fit in the magazine.

cookie-decorator-smGrace Osterbauer, cookie decorator

Age: 40

City: Columbia Heights, Minn.

Number of kids: 8

Website: yousmartcookie.blogspot.com

Years practicing her art: 6

What inspires you?

Other artists inspire me. To see their work and try to reproduce similar techniques is a challenge that I love to undertake. I follow other cookie bloggers and find a lot of inspiration on Pinterest.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

I’m a night warrior. Night time is the only quiet time around here. I switch on a mix of music from my iPad – from the Dixie Chicks to Bob Marley – and get into a decorating zone.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

I feel happy, excited and challenged. It gives me a sense of satisfaction when I see a batch of decorated cookies that is exactly what I envisioned before starting.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I find that just jumping in is the easiest way to tackle a block. I often pray before I start, especially if the job is complicated. Once I get one cookie finished, I gain the confidence to keep going.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

You have to understand that your art can inspire someone even if it’s just a cookie. When people realize how special they are and that you want to create something

special for their day, I think it makes them feel worth and love. That worth and love is a reflection of the love God has for them. It’s important to celebrate, no matter how you do it: buy an awesome cake, invite tons of people or even order custom made cookies. It’s all good and necessary!

Can you give an example of this?

My husband and I are frugal and both grew up in homes where celebrating was minimal. It may have been just the times or lack of money or just realizing that money could be used elsewhere. However, I wanted to make the Catholic events of our lives super special. I took cake decorating classes early on in my marriage. I’ve tried to fill our home with simple and beautiful things. I like to use tablecloths and have separate spaces, dishes and even little things like

candles to make the most simple celebration a bit more special. My husband, Paul, has happily gone along with all of my fussing. But when he comes to me and says, “Thanks for making this special,” I know it’s in right order.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

I have to bring my faith into my work. My family comes first and cookies come way after that. I also pray for my clients while I’m making their order. Many of the celebrations people order cookies for are Catholic ones, so I’m happy we can be a part of that.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

My husband put up a shelf in my new entryway. It’s so simple, but I love it! It’s part of the space that welcomes others to our home, so I want it to be beautiful. I want it to say, “Yes, we’re glad you’re here so we took time to make a beautiful place for you!”

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?

I have to come back to quiet times. Nursing my baby or helping my kids with a task is the great equalizer. It makes me feel humble before God and appreciate the beauty around me which is usually my children.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you? What does it mean to you?

I have had to embrace the theology of my body in my marriage. My husband and I were open to life from the beginning. We have since had eight children. Understanding my body and how that makes the tangible aspects of my faith is how TOB is a part of my life.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

Because we’re open to life, our family comes first. If I’m pregnant, nursing or busy with other aspects of family life, cookies may not get made. I’ve had to turn down jobs because of my responsibility to my family. My body is for giving, so I have to give myself first to God through my family. If my family needs me, I need to be there for them. Cookies then get put on hold!

How has Theology of the Body influenced your creative life?

I wanted to have something I could do with my children while I home schooled them. Our cookie business was a product of that desire. God gave me these children so I want to enjoy them, be with them, and I want us to be a team.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

“Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.” -JPII, Letter to Artists, 1999

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

St. Martha because she was hospitable and worked in the home. I always ask her to help me with difficult jobs in my kitchen. She always comes through!

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist?

Natural family planning has helped me understand how important I am in being a collaborator with God for the fruitfulness of my marriage. When I see my worth and value in that role, I feel confident that God has entrusted me with special gifts unique to me. When I create a beautiful work in my cookies, I feel inspired and blessed by God. Making cookies can’t compare to collaborating with God to bring forth life, but it does compare to making something beautiful for God. I can’t make a baby without God’s help just like I can’t complete a cookie order without his help either!

Has it made you a better artist?

I am a quick worker. I have to be because our family is large and has a lot of needs. If I want to get a job completed on time, I have to work quickly and well.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

I am always amazed when our children are born because it’s so incredibly risky. When I experienced my dad’s death, I made a strong connection between the births of my children and his passing. I could see how humbling it was that God would allow me to be a part of a life coming into and going out of this world. I see things very differently now. Beauty is so simple, so fragile and can be found everywhere. If one of our cookies makes you smile, then that beauty is found there too!

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Yes. Because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we have to be creative. Just a breath of a human being is amazing. We color the world with our existence. That’s why even the most frail human being adds something to the world. We can create a part of a larger landscape by the very fact that we are here.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

Be open to God’s inspirations. Pray and act. God will bless you and your efforts. You’ll be surprised what can come from your existence, your hands, your mind, your abilities. God can work through all of it to make beauty.

 

embroiderer-smJenna Hines, embroiderer

Age: 29

City: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Number of kids: 2 (and 1 on the way)

Website: http://www.callherhappy.com, or etsy.com/shop/callherhappy

Years practicing her art: 1

What inspires you?

When I start a new project, I start seeing the whole world through the lens of my craft: cooking, I start thinking about embroidering onions; playing outside, I think about embroidering bugs; in Mass – wait, in Mass I shouldn’t be thinking about embroidery.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

On the couch next to my hubby while we eat sour candy and binge-watch something on Netflix – oh, and the kids are sleeping.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

It is actually a practice in patience for me. I am a finished-product person, and embroidery is teaching me to enjoy the journey.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I usually take time off. I have learned that if I force myself in anything, I become exhausted, bitter and bored. If I take a step back and focus on other parts of my life, I always come back with more energy.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

I think we are given creativity and then challenged to find a way to use it to glorify God. Part of what faith-based art can do is become a conversation piece to talk about the faith.

Can you give an example of this?

I also run a blog where I write about lots of secular topics. But usually once a week I post something about Catholicism. I draw in a lot of non-religious readers and often wonder if they are touched by anything faith related. Would you believe that a pro-choice friend emailed me wanting more information on NFP? I was all over that.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

I think I see myself as an artist who is also Catholic. I love the idea of someone outside of the faith being drawn to my non-Catholic work and then learning more about Jesus as a result.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

We were stuck in a traffic jam the other day, and my 3-year-old exclaimed from the backseat, “Mom! We’re in a parade!” She was able to see an annoyance as a celebration.

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you? What helps keep your eyes wide open?

My kids. You have to slow down with kids. And they find everything to be amazing. Not only that, but they choose me of all people to share all of that beauty with.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?

I’ll tell you what: It’s something I wish I knew more about when I was younger. Knowing what I know now, I can view human sexuality as a gift and a responsibility. When I was younger, it was a selfish act that could be played around with.

embroidery1-smAre there traces of TOB in your work?

I wouldn’t think there are outright, but anything that makes you feel more beautiful and confident while respecting your body can’t hurt, right?

How has Theology of the Body influenced your creative life?

I wouldn’t have the life I have right now had the Lord not graciously taken over my heart and made some changes. I wouldn’t have my husband, my kids or the opportunity to stay home. Without all of those things, I wouldn’t have been led to this craft.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

Here is a classic from JPII: “Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.”

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

St. Dymphna has really been the patron of my whole life lately. I struggle with anxiety, and her prayers help me to find peace in order to be creative.

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist?

Ha! Yes. We’ve been blessed to not be in the position where we need to avoid pregnancy, so we have three kids in four years of marriage so far. That means I have to use my time wisely during the day with the kids so I can schedule time to be creative later at night.

Has it made you a better artist?

It’s definitely made me a smarter artist. Like I mentioned, I have to be very careful with my time. My kids and their needs have to come first (especially because they are all so little now), and my work and I must come second. Wait, that kind of sounds like an NFP concept.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

I’ve never thought about it that way. Really NFP has taught me that God is in control, and I need to lay down my life to His will. And now that I think about it, it is pretty awesome that He entrusts us with His plan.

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Yes! It might just not be art. Parents need to be creative each day with discipline and, um, bribery. Those in the workforce need to use creativity to solve problems. And who isn’t creative when you look in the fridge before dinner and see there are only eggs, ketchup and lemonade inside?

How can our readers, busy parents, foster their creativity?

Schedule time to be silly with your kids. Be messy and loud and imaginative. Also, when you’re learning to be creative, be honest with yourself. If you don’t enjoy something, don’t ever feel like you’re supposed to like it. Move on.

Anything else you’d like to share?

When you’re learning to be creative, be honest with yourself. If you don’t enjoy something, don’t ever feel like you’re supposed to like it. Move on. I like sitting and relaxing and not folding laundry, so embroidery fits into that quite nicely.

 

TimothyJones-smTimothy Jones, painter

Age: 53

City: Minneapolis

Number of kids: 2

Website: timjonesart.fineartstudioonline.com

Years practicing his art: 9

 

What inspires you?

I love light and shadow and the forms of things, especially natural things. God called his creation “very good,” and I enthusiastically agree.

Describe your ideal creative setting.
Having a dedicated space is important, a place where I can focus away from distractions. The Chesterton Academy, where I teach, is very supportive and allows me to haunt our generously sized art room when I am not teaching. I usually have some music and like to mix up a fairly eclectic variety of my stations on Pandora – everything from bluegrass to classical, jazz to progressive rock, Palestrina to Audrey Assad! I also enjoy painting outdoors on location – en plein air – and just had a wonderful trip hiking, camping and painting landscapes along the Ozark National Waterway.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

Well, it all depends on how things are going! Often I’m caught up in the process and I couldn’t tell you what I’m feeling. There is excitement at times, frustration… A few times I have simply fumbled and dropped a brush loaded with paint, then watched it smear a glob of pigment on an area I’d already finished. I think my heart may have really stopped on those occasions. I lose track of time very easily when I’m painting, so I’ll suddenly find myself tired, sore or hungry and then it will occur to me, “Oh yeah, I’ve been painting for 10 hours.”

How do you overcome a creative block?

Work. Just start something. Anything. I agree with Chuck Close, who said: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.” William Bouguereau worked in his studio every day until it was too dark to see. My problem is having too many things I want to paint. It’s difficult to choose what to do next.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

I don’t think either art or faith can be compartmentalized, if one is at all serious about them. They are both deeply embedded in my personality and touch every aspect of my life, so they can’t help but overlap. My faith is how I see the universe, so I believe it’s a constant presence in my artwork. In the same way, I suppose being an artist dictates how I look at the world. If I’m not working directly, I’m always observing, mentally taking visual notes. I find myself doing it without thinking. I might see someone across the room and begin painting their portrait in my head!

Can you give me an example of that relationship?

It took me a while to realize that a lot of my recent paintings have focused on light passing through and illuminating objects from within. That’s a tremendous metaphor for the presence of God, the action of the Holy Spirit or even the Incarnation of Christ. Yet I wasn’t consciously making those inferences. I was just choosing things that I found visually fascinating. One recent still life was just a collection of seemingly random things I’d had in boxes for the longest time. I set them up together and it turned into a Memento Mori (a very traditional Catholic subject). Without my intention, all these objects ended up saying something about the impermanence of earthly life and the passage of time. But there was an opened eggshell as well, which speaks of resurrection and hope! Again, unintentional.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

It’s incredibly exciting and a great privilege for me to have recourse to the tremendous heritage of Catholic art and to be able in some way to call it my own. I began studying the breathtaking images and architecture long before I became a Catholic (and even when I was hostile to the Church), but their beauty and depth, the mystery and vitality they conveyed was undeniable. I think it did prepare me to see the beauty and depth of the Catholic faith, as well.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

A striking half-moon the other night, behind driving clouds. The sumac leaves beginning to turn a burning red. Our daughter sleeping. Light rain on the surface of a pond. The color of a good amber ale.

painting3-smHow do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?

I know certain things dull that awareness: television, too much time at a computer, commuter traffic, inactivity, lack of sleep. Things like prayer, being outdoors, taking a walk or enjoying a pipe on the porch, these things help me to see and contemplate the great beauty of the world.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you? What does it mean to you?

I am not as familiar with it as I should be, but I appreciate that Pope John Paul II was interested in the redemption and renewed awareness of our physical, bodily life. God made us embodied souls, and that is not an accident but a glorious thing. It’s dangerous to ignore the importance of our bodies and the physical world.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

Not intentionally, but my fascination with the tactile, palpable forms of things might speak to how the incarnation is about the redemption of the whole created universe. What we know of life, truth and beauty comes to us first through our senses and our experience of creation.

Can you give an example of how TOB influenced your creative life?

Only in a general way. I grew up with more Puritan leanings, and the Church’s enthusiasm for the created world was a joy for me to discover. I’m sure the Theology of the Body was part of that gradual conversion process. It’s not healthy to think “spirit = good” and “flesh = bad,” because God made us flesh, and Christ came in the flesh. I want to celebrate that. I think that realization made it OK for me to just paint things for their own qualities, without getting bogged down in a conceptual fog. I do presently have hopes for some more narrative works, however.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

Well, G.K. Chesterton put into words what the Council of Trent realized about the importance of art to the faith of the Church and how we need to be moved by the truth in beauty perhaps more than we need to be persuaded by the truth in argument. Chesterton said, “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not pass through the intellect.” I’ve always liked that.

St. John Paul II said in his letter to artists: “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art… ” This is one thing I teach my art students early on. We’re all called to be artists in this sense.

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

Blessed Fra Angelico is the patron of our art room at Chesterton Academy, and as an artist I have sought his intercession for much longer. His artistic, creative life was in perfect harmony with his personal and religious life, making a unified whole. I can’t think of anything better to strive for.

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist?

Not consciously, at any rate. But again, the enthusiasm of the Church for life – which is activity, variety and adventure – is certainly inspiring to my art. Children are all of those things!

Has it made you a better artist?

It definitely helped me to understand the freedom of discipline, which is very relevant to making art.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

That question comes back again to John Paul II’s idea of our lives as works of art. Having a part in making another life, another individual human being where there wasn’t one before, is of course the greatest creative act I can possibly imagine.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

By simply looking for ways to be creative. Everything we do can be approached in a creative spirit, if we are open to it. Packing a lunch, making a garden, making our own homes an expression of our love for beauty. It all makes a difference. Pulling back from electronic media is a great idea too! It’s nearly all passive, and I think deadens our creativity.

Anything else you’d like to share?

For the most part, our interaction with unique, hand-made art and craft items is a more direct and powerfully human experience than what we find in mass-produced objects or reproductions. Look at some art in a gallery or museum and see how much richer these things are than mechanical reproductions or machine-made articles. Support the artists and craftspeople in your life!

 

songwriter-smKevin Heider, songwriter

Age: 30

City: Dayton, Ohio

Number of kids: our first is on the way

Website: www.KevinHeider.com

Years practicing his art: 13

 

What inspires you?

Everything inspires me – life, love, adventures, misadventures, friends, family, conversations with strangers, the news, history, art, philosophy, the problem of violence, the struggle between virtue and vice, my wife, grace, good European beer, etc. Anything can inspire a song, really, if a thought hits me in just the right moment.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

Alone in my living room on a cool, sunny day with the windows open and a notepad, a gel pen, and a laptop (for research, if necessary, in lieu of the developing song’s subject matter) on the coffee table. Also, my wife is sleeping peacefully in the adjacent room, undisturbed by the repetitive, often-unpleasing-to-the-ears, trial-and-error nature of the songwriting process.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

Depends. Sometimes songs flow out naturally. Sometimes it’s a struggle, an aggravating (albeit necessary) fight to find the right words, melody or transition.

How do you overcome a creative block?

Sometimes it works to push right on through. Sometimes it’s best to move on and write as much as you can and then come back and re-edit and re-assemble the pieces as seems fitting for the song. Sometimes it’s best to just be patient, to let it go for the time being, to wait for the right moment, for the right words to come out when they’re meant to.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

Both faith and art involve a never-ending process of discovery, of “moments of grace” and “epiphanies of beauty,” as John Paul II describes it in his Letter to Artists. They’re reflections of one another; faith can influence art and art can influence faith. I believe that the greatest works of art come from artists who possess either an abundance of virtue or an abundance of vice. Both faith and art require an openness to and an acknowledgement of something that already exists and yet is shrouded in mystery. Art is an attempt to unravel and understand, at least in part, the mysteries of faith.

Can you give an example of this?

My song “The Great Flood” is a good example of this. I had my feet washed by the priest at a Holy Thursday service back in 2012. This experience led me to contemplate the use of water throughout Scripture, the Gospels and in the various liturgies of the Triduum. So my art became a channel for this reflection on faith, this experience that was, for me, a “moment of grace” and an “epiphany of beauty.”

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?song1-sm

Whether I’m writing in the style of the old hymns (such as “The Great Flood”) or a folksy European drinking song (like “The Salzburg Revolution”), I’m striving for a communal tone in my music, something everyone can relate to. The word catholic literally means “universal.” So my hope is that my songs will ultimately be a reminder of our shared humanity. Whether you’re rich or poor, from the Midwest or the Middle East, whether you wear a turban on your head or a scapular around your neck, you deserve and were created for love.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

My wife and I listened to our unborn child’s heartbeat using a home fetal heart monitor. What else need I say about that? It was beautiful.

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you? What helps keep your eyes wide open?

Grace. I’ve always been a very conscious, conscientious and observant person. I don’t quite know why, so I have to attribute it to grace – and mercy. And a wife who keeps me accountable.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?

It gave my old eyes fresh lenses, through which every facet of life is seen with new and deeper layers of beauty and poetry. In the midst of my first week-long TOB immersion course [via the Theology of the Body Institute], I experienced a growing sense of liberation. By the end of that week, I legitimately felt like I loved everyone more. It’s hard to articulate, and it kind of looks weird in writing – ha! – but that’s how I felt. It was beautiful.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

My songs “St. Brigid’s Fire” and “The Waiting” were both directly inspired by that first week-long TOB course I attended. “St. Brigid’s Fire,” which I actually wrote during the course, is an Irish drinking song about heaven with lyrics that allude to vocation, having a full heart, a full home and a full understanding of mercy. “The Waiting,” which I wrote almost immediately upon returning home from the course, is a love song in the purest sense of the word, a reflection on true love in a broken world.

Can you give an example of how TOB influenced your creative life?

TOB offers a profoundly poetic language for articulating and unraveling the mysteries of life, love, and marriage/vocation. The language of the Theology of the Body influences the language I use to articulate and understand my faith, which influences my worldview, which influences my art at its core.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

“Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation – as poet, writer, sculptor, architect, musician, actor and so on – feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it at the service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole” –John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists”

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

Probably St. Francis of Assisi. He was a poet, both in the prayers he composed and in the way he lived his life. “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon” is language that can seem pagan, hippie-ish or liberal to us today, but for Francis, such language was his way of articulating his role in and relationship to the created order, as he understood it.

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist? How so?

I think it does, though probably mostly on a subconscious level. Using NFP appropriately sometimes forces you to temper your immediate desires while at the same time opening you up to something so much greater than yourself. This changes your perspective and your day-to-day psychology in every possible way.

Has it made you a better artist?

Sure it has. Being open to life is not a purely biological concept. There are also spiritual lives, emotional lives and creative lives to which we are each called in our own way. It’s harder to hear and answer those calls when we’re not open to them.

Has NFP empowered you to view yourself – in broad terms – as a co-creator with God?

Yeah, I’ve always felt that way, in a sense, as a songwriter. But working within the parameters of NFP really brings this reality to life, sometimes literally.

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Some kids are told that they aren’t artistic or that they aren’t creative, and so they start to believe it. Others are encouraged from a young age to develop their creativity or artistic skills. But the reality is that every kid has an imagination. We all have the ability to be creative, though some do seem to possess more natural creative abilities. Harnessing one’s creativity, even for someone who doesn’t consider him or herself naturally inclined, contributes to the wholeness of a person.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

I am constantly amused and amazed by the wild imaginations of children. I think encouraging children to be creative, encouraging children to use their imaginations and participating in that imaginative process with your children could be a great way for busy parents to get back in touch with that carefree and creative side of themselves they may have lost somewhere on the way to big-peoplehood.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to encourage folks to try hard to avoid the modern trap of viewing music and film purely as forms of entertainment. If we look at them as something more, as art, whether sacred or secular, they can be immensely transformative. In conjunction with that thought, if you find new artists or art that you really appreciate and enjoy, spread the good news about it. Artists will always need patrons in order to continue their work.

 

Timothy J. Baklinski, photographer

Age: 36

City: Rockingham, Ontario

Number of kids: 5

Website: www.twotreesphotography.zenfolio.com

Years practicing his art (professionally): 14

 

What inspires you?

People inspire me. I am honored to be able to capture a passing emotion, a glance or a hidden moment. I am always amazed by the movement of the human body, from a child’s hand opening and closing for the first time out to the womb to the muscles and straining of a kayaker battling the current.

The natural world inspires me. Seeing the beauty each day, the light filtering through the clouds on a maple forest. The northern lights, mist rising off a field in the early fall mornings, cold steam rising from the river in the middle of below-40 degree winter.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

My creative setting is always changing and current, because I believe that I can capture and create wherever I am. I can look at any surrounding with a photographers eye. Any place is a great place to shoot. All I need is my tools: my Nikon D800, 24-70 mm 2.8 lens, Nikon Speedlight SB910, my Tamron 150-600 mm 5.6-6.4 telephoto lens and my 15” Macbook Pro.

I like having my family nearby when I shoot. I am constantly pointing out the things I see to my wife, Jenny, and to our children, Anya, Noah, Kai, Leo and Luc. The first joy of finding something worth shooting is magnified and reciprocated when I see them enjoying the same view.

How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

I am analytical. I am constantly trying to absorb as much information about the area and the subject in order to capture an authentic representation of what’s before me. My wife says I am like Sherlock, always taking everything in and processing the information: the texture of the clothing, what clouds are in the sky, the direction of the wind and what to intensity is my light source.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I push and I push hard. My mantra is “keep moving,” and this applies specifically when I hit a creative block. More often than not my block is actually acknowledging my artistic ability. I am constantly questioning my work, my motive and I feel driven by a fierce discontent that keeps me moving. C.S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle “further up and further in,” and I am constantly following that call. At the end of the day I come back to a (loosely translated) quote by JPII, “I am not the sum of my talent, my photos, my failures, but rather of the Father’s love for me.”

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?photograph9-sm

Everything I do is connected to what I believe. My photography is an extension of how I view the world. This particularly applies to persons. My starting point when I see any subject thru my lens, is acknowledging the value and beauty of what is before me. No matter what or how often I shoot, I have to always keep the knowledge of my place in creation before me. I am not the origin of the beauty in my photographs; I merely capture what is already there.

Can you give an example of this?

What the lens can capture is more than the human eye can absorb. When I look at the pictures I shot, days, months, or years later, I am struck with awe. I realize again I am not the origin of this beauty but I play a part in reflecting back and witnessing to this ordered creation. One of the best examples of this is when I see the northern lights. They move, snap and undulated, then quickly pass. When I capture that moment with my camera, I can absorb more light in the photograph than can actually be registered by the human eye. The resulting image is awe inspiring and humbling. All that beauty was already there, I just needed a new lens or perspective to witness it.

What does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

To be a Catholic artist means to be humble about my place in the universe but to always really appreciate and rejoice in my talent and my art.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

This past week I shot a wedding in Owen Sound, Ontario. We finished the photo shoot at the water’s edge. I used a slow shutter speed to capture the ambient light of the nearby town, the twinkling stars, the wind moving the wedding dress and love between the two newlyweds standing before me.

photograph7-smHow do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?

My eyes are always wide open. I live in a beautiful part of rural northern Ontario. I am constantly struck by the natural beauty around me. My children remind me to see the world through their eyes on a daily basis as well.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?

It has inspired me to continually look at the person as an end in themselves. It has given me new words, new eyes and a new heart to order my work toward the good of the person.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?

Yes, I am a wedding photographer. I shoot about 15 weddings a year. I always try to meet the couple on that personal level to find out what makes them unique and individual and also what is it that brings them together. My starting point is always to acknowledge the subjectivity of each of the persons before me. The person is an end in themselves and never to be objectified, so even though I am freezing this moment in time with a photograph, I am still called to witness to and acknowledge the intrinsic value of that person.

Another element of TOB that has permeated my work is that my photographs have to be truly artistic and deeply ethical. Because I take a photograph of a person, I have to always look at the “full truth of the object, of the whole scales of values connected with it. [The artist] must not only take them into account in abstracto, but also live them correctly himself” (from Theology of the Body, page 227).

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

JPII pointed out that the problem with pornography is that it does not show too much but that it shows too little. I always strive to witness to the dignity of the person in each of my photographs, strive to portray the person “as they truly are.”

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?

My newest patron is Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House Apostolate, whose cause is currently being forwarded. She writes repeated on the “duty of the moment.” She writes how “prayer and work are inseparable, and the duty of the moment is the duty of God…all work is holy; through it we walk the royal road to Christ” (Nazareth Family Spirituality, pages 35-37).

Does natural family planning inform your work as an artist? Has it made you a better artist?  

Living out a life focused on the good of my family, through the practice of NFP, responsible parenting and self-mastery, has had a direct effect on my work as an artist. In Humane Vitae paragraph 21 it says that practicing self-mastery “bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace and facilitates the solution of other problems; it fosters attention for one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility.” This serenity, peace and problem solving begins in our marriage and slowly has permeated other areas of life, my art included. I would say that through the journey of self mastery in fruitful, faithful love and responsibly parenting our five children I am continually becoming more myself. An artist is constantly finding himself, working to perfect his art and his expression. I am reminded by JPII in his Letter to Families that man finds himself in the sincere gift of self. Through living out this gift of self in my family life, I can slowly become a better artist and a better man.

Do you believe everyone is creative?

Yes, everyone is creative. We know that the person has a beginning at the moment of conception, but that we have no end. There is no limit to what we are called to; there is no limit to who we are. We are always becoming more fully ourselves. In this way I believe that each of us has artistic, creative potential. Sometimes all we need is the challenge to take something and make it new.

How can our readers, busy Catholic parents, foster their creativity?

Never lose sight of the person. Open your eyes to the beauty that surrounds you every day, the beauty in the seemingly mundane tasks. Catherine Doherty said that when the duty of the moment is embraced, it becomes a joy.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My final thought is what constantly dives and moves me to go “further up and further in.” I am known to repeat over and over again that “there is always something more” and “a person is a person no matter how small” (Dr. Seuss). I live my life by these words and I am always pushing my limit while staying focused on the true, authentic value of the subjectivity of the person in front of me.

 

quilter-smBarbara Stein, quilter

Age: 52

City: Westerville, Ohio

Number of kids: 4

Website: prayingforgrace.blogspot.com

 

What inspires you?

Life in general inspires me, but I think nature inspires me the most. I am fortunate to live in an area that is wooded, we have a creek in the backyard, and I love flowers and birds — all the fabric of creation.

As most of my quilts are for babies, mothers and babies inspire me as well. I often choose fabrics for a specific mother’s personality or a baby’s nature. I just finished a quilt for a baby girl who is being adopted from China, and I noticed I was choosing many fabrics with circles. I finally realized it must have been the subliminal thought of this sweet baby girl being welcomed into the circle of a new family. I enjoy many crafts: I make rosaries, sew quilts, embroider and hand sew scapulars and have been known to sew costumes for my daughter’s dance school. I’m now busy making my future daughter-in-law’s wedding veil and sewing bridesmaids dresses.

Describe your ideal creative setting.

I feel most creative about quilting when I am with fabric, feeling it, placing one piece next to another, folding pieces and placing them all in a row to see if I like the colors and patterns. I just go through all of my fabric pieces and have fun. I often save pieces of my husband’s and son’s dress shirts when the cuffs or collar are frayed — they make great quilt pieces. And leftovers from my daughter’s clothes have gone into many a baby quilt.

Though I have a dedicated sewing space, in the basement, it usually ends up being a space to dump projects to be worked on at some time in the future. I need natural light to create a quilt, so the portable machine and the fabric travel to the kitchen where I have a nice big window and I can choose all the pieces I want to use for a quilt, cut them and start sewing.


How do you feel when you’re creating your art?

I feel useful when I am quilting. Quilting has become quite an art, but my quilting feels quilt3-smmore practical than artistic. I want my quilts to be used and used until they are soft and frayed. I love to think of a baby lying on his tummy looking at the colors of a quilt beneath him or scrunching it up in his fist at nap time.

In fact, many a quilter would look at my quilts and scoff at my technique. I don’t put a binding (an extra piece of fabric folded and stitched at the edge of the quilt) on my baby quilts because I want the quilt to be comfortable for baby, without heavy edges. And I don’t use batting (the fluffy material in between quilt layers) for babies because I want them to be useful for wrapping baby up or for baby to old onto – more like an old quilt after the layers have been flattened by use. I want my quilts to be useful, and their artistic nature is secondary.

How do you overcome a creative block?

I usually walk away when I experience a creative block. I can only quilt in fits and starts because of my family and homeschooling, so I usually don’t have creative blocks. But even just chopping vegetables for dinner can inspire me; colors and random patterns are everywhere. Think of the trees in autumn – a splash of orange, a cluster of yellow, random green and brown. Or an English garden, with patches of purple, pink, red with yellows in between. There is inspiration in all of God’s creations.

How do you understand the relationship between faith and art?

My faith is in God who creates all beauty – even that which is man-made is inspired by creation. I know that without God I would not have the ability to create and all artists who have come before me – and I don’t even put myself in the same category with artists – have created with God-given gifts, whether they admit it or not. They paint, sculpt, sew, blow glass, whatever the gift, they have it as a gift from our Creator and they create in the image and likeness of His creations.

When I create a baby quilt, I am mimicking nature and all that God has created. Think of the image of a prairie as photographed from the air: It is a patchwork of colors and patterns. When I quilt, I try not to be too intentional about the colors and patterns I choose and just let the randomness, like that present in nature, take over.

quilt1-smWhat does it mean to you to be a Catholic artist?

To be a Catholic artist, for me, is to give back to my neighbor what God has given me. I love to sew baby quilts, especially since babies are such a beautiful gift from God, and I believe, as Catholics, we embrace that fact. We cherish our babies, as Our Blessed Mother cherished her infant, Our Savior.

Give me an example from this past week of beauty that struck you.

I can be inspired by just cooking dinner. This week I was chopping vegetables for a marinade, and I so enjoyed looking at the beautiful colors of purple onion, green peppers, red tomatoes, green herbs on my cutting board – all so vivid and all different textures, all gifts from God.

How do you stay attuned to the beauty around you?
I think some people see beauty more and some people see it less. Beauty looks different to everyone. I see beauty in the sun shining through the window and lighting up the red oak floor, the contrast of a blue wool blanket draped over a linen sofa with a gold silk pillow. Our homes and our daily work are palettes of color, just as nature is.

How has the Theology of the Body inspired you?
Having learned about Theology of the Body as an older adult, it means to me giving God his due as Creator and participating with him, maybe not in creation of life, as I am past my years of childbearing, but in loving those babies who have been born to friends, family, and in the future, hopefully my own grandchildren. I am inspired to wrap those babies in love with each patch of colorful fabric stitched together. Families need to know they are not alone in their creation of life, that they are supported and loved, even from across the country. Many people say to me that they can’t believe I spent so much time on a quilt for their baby when I hardly know them. But I don’t think you need to be intimate friends with someone in order to love them.

Are there traces of TOB in your work?
I don’t know that you can look at my quilts and say there are traces of Theology of the Body in it, no. But you can see it in the intent, and in the practical use.

Can you give an example of how TOB influenced your creative life?
God as the Creator of all life influences my art. I don’t create, God creates. God created my ability to be artistic, and God creates all the little ones who inspire my creations. When I am quilting, I try not to be too intentional about colors and patterns I chose and just let the randomness, like that present in nature, take over.

What is your favorite nugget from the Catholic Church about art?

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” -St. Therese of Lisieux

I think this quote applies to the patches of a quilt or the personalities of family members. We all, in God’s infinite wisdom, bring something different and beautiful to life.

Who is the self-styled patron saint of your creative work?
My patron is Mary the Mother of God because Mary is the mother of all. She loves all of us for our uniqueness, our own beauty and talents. I pray when I quilt, and each quilt has stitched in it the Hail Marys I pray for both mother and baby.