Art Everywhere: Coming to a Billboard Near You

Beginning next month, many of my readers in the States who live in urban areas will be seeing the work of an initiative known as Art Everywhere US.  On both traditional and digital billboards, on bus shelters and train platforms, among other locations, the organizers will be displaying a selection of images from American art history.  The original pool of 100 of these works, “curated”, if you will, by experts from five of America’s major art museums, was narrowed down to a final fifty by online voters on the Art Everywhere website.  These fifty will be seen on approximately 50,000 different types of displays across the country starting August 4th in Times Square, and then continuing to spread throughout the country until August 31st.

Of the pieces making the final cut, that with the single highest number of votes was Edward Hopper’s iconic 1942 Nighthawks, which is now in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.  I do love the painting, though I must confess it isn’t my favorite work of Hopper’s, being somewhat overexposed both in terms of its fame and indeed the lighting of the piece itself.  Still, it’s nice to know that it will be included, and that it’s so well-regarded by the public.

Other works which will be featured in the campaign include probably my favorite work by James McNeill Whistler, his 1862 portrait titled Symphony in White No. 1; one of my favorite John Singer Sargents, his Repose of 1911, which like the Whistler is in the collection of the National Gallery here in D.C.; and Chuck Close’s astounding 1969 painting Phil, a portrait of composer Philip Glass from The Whitney in New York.  The fifty choices are for the most part fairly safe, since apart from photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (clothed, thank goodness) and the overrated Cindy Sherman (yuck), the 20th century pieces tend to stick largely to the easy and familiar: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, etc.

It was disappointing however, to see that the earliest painting which was included in the final cut – and the second earliest in the original 100 voting list – was John Singleton Copley’s 1778 Watson and the Shark. While the piece has its merits as a form of composition, it’s not my favorite Copley by any stretch of the imagination.  Moreover, in only choosing one pre-Revolutionary portrait for the voting list, one has to question the thinking of the jury with respect to their art history parameters.  If 1776 was not in fact the cut-off year, then why not go back as early as possible into American art history?

Be that as it may, I won’t quibble with the results.  There are some truly great works of art on this list, and I am looking forward to seeing how they pop up around town.  August is always such a dreary time in the Nation’s Capital, with the oppressive heat, humidity, and flocks of tourists.  It will be terrific to be visually refreshed with images like these, and reminded of the great art collections in this city, just a short train or bus ride away.

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper (1942) The Art Institute of Chicago

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper (1942)
The Art Institute of Chicago

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Technology and the Church: Why Can’t We Have This in America?

In conversation recently with a few friends, I brought up a wonderful online service which I have mentioned before on these pages. It always surprises me to learn that people are not familiar with it, so this is a good opportunity to extol its virtues to you.  Moreover, and more importantly to those in the U.S., I’d like to issue a challenge to those with the resources and know-how, and ask why we don’t already have something like it on this side of the pond.

Church Services TV provides both streaming and archived video from a growing number of cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and chapels around Ireland and the United Kingdom.  Each location has its own “channel” in a drop-down menu, so that one can quickly search for the feed from a particular parish, or switch between one church and another.  Visitors can check the schedule posted on the site to see what events are coming up that day, such as Daily or Sunday Mass, and there is also a special events calendar, useful for future planning purposes.  If you’re lucky, sometimes you may stumble across an unlisted event: I’ve caught concerts, talks, and things like baptisms, weddings, and funerals on the Church Services site this way.

What I find to be one of the most special aspects about this technology however, is what it can bring to the visitor throughout their day.  When you’re at the office or at home, trying to get work done and the phone, the kids, and/or the dog are all driving you crazy, it would be nice to be able to just take a break and go away and pray for awhile.  Oftentimes, that option is nowhere near practical.  Since Church Services leaves nearly all of the camera feeds on the site running all day, even though you may not physically be able to get to church for a few minutes of prayer after you’ve nearly blown your top, you’re one click away from having a live window into God’s house whenever you want it.

Although at night, most of the cameras on the site switch to black-and-white security mode, and the churches themselves often turn off all the lights, that doesn’t mean the site becomes useless.  Even then, I think there’s something profound and encouraging about seeing the sanctuary lamp burning before the tabernacle, in the midst of the surrounding darkness.  When all may otherwise appear dark, the light of Christ’s Presence is shining forth.  It’s not Adoration, but it’s not a waste of time, either, especially after a rough day.

Now of course, an image on the screen is not the same thing as actually being present before the Real Presence, let alone receiving Holy Communion.  Nevertheless, one can see how there are many positive aspects of this kind of technology, which could be put to good use.  Much as radio and later television broadcast of the Mass has helped people like shut-ins to be able to pray and worship alongside their fellow Christians, while not a substitute for Mass or Adoration, this more recent technology also provides an opportunity for spiritual growth and refreshment to those who want to take advantage of it.

So this brings me back to my original question, because it strikes me that, if the good people of the Emerald Isle can put a service like this together, why don’t we have something similar in the U.S.?  Certainly, there are some churches around the country that have had low-tech webcams for years: I know of a few in places like Philadelphia and St. Louis, for example.  Yet to my knowledge, there is nothing comparable in America to this centralized site with so many participating churches, where not only can one watch live footage, but even go back and watch previous video.  There is clearly an opportunity here, waiting to be discovered and implemented.

In the meantime, gentle reader, I highly recommend that you bookmark the Church Services TV site, as I have, because you will be able to make good use of it when and if you need to.  And talk to your parish and your diocese about whether they might be interested in doing something similar where you are.  It would be great to see this service spread to more communities around the world, both as a source of spiritual growth for practicing Catholics, and as a tool for the New Evangelization.

Screenshot of the Church Services TV site

Screenshot of the Church Services TV site

Independence Day Giveaway: Books for Little Patriots

In honor of Independence Day – and courtesy of my friend, the lovely and talented Amelia Hamilton – this Friday, July 4th, we’re giving away a free copy of each of her two fantastic children’s books: “One Nation Under God: A Book for Little Patriots”, and “10 Steps to Freedom: A Growing Patriot’s Guide to the American Revolution”.

One Nation Under God is a wonderful teaching tool, which uses counting and poetry to explain concepts which can sometimes be tough for young readers to grasp.  Beginning, appropriately enough, with the number 1 for God, Hamilton takes each number from 1-10 in turn, and explains different aspects of the American republic and its history, from the Bill of Rights to the branches of the military services.  For example, for the number 4, Hamilton explains who each of the four U.S. Presidents carved on Mount Rushmore were, while for the number 9, the nine Justices of the Supreme Court are engaged, appropriately enough, in a tug-of-war.

In 10 Steps to Freedom, Hamilton again uses numbers to great effect, only this time by tracing ten key moments in the path to Independence, from the Boston Tea Party to the election of George Washington as the first President of the United States.  Along the way, we get to meet important figures from our country’s history, including Paul Revere, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.  It’s not easy to explain concepts like the Declaration of Independence or the ratification of the Constitution to children, but Hamilton’s poetry and the colorful accompanying images draw readers in, encouraging them to learn more about the people, situations, and concepts presented.

Anyone who has read to a child knows that oftentimes these books can be a chore for adults.  So often these days, children’s books seem to talk down to their audience, using babyish or relativist terms.  This is not the case here, and those who have children to teach or entertain will enjoy reading these books as much as their charges will.  In her poem about what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes, for example, Hamilton explains the seven rays which emanate from the crown atop Lady Liberty’s head in a way children can understand, and adults will ponder over, giving both an opportunity for further reflection and discussion:

On her crown, those seven rays

Remind Americans every day

That on seven lands and seven seas

Many still are not yet free.

It’s also a delicate balance, presenting stories of warfare to children without intentionally and unnecessarily frightening them.  Hamilton admirably handles the task, by pointing out that brains and brawn had to work together in order to gain the freedoms which Americans enjoy today.  In asking children to remember why we celebrate Independence Day every year, she notes how freedom came at a cost, and was achieved by two different types of fighters: “Some with guns, and some with pens.” Realizing that both were necessary to form and preserve the United States is a crucial step for children to reach, in their civic understanding.

Both books are beautifully illustrated, with bright, dynamic pictures by illustrator Anthony Resto.  Using a mixture of imagined historical scenes and elements from everyday life to accompany Hamilton’s poems, there are many charming details.  In the illustration of the three branches of the federal government for example, we are shown a large tree, with a boy in a tire swing.  And while Betsy Ross sews the American flag, two colonial children play alongside her with a hoop and a drum.  The pictures give adults the opportunity to go into greater detail with children, about the history and ideas being brought to life through these images.

Interested in seeing more for yourself, or as a gift for some little ones in your life? Visit the entry form by following this link; you may enter to win between now and midnight tomorrow.  One entry per reader, please.  The winner will be announced Friday morning here on the blog.

My special thanks to Amelia Hamilton for allowing me to share these terrific books with all of you, and of course to all of my readers for their support.  Good luck!

Growing Patriots