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Catholic creators to share methods

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Exquisite artwork can be seen in basilicas around the world, and its ability to bring people closer to God has been expounded upon in church documents new and old. But to better understand good art, painter Andrew de Sa wanted less theory and more practical tips. “I wanted to demystify the creative process,” he said. 

As creative director of the Carl Schmitt Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to furthering the legacy of the 20th-century Catholic artist, de Sa decided to organize an Oct. 27 seminar. “Defining the Role of the Catholic Artist Today: A Symposium” will showcase a panel of talented Catholic creators as well as a group of scholars. The event is co-hosted by the diocesan Office of Catechetics. 

“We’re talking to them and they’re taking to us not as beret-wearing, cigarette-smoking, brilliant people, but coming in as craftsmen,” said de Sa. “They’re each bringing a piece of work that they’ve been working on and will give us an inside view into that.”

Panelists include Henry Wingate, a painter and parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal; Will Seath of McCrery Architects in Washington; Jaqueline Leary-Warsaw of the Rome School at The Catholic University of America in Washington; Soren Johnson, associate director of catechetics; and Father William P. Saunders, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls, episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics. 

De Sa, who also will speak, grew up in Herndon attending St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls. He considered pursuing engineering before deciding to paint. A coffee table book full of Carl Schmitt’s art and writings inspired de Sa to reach out to Schmitt’s son. Now, de Sa works at the foundation as creative director and artist in residence. Part of de Sa’s vison for the lifestyle of a Catholic artist is informed by Schmitt’s work.

Schmitt was born in 1889 and lived a simple life in Connecticut with his wife and their 10 children. “He talks about the three artistic virtues being poverty, humility and purity, which — I know a lot of painters, and that’s generally not the consensus,” said de Sa with a laugh. “Informed by his faith, he decided that he wanted to live for a different set of ideals than the ones that were presented to him. He lived these huge concepts in a quiet way.” 

Schmitt believed that his role as an artist was to be more prophet than reformer. “As an artist, you’re called to retreat from societal life and to really pursue your imagination — the thing that allows us to perceive reality more fully,” de Sa said. 

As a Catholic, Schmitt believed living a holy life was more important than being a good artist, but that the virtues he cultivated, such as humility, benefited his work. “A humble disposition would be having the humility to see things as they are. Every time you look at something and try to imitate it, you’re always drawing from previous conceptions and so you’re already bringing so much noise to the table,” said de Sa. “To see something as it actually is is incredibly difficult, and it takes incredible humility to turn down some of the noise, some of the intellect.” 

Schmitt also wrote about the creative process as a ritual. “He likened it to the liturgy,” said de Sa. “You just have to start. Sometimes the wind comes, the inspiration, the Holy Spirit, but it’s not that you’re summoning it — you’re making yourself available.”

De Sa hopes the panel will share their own art philosophies and reignite laypeople and priests with a love of good art. “The Catholic Church is the steward of this great classical tradition and if we aren’t pushing it forward, no one is,” said de Sa. “I don’t see any of these artists as replicators. They’re very much about creating new things. They’re true progressives — they stand on tradition and they bring us from there.” 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018