Making a Date With Beauty

“We have art in order not to die from the truth.” — Nietzsche

Afternoon Dreaming, Hugues Merle (1823-1881)

Afternoon Dreaming, Hugues Merle (1823-1881)

One of the things I love most about home schooling is that we have the flexibility to make art a priority. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it should. The sad truth is that the day-to-day of life often gets in the way, leaving art and creativity to fall by the wayside. This isn’t to say that there are no moments of beauty in the minutiae of our days — there are many, not the least of which is being able to attend daily Mass. But more days than not pass with work and errands and housecleaning and core subjects and appointments and everything else which occupies the day of a busy family taking up time and crowding out space that might be spent drawing, building, making and listening to music, walking in the park, strolling through a museum, or taking in a dramatic performance at a local theater. Too long without a beauty break, leaves us feeling bereft, weighted, hungry for something simple and pure and a space to breathe it all in.

When I lived in San Francisco and was trying my best to practice living a literary life, I worked my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. While I’ve long since abandoned the practices she advocated, one I’ve never forgotten and have tried with middling success to continue is the “artist’s date”. Essentially, the artist’s date is a special time you set aside (Cameron says it should be weekly) that you actually put on your calendar and plan for, to do something that feeds your creative self and puts you in touch with art and beauty. It can be something as simple as browsing a book shop – no, browsing on Amazon does NOT count – or visiting a craft store to select new yarn for your knitting. It can be as solitary as taking in that foreign or independent film you’re intrigued by or attending a screening of the opera or a live theater performance or a concert. It can be a visit to a local museum, wandering the galleries and feasting your eyes on pictures that spark your imagination and contemplating harmonious lines that bring peace to your soul. It can be a walk through an arboretum or a public garden or other natural space. The artist’s date is a date you keep with yourself, ideally by yourself, to allow your mind, heart, soul to be transfixed, absorbed, and replenished by beauty. In much the way food supplies your body with energy and nutrients, placing yourself in regular proximity to real, beautiful art in any medium is food for your imagination and your soul. Just as a healthy life depends on exercise and nutritious food choices, if you truly want to live a creative life, making room for art and beauty in your life needs to be a priority.

Even though I know this, still I find it difficult to “take time” out of our busy schedule to go for a walk at the Nature Center or stroll the galleries at one of the nearby museums. While there are plenty of parents who take every opportunity to expose their kids to fine art in its various forms, I know there are others like me who feel so pressured by the “have-to’s” of life that we neglect this essential element of connecting with what it means to be human. But I neglect this to my peril, and to the peril of my son, as well. For if I tend to every other need in order to raise him to be healthy in spirit, mind and body, then how can I in good conscience neglect this essential element in his upbringing? How else will he learn the importance of cultivating beauty in the world and of being a faithful steward of it if I do not make time for and model these very things in my own life? If I do not make time to expose him to the very things he needs to be aware of for that call to stewardship to flourish in him?

'La Tricoteuse' (The Little Knitter), by William Adolphe  Bouguereau, 1882.

‘La Tricoteuse’ (The Little Knitter), by William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1882.

As Catholics, we are called not only to be custodians of beauty in the world, but to make our lives a work of art and to leave a legacy of wonder behind. Both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI exhorted all Catholics and Catholic artists to take beauty seriously, to embrace their unique role as stewards of beauty and to recognize God’s presence not only in the gifts of inspiration and talent that lead to great works of art, but also in the everyday ordinary events of our lives. Both holy fathers remind us of the source of all true Beauty and point us towards living an authentically holy life that is also authentically creative and fruitful. A mother, a teacher, a nurse is called to contribute to and bring beauty in the world, to create their lives as works of art in a similar way to the artist, whether poet, painter, or composer. We have art, as Nietzsche says, in order to not die from the truth of what life would be like without the source of all Beauty and Truth, and to help make our life in this exile more bearable by pointing us towards real Beauty, which is God.

 A life starved of art is half a life. I am recommitting to making a greater effort to schedule and keep regular artist’s dates, both on my own and with my family, if not every week, at least once or twice a month. It’s a step in the right direction towards the path to helping each one of us become stewards of beauty in the world and discerning how to live artful, faith- filled lives that will leave a legacy of wonder behind.

The pictures included in this post were taken by my son and I on our recent artist’s date to the Bowers Museum. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Napoleon Returns to Visit the Wounded, by Paul Emile Boutigny, c. 1890

Napoleon Returns to Visit the Wounded, by Paul Emile Boutigny, c. 1890

Icon of St. Luke. Vatican Ethnographic Exhibit.

Icon of St. Luke. Vatican Ethnographic Exhibit.

Pharaoh's Daughter, by Reginald Arthur, 1896.

Pharaoh’s Daughter, by Reginald Arthur, 1896.

IMG_0018

Pandora, by Thomas Kennington, 1908.

Pandora, by Thomas Kennington, 1908.

Artifact from the Vatican Ethnographic Exhibition at the Bowers Museum.

Artifact from the Vatican Ethnographic Exhibition at the Bowers Museum.

Contemplation, by Herbert James Draper, c. 1900

Contemplation, by Herbert James Draper, c. 1900

Crocodile from Papua New Guinea. Vatican Ethnographic Exhibit, Bowers Museum

Crocodile from Papua New Guinea. Vatican Ethnographic Exhibit, Bowers Museum

 

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Angela, this is such a beautiful article and so wise too. We both know the value of beauty but, as you say, life can interrupt our connection with it. Lovely to see those pictures too, live from the museum, and so true that you need to be the model for enjoying and seeking out beauty. My current ‘beauty break’ is with Giotto and Padua’s Arena Chapel – it just doesn’t get any better! I hope you can keep carving out that essential space for beauty, Angela and thanks for encouraging us all to do the same. Sending good wishes your way. Ruth :-)

    • says

      Hi Ruth! So glad you stopped by — thank you for reading. :)
      I actually thought of you, both while visiting the museum and writing the piece. I know this is something that resonates with you. I love your current beauty break! Giotto is a favorite. Hoping it brings you peace, refreshment and inspiration for your own creative efforts. Thanks for your comment and kind words — I’ll write soon!

  2. says

    Very nicely put! And the works that you photographed are lovely to see. I love the little knitter especially. I agree with how important art exposure is. My two children rebelled fairly young mainly because of a conflict between my Catholic world view and the view of the world that they adopted, and they left home. My son and I have since reconciled, but even before then, he complimented me on one thing that’s apropos to your blog. He said he is glad that I took them to museums so often. That may be behind how, when he was in high school, he was already doing some interesting paintings, with a high level of skill, even though he since dropped the idea of being an artist out because of practical concerns. Art was my passion, since I was earning a degree in Studio Arts when they were small. More recently, because two grand nieces who live across the country from me show some talent for art, one summer, I rented a lake cottage outside of Worcester, and signed the three of up for two week-long courses at the Worcester Art Museum, to increase their exposure and to help them learn some techniques. They even had their work hanging in a student show at the museum afterwards! On other trips, I took them to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts . . .. Maybe more grandparents and grandaunts and granduncles should do this sort of thing, since they aren’t as enmeshed in the daily responsibilities as the parents are.

    • says

      Roseanne, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own personal story about how essential cultivating an appreciation for beauty and art is. It is beautiful to me that in spite of the difficulties you and your children encountered, your son carried this element with him. What a gift you gave to him in that, and in so many other ways. You are right about other adults and relatives, especially those with more time, taking the initiative to step in and help cultivate artistic sensibilities in the younger ones — we have always been blessed to have my mother-in-law help out in purchasing museum memberships and coming along with us on many artistic outings and encouraging creativity in my son in so many ways. Keep doing what you are doing with your nieces!

  3. says

    Angela – lovely article! I am the curator of the exhibit you wrote about, Revolution to Romanticism – Freedom of Expression in 19th Century Painting, which was exhibited at the Bowers Museum. Did you know that all the painting in the Revolution to Romanticism exhibit were on loan from The Knohl Collection? The Knohls live in Anaheims Hills and own 260 pauntings and approximately 80,000 art objects, all housed in their personal residence. The Knohls are eager to share their treasures with the world, and have agreed to open their home on May 4th. Since you have a passion for the arts, I encourage you to see the entire collection on May 4th. Spread the word, bring your family, friends, and fellow bloggers. Check out our website for more information: http://www.theknohlcollection.com or http://www.apacf.org (events tab)

    May 4th, 2014 10am to 6pm – Fox Pointe Manor & Gardens Tour
    Spend the day touring Fox Pointe Manor & Gardens Attend art lecturers by: Carol Eastman, Curator of the Knohl Collection Jacqueline Hahn, Renowned Art HistorianLectures held at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm Comfortable walking shoes are highly recommended.
    Tickets: $35 • Special Groups of 12 or more $25
    Students $25 • $45 at the door

  4. Mark Overholser says

    Hi, i like the detail from the “Death of Lannes” by Boutigny, the larger the image the better…do you have a nice big JPG of the entire portrait? Thx much.