A Catholic in the Walker

14 Feb

“Where is all the art?” I turned to the angry man who directed this question at me, my mouth slightly agape, momentarily, speechless. We were standing in the middle of an art museum. “The art. Where is it?”

I work at the Walker Art Center. I am used to a certain degree of frustration and head shaking as people confront the Walker’s collection. Contemporary art isn’t easy. The meaning of each work isn’t always obvious—if there is a meaning, which sometimes there isn’t. Often, there is controversy, either through the subject matter or the medium used in the work. I used to be in the camp that looked at the Walker and thought, “I must be missing something, because I don’t see it.”

"Blue Plate Special" - John Waters

"Blue Plate Special" - John Waters

The “it” that I refer to is that kernel of truth we hope to find in art. Consider any number of classical paintings and sculpture—works that have drawn people in for centuries. They persist not only because of the artist’s skill, but also because they help turn our hearts and minds to God. In doing so, these great works proclaim a theological aesthetic—a message through the medium of art that is good, true, and beautiful. Must the theological aesthetic of the work be so obvious as to contain a Biblical or religious story? Must the work portray only people or nature? Does it have to be displayed in large print for all to see and none to dispute?

I spend every day in the Walker galleries. I must confront the works of art placed before me and, with time, many pieces have affected me deeply. If modern art’s most basic fault is that it requires time and attention, then I understand why the man was angry. He wanted something that he could understand quickly. Yet that which is good, true, and beautiful is rarely quick and easy.

This became plain to me on the day I found a woman weeping in that same gallery the angry man dismissed. She told me she spent her days tending to her son, severely injured in an assault. She looked around the gallery and said, “Today is the first day in months where I feel like I can breathe. All this beauty is overwhelming me.”

Contemporary art achieves a beauty when the viewer approaches with a willing receptivity. Much like in our relationship with God, receptivity takes time to develop. We can seek truth and beauty and goodness our whole lives, but if we only look in the same place again and again, how much are we missing?

– Allison Hendrickson

One Response to “A Catholic in the Walker”

  1. Debbie K. February 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Thank you for this post that challenges us to take time to reflect, to be present to our responses to our environment, and to seek outside of our normal lives for truth, beauty and goodness. This really caused me to stop and think what I’m missing.

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