Friday, April 21, 2006

Carving out a new hobby... (g'huh!)

I've always wanted to develop skills in a fine art. Well, ok, not always--at least, not while I was still fooling myself into thinking that Web design was a "fine art". Puh--forget being avant-garde. I want to learn how to do one thing well that people have been doing for centuries. Something that will allow me, permit me to bring something beautiful into the world that will last for generations and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of their background.

To this end I can think of no more sublime and versatile art than woodcarving. I am partially inspired by a friend of mine from my first year of seminary, who taught himself woodcarving (the man also taught himself Latin, chant, and good theology, all of them by every account in spite of the seminary).

I have fantasized about doing work in any number of the fine arts, especially music--to let one's fingers dance on a piano; serenade a violin, or even caress a harp. I have fantasized about being able to dance, to write popular music or compose popular music that championed Catholic counter-culturalism while lampooning the bubble-gum pop-Catholic "diddies" masquerading as good Rock and Roll. I can do none of these things. And--perhaps a blessing to the music and performing arts scenes--I probably never will.

So I turn my attention to the static arts, and my attention is inevitably shaped by the beauty of the churches and cathedrals in my life. I can think of four elements that make a church building beautiful: (above all) the piety of its builders, but also the awesomeness of the architecture, the richness of the stained glass, and finally the life and authenticity of its sculpture. A church with many sculptures is a church confident in the crowdedness of the Kingdom. Of course, proportionate placement is an important issue--disparate saints loitering in dark corners leads to unhealthy pietism and the mutation of devotions. But I am convinced that a populous sanctuary is a happy sanctuary.

For me, no art is more incarnational and more human than sculpture; the fact that wood is organic only adds to the earthy, substantial feeling behind this conviction. Of course I know I shouldn't wax too poetic about woodcarving before I actually take some real steps toward learning it. Otherwise my warbling here is no different than past fantasies.

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