Thursday, November 27, 2014

November 27 - John LaFarge, Artist, Faithful, Caretaker of Christian Heritage

John LaFarge was a man with many questions who was
willing to challenge the expectations and standards of most of the world. Yet, he was still a faithful member of the Roman Catholic church even as he asked questions and cultivated a life of investigation and consideration. For John, there was no tension between a life of faith and a life of intellectual and artistic pursuit. From an early age he had a passion for art and showed a natural talent and gift for it. He was encouraged to pursue a more reliable and lucrative career and so he considered becoming a lawyer for some time. Eventually, though, he came to a place in his life where he stood at a fork in the road: pursue the dependable and predictable or follow his calling and passion. John chose the right path and returned to the United States to study and produce art.

With his inquisitive mind he approached and addressed problems in art that had been labeled lost to the annals of history. John was one of the first to reinvent the medium of stained glass and produce art that was truly original and of equal quality to that produced in the middle ages. His stained glass masterpieces adorned many churches who recognized his talent and calling. All the while, he was faithful to attend and follow after God in congregations of people who may not have even known his prodigious talent--for John, art wasn't about fame; it was about following a passion and a call.

John knew well why art was important for the Church. It is far too easy to cast aside art as an idol or as something of no rhetorical or didactic purpose. In a culture enraptured with words and turns of phrase, there is little room for the power of art to communicate in different and--at times--more powerful ways. Oftentimes, it is argue that church art--specifically the stained glass windows--is the scripture for the illiterate. This argument is often used to justify religious art historically but doesn't hold the same force in our culture. John rejected the idea that religious art was a vain pursuit or idolatry and insisted that there was a calling and need for art within congregations--even in a mostly literate culture. Just as Jesus had been an image of the Father, there was room for art to transcend word and communicate Truth in ways that language failed. In a very real sense, Jesus' incarnation paves the way for the use of image to point toward the transcendent. It was John's passion--though not his exclusive practice--to do religious art that pointed toward a God who loved and cared for the people of the world as a father cares for his children.

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