Fine Arts Column: “To Will the One Thing”


If stewardship of a fine arts column has made anything clear to me so far, its that my artistic focus toward music is incredibly pronounced even in my writing. Not that I havent written about other forms of art and not that I dont intend to continue. Its simply a truth that my background has given me a passion for music and a foundation from which to bring that world to people more than any other. In a sense, this is true of most of us.

My predecessor in this position wrote frequently about the art of theatre, and some of my friends at this school are far better graphic artists than I could ever hope to be. In art, as in life, it is not uncommon to have specialties, things youre better at and things you struggle with.

There is a story of a young friar who once asked Saint Francis which of the other friars was the most perfect so that he might imitate him in the way of perfection. When Francis began to speak to him of the perfections of many different members of their community, the frustrated young friar asked him again for one friar to imitate. Francis simply reminded him that the goodness of God is not expressed in a single person, that each of us is created differently to reflect some aspect of Gods unity. In art, as in life, each of us reflects a facet of the many-sided jewel that is the beauty and wonder of God.

The great tension of living in a world sustaining myriad examples of astounding and astonishing artistic achievements is between inspiration and intimidation. Our Lord does call some to be the jack-of-all-trades type, gifted at whatever kind of artistic endeavor they undertake. But never ever be ashamed of only being good at one or two kinds of art. Never forget how incredibly and frighteningly important your art is.

Because if you are an artist sharing your art with the people of this world because God has called you to, this part of your vocation has a significance that the present age is direly in need of right now.

We are broken people living in a broken world, and while it is not the ultimate remedy, art will forever be part of the healing process. It is a window between our human condition and the divine, and its many forms speak to the many kinds of souls in this community we call humanity. So hone your art. Purity of heart, as Kierkegaard writes, is to will one thing alone. Perhaps it could be said, by analogy, that in honoring the skills God has blessed us with and which we have tended to, we find purity of art.

I leave you this week with a quote by Karl Paulnack, dean of the Ithaca College School of Music, a quote introduced to me by a friend and fellow musician which has inspired me on the harder days when practice has seemed a toil. As it is applicable to any kind of art, I pray it will inspire you, dear reader, in a similar fashion.

If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, youd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 a.m. someone is going to waltz into your emergency room, and youre going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 p.m. someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

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