The Courtier in Chicago: Video from the Catholic Art Guild Annual Conference

Apologies for the lack of posts last week; I was rather ill and otherwise overwhelmed with other duties. Instead of an overly long essay today, I’d like to share with you this video from my recent stint moderating the closing discussion panel at the annual conference of the Catholic Art Guild, held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on November 4th. I think you’ll find this discussion with sculptor Alexander Stoddart, painter Juliette Aristides, composer and theologian Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and architect Ethan Anthony deeply interesting, sometimes surprising, and very thought-provoking. Plus, as you’ll see, there was quite a bit of laughter as well.

My special thanks to Catholic Art Guild President Kathleen Carr, Father Joshua Caswell, S.J.C., and everyone at the Guild for inviting me, and for putting on such a stimulating, well-planned conference. And for your advance planning purposes, the Guild has very graciously asked me to return to moderate the closing panel discussion at NEXT year’s conference, so I hope to see many of you in the Windy City next autumn. In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming piece in The Federalist, in which I interview this year’s conference key note speaker, Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Queen Elizabeth II.

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Taking Stock: Back From A Great Art Conference In Chicago

I’m just back from an excellent weekend in Chicago, where I attended the Catholic Art Guild’s Annual Conference, which this year bore the theme, “Formed In Beauty”. Although it’s only the second year that the Guild has put on this conference, word has clearly started to spread among those who care about the arts, as I met people from all over the country who came to attend the conference events: clearly a very positive sign for conferences to come. In fact, I had several instances of friends from social media, none of whom live in Chicago and none of whom I had ever met in real life, coming up to me and introducing themselves by their Twitter or Instagram handle, which is always a fun experience.

While the Conference itself took place on Sunday, there were also associated events on Friday and Saturday. This included the Mozart Requiem Mass for the Feast of All Souls Day on Friday, and an in-depth drawing demonstration with live model by artist Juliette Aristides on Saturday. This also left one plenty of time to go explore the pleasures of Chicago in the Autumn, and I got to enjoy watching the sun come up over Lake Shore Drive, snapping pictures of the diverse and interesting buildings for which Chicago is world-renowned, having a very thorough beard “sculpting” at a celebrity-frequented barbershop, and enjoying food and adult beverages at several excellent restaurants.

The Conference day began with a magnificent Mass at the equally magnificent church of St. John Cantius, home of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. If you’ve never begun your day with Mozart – in this case, one of his Missae Breves – you’ve no idea how it puts a spring in your step. We then adjourned to the Drake Hotel, one of my favorite places on the planet, for the rest of the day’s events. This included a luncheon, talks on architecture, music, painting, and sculpture by some truly brilliant practitioners of these arts, interaction opportunities with vendors, and a formal dinner, followed by a panel discussion and audience Q&A. I was privileged enough to be allowed to adopt my best Dick Cavett persona and moderate this closing event with the day’s invited speakers; I’ll post the video from the Guild’s YouTube Channel when it’s made available.

I also had the opportunity the night before the Conference to have a lengthy sit-down with one of the presenters, Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Expect an article encapsulating our conversation to appear in The Federalist in the not-too-distant future. This is assuming that I can edit such a wide-ranging conversation, covering everything from Susan Boyle to chainsaw log carving competitions to Pointillism, down into something under 2,000 words. He’s certainly one of the most engaging interview subjects I’ve ever had the privilege to have a chat with.

My sincere thanks to Guild President Kathleen Carr, Father Joshua Caswell, and all of those involved in putting on a splendid and thought-provoking event, and for graciously allowing me to participate. Whenever the next Conference is announced, I highly recommend that you put it on your calendar and plan to make a weekend of it. You’ll be supporting the work of an organization dedicated to returning beauty, truth, and craftsmanship to the arts, and have the opportunity to meet others who genuinely care about these things, in one of the world’s great cities.

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Upcoming Event in Chicago: “Formed In Beauty” Conference And Gala

Should you happen to find yourself in the Chicago area on Sunday, November 4th, I hope you’ll consider joining me at this year’s Catholic Art Guild Conference and Gala, titled “Formed In Beauty”. Regular readers will recall that the CAG very graciously invited me out to the Windy City to speak to them back in May, and you can watch the video of my lecture on their YouTube channel. (So far, that crafty Sir Roger Scruton has more views of his talk than mine does, but that’s only to be expected.)

The day will begin with an orchestral Latin Mass at the grand, Neo-Baroque parish of St. John Cantius, then move downtown to the renowned Drake Hotel for the day. There will be a lunch buffet, followed by presentations from several speakers/writers: architect Ethan Anthony, professor and composer Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, and artist Juliette Aristides. The keynote address will come from Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland. Dinner, Q&A with the speakers, and socializing will round out the evening.

Mr. Stoddart’s address alone should be reason enough for you to attend, and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say, particularly because he is not a Catholic himself, but he’s on the same page when it comes to the issue of the beautiful in art. This has not endeared him to his peers or to the art establishment: as an art student at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art back in the 1970’s, insulting graffiti about his classicism was written on the lavatory walls, calling him a fascist. He has also referred to the (ghastly) Tracey Emin as “the high priestess of societal decline”: a view with which, at least so far as the British Contemporary Art scene is concerned, I whole-heartedly agree.

Tickets for the Conference and Gala are now available on Eventbrite, and strongly encourage those of you in the area – and that includes you non-Catholics out there – who love art, architecture, and music, plus believe that there are actual standards of beauty, to strongly consider attending. The CAG recognizes and encourages the positive contributions of history, philosophy, and yes, – gasp – theology to the creative world. Education in the arts is a life-long responsibility, which does not end when you pass your art history class or introduction to classical architecture seminar in high school or college. We need more organizations like this to counter those who dominate our museums and educational institutions with a “your truth/my truth” message, preaching that ugliness is beauty and mediocre is genius.

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