Monday, July 31, 2006

"Art for art's sake" Destroys Art

C.S. Lewis' famous essay First and Second Things (1942) stated that if we elevate secondary things above first things, we not only lose the higher thing, but ironically, the second things also. This is evident in the elevation of 'fine' arts, or "art for art's sake" above the everyday arts:
Until quite modern times - I think, until the time of the Romantics - nobody ever suggested that literature and the arts were an end in themselves. They "belonged to the ornamental part of life," the provided "innocent diversion"; or else the "refined our manners" or "incited us to virtue" or glorified the gods. The great music had been written for Masses, the great pictures painted to fill up a space on the wall of a noble patron's diningroom or to kindle devotion in a church; the great tragedies were produced either by a religious poets in honour of Dionysus or by commercial poets to entertain Londoners on half-holidays.

It was only in the nineteenth century that we became aware of the full dignity of art. We began to "take it seriously" as the Nazis take mythology seriously. But the result seems to have been a dislocation of the aesthetic life in which little is left for us but high-minded works which fewer and fewer people want to read or hear or see, and "popular" works of which both those who make them and those who enjoy them are half ashamed. Just like the Nazis, by valuing too highly a real, but subordinate good, we have come near to losing that good itself.
The arts today are a horrible mess. Just look at the Wikipedia article on Art to see the principal of First and Second things in action:
How best to define the term "art" is a subject of much contention; many books and journal articles have been published arguing over even the basics of what we mean by the term "art" (Davies, 1991 and Carroll, 2000). Theodor Adorno claimed in 1969 "It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident any more." (Danto, 2003). Indeed, it is not even clear anymore who has the right to define art. Artists, philosophers, anthropologists, and psychologists all use the notion of art in their respective fields, and give it operational definitions that are not very similar to each others.
The confusion here continues:
Many have argued that it is a mistake to even try to define art or beauty, that they have no essence, and so can have no definition....

Another approach is to say that "art" is basically a sociological category, that whatever art schools and museums, and artists get away with is considered art regardless of formal definitions.

Proceduralists often suggest that it is the process by which a work of art is created or viewed that makes it, art, not any inherent feature of an object, or how well received it is by the institutions of the art world after its introduction to society at large....

Functionalists, like Monroe Beardsley argue that whether or not a piece counts as art depends on what function it plays in a particular context, the same Greek vase may play a non-artistic function in one context (carrying wine), and an artistic function in another context (helping us to appreciate the beauty of the human figure).

Often one of the defining characteristics of fine art as opposed to applied art, is the absence of any clear usefulness or utilitarian value. But this requirement is sometimes criticized as being a class prejudice against labor and utility....
The classical definition of art is "the virtue of making things well". It is a virtue, that is, a good habit of a person, and what is produced by that virtue is an object of art. By this definition, nearly everything in life is art. The modern definition of art, what is called "art for art's sake", has ruined all art, by making art a meaningless concept. It elevates a narrow slice of all art above the rest, and all art is lost in the process. Making something for a utilitarian purpose nowadays almost certainly means giving it a utililitarian (and ugly) design, since a useful object cannot possibly be 'art' to the modern, elite, mind. Even Wikipedia's sole rejection of "art for art's sake" is Marxist and promotes utilitarianism, and not practical beauty.

Just go to a large art museum, which has a diverse collection of artworks from various time periods and cultures. Invariably, those works that were made for their own sake, as ends in themselves (which will invariably be the most contemporary objects in the museum), will usually be ugly, and we will inevitably be told that we should ignore our preconceptions of beauty. The older works of art, made for a church, temple, or for the pleasure of a patron or as a public monument, and never for its own sake, will almost invariably be beautiful. Even ancient objects from radically different cultures, like China, India, Islam, Egypt, and so forth, are almost universally acclaimed to be beautiful, and those cultures did not accept our modern notion of putting the Second Thing of "art for its own sake" first.

AFTERNOTE: Today (Aug. 6, 2006), It struck me: "Art for Art's Sake" is idolatry: elevating a creature above all else.

Photo of Saint Pius V Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri

Here is a photo of Saint Pius V Church, in the City of Saint Louis, Missouri

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales needs your help

The Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, who administer the Oratory of Saint Francis de Sales, needs your help with restoration of this remarkable church.
Save the Tower, Rebuild for the Future
The bell tower of the magnificent neo-gothic building of St. Francis de Sales Oratory is gradually becoming detached from the main building. Major work to the foundation is needed, besides repairs to the tower itself, which will cost in the environs of $1 million. In addition, further restoration is required within the church building, including the stained glass windows, the sacristy, the HVAC, and other reparis. To help, please contact Father Lenhardt at 314-771-3100.

Click here for online donations; look for the link at the bottom of the page

Donations may also be sent directly to the Oratory:

St. Francis de Sales Oratory
2653 Ohio Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63118

Saturday, July 29, 2006

New Poll

Vote for your favorite architectural styles of churches. The poll is on the right hand side of the page.

My previous poll was: Do you attend a traditional Catholic liturgy? The final poll results are:

  • 50% I attend a traditional Latin Mass or Eastern Divine Liturgy.

  • 39% I would attend a traditional Catholic liturgy, if one was in my area.

  • 6% I have no interest in attending traditional Catholic liturgies.

  • 4% I'm not Catholic.

Note: total does not add up to 100% due to rounding error.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Photos of Sacred Heart Church, in Valley Park, Missouri

Here are a few photos of Sacred Heart Church, in Valley Park, Missouri.

Valley Park is located about 20 highway miles southwest of downtown Saint Louis, just off of Interstate 44.

The town is located on the Meramec River and is flood-prone, and many of its older homes are built on stilts. The church itself is on high ground.

Valley Park was an industrial town, and the church was built to serve the factory workers and their families. Nowadays, governments are converting the flood plains here to parks, while the surrounding hills are rapidly developing. A major highway, 141, now goes through the center of town, reducing some of its historic isolation.

The church was founded in 1907, and expanded in 2002.

Western Saint Louis County and Saint Charles County (located north across the Missouri River) are experiencing some of the highest growth rates in the United States. Much of this growth is from Catholic families. When the forested hills west of Valley Park were cleared for suburban tract housing in the late 1990s, this church became quickly overcrowded, and the parish staff overworked. Several years ago, this church's seating capacity and amenities were increased via wings added to the nave.

This horizontal expansion was an alternative to the options of starting a new parish, or closing this historic church and replacing it with a larger one.

According to the parish website, 2540 families are registered here. With the tremendous growth in the area, the number of children enrolled in the school is expected to increase by 50% in a few years.

The church was locked, but I managed to get a photo through a window in the door. Notice how the church has a modern baptismal font and seating arrangement, but still retains its traditional high altar. The church now seats 730, with 100 in the choir loft, but still has five Sunday Masses plus the Saturday Vigil, and is served by three full time priests.

17 Ann Avenue
Valley Park, Missouri 63088

(note: Google maps does not correctly place the church address)

You Too Can Save a Pew

The Cathedral Basilica needs to refurbuish its pews. Click here for more information.

Photos of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis

On July 14th, the Latin Liturgy Association convention took a tour of Saint Louis area churches. One stop was the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, cathedral of the Latin Rite archdiocese.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - view to back of nave
LLA members listening to a talk on the church.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - historical dome
Dome over the back of the church. Surrounding the dome are mosaics showing local history.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - historical dome
Another view of the dome over the back of the nave. Historical figures shown here include Saint Philippine Duchesne, whose relics are entombed in nearby Saint Charles, Missouri. Centered in the dome is the Great Seal of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, and the scripture: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying "Behold the dwelling of God with men and he will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them as their God." (Revelation 21:3)

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help
"Behold your mother".

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - west transept
West transept showing the fire of Pentecost. The mosaics in the domes of the transepts are quite recent, having only been completed in 1988, and consequently are in a far different style than the rest of the church.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - main dome
The main dome, centered over the transept.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - east transept
The east transept. The dome contains mosaics of the Resurrected Christ. Like the other transcept dome, these mosiacs are recent and done in a modern style.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - sanctuary
The sanctuary. The baldacchino over the altar has the same design as the basilica's main dome exterior.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - high altar
The high altar. The tabernacle is not located at this altar; instead it is in its own chapel.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - small dome
A small dome.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - ambulatory
Ambulatory around the sanctuary. The red symbolizes Christ's blood: this opens to the Blessed Sacrament chapel.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - statue of Saint Vincent de Paul
Statue of Saint Vincent de Paul, one of the patrons of the Archdiocese.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Another Personality Test

Found over at (registration required).

Yes, I'm looking for a job. Your prayers would be appreciated!

JASPER - The Job Asset and Strengths Profiler
, your answers indicate that you are a Thinker when it comes to your overall work personality. Your JASPER type is a combination of your most prominent work traits and a good indicator of what you're like at work.

"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it."
-Henry Ford

prepare for

Mark Abeln

July 2006

unique strengths
communication skillscommunication
What you want out of work:
To quietly do your work in a thoughtful way without rocking the boat too much.
Your colleagues think of you as:
Introspective, somewhat reserved but easy to get along with.
What you have to offer:
A steady worker who thinks things through before acting.

leadership styletraditional
Traditional. Your leadership style can be characterized as Traditional. This means that you tend to be cautious and steady when you're in charge of calling the shots. You don't take unnecessary risks or make impulsive decisions; instead, you lead with solid direction and purpose.

work personalityintrospective
Introspective.You are more Introspective than Expressive when it comes to your work personality. You have a quiet calm about you and tend to be thoughtful and measured in what you say. You are more cerebral than most people and likely prefer working alone.

Univeral Skillsverbal skills
Communication skills. You likely are an articulate person, and you probably have received positive feedback on your writing ability or your skill speaking to groups. Even if you don't regularly use this skill, you nevertheless have confidence in your communication abilities.

Trusting. You have faith in the decisions of your superiors and prefer following directions without questioning them. You tend to have an ingrained respect for authority and are accommodating to the needs of your organization and boss, traits that make you quite easy to work with.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Photos of Saint Anselm Church, in Creve Coeur, Missouri

Here are photos of Saint Anselm Church, located about 17 highway miles west of downtown Saint Louis in the suburban town of Creve Coeur, Missouri.

Modernism in Catholic churches isn't exactly my cup of tea, but this building, completed in 1962, has its charms. It was designed by the Saint Louis-based Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (, one of the world's largest architectural firms.

From the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus website:
Even St. Louisans who generally dislike modern architecture are apt to make an exception for the Priory Chapel, as the church of the St. Louis Abbey is still popularly known. From a distance, its tiers of parabolic arches seem to be lifting off from its green ridge, and from inside, the sense of soaring is even more pronounced. Three men share the major credit for this: Gyo Obata, the architect; Pier Luigi Nervi, his consultant; and the first prior, Father Columba Cary-Elwes, who insisted on a real church rather than a small chapel. Cary-Elwes was able to achieve this goal thanks to the generosity of an anonymous family of donors. Obata, the design partner in the internationally known firm of Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK) of St. Louis, probably had less to do with obtaining the commission for the chapel than his partners George Hellmuth and George Kassabaum, who were both active Catholics; Kassabaum sent four sons to the Priory School.
The parish is staffed by Benedictine monks of the Saint Louis Abbey, who also run the prestigious Priory School (

I once interviewed with an archdiocesan official, looking for something to do. He recommended that I go to the Abbey: he said that these monks are some of the smartest people around.

This is a lousy photo of the interior. [UPDATE: click here for a newer photo of the interior.]

Although you can't see it, the monks are in the far side of the church chanting Vespers. The beauty of Gregorian Chant still effects me greatly, especially since I didn't expect to hear it when I walked in.

Andrew Cusack recently wrote that the Benedictines should more appropriately have a church like Saint Vincent de Paul Chapel, and he has a point. In-round seating can be extremely distracting and is often symbolic of pantheism or congregationalism. Also, I could not identify the location of the tabernacle; while everyone else entering and leaving the church genuflected to the central altar, I was just confused.

From the early 1950s, until quite recently, building anything in any style other than Modernism was strictly unthinkable. It is hard to describe the feeling of the inevitability of Modernism during that time: even those of us who loved the traditional styles, and who found little to like with the new style, gave up fighting it, even mentally, and just accepted the revolution as an unstoppable force of nature. We were so propagandized that we just gave up.

But some modern churches built before the close of the Second Vatican Council are quite fanciful and almost attractive, and this is one of them. The architects and other artists who designed these churches had a classical arts education, which emphasized objective standards of quality and the view of art as a virtue that is developed with practice. All of these charming Modernist churches predated the Marxist revolutions in the schools of the 1960s. Although the objects of art here are stylistically Modern, the artists of that generation approached art as a mature virtue, instead of childishly promoting their own "creativity". Everything in this church is very artful: made of the best quality material with fine workmanship, although its iconic value is sometimes minimal.

530 South Mason Road
Creve Coeur, Missouri 63141

"The Baroque Qwik-E-Mart Artistically Considered"

See the article The Baroque Qwik-E-Mart Artistically Considered over at the Shrine of the Holy Whapping.

Why can't a gas station be beautiful? Back many decades, some gas stations were even quite charming.

"India Catholics oppose Communist grab at control of colleges"

See the article: India Catholics oppose Communist grab at control of colleges. I'm surprised it took this long in India. Marxists took over the U.S. Catholic colleges forty years ago.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Soulard Panorama

The Mississippi River, Illinois, the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and at least six Catholic churches can be seen in this photo of the old Soulard neighborhood of Saint Louis. Click picture for a bigger version, and see if you can find Saint Raymond, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saints Peter and Paul, Saint Joseph (Croatian), Saint John Nepomuk, and Saint Agatha.

Photos of the Shrine of Saint Joseph, in Saint Louis, Missouri

On Friday, July 14th, the Latin Liturgy Association visited a number of area churches, including the magnificent Shrine of Saint Joseph, in the near-northside of Saint Louis, Missouri.

Click here for newer photos of the shrine.

Click on any photo for a larger version.

This is the Shrine of Saint Joseph, originally a German parish staffed by the Society of Jesus, and slated to be destroyed in the late 1970s. By the time of its closure, it was in the middle of a dangerous industrial neighborhood with few parishioners. Now, with the church restored by the efforts of the laity, a neighborhood has sprung up around it.

This is the site of the only authenticated miracle in the midwest.

The parish was started in 1844, with major expansions of the church being completed in 1866 and 1881

Members of the Latin Liturgy Association enter the shrine.

A view of the sanctuary, while a docent gives a talk on the history of the church. The church is decorated for a wedding.

In the sanctuary is the Altar of Answered Prayers, installed in 1867, and built in thanks by parishioners spared from a cholera epidemic. At the very top is the Sacred Heart. The main statue is of Saint Joseph with the Christ Child, flanked by Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier

Saint Joseph with the Christ Child.

Detail of altar.

Side of the sanctuary.

A closer view of the half-dome above the high altar.

A stained glass window, showing the Christian symbol of the anchor, and the Keys of Saint Peter.

Mary's altar. The Blessed Virgin Mary, holding the Child Jesus, is flanked by Saints Cecilia and Agnes, two virgin Roman martyrs. The top reads Ave Maria gratia plena: Hail Mary full of grace (adapted from Luke 1:28)

Effigy of Saint Justus of Beauvais, a nine-year old boy martyred during the persecution of Diocletian. This has the appearance of an altar-tomb, as were used in the catacombs in Rome.

View of the ceiling in a side-aisle.

Detail of the ornament in the vaulting.

The Jesuit's Altar, featuring three young Jesuit priests. According to the Shrine's website, the purpose of this altar was to inspire young men to the priesthood. Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is flanked by Saints John Berchmans and Stanislaus Kostka.

At the top of the altar is written the Latin text: Quam pulchra est casta generatio ("how beautiful is the chaste generation"), from the Book of Wisdom 4:1 (not found in Protestant Bibles)

Below is an effigy of Christ in the Sepulcher.

Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

This pulpit comes from the old Jesuit seminary in Florissant, Missouri.

The richly-decorated ceiling of the nave.

The two towers of the church were originally topped by tall cupolas, which were destroyed by a tornado. The Shrine has plans to replace them, making this one of the tallest churches in the area.

Mass times:

Sunday: 11:00 a.m.
First Friday: 12 Noon


1220 North 11th Street
St. Louis, MO 63106