When I was at Jubilee 2012 this past February, I had the privilege of speaking with David Gruesel, the architect best known for his work on PNC Park in Pittsburgh. One of the things we discussed was the reality of being classically-trained, but still interested in making work that speaks to a people in a particular time and a particular place. Both art and architecture are subject to trends, movements, and varying levels of the ridiculous. I do not believe that classical art is superior to other styles, nor do I believe that it is the only art I can or desire to do. Yet, how do I honor my own artistic-genelolical tradition with being relevant, dare I say that word?
The figure will always play some role in my art. I love, love, love working with the figure. I love sculpting with my hands. I have since I was a child drawing my first circle with arms and fingers. The figure is always relevant; it is us. We will always have bodies, unless, of course, we reach the Singularity. Even then, we’ll need some sort of space to inhabit.
So, what does this have to do with Frederick Hart? For one, I was an apprentice to Jay Hall Carpenter after I graduated from college. Jay worked at the National Cathedral as the first artist-in-residence; and he worked for Frederick Hart for many years. During our conversation, Mr. Gruesel reminded me of an old Tom Wolfe article about Frederick Hart, The Artist the Art World Couldn’t See. Hart was not reviled by the art world, but rather completely ignored. The art world considered his work completely irrelevant.
Like Frederick Hart, I do a lot of work for churches. Creating a sculpture for a church is very much unlike creating sculptures for galleries or museum. The people most in contact with the work do not see a sculpture much at all, but rather a divine messenger, ready to hear their prayers, create a point of meditation and contemplation, and fill their sanctuary with examples of holiness that imbues the space with a sacred energy. For me, that is profoundly meaningful.
Does an artist have to choose between doing work that is meaningful and relevant to people whose opinions about art and beauty matter little in the so called art world, and making work that will be featured in art magazines and sell for good prices at auctions? Hart kept working on his figures and had tremendous material success. His sculptures still sell well to collectors. But the art world doesn’t remember his name.