Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Artistic Failure

B and I were recently asked to be godparents to a little boy in the parish named Christian. Christian Augustino. His parents are second generation Italian. We have become fairly close friends with this family since we settled here in Oklahoma.

In my opinion, it is really quite impossible to figure what to give an infant for his baptism. Either one gives something far beyond his ability to use and appreciate--a Bible, Book of Common Prayer, some other classic of Christian literature--gifts more suited to confirmation, or one resorts to decorative gifts that typically range from ghastly to pedestrian at best.

The one gift I know I received at my baptism was actually quite a good one. It was from my godfather, the late dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in Albuquerque, John Haverland. It is a framed prayer written in calligraphy and in the shape of a cross. The prayer is the birthday prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (interestingly altered from the 1928 BCP by the removal of the petition, 'keeping him unspotted from the world"). This hung in my room for years as a child, and then for a number of years was in a box. A few years ago I found it and have hung it at our various residences since then. I like the dated 80s gold-flecked frame (which required regluing recently because the joints started to separate) and the mysterious water stain on the left edge. I think there is something profound about how I say this prayer many Sunday mornings as part of a parish tradition to give a blessing for those who have a birthday or anniversary within the week.

After reflecting on the long term quality of this gift, I decided to put my amateur calligraphy skills to the test, attempting to copy the one I'd received. So here are the results. The professional one is shown first followed by my best effort.

It was fun trying to imitate the calligraphy, using an ink pen and the well that B gave for Christmas a few years ago. But the results were far more lacklustre that I was prepared to accept. In our time a difficult problem presents itself to non-professional artists and all efforts at creativity: the advances of recording technology, printing, and assembly-line manufacturing have made perfection and precise uniformity seemingly attainable. Amateurs shy away from playing music because recorded music lacks imperfections, even though this perfection is entirely an illusion of multi-track recording and over dubbing. I don't say this by way of excuse for my own failures artistically, but to point out that the type of craft and art I'm interested in--that is, useful art made by an amateur--is arrested in a number of ways by this illusory perfection that characterizes most music and popular art.

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