Turning the Artistic Tide in the Post-Conciliar Era

By Adrian Hau

Photos Courtesy of St. John Cantius Church

The tradition of making fine art, particularly religious art and classical church architecture, has largely disappeared in the post-conciliar era.  Nearly all accredited and degree-granting art and architecture programs no longer teach the techniques of the Renaissance and academic masters, choosing instead to favor novelty and self-expression. As anyone who has set foot inside a modern Catholic Church can attest, the fruits of this secular philosophy have found their way into the Church in recent decades.

Kathleen Carr founded the Catholic Art Guild to address these challenges and begin the ‘restoration of the Sacred’ in Catholic art.  She and her members, with the support of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, have embarked upon an organization seeking to turn the tide in the post-post-conciliar era.The Guild hosts monthly events which provide sound philosophy and theology. They provide community and spiritual support for artists, architects or simply art lovers. 

REGINA Magazine recently talked to Kathleen about her work, and the Catholic Art Guild.

                                                                  A stained glass project produced at the Catholic Art Guild.

REGINA:  You have a strong industry background. 

KATHLEEN:  I have a Bachelor of Fine Art from Maryland Institute College of Art, with a focus on painting. I graduated in ‘92, and I began working as an illustrator and graphic designer as a means of paying the bills. I worked for some of the bigger media in the Washington D.C.; National Geographic, Washington Post, and I taught at the Corcoran College of Art and Design (Editor’s note: Now the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design).  

REGINA:  Why did you start painting, particularly sacred art? KATHLEEN:  I have always seen myself as a painter.  I happened to see a program about the Atelier movement featuring Jacob Collins.  Collin’s work was breathtaking, reminiscent of the old masters.  So I sought instruction and started studying while I still teaching and designing.  My work improved immensely learning these classical techniques.  

REGINA:  Why did this art ever go out of style?

KATHLEEN:  Modern and post-modern philosophy rejects traditional ideas of beauty and wishes to break from it, favoring novelty, experimentation, and self-expression.  Realism and beauty are derided and considered passé.  Anything an artist says is art, is deemed “art.”

Catholic Art Guild Founder Kathleen Carr guides a group through the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago.

REGINA:  So what happened to you?

KATHLEEN:  I had a conversion experience and felt that I needed to begin painting again with renewed hope.  I felt this call that I really should be doing something with my ability to paint so I offered to created a painting for a priest locally. This priest offered to bless my paints and brushes; I began fasting and praying before setting about making all my sacred paintings.  I learned about the iconographers from centuries ago in college and despite being a lukewarm Catholic, it made a deep impression on me.  I wanted to fast and pray even though I was working in Baroque style.

REGINA:  And how did that go?

KATHLEEN:  I created one painting and experienced such joy, it was clear I should continue. I was not familiar with the sacred art market at the time.  I happened to watch EWTN and they were interviewing the founder of the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN), Alan Napleton.  I called the CMN about marketing my paintings and prints to a Catholic audience. Alan invited me to attend the Marketing Network Annual Trade Show and market my work. 

REGINA:  You went to meet him?

KATHLEEN:   Yes; I went to market and sell my work but I noticed that the Catholic Marketing Network had a sister organization called the Catholic Writers Guild.  I asked Alan “Do you have anything for artists?”  And he said, “No, but I get a lot interest. Maybe you want start something like that, we’d be very supportive.”

I began researching and praying about it. When I attended the Marketing Network it was confirmed I really should found this organization. Alan asked me to draft a vision statement which included a “spiritual home” at a classically beautiful church.  I looked into existing organizations and found that there were only a handful.  Several were defunct.  I identified many challenges and needs for an organization focused on the visual arts, but with the support of CMN, I founded the project anyway.

                                            Artist Jed Gibbons gives a talk in June 2018 to the Catholic Art Guild in Chicago.

REGINA:  How will the Guild avoid a similar fate?

KATHLEEN:   The Guild is a completely unique Catholic, lay organization focused on “restoring the Sacred in the visual arts.”  No other organization has ever partnered with a religious order praying for its mission and members, our work is directly supported by the Holy Mass. There’s an old saying “All Catholic art movements began on the altar” so for any chance of success, it would have to start from the Holy Mass.

REGINA:  You’ve partnered with a religious order? 

KATHLEEN: At the Trade Show, I met Father Joshua (Caswell) of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.  I had never heard of St. John Cantius and was unfamiliar with the Traditional Latin Mass. Father Joshua told me about their Charism, “the restoration of the Sacred in liturgy, music and art”. He recommended I watch the documentary about the parish. I watched it, and was swept away by the beauty of the Church, their amazing liturgies, particularly their focus on music and tradition. I had no idea there was another kind of liturgy.  I was so taken with St. John Cantius that I felt it was the perfect “spiritual home” for the Guild!

Dan Rigali of Daprato Rigali Studios leads a tour. 

REGINA:  So what’s actually new about this partnership?

KATHLEEN:   Operating under the Charism of the Canons Regular and having their prayers and the Holy Mass formally supporting our work is critical to our mission and its members. The “restoration of the Sacred” is only possible through prayer and the Holy Mass.  It’s also something never attempted with any art organization and to my knowledge, none have ever had a Mass Association like this.  The liturgy at St. John Cantius engages all the senses and gives a place for those of us with musical and artistic gifts, something that’s all but impossible in your average Novus Ordo parish. 

REGINA:  How does a prospective artist or art enthusiast join the Catholic Art Guild?

KATHLEEN:  Our organization is open to anyone who wishes to join and support our mission. Our enrollment form and all the many benefits of joining can be found here.

                                                                       Students at an illumination workshop of the Catholic Art Guild.

Interested in more?

The Catholic Art Guild’s first year offers monthly events primarily focused on community building and offering sound Catholic theology and philosophy as well as many noted Catholic artists, architects, and authors as well as two workshops in traditional art techniques; Medieval Illumination and Stained Glass Fabrication. Next year we will have an art competition and exhibition at the CMN tradeshow. All events begin with the Holy Mass and most are free to anyone who wishes to attend.

Especially exciting is their upcoming conference “Beauty & The Restoration of the  Sacred   on Oct 29th featuring keynote speaker and noted Philosopher, Sir Roger Scruton.  As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Classical Architect Duncan Stroik, Architectural Historian Dr. Denis McNamara and Catholic Artist Anthony Visco will also be presenting! The day will begin with a traditional High Mass for the feast of Christ the King and end with an elegant dinner in the opulent, gilded age hotel, the Drake.


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