Grace and Necessity Part 4: God and the Artist

Grace and Necessity Part 4: God and the Artist

I was really drawn to William’s statement about how “God’s life exercises its own perfection in the imagining of a world into life, so that the exercise of the artist’s imagination fills out what must be the heart of holy life for human creatures” (Williams 167). This comment illustrates how the human art, inspiration and imagination are all tools used to pursue holiness. This process of producing artwork that “is more than functional, [and] more than problem solving” points to a deeper emotional and spiritual need to be made holy and complete (Williams 160). Another compelling statement is that “the artist imagines a world that is both new and secretly inscribed in all that is already seen” (Williams 167). This comment emphasizes how human creativity uses what God has already given us by reflecting that through art and expressing it in different ways. Basically, we cannot imitate or reinvent the world or recreate the matter of the world, but we can present it in different ways and understand different aspects of the world through art.

Art should make known ideas or knowledge that is not readily seen or realized. Art opens up the doorway to the excess information in the world that is not always visible to us or tangible. Art expresses a deeper need and a desire to be whole and complete or holy because despite our greatest intentions for a work, “The artist discovers her own unfinishedness in the work. There is no complete self-exhaustion of the artist in what is made” (Williams 162). Furthermore, Williams expresses how “human making seeks to echo, necessarily imperfectly, the character of God’s love as shown in making and becoming incarnate” (Williams 165). The very process of art making strives towards a perfection and holiness. Our abilities, though imperfect in comparison with God’s creativity, express God’s love of creating.

Because we have been created in the image of God we share a connection to the joy and love that comes from creating. In the beginning God made the world and saw that it was good; in a much smaller scale, I find joy and find a similar love of making things. There is a great satisfaction in creating meaning and order out of line, shape, color and texture. Throughout my artistic process the art comes to life and can take on shape, form, meaning and narrative. This process of creating meaning that is greater than the face value of the artwork speaks of the excess in art. This excess relates to our desire for a holiness that can only be found in God. The fact that we continue to create, continue to design and invent in a million different ways shows the overwhelming scope and diversity of God’s creativity. It is beyond bounds and limitless and although we can reflect it, we will never be able to exhaust it or imitate it.

While researching faith and art, I came across an interesting article about what it means to thrive as a Christian artist. I feel like this relates to the idea of how art is a searching for the holy and purity found in God alone. This article speaks about how we as Christian artists can thrive. It is not a matter about trying to do more work or adding more to your already full schedule. It is about abiding in God and learning how to trust him on your artistic journey. Here is the article and a painting of sunflowers that illustrate thriving.


Sunflowers by Jon Detweiler

Here is another article I found that reminded me of the article about how to discourage Christian artists in the Church. It is titled simply “If Faith Welcomes Art”

I particularly liked these two quotes it gave:

“Our truest responsibility to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find the truth.” -Madeleine L’ Engle

quote         -J. A. C. Redford

Here is a sketch I did of a crashing ocean wave.


The ocean can be expressed through art in many different ways: you can have a stormy sea or a calm sea, a big wave, or a little wave, shallow water, or deep ocean and sea life, shells, sand, tide pools, etc. Because creation is so diverse, art can be limitless and the making of art and how it can never be exhausted or finalized points to the holiness of God.


Williams, Rowan. Grace and Necessity Reflection on Art and Love. Morehouse: 2005. Print.


Grace and Necessity Part 3

Although a first glance at Flannery O, Conner’s work may make you turn away in shock or disgust, I feel that if you take the time to unpack the meaning of her stories you will find a compelling message. While I read the descriptions of the stories, I found it strange to imagine a Catholic writer creating stories with such violent or disturbed characters. It made me uneasy and the grimness of some of her stories endings made me wonder why she had taken the time to create such characters and why some of the endings were so dark. As I looked at some of her statements about her work, her process and concept for her work was revealed. I found the following quote useful for understanding her work:

“ artist presenting a Christian universe cannot but shock. This must be defensible so long as it is actually a strategy for the truth, not a flexing of the artistic muscles for its own sake” (128). Basically, in order to depict a Christian universe (that is a universe where the Christian message is relevant) an artist cannot help but shock the audience who is reading. This artist must take into consideration the horrors and tragedies of the world and explains how despite all these horrors, there is a message of grace, hope, salvation and repentance of sins.  However, on the flipside, presenting this evil can also become a trap to the artist if they use it only for the purpose of shocking and not by presenting a message of redemption. The artist’s task is to not ignore the evil in the world because by including evil in their story they are actually contrasting it with grace. I find it interesting how she explains how a good Catholic author can’t ignore the evil in the world because it is the very fact that evil is present which makes the gospel message of Jesus dying for sinners relevant to this world.

This reminds me of  Matthew 9:11-13:

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

By showing the darkness of sin she gets right to the heart of the matter: the characters are in need of a savior. Another one of her prominent messages is that God is present and at work in even the darkest situations. Even if her stories have a tragic ending she shows a glimpse of the redemption offered by God. It is only when the darkness of sin is realized that we discover the true meaning of grace.

Here are two images I found compelling which illustrates the message of hope in the midst of darkness and suffering:



Here is a sketch I did illustrating light in darkness:



Williams, Rowan. Grace and Necessity Reflection on Art and Love. Morehouse: 2005. Print.

Grace and Necessity: Part 2

It was interesting to me to read about Eric Gill’s philosophy of art-making how art must serve a function or purpose in society to be considered valuable. He discusses how it takes intelligence and purpose to make art, but the purpose for art-making should not glorify the artist’s creativity or skill level. His vision for art is that it must “liberate the great mass of people to exercise their proper creativity in making things rather than to encourage fantasies about genius” (Williams, 50). According to Gill, the only good art is art that serves a goal or purpose that serves the society as a whole. He seems to be deliberately speaking out against the “genius’ ” of the Renaissance whose main goal was to excel in painting, drawing and sculpting ideal perfectionism of the human body and glorifying human achievement. Gill views art more as a level playing field which should not be dominated by “ ‘high art’ or ‘fine art’ [which] is essentially a distraction…the bulk of post Renaissance art is a disaster” (Williams, 47).

           Gill is against art for arts sake, but believes art is propaganda and should always be used in this purposeful way. My view of Gill’s philosophy is art is meant to say something meaningful to society, but is not meant to contribute to the artist’s ego. To some extent I agree with Gill’s philosophy that art is meant to have a deep meaning and to contribute to society. However, I feel that this can constrict art too much by imposing everything that society wants on a piece into your artwork. I feel like the artist’s own interpretation of the world and their own style should play a part in their work and the purpose of their art and not just society. While I admire the work of the Renaissance, I also see how the pursuit of humanistic ideals can lead into a dangerous trap of the artists becoming ensnared in glorifying themselves. Art is meant to give glory to God by reflecting God’s creation, but we must always be careful that we do not become so captured by the creations that we fail to see the Creator.

Here are some interesting quotes I found from Michelangelo which speak about his idea of art, genius and God:

“Genius is eternal patience. ”

Michelangelo Buonarroti

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius. ”

Michelangelo Buonarroti

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection”

Michelangelo Buonarroti

“Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I accomplish.”

Michelangelo Buonarroti

For more intriguing quotes by Michelangelo go to:


1. Quote by Michelangelo Buonarroti ( )

I really love Rowan Williams comment about how “Gill speaks of the artist…contributing to nature, continuing the work of God in the world, recreating objects in another medium, not copying them” (Williams, 53).

This is a really unique picture of the artist’s role. We are meant to continue the work of God and art is one of the vehicles that explores God’s glory. This reminds me of Psalm 19:1-2 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech;
 night after night they reveal knowledge.”

Just as creation reflects and proclaims God’s glory, humans are meant to declare and reflect God’s glory.


2. Passion Flower- Anne Cameron Cutri:

( )

It is interesting how humans are part of God’s creation and the art we create is a reflection of that creation. Creation however is a reflection of God that can only give you a small glimpse of the infinite transcendence of God. God is much greater than his creation, but his creations give us an amazing window into his creative personality.

(Here is a sketch of the Northern Lights I made while thinking about God’s amazing creation and how we are meant to reflect that creation and contribute to creation through art:)




Williams, Rowan. Grace and Necessity Reflection on Art and Love. Morehouse: 2005. Print.

Photo Sources:



Grace and Necessity part 1

I found it interesting reading through Rowan Williams highlights of Maritain’s  themes on art. Williams explains how “art is an action of the intelligence and makes claims about how things are.” Art is the mind focused on action (the practical intellect). I feel like sometimes in our culture art is not valued as highly as it should be and is usually not categorized under the label of intelligence. Art is a form of intelligence no doubt, but for some reason, subjects such as science and math always seem to take precedence over art in our culture. Perhaps this is due to the question of what is considered art today? While contemporary art can be engaging and inventive, I feel that some contemporary art has become vague and sometimes thoughtless art and has pushed the borderline of art further and further resulting in a disillusionment of art. Can art be literally anything? Should it be? Has art lost its purpose when people randomly throw together items and label it art or draw a single line on a blank canvas labeling it a masterpiece? Really?


1) Blank Canvas- Museum of Modern Art

When you think about it, art should be something unique and powerful and it is very different than other subjects because every artwork that an artist produces makes claims about the world and reflects the worldview of the artist that creates it. He goes on to say that art is meant to be thought provoking and to be “absorbed by intelligence, rather than a tool for use in a project larger than itself.” Art is made with intelligence for the purpose of being contemplated by intelligence and “the artist does not set out to change the world, but-if we can manage the paradox- to change it into itself”.  While art represents and reflects the world it does not imitate. This reminds me of a famous painting by surrealist painter Rene Magritte. His image is a painting of a pipe with the words “this is not a pipe” written beneath it. Magritte gets right to the heart of the matter. Although his statement may seem ridiculous it is true. It is a painting of a pipe and not the real thing.


2) Rene Magritte- This is not a pipe

Every piece of work created makes a statement about the world, and every statement, whether it is realized or not, is striving for the infinite. Maritian explains how we are finite beings striving and creating to “obtain beauty” but we are always unsuccessful. Because we are finite we cannot comprehend the infinite although we get a glimpse of it in the beauty of the world around us. As artists we reflect the world around us but do not imitate. We cannot create the world again or even a single blade of grass with our own efforts or power, but we can reflect the world through our paintings, drawings, or graphic design. The “wound of knowledge” as Williams’ explains is we see a glimpse of the greatness and infinite transcendence of God and we also see how finite we as human beings are. The purpose of art should open up knowledge otherwise unavailable and invite contemplation as well as action.

I have always been drawn to landscapes with great depth in them. Here is a sketch I made emphasizing how art is reaching toward the infinite. Depth and landscapes speak to me of a greater journey and touch upon Williams' theme of the infinite.
I have always been drawn to landscapes with great depth in them. Here is a sketch I made emphasizing how art is reaching toward the infinite. Depth and landscapes speak to me of a greater journey and touch upon Williams’ theme of the infinite.



Williams, Rowan. Grace and Necessity Reflection on Art and Love. Morehouse: 2005. Print.

Photo References:



Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral is also known as Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore but more commonly referred to as the Duomo. It was built over an already existing Church of Santa Reparata which had existed since the beginning of the Middle Ages. The new church was a symbol for Florence’s progress and status and was going to be bigger than the first church.


1. The Florence Cathedral

1296 was the starting year when Arnolfo di Cambio planned and got permission to build the Cathedral, but those plans were put on hold until 1357 because of political instability during the 1330s. The building plans of the Cathedral were changed several different times and the building construction took place from 1357-1378. In 1351, Francesco Talenti helped to enlarge the size of the church by lengthening the apses and the nave (church center).

One of the challenges of building the cathedral came with the dome itself. Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi competed against each other in 1418, but Brunelleschi won with his octagonal plan for the building. Both were given jobs as architects but only Brunelleschi accepted and became the lead architect. The dome was built between 1420-1436. It was known as the first ‘octagonal’ dome that had been constructed without the aid of a wooden support structure. It is often compared with the Pantheon which was similarly built without a wooden support structure. Brunelleschi had studied the Pantheon on his visits to Rome, but unlike the Pantheon which was circular, Brunelleschi’s design was octagonal.

Image  Image

2. Dome of Florence                                                            3. The Pantheon

Brunelleschi died before the completion of the dome’s peak, and Michelozzi Michelozzo added the lantern at the peak of the dome in 1461, which was based on Brunelleschi’s designs.


4. The Lantern

The interior of the dome is undecorated except the ceiling fresco illustrating the Last Judgment, painted by Frederico Zuccari and Giorgio Vasari.


5.The Last Judgement, Ceiling Fresco of The Duomo

In 1587 the cathedral’s façade was destroyed, and it was not until 1864 that another challenge was held to develop a new design. Emilio De Fabris was the winner and his project lasted from 1876 to 1887. The enormous bronze doors were added from 1899 to 1903.


6. Facade of Florence Cathedral

Some other unique features of the Florence Cathedral include the other architectural buildings nearby it. The Campanile, or bell tower, was created by Giotto di Bondone in 1334. In 1337 it was continued by Andre Pisano after Giotto’s death and was finally finished by Francesco Talenti.  It was finished in 1359 and is made out of Tuscan marble. There are reliefs that are made by Andrea Pisano in terra cotta. It has 414 steps that visitors can still climb today.


7. The Campanile (Bell Tower)

Another building known as the Baptistry is considered one of the oldest buildings, and was built before the Cathedral. It was built upon the base of a Roman building that could be dated back to the 6th century. In the 13th century the ceiling mosaics of Bible scenes were created. During the 13th century the exterior of the Baptistry was adorned with green and white marble.


8. The Baptistry


9. The Baptistry Ceiling Mosaic

In 1336 the wooden south doors were changed to bronze doors crafted by Andrea Pisano who illustrated ecclesiastical scenes in a Gothic style.


10. South Doors of Baptistry

The other doors were not created until 1403 because of the disruption of a plague. Another competition for the design of the remaining doors resulted in Ghiberti’s design being chosen out of seven artists. Ghiberti’s competitor Brunelleschi has also become well known for the panels he created in the competition and today his work is noted as being the first Renaissance art because of his realistic perspective and proportions in figures and landscapes.


11. The Sacrifice of Isaac (This was the panel for the competition, Brunelleschi on left, Ghiberti on right).

These doors of the Baptistry now have replicas of them and the real panels today are shown at the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (a museum devoted to the history of the Florence Cathedral and its construction).

Some concluding Comments and Interesting Facts

-The Cathedral’s design overall is Romanesque, the Interior Vaulting is Gothic, the Dome is in the Renaissance style and the Façade is 19th Century.

-It took around 140 years to build it.

-Many of the designers of the building weren’t even masons, they were painters, sculptors and architects.

-Michelangelo once commented on Ghiberti’s doors as being the “Gates of Paradise”.


My pencil sketch of the Florence Cathedral

(I added color contrast to the paper in photoshop to give it an aged look)

Information Sources



3. Stokstad, Marilyn. A View of the West: Volume 1, Art History 3rd Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.



Photo References












Medieval Scriptorium and Books and the Book of Kells

1) Medieval Scriptorium


-Scriptorium- is Latin for “place of writing”. Most scriptoriums were located in monasteries and monks would meticulously hand copy borrowed texts (called exemplars).

-Scribes- were monks that hand copied the words of the manuscripts.

-Illuminators- were artists who painted or “illuminated” and brought to light the story of the text. Books that were produced were usually copies of the Bible or other religious texts.

Parchment created from stretched sheep, goat or calfskin was written on with goose quill pens. The ink was usually made from a combination of ferrous sulphate and tannic acid. In some books, gold leaf and even gemstones were crushed and used to add beauty to the page.

-An interesting contrast of cultures between modern times and medieval times is that the centers of education were focused mainly in the monasteries with the clergy. While today universities have become a dominant force in education, back then, if you wanted to learn you would go to the monasteries that were often times in remote locations away from civilization.

The Rule of St. Benedict provided a list of expectations of the monks by condemning “idleness” and commanded them to devote most of their time to studying, reading and hand copying sacred texts. This task was highly respected and the monks regarded their labor as carrying on the Word of God. These handwritten copies were eventually used in public worship. Their hard labor paid off and the amazing detail that the illuminators filled the pages with made the story of the Gospel more easily understandable to people who could not read.

However, some scribes grew extremely tired from their efforts:

“Three fingers do the work, but the whole body aches.”

“As the sea-tossed and weary sailor longs for the sight of land, so this scribe longs for the end of this book!”


The Book of Kells is one of the most intricate and beautiful books of the Medieval Christian Era. It includes the 4 Gospels of the Bible written in ancient Latin and Vulgate. The pages are handwritten and painted on vellum (stretched calfskin) in insular majuscule text.

2) Book of Kells, pg. 180,  example of insular majuscule text:


-The Book of Kells has pages of beautiful lettering, elaborate borders and amazing illustrations that highlight major events in the Gospels. It is uncertain where exactly the Book of Kells was created but its birthplace is commonly referred to as an island off Scotland’s western coast, Iona, which was first founded by St. Colum Cille.

-After a raid of Vikings created chaos in the community of Iona and 68 people were left dead, the monks of Columban retreated to a new location, Kells, County Meath where they settled in a new monastery.

-800 is the estimated year that the book of Kells was written although the exact year is unknown. It could have been written earlier in Iona. There is debate to whether it was written entirely in Iona or Kells, or it could have been written in both locations.

3) Book of Kells, Chi Rho, pg. 87:


-On pg. 87 the text reads:

“Christi autem generatio” Latin for “The birth of Christ”

The name “Christ” is handwritten with the monogram “Chi Rho”.

4) The Book of Kells, The Four Evangelists pg. 54:


-Pg. 54 illustrates the prophecies from Ezekiel and St. John’s Revelations that talk about the 4 winged creatures. They became a symbol of the four Evangelists and Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This symbolism took place around the 2nd century.


Man=St. Matthew

  Lion=St. Mark

    Calf=St. Luke

  Eagle=St. John

4th century- St. Gregory even identified the creatures of Ezekiel as the periods of Christ’s life:

Man= Christ was born as a man

   Calf= He was sacrificed on the cross like a calf

  Lion= He had victory over death in his resurrection and was like a lion

  Eagle= He became like an eagle when he ascended to heaven

Here are some drawing and marker studies I did of the Book of Kells:

-St. Matthew (pg. 54)


-(pg. 180 excerpt of text)


Concluding Remarks

The book of Kells has endured many hardships:

-At one point it had its cover stolen that was decorated in gemstones and gold. The book itself was buried and found 2 months and twenty days later, but the cover remained missing.

-In 1661 the Bishop of Meath, Henry Jones, gave the book to the Library of Trinity College, University Dublin.

-In 1821 a bookbinder decided to cut off about a half inch of the outer margins.

-1953 the book was rebound by a bookbinder named Roger Powell who divided and bound the document into four volumes, one for each Gospel.

-To this day the Book of Kells can be seen on display at the Library of Trinity College, University Dublin.

Photo references:





Information references: