Some of you will have seen this, but I send it along since some of you haven’t (I hadn’t, as far as I remember, but then one’s mind blanks out such things). Your submissions make Baby Jesus cry offers fifty examples of failed attempts at ecclesiastical art. Many of them make me flinch back in my chair.
But I tried, I really tried, to see if I could find any of them expressions of the seriousness and reverence from which ecclesiastical art should spring. Number 29, for example, a painting of the Last Supper with Jesus and the Disciples in modern dress: there you can easily imagine an earnest young artist having experienced the love of the Lord in his own life wanting to make that Lord more accessible to others, because Jesus is always, so to speak, in modern dress. That “old picture in modern dress” is a cliche, but you can see that it might be one used in good faith. More or less the same could be said of number 28, a traditional statue of Jesus in front of a painting of clouds and a planet, and a few others.
I’m sure much of the rest of it reflects the creator’s attempts to express seriousness and reverence, but the reality is that the works just don’t. They don’t even look as if the creator was trying to do so. A secular person, told that box over there was made to contain the Lord of the Universe, wouldn’t believe it.
Much of it just looks like really bad art of the sort that you walk by, while trying to remember to stop and look at each thing and for heaven’s sake keep smiling and nodding, at a high school art show. A surprising amount of it is clunky and ungainly, and you don’t know if the artist was trying to pull off a very (very very very) amateur imitation of Picasso or of primitive art. It’s a kind of production you see nowhere else. No one else makes stuff that looks like this, which is a bad sign in itself.
I mean, look, just why would anyone think the fat cartoon missile with three chairs at the bottom (number 29) something people would want to look it, and look at for years? Who would design the Jesus encased in a brick wall (number 5) or the soap carving of Gumby standing behind a broken couch (number 45)? Etc.
I just don’t get it. And I’m not even that picky. But there is something essentially different between, say, the sometimes garish and sentimental folk art you find in some Italian-American parishes and this stuff. The first moves you to prayer, the second, well, maybe it can, but . . . no, I just can’t see it. This stuff is inexplicably bad. Tear-it-out-the-space-would-look-better-bare bad.
Why would anyone — and not just the creator (to whom some latitude can be given because they must mean well and few people are good judges of their own work) but the people who commissioned the work, paid for it, and installed it (and who ought to have more objectivity) — think it was good enough for buildings in which the Savior of the world is daily made present to his people? I just can’t see it.