Well, it was a wonderful time. Last week I was able to get back to Texas and visit family and well-visited places: the Botanic Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, the Fort Worth Zoo, the Kimbell Museum… It was wonderful. (And yes, I had bar-b-que brisket, Tex-Mex and all of my “ethnic food.”) I especially loved the Gardens and the Kimbell Museum.
I can’t begin to say how much I missed the Kimbell. I used to visit it at least once every two or three weeks for years. Many of the pieces in the permanent collection are like old friends to me. How enriching it is to view masterworks of art. The latest acquisition by the Kimbell Museum is the first panel painting of Michaelangelo, The Torment of St. Anthony.
Michaelangelo painted this at the age of 12, using materials given to him by a friend. At this time Michaelangelo had not even entered a studio to begin his formal education as an artist. It is not a large panel, 18-1/2 x 13-1/4 in, but it is powerfully painted in tempera and oil on a wooden panel. The precision of draughtsmanship is meticulous and exacting. The color is enchanting. I spent some time looking at this work and admiring the artistic skill of the young master. I was also struck by the incredible difference between the young Michaelangelo and those who believe that they are master artists these days. Craftsmanship is the absolutely necessary foundation of any attempt at art. Having been a painting/drawing major originally, I can personally attest to the fact that most of the time in art schools students are now encouraged to be “expressive,” and “creative.” How absurd. An artist cannot be creative until he has mastered his craft. Consider that Michaelangelo--after this work, which is superlative--then entered into years of formal study.
Does this have any value for us today? I think so. The entire system of education has also fallen into the same lack of discipline as has the art schools. Those of us who are older can remember having to learn how to spell accurately (okay, I admit that I have an inordinate number of typos, but believe me, I can spell though I can't type!). I have seen papers written by high school students and college students and have been dumbfounded at the lack of such essential fundamentals. Their grasp of history and the facts and figures that provide the historian his data for historical interpretation is appalling. And yet, these same students are asked to speak intelligently. How can they possibly do so?
One of my daughter’s friends was assigned in a journalism class to interview people whom she thought was heroic and making a difference in our world. She decided to interview Mary because Mary is entering the U.S. Navy this summer. The list of questions revealed the orientation of the professor. They were all incredibly liberally biased. When my daughter disagreed with the basic premise of the professor and gave solid, well-thought out responses to the questions, her friend was told that Mary was not an appropriate person to interview. Hmmm. Why? Was it because Mary said she tries to base her life on the Church’s life? Was it because she strongly opposed abortion? Was it because she gave some rather pointed and well-supported rebuttals to liberal political philosophy? I was under the impression that a “liberal” education was one in which one is deliberately exposed to a large breadth of views. Isn't education supposed to be to teach the student the basic craft of critical thinking, rather than indoctrinating them into a particular world view that is emotionally driven?
Michaelangelo’s first painting reveals so much to us. His skill, the subject of Saint Anthony’s spiritual torment (which is expressed in this physical and visual means) are easy to see. But the very fact of his early skill added to the fact that he then went on to study is perhaps are critical reminder for us today. If we want to have real artists, real scholars, real creativity, we must get back to teaching and encouraging discipline in basic skills. Craftsmanship must be valued. A craftsman may not be “a genius,” but he is infinitely more worthy than the “genius’s” who have no craftsmanship whom we proclaim these days. Imagine how incredible our gifted would be if they were taught the basics.
It was a nice vacation. It gave me a chance to think some things out. I love taking time to mull things over and look at them from various sides to better grasp their true shape. For me a vacation can never be simply about entertainment. I needs to include a chance for the mind to plow a new field, or to plow an old one a little more deeply. Many thanks to Michaelangelo for giving me only one of the several points I had this last week to do so.