Posted June 17, 2009:
The Formation of the Madonna House Artist

by Catherine Doherty.

The apprenticeship for the Madonna House artists may be long or short; it depends on God. They are going to work in the handicraft center, the gift shop and in other places in the apostolate where they will at first deal with little things and learn to do them well.

In the gift shop and handicraft center, they will learn the feel of different materials and catch the design of the various items they handle. And by waiting on customers in the shop, they will learn tolerance and understanding and become people of mercy and compassion.

They will not look from the height of their so-called technical training, art appreciation, or just their own artistic way of seeing, on the choice of others. They will learn that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I remember in the gift shop a lithograph whose frame, which was obviously homemade, was a horrible shade of pink. One day a lady came in and she bought that very ugly, unartistic thing, and she was very happy about it. Her grandmother had one like it, but it had gotten lost. The picture was beautiful to her because it had meant a lot to someone she loved. And so she bought it.

At the same time, in a very gentle, tender way, the artists must learn that they also have a duty to teach, to lead people to more beautiful art.

The artists of Madonna House are also charged by Christ to use their gifts to gather up the fragments lest they be lost (Jn 6:12). It is very important that when they help to sort the donations which are given to us, they do not turn up their noses when they see what appears to them as junk.

God puts into their hands, as it were, clay, and says, "Behold, I took up clay and fashioned you. Now I give you lumps of clay. Fashion me beauty, such as I saw in man when I fashioned him. Let it reflect some of my glory, some of my beauty."

The artists of Madonna House must therefore be ingenious with the ingenuity of love to be able to use materials which other people reject, even other artists. One man’s scrap is another man’s gold.

They must ask God how to fashion beauty with scraps and often without proper tools. Artists and craftsmen in the past did not have modern tools, but they produced things of beauty ranging from rock paintings to furniture and implements.

Each reflected his or her integrity in the simplicity of the design and in the beauty of his workmanship. For art does not only include painting or sculpture, but anything that is creative.

Nor does "Christian art" refer only to work with a religious subject. All art can bring the feeling of God. It brings the feeling of truth, of a strange reality that somehow, by the grace of God, passes through the mind, the heart, and the imagination. It reminds people that God is the creator, for here is a bit of his creation caught by a skilled artist.

As artists begin to work their craft, they will have their trials. One of these will be that they will not always be understood.

In Madonna House, the rhythm of their day will be different from that of the others, for they will have to have time to think, to pray, to pilgrim, to research, to be silent. Because of this, they will sometimes have to bear the pain of not being understood as Christ was not understood.

Nevertheless, they must be at peace, for without peace they will not create. I speak here of the peace of the Lord which, like the bottom of the ocean, retains its calm even when its surface is raging under a thousand winds.

I speak of this peace, and yet this peace will permit, in fact will almost demand, its opposite: tension. The artists of Madonna House will have tensions.

Tension is part of creation; tension is life. Tension is a balance that God demands of us—the tension of the dry times when no creative idea comes, when all is dull and gray. These are times when the artist must be quiet and still before God. These tensions, and also fears and doubts, must be endured and then transformed into art.

People say that artists are temperamental. I wouldn’t say that they are more temperamental than anybody else, but because ideas are turbulent, because their clarification takes time, because they have to try and try again, we who are not artists must learn to understand their passion.

An artist needs two things: understanding and encouragement. But we must also be truthful, and the artist must accept our truthfulness.

The artists of Madonna House must not be exclusive. They are members of a large community of love. They must never shirk the ordinary "everydayness" of Madonna House. When needed, they will participate in many activities that will seem to have nothing to do with their own talents which, seemingly, are the reason God brought them here.

Yes, every experience, from washing the floor to sorting for the gift shop, to selling there, and to being in the library, the office, or the kitchen, will be an additional grace and an additional tool for the artist.

Every experience in life—be it as tiny as sorting buttons, be it as mundane as scrubbing the floor or working the garden with nature and the earth—every experience that seems to break into their specialized field, will make that field grow larger, and their vision of the apostolate, of their art, of their creativeness, will increase with every experience.

No, the artists must not be exclusive and think that they are only there to produce art. In fact, art is not produced; it defies all definitions of production and of efficiency.

It is very important that this be understood by the directorate of Madonna House. Whereas the artists must participate when needed, or even sometimes when not needed, in order to gain experience and not to become exclusive, nevertheless reverence for their talent must be there. Moreover, this talent must be developed by every means possible, and it must be given time.

The artists may appear at times as if they are doing nothing, but their "doing nothing," will be the very essence of their creativeness: thinking, praying, wandering through the woods and through the cities to observe, sketching, researching, talking, and I repeat, working.

Yes, reverence must be there, and understanding. It is the duty of Madonna House—and when I say duty, I also mean joy in the gift, the marvel of it all—it is the duty of the directorate and the whole community, to be very reverent to those who come to us with the gift of creativeness in whatever form it may be.

We need to understand that God uses them as part of his plan to restore the whole man.

If somebody comes who is already trained in a certain media, we have to sense with the deep sixth sense that I call the "ingenuity of love" what is needed for that person, and provide them with tools, with time for research, for growth, for further training if necessary.

It is difficult to explain this because I am talking about a sensitivity, an ingenuity of love, that all those in charge of others must develop in Madonna House constantly. This can only be developed by prayer and by acquiring at least a little awareness of the need of mankind for creativity and the thousand ways in which it can show itself.

For each artist is a sign from God for that ever-growing vision of what Madonna House can be.

Adapted from the pamphlet, Vision on the Mountain: The Madonna House Artist, (1995), available from Madonna House Publications.


If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
Donna's Still Life Paintings

Previous article:
Servants of Beauty



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate