Monday, November 08, 2010

A Course for Catholic Artists and Patrons

I want to direct readers to the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham England and its course Art, Beauty and Inspiration from a Catholic Perspective. The Maryvale Institute is a Catholic college known internationally both for the quality of the education it offers and its fidelity to the Magisterium. I have visited this college many times over the years and its very special approach to education gave me insights into how artists ought to be taught today. I wrote about this in an article Art, Grace and Education, which first appeared in the journal Second Spring. I should declare at this point that I worked closely with the faculty (from whom I learnt a great deal) in the creation of this course and was one of the lecturers on its residential weekends before I came to work in the US.

This course is for both practising artists and for those interested in art, including its role in Christian life, liturgy and catechetics. It is a part-time, distance-learning, one-year course and so it is ideal for mature students anywhere in the world (as such it is complementary to Thomas More College of Liberal Arts, in New Hampshire, which offers this to a more conventional body of undergraduate students). It is very reasonably priced and is structured so that it can be combined with a working life. It is credit rated at undergraduate level.

It introduces the riches of the whole Christian tradition and its continued inspiration in both the East and the West up until the present day, rooted above all in the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery.The course does not presume, nor require, any specific abilities or skills in art. Nonetheless, it was established in direct response to John Paul II’s Letter to Artists and aims to stimulate and inspire a new wave of Catholic artists to create a new ‘epiphany of beauty' in religious art.

Included in this course is the role of art in liturgy and in catechesis, as well as how artists have drawn inspiration for their work in the light of grace, the daily life of the Church and the action of the Holy Spirit. The course explores the ways that visual art forms can reflect timeless truths and a holistic Catholic world view that can speak to the needs that today's men and women have for beauty, goodness and truth.

There is a topical connection. John Henry Newman lived there temporarily before establishing the Birmingham Oratory in its permanent site. In 1846, Newman and his community who had recently been received into the Church were granted the former seminary as a house of retreat and study. It was Newman and his followers who gave it the name 'Maryvale' after St Philip Neri's church in Rome.

The chapel, incidentally, was restored recently for the Institute's 25th anniversary. It was built in the 18th century at a time when Catholicism was tolerated but not legal and so was constructed so that there was no sense from the outside that there was a church on the inside.

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