Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Something I read...

I came across an article today in a back issue of Matrix, #14 -1994, that caught my eye. Desmond Chute, an early twentieth century British artist who later became a Catholic priest (and lived at Eric Gill's Ditchling Community) was tutoring, via mailed correspondence, the young nun Eileen Werburg in the art of wood engraving. She'd evidently cut a few blocks and sent the proofs to Chute for critique and encouragement. Chute writes the following, excerpted, which to me speaks a lot for my own thoughts about the art I make, and see being made around me.

"...[there is] a more serious, yet an intangible defect [he's commenting here on a particular print she's made] - that is artiness - we all feel it to be there. It is the vice of all modern work; very, very few escape. I can't say where, but I can smell the arty-arty somewhere. Today we see much too much & know much too much- or rather we expend a little observation and less knowledge on a vast field. The true mediaevals were never arty. True art is having a job to do & doing it well for the love of God and of man. To do your work well is in the order of justice; & if we seek 'His justice' beauty is added to us. At least so it seems to me. Only it is so hard to seek HIS justice- & half-confessing that, it may be, we don't trust Him for beauty, but make it the object of our solicitude. I, personally, work on symbolic grounds, not invariably, but as a rule - drawing this line tighter to express this or that intellectual truth or movement of the affections- using this or that colour - but not so frequently - to express this or that virtue. Thus I hope gradually to outgrow the dust of artworldliness. But expression is what we seek not imitation - to make things, as God makes flowers. And because we must love God's work, we must respect our materials & use only what is true & good. Justice again - by seeking to be just to God, just to his creation & just to man, we safeguard ourselves completely against ugliness in colour, in surface -
for if all your colours be good, you cannot mismanage them..."

Now, Chute was obviously looking at this from his devout Roman Catholic point of view and I choose a morality that respects the natural world for its own sake aside from a divine creation, but there is a dialog an artist has between himself and his work. For what or whom are we creating? To whom do we answer? The last sentence of the passage might seem a little naive and of wishful thinking, but if our intentions are true and honest (your conscience will let you know when they aren't - no need to hear it from God), it will go a long way towards creating something just and good.

As I progress in my development as a carver, I'm finding more and more that the inner voice of justice (i.e. doing just work) becomes louder and clearer, and hopefully my carvings have a greater truth to them and less artiness.