|An Open Letter To Fellow Artists|
I have received many letters from young Christian painters, writers, and musicians, and ask those of you who have written to me to pardon my delay in responding to your inquiries. The amount of interest in StudiObrien has been overwhelming, and for that reason I’ve been able to reply to only a fraction of the letters I receive.
I would like to write to you a few thoughts about our calling. This will be a sort of Combat Journal from the Culture Wars, penned by a battle scarred veteran. I hope it will cover most of the questions I am regularly asked.
I began to paint full-time for Christ on May 1st, 1976. Though I had been practicing as an artist since 1970, when I had my first one-man exhibition at a gallery, I had not until then made a commitment to overtly Christian themes, nor was I pursuing my art as a vocation. To a certain extent I was drifting and dabbling with the idea, but rather daunted by the seeming impossibility of it. Then I made a consecration prayer on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, 1976, quit my job, and threw myself off a cliff so to speak.
As a married man, I have always strived to put the needs of my family first. From the beginning, my wife and I have remained of one mind and heart regarding our life’s sacrifice of giving everything for the service of Our Lord and the Church. Without this unity it would have been impossible, and surely would have collapsed in the early stages and at any point along the way. In fact it was she who, shortly after we were married, first urged me to consider this way of life, and it is she who has never complained about the hardships involved, and she who has buoyed me up whenever our situation looked scary and hopeless.
By putting one’s family first I do not mean for a moment that a distinct calling from God should be rejected because the life of a Christian artist in these times probably means material insecurity. Part of accepting the call, for most people, will demand an ever-deepening trust in divine providence. While divine providence never promises us a comfortable life, it promises us all that we truly need to accomplish our missions in life.
For most of us, we can probably forget the idea of having a middle class standard of living with good pension plans. The way of Christian art as a full-time vocation demands sacrifice, and with sacrifice comes stresses and testing, which are increased when one’s family responsibilities are great. That is why it is important for married couples to discern very clearly, together, before launching with full commitment into this vocation. They must understand that their first vocation is always the sacrament of marriage, and the call to art a subsidiary vocation.
Many of you who have written to me are not married, and yet the essential task remains the same for you: to seek the will of the Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit with your whole hearts. A life of prayer and sacraments—of union with our living savior Jesus—is absolutely essential, if we hope to bear good fruit in the world.
There is always a mystery regarding each person’s vocation in the works of the Lord. His creation is not a machine but rather a vast work of art. He is the Father-Creator. “We are God’s work of art,” says St. Paul. Growth in the vocation is usually a series of countless small steps of faith, usually blind steps, because what God wants to accomplish most in us is the increase of absolute trust in him, not so much successes, not even successful works done for his Kingdom. Of course he desires to do this also, but I believe his primary will is accomplished and is always more fruitful, to the degree that we have agreed to be very little instruments in his hands—like children, toddlers, trusting to the point of rashness in his merciful love.
He is a true Father. This means you must go step by step, hand in hand with him, even when you can’t feel his hand, asking for each day’s graces, and for the specific graces needed for each of your works. Allow him to expand your heart. Allow him to create with the material of your life. Allow him to make of you more than you think you are. This long process will contain some sufferings and numerous unexpected joys. Offer every suffering for the restoration of the Church and for the fruitfulness of your work—fruitfulness in the sense of good for other souls.