In this month of April Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity focus on Austin, TX artist Doug Jaques and his thoughts on the artistic process. As you meditate on Doug’s comments and artistic creations, consider Saint Francis of Assisi’s ideas on art:
In art he [Francis] praises the Artist; whatever he discovers in creatures he guides to the Creator. He rejoices in all the works of the Lord’s hands and through their delightful display he gazes on their life-giving reason and cause. In beautiful things he discerns Beauty Itself.
-The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul by Thomas of Celano
Comments from Doug Jaques
For me the process of making art is meditation, and meditation is largely attempting to get self out of the way. In other words, “prepare a way for the Lord, make straight a highway”. I don’t say this lightly, and it doesn’t come easily. For example, I have come to love the process of plain air painting, that is painting done outdoors, on the spot. Outdoors, and in communion with nature, I can best experience the miraculous nature of God’s creation. Once I get situated in my painting spot and start applying brush to canvas, I realize how extraordinary the things before me are, and how inadequate and inept my brush and hand are in attempting to capture them. Yet once I get into the struggle, the sense of difficulty falls off.
Then I become one with the experience of painting, self-consciousness falls away. I am lost in creative process. Consciousness of time passing leaves. Time is no longer chronological. There is only kairos, the infinite present. Sense of struggle with the work falls away. Heart and hand are in accord. Struggle is replaced by fascination with light on the forms before me. There is awareness of a resonance between the truth of what is seen and truth within. The eyes of my heart are opened to the transcendent nature of what my physical eyes are seeing. My eyes become skinned, open to the miraculous all around me.
This sensitively heightened state is referred to by many artists as being “in the zone”. I see it as a form of meditation. Some call it the alpha state. I access it not only through plein air painting, but also through the many types of media, method, and genre I use, from life drawing, to mural painting, to digital imaging and mixed media. Meditative mode is essential for creative process.
Also essential for me is perspective, structure, the internal framework upon which I base my work. Let’s approach it this way – why is a sunset, if we take the time to really look, almost a religious experience? Because it declares the glory, the mystery, and the virtuosity of God. Here is my intent, that likewise, my art should be technically virtuous, it should raise questions, and it should, even if only in the smallest way, reflect the marvelous and mysterious nature of God and his creation.
We’re living within an enigma. God is the ultimate Artist. He is incomprehensible by nature and so is His creation. Since I am compelled to make icons that reflect, at least to some small degree, the magnificence and the wondrous nature of Creation.
It makes sense, then, that I should try to imitate the way God works. So, in attempting to observe God’s ways, I have come up with my own personal guidelines for producing art, which are as follows:
- The work must be of a mysterious nature.
- Never explain the work, or at least never completely.
- It is desirable for the work to be complex, multi-faceted.
- The work is usually symbolic of at least one truth.
- The work alludes to truth in an oblique way, as in a parable.
- The work is generous, extravagant.
- The work is for people’s well being, enjoyment.
- The work is necessary, fulfilling, and pleasurable for the artist.
- The work is sometimes paradoxical.
- The work may be ugly, but must be beautiful.
- The work may be funny or whimsical, but must be serious.
- The work may be in bad taste, but must be exquisite, sublime.
- The work must be controlled, but must appear spontaneous, and may appear chaotic, but must have order.
- The work may be unfinished, but must be in balance, whole.