Tuesday, May 18


Good Proportion Does Not Cost Extra

I was privileged to meet David Clayton, the well-known painter spearheading the new sacred art program at Thomas More College, when I popped up to give a lecture at the place back in February of last year. (The weekend which followed included, in varying amounts, John Zmirak, John Singer Sargent, a beagle named after the late Austrian emperor Franz-Josef, drive-by Cram sightings, the movie Gran Torino, and the then-engaged, now-married POD power couple of a young Anglican vicar and his girl lawyer fiancee, both of whom are great fun and both of whom are probably reading this right now.) Mr. Clayton is both thoughtful and very talented, and, unusually for most Catholic artists, is both trained in traditional Byzantine iconography and the traditions of Renaissance classicism, two vital streams of Catholic thought which must be considered in any future restoration of Christian art. To ignore one would be an act of archaeological narrow-mindedness, to ignore the other would be to cut tradition off at the roots.

Mr. Clayton has recently started his own blog, in addition to having taken on the role as sacred art correspondent for The New Liturgical Movement, where he has posted a number of very intelligent essays in the past few months. One particularly good piece deals with proportion not just in sacred art, but in secular architecture--even quite humble secular architecture. He makes the point that even in the most workmanlike public housing and factory projects our Victorian forefathers paid attention to proportion, scale and (in appropriately limited amounts) ornament. Good proportion, as Cram once said, doesn't cost any more than bad proportions. It may even cost you less as David's article points out, as it adds considerable intrinsic value to a project. (And not only is good proportion pleasing to the eye, I think it affects us at even a subconscious level. There's a reason we feel troubled in triangular rooms, or that wide, low spaces oppress us.)

The article cites Victorian English structures, but I can think of some absolutely gemlike little workers' townhouses, simply ornamented but with fine proportions and well-thought-out brickwork, that I once ran across in Brooklyn when I lived out in New York. While probably intended for those on the lower end of the scale, I suspect today only the very wealthy can afford to live there. It is sad that today even low-end craftsmanship from days past is light-years ahead of even the highest of our high-end work. (Which is a thought that leads to another question--what the large-scale societal effects might be, or have been, of such skilled blue-collar craft jobs being reduced, for no good or logical reason besides minimalist fashion, to obscure niches. But that is a subject for another discussion.)

Anyway, read the piece here, and check back for updates!

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