FSSP School in Ottowa implements Catholic Art Curriculum Based on the Writing of Benedict XVI

A Curriculum that Incorporates Pope Benedict XVI’s thoughts from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. I have featured before work by the Canadian Orthodox sculptor Jonathan Pageau. I admire Jonathan’s work and what is useful for a blogger like me, he talks interestingly and eloquently about his work, and is happy to supply lots of photographs. Some time ago he contacted me and asked for some help in designing an art curriculum for a Catholic school in Ottowa. I gave him a summary of my idea:

  1. Copying, with understanding, works of Masters in the great liturgical traditions of the Church – the baroque, the gothic and the iconographic. These are the three described in his chapter on art in the book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Pope Benedict XVI. Students are taught how theology relates to form as they copy great works. Studying geometry and traditional proportion
  2. Studying nature direct.
  3. A liturgical life that incorporates prayer with visual imagery.

Jonathan’s curriculum is up and running and he has incorporated my suggestions with a lot of careful thought and many more good ideas of his own. I was thrilled to read recently of his work in an article posted on the New Liturgical Movement website. The quality of the work produced by the children is high and he describes how pleasing it is to see their progress. There seems to be one omission in his plan. I do hope you’re going to teach them relief sculpture Jonathan.

Jonathan’s website is here.

He wrote on the NLM:

Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel (NDMC) is a small Catholic private school run by francophone parish members of the St-Clement parish in Ottawa. It offers a classical curriculum and traditional catechism to about 60 students presently from kindergarten to 10th grade.

The Principal of this school is an old friend of mine, with whom along with a few others, I had rediscovered the meaning and value of Tradition. This path finally brought me to Eastern Orthodoxy while leading him towards FSSP and traditional Catholicism. Some time ago my friend and I had discussed the possibility of my teaching art for them. As a liturgical artist with a desire to reawaken the traditional arts and their theological importance, this opportunity was one I could not refuse.

By considering the best of Catholic art, and after a bit of advice from David Clayton, I set up the curriculum around Pope Benedict XVI’s theory of art as expressed in his book:“The Spirit of The Liturgy”. The approach is anchored highly on the human person as an image of God and how the invisible and visible meet in Man. This means that we take image making from two poles, one which is based on proportion, rule and ideal, and one which is based on observation, detail and particularity. Drawing exercises move along those poles as we work towards finding balance between the two. All students begin by learning to draw a face through discovery of proportion, balance and symmetry found therein. This approach is extended to the human body. Then as the children perfect their knowledge of the ideal form, they will also be brought to draw strictly from observation, a hand, a drapery or another child’s face. As the student’s knowledge grows, we integrate basic Christian iconology, and so for example the children will learn the elements of a crucifixion and will be asked to produce one based on what they have learned, copying as well from traditional images.

I have found this approach to give amazing results as even the children that seemed to have the least “talent” have advanced their drawing skills by leaps and bounds and have learned to enjoy something they had once found daunting.

Pope Benedict’s theory of the three great Catholic Artistic traditions, namely Iconographic, Gothic and Baroque, forms the backdrop for the Art History and Theory we look at with the older kids. This had brought up several surprising and thoughtful discussions. The most striking to me has been the question of what is “Real”. I was not surprised to discover that the students had an immediate attraction to Baroque forms, and the reason they gave me was that it was more “realistic”, that it was more “true” than what they saw in Iconography. In pondering this question with them, I asked them if it was “true” that an object was smaller as it was further away from the viewer… Another questions I posed was if since we recognize a person by his face, whether the back of the head is as “real” or “true” as the face. These theoretical considerations encourage the older students to meditate on some of the deep issues that have very much to do with the relationship between the ideal and particular that we simultaneously explore in the drawing exercises.

I leave you with a series of drawings made by the students that reflects the approach we have chosen for our art curriculum. I couldn’t let the chance go without some of Jonathan’s work, so that is at the bottom!

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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