Monday, November 27, 2006


Tuesday, July 18, 2006


When I was in Rome last month I paid my customary visit to Caravaggio's masterpieces. My father and I went to pay homage together, starting at Santa Maria del Popolo and working our way down to San Luigi dei Francesi. We ended with the "Calling of Saint Matthew," one of the most phenomenal paintings in Rome. The painting is by now long familiar, and it is always a temptation when revisiting a familiar work to imagine that it is known, that it has no more secrets to reveal. Such was my attitude on this viewing. I surveyed the various areas, naming them mentally and reviewing the details which I have noticed previously or others have pointed out. But my eyes kept coming back to Christ. He stands in the darkest part of the painting, with the light behind him, and yet his face glows as if lit from within. This I had noted many times, but now I was awed and attracted by his presence, not by the artistic techniques used to represent him. I stopped analysing the use of light and shadow to attract the eye to Christ, but rather saw him, finally, as a man. There is something about the fall of the hand, the tilt of the head, which is at once commanding and gentle and magnetic. This was the most striking thing: his call could not be denied, even though it was never forced. The Gospels recount men leaving everything--work, family, home--immediately to follow him. It is a little hard to imagine. A man walks by and says, "Come with me" and you go without asking where or who he is or why he can't wait until you've said goodbye. This man is present in Caravaggio's painting. His gesture is not elaborate, nor his carriage dictatorial, and yet his quiet presence compels. He must be followed. The picture is so tense with the necessity of that call that you find yourself holding your breath, waiting, as it were, for Matthew's response to that insistant hand and face. Here is represented the reality of the person of Christ. It was not possible to be ambivalent about him; a position is necessary. And in some way, each of us is faced with that question through this picture. In some way, we too are called on to make a choice in the face of Christ's call.
I have been accustomed to think Caravaggio rather less than a painter like Fra Angelico. My reasoning has always been that Caravaggio does not move me to pray as Fra Angelico does. Now I wonder. No, the painting did not move me to the kind of prayer that the sanctified Fra Angelico inspires. Rather, it reiterated the initial Christian choice in a real and demanding way. "Come with me." The choice must be made to go or to stay. There is nothing in between.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Glorious satire

Don Quixote is one of the funniest books I have ever read. I always imagined it to be a sort of romance or glorified legend; I was completely unprepared to find it satirical. Perhaps the joke is especially funny to me since I grew up with a steady diet of fantasy, myth, and legend. I haven't read all the chivalric literature Don Quixote is endlessly talking about but I know the style and Cervantes brilliantly imitates it. He writes with the proper grandiloquence, but brings to the foreground the absurdity which almost all legends tremble on the brink of. An example is in order.

"It seems to me," said Sancho, "that the knights who did things like that were provoked and had a reason for their follies and penances. But what reason has your worship for going mad? What lady has scorned you, or what evidence have you found that the lady Dulcinea del Toboso has done anything she shouldn't with Moor or Christian?"
"That is the point," replied Don Quixote, "and in that lies the beauty of my plan. A knight errant who turns mad for a reason deserves neither merit nor thanks. The thing is to do it without cause; and then my lady can guess what I would do in the wet if I do all this in the dry."

God be praised for allowing the absurd. Risibility is indeed a precious gift.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oscar Wilde is one of those people that is always being discussed. He was such an outrageous personality that it is next to impossible for anyone to come in contact with him and his work without commenting upon it. Recently there has been much conversation generated over his decadent life versus his moralizing tone. Which is the real Wilde? We shall never be able to definitively settle this or any of the other questions about Wilde.

Today I came upon an interesting article in Logos. While discussing Wilde's connection to Catholicism, the author looked briefly at the poem "Salome." In this work, Wilde draws a vivid and brilliantly decadent picture of Herod and Salome. It is richly sensuous and gorgeous. And into this speaks the voice of John the Baptist in condemnation. This voice and this presence is not dismissed by Wilde. He does not include John in order to mock or belittle him. Here is an extraordinary trend in Wilde's work: he creates a perfect decadent world and then purposefully disturbs it with a moralizing presence. Whatever is said in the endless conversations on the topic, it is advantageous to observe that Wilde takes this presence seriously--as should those who wish to understand him.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Art Work

Last Friday my highschoolers performed Le Bourgois Gentilhomme to thunderous applause. It probably helped that the audience was almost exclusively composed of their parents and siblings, but they did give an excellent performance and I am very proud of them.

Being my first paid directing job, my work with the highschoolers naturally prompted some reflections on what it means to make one's art one's work. I originally took the job because I thought it would provide valuable experience and because it was a paid position. I had only a little interest in the play, no real desire to work with highschoolers, and I live 45 minutes away from the school. A few years ago I think I would probably considered this mercenary and false to my Art. Now I'm grateful for the opportunity. Idealism in art is so narrowing.
What I found most surprising about the experience was realizing that it is in fact a job and that this is a good thing. Of course I love it but it is also a job. I think this is a crucial realization when working in the arts because although you must have a love to start, this isn't always enough to carry it through. There are always days when you just don't feel like it. And if the basis for your art and work is only emotional, then when you don't feel like it, you can't continue. But if your basis is discipline and you approach it as job, then even when you don't feel like it, you must continue. There were certainly days when I didn't want to drive 45 minutes or I didn't want to try once more to communicate the meaning of a scene. But I had to because it was my job and that carried me through. Every day I had to show up and do my work well no matter what I felt like and that is truly a valuable experience which has changed the way I approach and understand my work.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Art is making intelligible . . . We speak often in aesthetics about making reality intelligible, about perceiving some interior truth and expressing it. I had a curious thought about directing yesterday. It seems to me that the point of directing (or at least as I understand it) is to make a play intelligible. It almost makes the director like an interpreter and the creativity comes into play not through creating something new per se so much as discovering the best way of expressing something to a particular audience. It is perhaps a step removed from making reality intelligible--that is the goal of the playwright--but it is making the intelligibility intelligible through making is visual, spacial, and temporal. I think a few years ago this would have seemed degrading or non-artistic to me. But now it seems the way to fulfillment and satisfaction. There are few things so glorious to me as making concrete the concepts of a play, focusing the energy of actors, coordinating the visual and auditory elements--all to the end of making intelligible the interior truth and structure of the play. I have struggled for so long with the inability to express and articulate why I think some works of art are brilliant and have recently felt that I can do no better than to indicate, to point and affirm. In a way, directing is a response to this problem. Through my interpretation I can show in a physical, temporal way at least a part of the beauty and truth inherent to the work.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Only connect . . .

Lately I have been reading Howard's End in my spare moments. I haven't finished it yet and so can't make any sort of general comment or judgement, but I have been forcibly struck by the main character Margaret. She has this desire to really connect with other people--to know them and understand and sympathize with them. It is a conscious goal for her which she always has in the front of her mind: to connect with other people, and also to forge a connection between the poetry of life and the prose. In the end, her desire is wholeness, both of the individual and in community.
I am greatly inspired by this. It is so easy to isolate oneself out of fear--fear of all sorts. It is a much harder thing to seek communication, seek understanding, seek interaction. It requires openness to the other and, in the end, love. This brings the possibility of pain but also enables communion. We have such a need for each other; such a desire for interaction and communication. I must make a greater effort to connect with those around me--with my friends, with those I work with, with those who unexpectedly cross my path.
free counter
Red Envelope Coupon