"Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere."
I have a bit of an artsy streak in me...at least I did growing up. When I was in middle school my mom brought me home an Art History textbook from the community college where she worked. I poured over the pages, from the Renaissance to Modern Art, and many artists' names still stay in my mind as if it were yesterday: Andrew Wythe, Paul Klee, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, DeKooning, Kathe Kollwitz, Jackson Pollock, Albrecht Durer, Dali, Toulouse-Lautrec, Michelangelo. Influenced by this early exposure to great art and artists through the ages, I set out to create, bypassing all rules and form and fast-forwarding straight to modernism. At the age of thirteen, I was convinced I had created a masterpiece. It was a contemporary piece titled "Bonjour": a blue dog on an aqua surfboard, wearing a beret. I implored my parents to take me to the Michener Art Museum in town tout suite so I could meet with the Curator and he could recognize my genius right away and we could decide where and when "Bonjour" would premiere.
Pablo Picasso had a quote attributed to him (accurate or not, I'm not sure) that went something like, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." Under the tutelage of his father, he learned to paint as an academic realist and naturalist, but later in life began to experiment, moving into abstraction, earning the right.
Art (as a movement) is reactionary. It moves in phases and periods, reacting to what came before it. Same goes for literature. And poetry. And music. Politics. Social conventions. Religious practice, as well. It seems to apply to everything, this "swing of the pendulum."
Now, I am no art critic. At all. But I think there is something to be said for timelessness and beauty, something I appreciate as I get older. Post-modern art is lauded as revolutionary and bold, but I see it as kind of boring and stale, though I suppose a sign of its time. It depends on pushing pushing pushing the envelope, tearing down without rebuilding, and eventually the "anti-" character of the work results in blasphemous tripe such as "Piss Christ" and Statues of the Virgin Mary covered in feces.
Post-modernism has no place (and, I would argue, no tolerance) for dogma and doctrine, objective morality, natural law, and truth with a capital 'T.' Even the kind of anti-foundationalism found in some strings of liberal Christianity--those that deny the Resurrection, downplay the miracles of Jesus, etc--denies this kind of framework as important for holding up the "form" of faith, the way a skeleton gives shape to the body and protects internal organs from damage.
Now, there is some loose analagous overlap between the art world and the world of religion. I don't think 19th century Realism is "better" than the work of the Renaissance, or vice versa. Art is largely a matter of preference and individual taste (yet critically subject to more than just that), often a product of its time, and diverse.
So too with the life of prayer. I have an old yellowed copy of Jean Pierre de Caussade's "Abandonment to Divine Providence" in my library that I have been re-reading. It is one of my A-list books, a slim spiritual classic and an unpretentious and straightforward treatise on living what he calls the "sacrament of the present moment". It is not as lofty as the heavy-hitter St. John of the Cross's "Dark Night of the Soul" or Doctor of the Church St. Theresa of Avila's "The Interior Castle", but seeks a similar spirituality of abandonment of the will to God for common people (like myself).
Caussade had to be cautious when he penned this treaty, however, since one of his 17th century contemporaries--the Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos--was jailed for life for putting forth a similar popular contemplative work which was condemned as heretical, since it skirted the line with Quietism.
There is nothing heretical in "Abandonment to Divine Providence" (imprimatur and Nihil Obstat are in the cover of my 1975 edition), but engaging in and writing about the contemplative life is not for junior-varsity spiritualists; it is very easy to inadvertently stumble into heresy, much as like when speaking about and teaching on the mystery of the Trinity.
Molinos got into trouble when he touted contemplative prayer as the supreme mode of communion with the Divine. Cassaude does not make this mistake, recognizing that contemplative prayer has its place, as does mental prayer, devotions, etc, and one is not "better" than the other. At the heart of true prayer--prayer that is pleasing to the Father--is one that seeks to align itself with the will of God.
"If the business of becoming holy seems to present insufferable difficulties," he writes, "it is merely because we have a wrong idea about it. In reality holiness consists of one thing only; complete loyalty to God's will." He goes on, "to be actively loyal means obeying the laws of God and the Church and fulfilling all the duties imposed on us by our way of life."
Mary's fiat is the most unadorned and profound example of this simplicity in prayer.
"I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your Word." (Lk 1:38)
Mary's life was very ordinary, her character very simple. She heard, and she obeyed, even though she did not understand. She was Christ's first disciple.
Do we really have to make it anymore complicated than this? We live in a post-modern age of pain, confusion, and complication; a noisy society that seeks the novel and rejects the timeless, that has torn down a tower of reason to rubble and failed to build anything in its place. It is a steady diet of cereal...the frosted kind.
In contrast, the Church is an amazing gift in its diversity. There is a place for me, and a place for you. It attracts and gathers in the most profound intellectuals and the simplest most uneducated peasants under the same umbrella, and offers them both the opportunity to plumb to the deepest depths of reality. It allows the strictest realist and the most expressive Cubist creative license within its walls, providing an expansive and limitless canvas in which to live out their vocation. It is guaranteed from error, protected by the Holy Spirit, God Himself, and so offers assurance and rest, with infinite interior room to explore. The gift of grace, both sanctifying and sacramental, is available to all at no cost (except one's life). There is no caste system, no litmus test. Felons as well as Pharisees are invited to the banquet. It is one, it is holy, it is apostolic, and it is catholic--a true classical school of love as well as a hospital for the spiritually wounded.
The age of post-modernism is coming to its crisis close. It is a failed experiment and a sinking ship. It is spiritually impoverished and intellectually dishonest, and cares nothing whether you live or die.
If you're tired of feeling empty, of being hungry all the time, of living in confusion and angst and meaninglessness...drop your bags and come to the banquet. Drink from the well that never runs dry, and never thirst again. Come and see for yourself, for "eye has not seen and ear has not heard...what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor 2:9)