I have quoted from Joan Chittister in my blog before. She writes evocatively about beauty and artmaking. The following is from “Thirst for Beauty, Thirst for Soul,” the essay that introduces the book Creation out of Clay: The Ceramic Art and Writings of Brother Thomas (Pucker Gallery, 1999):

Beauty . . . lifts life out of the anesthetizing effects of the pedestrian and gives us a reason for going on, for being, for ranging beyond our boundaries, for endeavoring always to be more than we are. It enables us to pause in time long enough to remember that some things are worth striving for, that some things are worth doing over and over again until they become their breathless selves, that some things are beyond our grasp yet within our reach. Beauty brings with it the realization in the midst of struggle, in the depths of darkness, in the throes of ugliness, that the best in life is, whatever the cost, really possible.

It is the artist’s task, then, to take us beyond the invisible to the height of consciousness, past the humdrum to the mystical, away from the expedient to the endlessly true. The artist shows us what we thought we could never, perhaps should never, see: the soul of a tree, the suffering of the helpless, the bowels of a color, the brilliance of a darkness that reveals the unconquerable light, a form without failing. The artist takes a piece of life and turns it inside out for us and, in the doing, turns us inside out over it, as well. We look at something for which we have no words and we ache for the voice that can make beauty tangible. We touch the beautiful and reframe our own vision of the world. We see something which we have looked at many times but never really seen before and find ourselves less alone in the universe because someone else has touched what we have touched, felt what we have felt, known what we have known. Then, we are never the same again because we have seen a rent in the fabric of eternity, gotten an insight into timelessness, come face to face with the ultimate. Then, we have seen a bit of the Beauty out of which beauty comes. . . .

“The beauty that changes the soul of the world . . .”

Another quotation, this one from “Thirst for Beauty, Thirst for Soul” by Joan Chittister, in Creation out of Clay: the Ceramic Art and Writings of Brother Thomas:

What we do not nourish within ourselves cannot exist in the world around us because we are its microcosm. We cannot moan the loss of quality in our world and not ourselves seed the beautiful in our wake. We cannot decry the loss of the spiritual and continue to function only on the level of the expedient. We cannot hope for fullness of life without nurturing fullness of soul. We must seek beauty, study beauty, surround ourselves with beauty. To revivify the soul, the world, we must become beauty. Where we are must be more beautiful than it was before our coming.

The Artist and Monk Are One

The following quotation is from “The Monastic Spirit and the Pursuit of Everlasting Beauty,” by Joan Chittister, in The Journey and the Gift: The Ceramic Art of Brother Thomas:

If, indeed, truth is beauty and beauty truth, then the monastic and the artist are one.

Monasticism, in fact, cultivates the artistic spirit. Basic to monasticism are the very qualities art demands of the artist: silence, contemplation, discernment of spirits, community and humility.

Basic to art are the very qualities demanded of the monastic: single-mindedness, beauty, immersion, praise and creativity. The merger of one with the other makes for great art; the meaning of one for the other makes for great soul.

It is in silence that the artist hears the call to raise to the heights of human consciousness those qualities no definitions ever capture. Ecstasies, pain, fluid truth, pass us by so quickly or surround us so constantly that the eyes fail to see and the heart ceases to respond.

It is in the awful grip of ineffable form or radiant color that we see into a world that is infinitely beyond our natural grasp, yet only just beyond our artist’s soul. It is contemplation that leads an artist to preserve for us forever, the essence of a thing that takes us far beyond its accidents.

Only by seeing the unseen within can the artist dredge it out of nothingness so that we can touch it, too. It is a capacity for the discernment of spirits that enables an artist to recognize real beauty from plastic pretentions to it, from cheap copies or even cheaper attempts at it.

The artist details for the world to see the one idea, the fresh form, the stunning grandeur of moments which the world has begun to take for granted or has failed even to notice, or worse, has now reduced to the mundane.

It is love for human community that puts the eye of the artist in the service of truth. Knowing the spiritual squalor to which the pursuit of less than beauty can lead us, the artist lives to stretch our senses beyond the tendency to settle for lesser things: sleazy stories instead of great literature; superficial caricatures of bland characters rather than great portraits of great souls; flowerpots instead of pottery.

Finally, it is humility that enables an artist to risk rejection and failure, disdain and derogation to bring to the heart of the world what the world too easily, too randomly, too callously overlooks.

Charles Peguy wrote, “We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.”