Selecting an Artist
March 07, 2007
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What a privilege and an honor! What a responsibility! These and many other thoughts stir the minds of newly formed committees with the goal of building a new church – a church for generations to come.
As an artist, I have the privilege and honor of working with committees building new and renovated churches, and it never ceases to amaze me how the common wisdom, the wisdom of the Body and the Spirit, guides the process.
In preparation for the building or renovation process, it is essential to read and study the relevant documents, e.g., the U.S. Bishops' Built of Living Stones and Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, in order to gain a foundational understanding of what the church values regarding new church building, liturgy and art. EnVisionChurch.org will also be a valuable source of information, as will church art and architecture magazines. An in-person visit to see recently built churches may allow for conversation with committees which have gone through the same process, which will be yet another avenue of valuable information. Attending conferences and workshops on church building are a way of meeting and seeing the work of many artists and architects, and broadening your knowledge of liturgy and the building process.
The local diocesan office of worship will often have recommendations for liturgical consultants and files of various artists and architect’s work. A liturgical consultant has the expertise to oversee the whole project, and their experience is invaluable throughout the process. They, too, have resources for proven and talented architects and artists. And they can help form a mission statement and solidarity in the committee and parish. This will help the architect and artists to integrate your mission and vision into the architecture and artwork.
In choosing an artist you will want to request visual material, such as slides or digital images on CD-Rom. You will want to see a curriculum vitae, an Artist’s Profile, and possibly letters of recommendation from past commissions to confirm the quality of the artist’s work. The artist may also have a website to review, giving you more comparison of what each brings creatively, philosophically and spiritually to the table.
Usually two or three artists are selected to interview in person . The interview process is critical so you find a person who is able to work with the parish to bring forth in art the essence of who the parish is, as well as someone who understands architecture, light, symbol, color, and the medium in which they work, be it glass, wood, stone, or metal.
The artist who understands the role of art in worship will best be able to use their craft to serve the liturgy. In this process, you can determine if this is a person who is able to listen and collaborate, as well as express the meaning and identity of your unique community through the artist’s eye.
An artist can serve to assist the parish in fund-raising for the project as well. Both designs and a prototype of proposed materials, and sometimes a model to illustrate how the art will enhance the church, will help generate excitement among parishioners for the proposed artwork. These materials may be used to assemble a fund-raising brochure. The designs should all be completed at one time for continuity, but the artist can help the parish stay within its budget by phasing the fabrication of the work.
It is not done often enough, but choosing the artists at the onset of the architectural design has the possibility of integrating the vision, and often a glass artist who works with the many qualities of light - transparency, translucency, projection, refraction and reflection - can make critical contributions to the issues of light, how it could contour the space, or use the exterior visual environment as part of the space. At the very least, they can point out where difficulties for light transmission could occur. And the team approach allows for a seamless integration of art and architecture.
In conclusion, this process has the potential to be a deeply spiritual and educational process. With inspiring team leadership, the whole church community and future generations can be drawn into a deeper, fuller experience of their faith, identity, and mission.
Elizabeth Devereaux is a glass artist in Chico, CA.