Simple Art

Many years ago, a confirmation candidate gifted me with this simple wooden cross. Frankly, the style is not my usual cup of tea. I have icons, traditional and modern. I gravitate to paintings across all centuries, even modern and abstract works.

This cross is more craft than art, but my wife recently hung it in the hallway between our bedroom and bath, and I felt drawn to it anew.

My usual preference for the cross is with a corpus or without, and I’m not sure what the cut out of the dove/flame is supposed to mean theologically. My beloved reminded me it was a gift from an important young man in my earlier life. Did she think I was going to give it away as part of my recent purge of possessions?

If this were the only cross in a church, I think there might be rightful questions. But in our home, we have a crucifix just next to the front door, something like a mezuzah. There is a Salvadoran painted crucifix in the main bedroom, too. I worry not at all about losing the sense of the cross. And maybe the inflection of the Holy Spirit onto this simple and plain piece of wood is not out of place either.

All that brings me round to the notion of art or not-art in homes and churches. One of my soapboxes is that churches really should avoid decoration masquerading as art. Back at the student center, one of our earnest young people thought all the rooms needed a crucifix. His notion: buy $9.95 pieces to hang on all the walls. Like what most parish schools do. My counter-suggestion: research the saint names attached to the rooms and find well-crafted art that fit. A San Damiano cross for the Francis and Clare room. Something of Peru for the room named after one of our archdiocese’s priests martyred in South America. Things like that.

Too often we settle for decoration when what really stimulates faith and reflection is true art.

So, if my friend’s gift true art? Maybe it is if I keep looking at it. And if I’m just passing by without a thought, like any other intrusion of life from God, it’s just another little decorative piece in a world of decorations.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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