Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Van Gogh Would Cut Off His Other Ear

What was the first painting that grabbed your imagination? Where did you see it? How did it make you feel?

My parents had Janson's History of Art in our bookcase while I was growing up. It was huge and I could barely lift it to the table. I would devour those pages of paintings as I imagined the stories taking place in them. We only had one TV and I didn't have first rights to it. The book was entertainment. (And I walked miles to school in the snow...)

Botticelli, Caravaggio and Dali were among my favorites for their drama and symbolism. I was just as fascinated with the painters themselves. When I was failing French in high school, a self-imposed book report (practically a thesis) on Paul Gauguin saved my grade. I didn't care for his art, but he was French and fairly interesting.

My parents took me to all the museums within driving distance and if you dated me, you got dragged to The National Gallery and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. And you liked it! I minored in Art History in college and had to buy my own Janson's History of Art. It is in my living room bookcase now. My kids have only cracked it a few times. Too many TVs!

As a reporter, I covered all the big exhibits for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and finally found an appreciation for Impressionistic and Modern art. Cezanne's work, and everyone's, is all the more interesting if you know the history behind it.

And to think people had these paintings in private home collections....

My parents have a couple treasured oil paintings on their walls. They are landscapes on canvas from the 1800s. Original art lends a legitimacy and intimacy to rooms, the way books do. I think that's what is missing from most homes today - real art. There are too many purchases made at the Home Goods store because they are inexpensive and match the colors of the room. Van Gogh would cut off his other ear if he observed this trend.

Find your art on ebay, at estate sales and small galleries. Just make the purchase personal. Frame your kid's finger painting. Take a water color or pottery class. Bring art into your home, visit museums and be inspired.

My favorite artist and inspiration is John William Waterhouse. His paintings are below. He was a Pre-Raphaelite artist, 1849-1917, who painted powerful women - mythological, saints, witches, mermaids - in a classical yet modern way for the times. Click here for more info.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My Lost Saints

A Revision On My Rude Spiritual Awakening

By Susan Matthews

My son told me how much he enjoys Mass. I knew my little guy liked Bakugan, Star Wars and loud music, but Mass? Instead of being happy that Catholic school tuition isn’t wasted on him, I had a sinking feeling. It was then I realized how much I’ve lost in the wake of the continuing Catholic Church pedophile scandals. I had, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “lost my saints.”

When I was his age, the Catholic saints were my action heroes. Their brave lives and gory deaths fascinated and inspired me. They stood up for their beliefs against all odds. I’d even played Mass. My little brother and stuffed animals lined my makeshift pew as I read from the Bible. It didn’t occur to me that I’d never seen a woman priest.

After college, I took a job as an editor with The Catholic Standard and Times, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. My boss, a priest with a doctorate in theology from the Vatican, explained the distinction between doctrine and tradition. Tradition with a capital T, he said. Also, celibacy for archdiocesan priests was a promise rather than a vow. While I respected his honesty and devout belief, the information tugged at me. For years, I wondered about confession, birth control, the role of women in the Church and the indictment of gays. Now I understood much of our practice of religion had nothing to do with actual doctrine or vows. Throughout history evil, greed, sexism and bigotry shaped much of what now constitutes Catholic “T”radition. I still needed to believe the Church was holy and good. Who was I to question?

Then came the sickening discovery that a priest, who had taken my husband, his brothers and other boys on childhood camping trips, had been a pedophile, known as such to the archdiocesan administration for decades. While my husband and his brothers were unharmed, others were not so lucky.

The Church hierarchy, and now possibly even the Pope, have allowed a legacy of depression, suicide and depravity. I find that to be as evil, if not more so, than the priest pedophiles.

It is our God-given right and responsibility to question. In politics, I’ve always thought one shouldn’t complain unless participating in change. But this isn’t government. This is my soul. With whom do I register my complaint? Where do I vote? What do I do here and now if I want to actively take part in reforming my religion? Where are my saints?

It seems contradictory, but I will continue to send my children to Catholic schools. I have no doubt God is present in what they and Catholic Charities accomplish. I’m friendly with several priests and two of my great aunts are Sisters of St. Joseph. I have tried to separate my faith from my religion, as my mother suggests. My father argues that Catholicism has endured centuries just fine.

But I find that lack of spiritual evolution unacceptable and I can’t sit in Church as if nothing is wrong. I’m by no means suggesting that other religions have it over Catholics. Having written for The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Living Religion section, I covered many faiths. Some people believe any organized religion is going to lead to corruption. Where does that leave society?

There’s a desperate need for faith and organized religion. Yet, church pews are emptier and fewer people are entering religious orders. Apathy, rather than reform, has taken hold. So much competes for our attention and, yes, sometimes we are lazy.

Instead of walking away from organized religion, we need to fix it. I just don’t know how. It’s not the sins of the past and present Church that concern me — it’s the Church of the future, or the lack there of. I want my children to experience the peace that comes with belief. I don’t want to rob them of their faith. The Church may do that soon enough.

My son deserves more. He deserves his saints — the ones I’ve lost.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

She's All That and Knows It

When a beautiful, smart woman continues to pursue a disinterested man who is seemingly (and probably) unworthy of her attention, it’s often assumed she’s suffering from low self-esteem. It may be quite the opposite.

This woman may be so confident in her "fabulousness" that she’s incredulous when said man doesn’t also see it. She is left to assume he is dense and then rises to the challenge of his deficiency. Determined to make him aware that she is wonderful, this type of strong-willed woman will persevere for months, even years.

Typically, this situation ends with another intelligent man who recognizes her worth without excruciating effort. She will then push aside her embattled ego and make room for true love.

As Erica Jong said, “You see a lot of smart guys with dumb women, but you hardly ever see a smart woman with a dumb guy.”

Three decades of field research have led me to this sociological conclusion. My methodology included roughly 21,900 hours of phone interviews with female subjects. Half of these were conducted with a particularly interesting case study I’ve titled “Veronica.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Help Africa Turn A Page

I'll admit I wasn't looking forward to the six-hour bus ride to Pittsburgh with my daughter's dance competition team. Not even a little. I settled into my seat and grabbed my More magazine. The universe has incredible timing. The first article I read mentioned a 10-hour hellish bus trip African villagers endured to get reading material offered by the Botswana Book Project.

Here I was on a cushy bus loaded with good stuff to read on my way to a nice hotel where my daughter would learn from the best dancers in the country. Every aspect of culture and learning is available to me. I quit my mental bitching and vowed to help with this project.

As someone who believes the answers to life's questions can be found in books, I can't imagine not having access to them. They are right under food and shelter on my list of needs. Which is why I think it's incredibly important to support any literacy and book projects here and abroad. If you're on the same page, consider helping with Books for Africa or the Botswana Book Project.

If you know of any more projects like this, please post.