Monday, June 21, 2010

Angel in the Stone

Michelangelo's Pietà. Photograph taken by Aurelio Amendola and featured in Michelangelo: La Dotta Mano.

Yesterday, my parents’ minister told a story: the great sculptor Michelangelo stood in front of a slab of marble, considering his work; when someone asked about his art, he replied, I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.

Often I look at my own half-formed attempts and see a rough, uncut mass but have no hope of finding the angel within.  I see the formlessness and emptiness present before creation, but do not feel the presence of the Spirit hovering at my side. 

But the Spirit is there.  For the Christian artist, it can be the Spirit of God, with whom we partner in the act of ordering and naming*.  The Spirit can be of art itself as Robert Henri explained:

  Art when really understood is the province of every human being.
  It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. 
  When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he opens ways for a better understanding….
 He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it.
  Museums of art will not make a country an art country. But where there is the art spirit there will be precious works to fill museums. Better still, there will be the happiness that is in the making. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.

I’m struggling through rewrites now, trying to order the chaos on the page, and feeling as though I have to go it alone.  I don’t.  None of us do.  We all have the Spirit of art with us, however you interpret it.  As Henri says, it is alive in us.  We can see through our protective stone exterior and see the angel within.  We can carve into ourselves until we set it free, give it space to grow and silence where we can hear it speak.  

Michelangelo's Pietà

* This sentiment is shared by many artists and elaborated on in far more eloquence than I can achieve by Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water.  


  1. Thank you so much. I just read a passage in Henri's Art Spirit that made me think of you ladies and the work you share:

    "Through art mysterious bonds of understanding and of knowledge are established among men [and women]. They are the bonds of a great Brotherhood. Those who are of the Brotherhood know each other, and time and space cannot separate them."

    Léna, this also makes me think of your move.

  2. I do believe Madeleine referred to this as "making cosmos out of chaos". I think of this often myself.

    Another fun fact about Michelangelo, a tool that they used to carve marble was referred to as a "bow". And the marble slab that he used for one project had been rejected by other sculptures for its imperfections and inability to be chiseled. Michelangelo was to have said, "I will slay this Goliath with my bow". "Goliath" ended up being his most famous work "The David". Cool, huh?

    (Oh. And don't think I haven't noticed that your fiction assignment has gone un-posted. ;) )