All the controversy surrounding the ant-covered Jesus exhibit that was eventually pulled from the federally funded National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, reminded me of a trip the wife and I took to one of the prestigious art museums last year here in Los Angeles. Most of the exhibits were gorgeous, ranging from sculptures from ancient Greece to art deco furniture and household items, and we especially remember a wing filled with Catholic art that was absolutely breathtaking.
As expected, the contemporary art section was much less impressive, most especially what you see above. My photo’s a little blurry, but I promise that upon closer examination this is exactly what it appears to be: a canvas with the two ends painted black and the middle painted white. And this is just one example of many pieces that were quite obviously absurdly simple to create and yet still qualified for the kind of showing many artists, strugging or not, would kill for.
One of my standards for art, which isn’t unreasonable, is that if I can do it, it’s probably not art. And who couldn’t paint this painting. All you need is a t-square. It’s the same with so much that qualifies as “contemporary art” today, including that ant-covered Jesus video and anything by paint-dripper Jackson Pollock. To be fair, some of the contemporary pieces were interesting and even provocative, but for the most part there was little to no artistic talent involved in the creation.
So it’s not art, it’s nihilism; by design or not, this is a way to destroy art by taking away its meaning. The motivation behind this might be jealousy or laziness, a way to live the life of an artist (and to qualify for all that grant money) without having to do the hard work of actually becoming an artist. And this might even be funny if we weren’t paying for some of it with our hard-earned tax dollars.
Some of the most beautiful art me and the misses have come across we’ve found hidden away in a series of Catholic Missions along the California coast that, here and there, we’ve been visiting for the past few months. There are five missions within a hundred miles of us and they make for memorable day trips or one-night getaways.
While a young country called America was getting its act together on the other side of the continent, out West, Spain provisioned Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra and some soldiers for a trip into the wilds of the Pacific Coast to establish a series of religious and military outposts. The idea was to Christianize the Indians and to give Spain a foothold on the yet unclaimed land. By 1823, long after Serra’s death, an incredible chain of 21 missions — each about 30 miles apart — were built, and through wars, statehood and even earthquakes they still stand today. And while they’re tourist attractions, they’re also owned by the Catholic church (thanks to a decree signed by President Lincoln just a few days before his death) and still function as such, holding regular Sunday masses and the like.
But what gorgeous artistry they preserve, and not everything was shipped in from Spain. The Mission Indians, as they were called, obviously moved by their newfound faith, created some beautiful paintings and sculptures. Here’s some information on the missions and I’ve posted more photographs of the artistic treasures they hold below. You need not be a Catholic to appreciate Catholic art just as you need not be contemporary to see that there’s not a whole lot of talent that goes into contemporary art.
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