Check out the animated show Bat out of Hell on Kickstarter!

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

battle
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.