What use is art? Does it have a value? Is it merely an “add-on”, a luxury item for enthusiasts?
These are questions that I often ask myself, especially in our modern society where the monetization of nearly every aspect of existence threatens to squeeze out some of the distinctly human areas of life. And, at the same time, we are also living in an age when the omnipresence of media means that a persistent awareness of the scandals in the Church often makes seeing the beauty of faith difficult. It’s at a time like this, more than ever, that faith needs to be nourished by the arts.
In the collection of art that I edited, The Catholic Home Gallery, I chose to lead off the folio with a quote from one of my favorite theologians:
“Looking at icons, and in general at the great masterpieces of Christian art, leads us on an interior way, a way of transcendence, and this brings us, in this purification of the heart, face to face with beauty, or at least a ray of it. In this way it brings us into contact with the power of the truth. I have often said that I am convinced that the true apologetics for the Christian message, the most persuasive proof of its truth, offsetting everything that may appear negative, are the saints, on the one hand, and the beauty that the faith has generated, on the other. For the faith to grow today, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to come in contact with the beautiful.”—Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), from his book On the Way to Jesus Christ
I grew up in a house profusely decorated with religious art. Not all of it was great art, nor was all of it professional. My mother was a great collector of statues, icons, and prints. Weekend trips to the antique store or thrift shop would yield another round of old picture frames, and images would be clipped from calendars or magazines to be hung on the wall. We had an old tofu press, which resembled a wooden box with no top or bottom, that became repurposed as a wall shrine containing a statue of St. Padre Pio. A woodburned plaque I made as a teenager with a quote from the saint hung nearby.
Growing up among such visual bounty definitely made an impact. When my mother passed away, much of her collection of images was distributed among her children, and now my siblings and I have them up on our walls and on our shelves. Padre Pio, minus his tofu press, is atop a bookcase in my living room. Upon moving out on my own, having framed art on my walls was always a priority at the various apartments I lived in. And after marriage and welcoming children into the world, it became even more important.
My current collection of art at home includes prints from favorite artists such as Frank Brangwyn, Carl Larsson, Pieter Bruegel, Allen Rohan Crite, and David Lance Goines. But it also includes art and prints from currently-working artists such as Daniel Mitsui, Matthew Clark, Timothy Jones, Ellen Price, and others. A sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Ohio artist Erwin Frey was an estate sale discovery, as was a beautiful painting on silk of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in a Chinese setting. It’s the culmination of twenty-four years of collecting artwork.
3 Steps To Creating A Catholic Art Gallery In Your Home
So, what can you do to start your own home gallery? Here are three things I would recommend.
First: Feed your tastes. Don’t put artwork up merely because you feel like you are supposed to like it. Find things you do like sincerely, then start from there. Many favorite artists of mine were discovered via a museum visit, browsing an art-licensing website for work, a book from the library, or a post on social media. Look around. Find connections. Read about the artist’s influences and contemporaries, look those up. You never know where it may lead! Side note: many older works of art are in the public domain, and often museums will have high-resolution images available on their websites to download for free, making it easy to print at home or use to order prints from a photo service.
Second: Allow it to be homey. One of my favorite artists, Carl Larsson, once wrote: “A home is not dead but living, and like all living things must obey the laws of nature by constantly changing.” If art doesn’t work in one room, maybe it needs moving to another! Sometimes the best frame is one you found for 99 cents in a bin at the thrift store. Maybe leaning a few pictures against the wall atop a bookshelf is the best solution. Try different configurations and uses of wall space.
Third: Don’t decorate to impress. It’s easy to allow trends or online influence to mess with your perceptions, or to create unrealistic perfectionism in your mind. Once you start seeing your home through the eyes of an imaginary critic, it can cripple your ability to free your artistic sensibilities.
If you haven’t yet embarked on collecting artwork, especially Catholic artwork, I hope my small contribution here may encourage you to do so.
Catholic And Christian Artists To Discover
A final note: I’d like to leave you with the names of some Catholic and Christian artists doing great work. These nine were featured in The Catholic Home Gallery: Matthew Alderman, Neilson Carlin, Bernadette Carstensen, Matthew Conner, Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, James Janknegt, Timothy Jones, Michael D. O’Brien, and Elizabeth Zelasko.
But wait, there’s more! Other artists to look up are Daniel Mitsui, Matthew Clark, Ned Bustard, Blair Barlow, Robert Puschautz, Theodore Schluenderfritz, Lawrence Klimecki, Amber Knorr, Vivian Imbruglia, Raul Berzosa, Tianna Williams, Matilde Olivera, and Karina Carrescia. These names just scratch the surface of currently-working artists creating sacred art. Keep looking, collecting, and supporting great art when you come across it.