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Everybody! Everybody! Part Three: Daniel Mitsui has a web log

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Mitsui’s St. Michael and His Angels, which hangs above my desk.

Look, I know that I’ve been signing the death chant for this blog since the day I joined it, and by extension — sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly — that of blogging in general. But that’s wrong of course. What has died is blogging as a thing — that which seemingly everybody does and/or discusses. But just as some people still repair antique clocks, some people still blog. (That piece on Rod Dreher I mentioned yesterday noted that his blog at The American Conservative gets something like a million views a month, and he earns it.) Because a blog is a tool that still has use, especially in the hands of someone with something to say.

All this is prologue to my announcement of the happy fact that neo-Gothic artist Daniel Mitsui has returned to blogging. (I don’t know how he’d feel about the designation, but it seems to me that he possesses a Gothic sensibility and aesthetic that has been shaped/filtered/shaded/what have you by the intervening centuries, certainly by the great tradition of newspaper comics. So.) Mitsui, whose work hangs in five rooms of my home, possesses a clarity and integrity of thought and writing that the old word-pusher in me finds deeply enviable and thoroughly enjoyable. Here is a fine artist who knows his business and knows how to discuss it with the layman.

Why has he returned to the wonderful world of web logs? Because he is undertaking a magnum opus, and he wants to bring the viewer along for the ride. (He also wants, crucially, to obtain the viewer’s – or should I say the patron’s – support).

Over fourteen years, from Easter 2017 to Easter 2031, I plan to draw an iconographic summary of the Old and New Testaments, illustrating those events that are most prominent in sacred liturgy and patristic exegesis.

The things that I plan to depict are the very raw stuff of Christian belief and Christian art; no other subjects offer an artist such inexhaustible wealth of beauty and symbolism. Were I never to draw them, I would feel my artistic career incomplete. I hope to undertake this task in the spirit of a medieval encyclopedist, who gathers as much traditional wisdom as he can find and faithfully puts it into order. I want every detail of these pictures, whether great or small, to be thoroughly considered and significant.

I am calling this project my Summula Pictoria: a Little Summary of the Old and New Testaments. It will be realized as 235 drawings. Collectively, these will form a coherent work; every person, place and thing that appears from picture to picture will be recognizable. Their common style and perspective will reflect a proper theology of time and space, light and darkness, sacred numbers and directions.

The drawings certainly will be influenced by artwork of the past; I defer always to the Fathers in matters of arrangement and disposition. Yet I intend to copy no other work of art directly. Everything in them, whether figures, fabric patterns, architectural ornaments or background landscapes, I shall design myself.

I shall draw the Summula Pictoria using metal-tipped dip pens and paintbrushes, with pigment-based inks, on calfskin vellum. The pictures will be in full color. I shall use the calfskin’s translucency for artistic effect, drawing extensively on both its front and its back to create each picture.

It’s worth noting that the blog side of the project is more than opening a window on the workshop. It’s preparing the matter to receive the form, as he notes:

Visual expressions of theology and symbolism, no matter how profound or beautiful, are ineffective if nobody understands them. The meaning of religious art has become obscure; medieval works that once catechized the unlettered now require written commentary to interpret. Its very strangeness to the modern mind has become part of its appeal, which is not right at all. Christian art is meant to be for everyone.

I intend to use the Summula Pictoria as a tool for instruction. As I research, compose and draw these pictures, I shall make a record of the creative process: sharing notes and summaries of iconographic sources, displaying drawings in progress, providing models to copy. My hope is that this will be useful to anyone who wants to make religious art, or to understand it. My idea is not to make a scholarly text or a university course; it is to offer, free of charge, something more accessible, comparable perhaps to a cookbook in which a professional chef shares his recipes.

Color me thrilled. And hey, speaking of technology – blogging as tool and all that – here’s a bit from a recent post on Mass Media and Sacred Worship:

I have heard many times the claim that the Catholic Church should have great success in her New Evangelization, because Catholicism is a visual religion and contemporary society is also visual. But to call Catholicism a visual religion is a meager assertion; it is no more visual than any of a thousand kinds of paganism. It would be more accurate simply to say that human beings are visual animals. The visuality of Catholicism is only remarkable because the religion’s most obvious alternatives are rather inhuman. 



And contemporary society, judging by (for example) its reductive architecture, is not very visual at all. Its interest in visual things is almost entirely concentrated on television and computer screens; it is not any pictures, but specifically motion pictures, that interest contemporary man. Even the static pictures now ubiquitous (advertisements, posters, billboards) are meant to be seen while walking or driving or rapidly flipping pages in a magazine; they may not move, but their frame of reference does, which gives the same subjective result. In contrast, a study taken in 1980 indicated that most visitors look at a painting hanging in an art museum for about ten seconds. The same study, taken in 1997, lowered the time to three seconds. Contemporary man does not love pictures; he loves motion. 



Live-action motion pictures create the most convincing false reality yet devised by technology. The intensity of the imagery, the sophistication of the editing and the ever-more impressive special effects fill the modern mind with an inventory of powerful, nearly unforgettable images. Regardless of his life experience, every man now knows what a cavalry charge looks like. He knows what a dinosaur in the flesh looks like. He knows what an exploding planet looks like, even though no man has ever seen a planet explode. These images become the references for his visual imagination; when he pictures death, judgment, heaven or hell, he pictures something resembling a cinematic special effect he has seen. 



Traditional sacred art and traditional sacred liturgy are symbolic; to appreciate them, a man must recognize that his senses are unworthy of the greatest realities, and that hieratic and canonized types, arrangements and gestures are needed to suggest them. It is a logic entirely contrary to that of live-action motion pictures, which attempt to show anything and everything as it really (supposedly) looks. 


***

I believe that the influence of live-action motion pictures has contributed enormously to the iconoclasm of recent decades. I also believe that any lasting restoration of traditional sacred art and traditional sacred liturgy will only be possible if Catholics seriously consider and seriously restrict their use of the media of mass entertainment. This would entail removing televisions from our homes; and seldom (if ever) patronizing the cinema, thus reclaiming our imaginations from Hollywood. But it also would entail resisting the intrusion of this technology into new places, most importantly our places of worship.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (‘Resurrection’) – Finale

“Why have you lived? Why have you suffered? Is it all some huge, awful joke? We have to answer these questions somehow if we are to go on living – indeed, even if we are only to go on dying!” These are the questions Mahler said were posed in the first movement of his Symphony No. 2, questions that he promised would be answered in the finale.

–John Henken, Los Angeles Philharmonic, ‘About the Piece’

The full symphony is available on YouTube here, courtesy of the Netherlands’ Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Quin Finnegan has more on Mahler (and Percy!) here.

‘… Still With You.’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘… I rose up and am still with you.’

Psalm 139: 18

‘… He Brought Them Out of Darkness …’

From the Armadio degli Argenti of Blessed John of Fiesole, OP (Fra Angelico), c. 1450

‘And he brought them out of darkness, and the shadow of death; and broke their bonds in sunder.’

Psalm 107: 14

It’s Walker Percy’s Hundredth Birthday and We Suck

… but here’s the beginning of an epic poem about the time a young man met the man himself:

November 22, 1989

The day I met Walker, the rain had fallen
in Louisiana sheets, and I’d left
my tent illicitly pitched in the Bogue Falaya
State Park, along with a bookish bottle
of Early Times I’d taken a few swigs off of
in the dark the night before as pine cones pitched
and fell outside as if in triadic morse code
from Flannery in heaven telling me grace was in
the river. And alligators, too, I reckoned.
I walked the cracked sidewalks of Covington, aimlessly,
dazed by the wonder of seeing vines sprouting
through the cracks in a sacramental vision,
a concelebration of the namer and the named,
and lept across the flashflood puddles
as I made my way towards no destination
but found myself in The Kumquat bookstore
to oggle shelves bursting with signed copies
of The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot,
The Second Coming, The Thanatos Syndrome, Lost
in the Cosmos, The Message in the Bottle, books
that had changed (and continue to change) my life.
Oh Walker (Oh Rory) I was twenty-four
and pining for a woman I was also
on the run from in triangular
despair (yet thanks in part to you I also
was aware, at least a little — a foothold —
of the despair, contrary to that Kierkegaardian
epigraph, precisely pitched though it is).
Oh Walker: so I bought a stack of books,
some for me and some for those I loved,
and left instructions with the keeper of
the store to have you encode, in your
physician’s scrawl, your cracked prescriptions
where the vines of love and truth might grow from bourbon
and ink, the cumulative bliss of limitation,
where you and I might clear a space for being.

Advent

dunes

The time of the first advent was foretold; the time of the second is not so; because the first was to be obscure, and the second is to be brilliant, and so manifest that even His enemies will recognise it. But, as He was first to come only in obscurity, and to be known only of those who searched the Scriptures….
           – Pascal, Pensees, 757

They say I wear the scriptures on my sleeve –
Not true. I stitch and sew and scratch my soul
With them – the way that desert winds believe

The shifting sands will move and, on the whole,
That scrub and pine eventually break down.
They break down alright – and count the roll

Of boulders, mountains, and whatever crown
That Empire wears… These, lost on me now, hail
The high song of the wastelands: days that moan

The coming of another. Flies recall
The rhythm, locusts eat the melody
And honey adds the counterpoint. It’s all

The food I pick from barren fields. I see
It building up from wilderness; it comes
To search the slough and sift of enmity…

Remembering my mother’s cry, my dreams
Of distant visits haunt my head. So I search
The dunes of Palestine, obscured by time’s

Redundant landscape – even storm clouds lurch
With fits and starts that always promise rain –
The heavens’ pact with earth: You shall not parch

The grasses growing green upon the plain,
And I in turn will turn the sky to blue.

What thunder cries, a wilderness of pain,

That’s the work of God. I only call you.

Liberalism, as the recent attacks on La Ville Lumière have shown, cannot provide the basis for a sustainable society.

800px-Jacques-Louis_David_-_Marat_assassinated_-_Google_Art_Project

By liberalism, I do not mean Democrats versus Republicans, or the ideology of invite the world versus that of bomb the world. I mean all of it together.

Desire and Deceit

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For Rene Girard, 1923-2015

Not again, the old men with beautiful manners.
– Ezra Pound

The old men of our age are young against
The violent, suffering such sacred cries…
We live as if the times were free and cleansed
Of envy, but we know from these
Embarking ferries what cruel death would say:
The fire rises every dawn to mystery –
Familiar as desire, lost as memory.
So truth is night that verges every day
Which hates itself, yet knows itself as day.

We try to capture every moment’s breath
With flesh, but lose the soul of argument
Because the body knows that only death
Provides the wound – unless the sentiment
Of beauty heals the foreign element –
The other – those – the sin that takes the step
In which we place the body deep, deep, deep…
I wish that nothing were the case – but take
It life will some day give what death will take

And knew no French but heard you anyway
By age and time. By youth and wonder’s books
I sat and heard you lecture, heard you say
That creatures live and imitation speaks
The grammar grace’s tender mercy brooks
Between the prepositions of and in.
I loved a woman of the world – taboo
And token sin – and urge and instinct knew
That beauty suffered what my conscience knew.

Remember, man, that dust remembers man –
Recalls the day angelic beasts renewed
Our call to human living. Manners can
Propose a mystery: the stage construed
With shadows, fictions made with words and breath;
But understand by holocaust of faith
That noon escapes, confirmed by midnight’s dark,
And night corrals the stars, each a splintered spark,
You ancient man, that hates and loves the dark.

Save the date

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Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.31.25 PM

The Profit

swift justice

When children kill we wring our hands and cry –
“The kingdom’s here and now and Christ is not
The crucified!” Confused, we butterfly
Our judgment, dissect humanity, gut
The soul and pick apart the truth. We love
Our sins so much we give them tongue to speak….
So heaven’s here and cold as stone above –
While hell’s beneath us. Spatchcock
The conscience, too, o modern primitive!
The temple’s vatic whisper will indict
Though pills become our lusty palliative
And love of death becomes our civil right.
We pay our tongues to serve the talk of peace –
We kill our kids so they can take our place.