Sitting in an Essay Writing class in my first year at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, I heard these words of Joseph Razinger for the first time:
…the arrow of nostalgia pierces man, wounds him and in this way gives him wings, lifts him upwards towards the transcendent…it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes…True knowledge is being struck by the arrow of Beauty… (“The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty” 2002).
I listened deeply as those words pierced my heart, and the image of the “Arrow of Beauty” captivated my mind.
The practice and love of art had been a natural part of me since childhood. As I continued my study at Seat of Wisdom into a second year, then a third, the idea of pursuing art slowly deepened to an interest in specifically sacred art. I began to see the need for evangelism, and I knew that I did not have the word-smith’s skill to engage in debate. But beauty could pierce through reasoned defenses to strike the heart. An image could remain in the mind when words had been forgotten.
Of course, art will pass away. But the fruit in Christ is eternal. If in its season art can point someone to God, communicate the ‘eucatastrophe’ of the Gospel, or draw souls closer to Christ, how can anyone say art has no use? It is a humble use, but if the work can ennoble a man, and the gift can draw souls to Christ, it is a worthwhile pursuit.
I pushed the thought away. Sacred art was important, I acknowledged, and of course somebody ought to do it. But what could I do? I knew nothing about sacred art. It was a task for someone else. I acknowledged my interest, but I hid behind the weight of my immense ignorance. I persisted in stamping down the conviction I was afraid to own.
But it kept coming back. When the Father places a desire on your heart that is part of His plan, He tends to be even more determined about you following it to your joy than you are stubborn about refusing it.
In January 2020 I discovered the work of Kate Capato, a Philidelphia-based artist who had trained at the Sacred Art School Firenze. I was thrilled. This was the kind of work I would have liked to do, but until that point, I did not know it was a real and modern possibility. I had heard of the school before; it trains students in traditional figurative oil painting, sculpting, and metalwork.
What was the catch? This perfect school was in Italy. At the time, I had never been on a plane, and I did not even have a passport. I was glad such a school existed – for someone else. I never for a moment entertained the thought of going there myself.
I knew other people considered me an artist but most of them had seen no art by my hand. I knew that I was making no art because I did not want to fail on the way to improvement. But without making art, how could I call myself an artist? I knew that “artist” was a false title for me, but still I did not want to risk the humiliation of trying, failing, and shattering that image. If I was not “artist,” however false a name, what would I be?
Christ answered that through the entire adventure that then began to unfold. Artist or not, what would I be? Beloved. His Beloved. Simply His.
But even if I succeeded, what then? I would have the responsibility to do something with that gift, and it would be hard. Specializing in sacred art seemed like careening towards an even worse case of “starving artist” than any other run-of-the-mill foolish decision!
Failure and responsibility: a two-headed phantom of fear that kept me in stagnation. I knew art was the only possible next step for me, and I staunchly refused to move.
Then I encountered Sir Roger Scruton’s documentary, “Why Beauty Matters.”
And I finally listened.
In a moment of crystalline conviction, I realized that art was not just my image as “success” or “failure.” It is a battlefield for souls. My myopic stagnation cracked open and the conviction that had been banished and building in the dark suddenly burst into my heart. I contacted Kate and I reached out to the Sacred Art School. I knew I could not afford more than one year of the customary three-year program, but as Kate graciously encouraged me, “if the Lord wills you to do more with your art, he will make it possible.”
The school announced a new one-year professional Master degree program in Sacred Art.
Through all the hurdles of finances, translation, international application, visa acquisition and arranging for trans-Atlantic travel in the midst of global shut down, kind hearts went above and beyond their own duties in order to help me through the process.
My heart for this work is to invite every beloved person to deep belonging in the heart of the Trinity, by prayerfully weaving truth and beauty together in sacred art paintings. I want to image His Heart through the heart and the hands He has given me.
If you would like to read more about my mission, purchase prints, or request a commission, I would be delighted to invite you to connect with me on the Amata Sacred and Fine Art website at amatasacredart.com
Our Lady of the Broom (2021), oil on canvas, 100 x 58 cm
The image, based on J. G. Shaw’s poem of the same name, shows the Blessed Virgin as a compassionate mother. She sees the unseen, mundane tasks of daily life. The Queen of Heaven has done the same. Our Blessed Mother offers her hand as an invitation to receive her help, and as an invitation to rest in her heart. She invites her children to follow her example and to participate with her in the redemptive work of her Son, especially through the little tasks of everyday life offered freely in deep love and devotion to Christ.
Little Ones (2022). oil on canvas, 112 x 148 cm.
This painting depicts an imagined moment in the context of the Nativity narrative; it is a quiet moment, highlighting the deep humility of both Christ and the simple shepherd. The Blessed Mother has placed the newborn Christ Child into the arms of this shepherd. The shepherd receives the Child in joy and awe that the King of the Universe lies in his arms. Christ envelopes the shepherd in the radiance of His love. This is a deeply personal moment of intimacy and of rest in belonging; the shepherd is deeply seen and deeply beloved. The viewer is invited to take the place of the shepherd in this contemplative moment; to rest in Christ’s healing Presence, safely sheltered by Our Lady and protected by Saint Joseph.