Wednesday, December 17, 2008


O glorious St. Stephen, first Martyr for the Faith, filled with compassion for those who invoke you, with love for those who
suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles. I kneel at your feet and humbly beg you to take my present need under your special protection ...(mention here). Vouchsafe to recommend it to our Lord Jesus. Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace to one day
meet God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the angels and saints praise Him through all eternity.

O most powerful Saint Stephen, Deacon and martyr, do not let me lose my soul, but obtain for me the grace of winning my way to
heaven, forever and ever.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


THE COVENANT: An Agreement between the Church Artist and the Faithful
by Anthony Visco

When people ask me what kind of sculpture I make I tell them I make statues that old ladies kiss. I say this for two reasons: one, because old ladies do kiss my statues (as do young and older men and women alike) and two, because it spares me form any “figurative vs. non figurative”, contemporary vs. traditional art argument. In fact, I never say I’m figurative artist. I never say I’m “classical and I’m not academic or radical “Trad Cat”. I make devotional art and thus do the form it takes to make serve the needs of the faithful.

I could say that one of the most important decisions I ever made in my career was to stop making art about art, or art for other artists. I also chose not to make art for galleries or make art to be part of a museum collection. I realized that the work most important to me were those commissioned to reflect the beliefs of the viewer; in other words, sacred or devotional art that was functional. If the objective of sacred art is to exalt and console, then I was attracted to paintings and statues that held an agreement of sorts, a covenant as it were, between artist and viewer that the artist would make those beliefs manifest in the work.

It always appeared the best or strongest of these works, the masterpieces of sacred art, were those that maintained such a covenant and this covenant indeed existed before the works were ever made. I also came to believe that when the artist or their work denies the beliefs of the viewers, any covenant is nullified or at best doomed to the realm of isolated self expression. Considering what sacred art could do for the faithful, I decided that I wanted my work to come under this covenant with the faithful.

As those us educated in art schools of the Sixties, we all witnessed the wholesale destruction of beauty, of all representational art both secular and sacred, in painting and sculpture and architecture. As a result, the reciprocity between our origins and our beliefs seemed all but absent as if a covenant that once was, had been broken or as some would suggest a covenant that perhaps never existed. This destruction of beauty, conscious or unconscious, then and now, presents certain and profound questions not only of aesthetics but also of our beliefs if we are to continue making sculpture into the 21st C. Some of these questions can be asked and hopefully answered here in this forum.

1. First of all, can and did sacred art produce a covenant?

2. Does this covenant exist before the art is ever made? If so, how does it exist?

3. What does covenant mean here and how does it differ from the modernist “give and take” between artist, art object and viewer?

4. Can there be a covenant without a value?

5. Did “modernism” indeed break the covenant and if so how so?

6. How do we restore the covenant?

As for restoring the covenant, we must first all congratulate ourselves for having survived modernism. It is by no strange chance that we find ourselves here in this place dedicated to the art of the nineteenth century, perhaps the last group of artists who saw the marriage of art and craft, content and context as being at the heart of their vocation. But if we as representational artists of devotional or sacred art are to serve the faithful in the 21st C we must begin our conversation as we cross the desert of modernity.

Now as this season of Advent is upon us and our day of the Birth of Christ approaches, I invite you to join me in this conversation. Together we are leaving the dry desert we must congratulate ourselves for having survived modernism in the hope that in our travels across the barren waste we may have find some answers to these questions.

1. Can and does sacred art produce a covenant?

If the purpose for making art is to discern that which you want to receive which in turn will become that which you give to others than a covenant exists. Viewing great art becomes a vehicle a call to witness our beliefs together. Viewing becomes a method of conversion, of our mutual transfiguration. In essence it serves a greater good.

If modernism spoke at all, it said, “I will not serve.” With originality as its goal, it sought to invent its own language; it took metaphor and replaced it with irony.

As the Puritan saw all art , both sacred and secular, as something always inappropriate and out of place, the modernist declared something as art only if and when it is inappropriate and out of place. With definitions fused, under modernism and Puritanism anything could be considered art only if and when it is shocking, only if and when it was inappropriate, and only if and when it represented nothing.

When Beauty becomes the goal, to make sacred art is to receive. Thus artist is both giver and receiver here and the reciprocity of Beauty becomes a constant process that continues through day and night, lights on or off, gallery opened or closed.

2. Does this covenant exist before the art is ever made?

The agreement is not one of time but of beauty. Since beauty existed before art, so did the covenant.

In order for all covenants to be maintained, they must value truth. If that which is Beautiful is of truth than that which is of Beauty is truthful.

When artifice is separated from the goals of content and from the covenant, nothing but the artifice speaks. When content becomes formalist content, art about art, no greater good is served. Further, if the act of making art is seen as something quite special, a self reflective act, or an activity that one engages in only in special times than it more often out of context to our daily lives, a thing abnormal.

3. What does covenant mean here and how does it differ from the modernist “give and take” between artist, art object and viewer?

Since the invention of modernism, the roles of making art and viewing art have been reversed. Thus the covenant is also reversed. Artist and viewer are separated. The artist gives something to him or herself rather than to the viewer. The viewer is now the giver rather than receiver. When the viewer is excluded, there can be no transcendence.

4. Can there be a covenant without a value?

If there is no truth there is no covenant. If there is no beauty there is no covenant. If there is no value there is no covenant. Modernism tried and to some extent succeeded in trying to make beauty untrustworthy. Yet to replace the irony of modernism with the metaphor of the epic will not be an easy task to say the least. To erase the century of “art about art” as being the sole reason to make art and collect art will be quite a feat to accomplish. We must bear in mind here that modernism had convinced an entire populace to expect nothing great from art or from artists. Art was and still is to some degree seen as something incomprehensible done by the tragically misunderstood. Our art must become trustworthy again.

5. Did modernism indeed break the covenant and if so how so?

If modernism broke the covenant it did so simply on the basis of not giving, by not serving, by its refusal to make art in the services of anything but itself.

The viewers, the audience, the faithful, have a right to a response from the artist, poet, composer and architect that is a reflection of their beliefs. Wherever, whenever and however this right is dislocated, the very notion of a serving aesthetic is sacrificed and thus omitted for and to the sanctity of individualism. Thus, so-called “inclusive art” will have no meaning other than the subjective meaning projected by the artist’s ego. Art without the visual and moral aesthetic is a parody and an injustice. The covenant is broken nullified.

We must be careful not to pick up the false burden of modernist art history and instead pick up and carry the real burden that is: how great art can be and what that great art can do. Young artists must know that Beauty cannot be linearly framed nor is there a chronology of Beauty to follow. We are not the 19th C Romantics or modernists who believed that “the figure” is some Darwinian tail that we once had and can never grow back. Nor must our students become the next generation of avant-guardists who must predict fashion of the future that once perceived must be abandoned in order to find the next and the next

We will have some problems here. Modernism tried and to some extent succeeded in making beauty untrustworthy. It had successfully convinced an entire populace to expect nothing great from art or from artists, public or private, secular or sacred. Now for the first time in global history, we have art schools where students are taught how to make "art about art", art for other artists, and art that can only to be seen only inside art institutions. The viewers, now numb(or bored) to the shock of anything out of context, of figures that mean nothing, the novelties of avant-guardism, has grown suspicious of themselves when and if they find art they actually do understand. In essence, they have grown accustomed to the covenant to be broken and even expect it.

The beauty due in sacred and secular art and architecture cannot be subject to political correctness as if it where a matter of rationing. Beauty contains the measure of gift within itself. Beauty is not the percentage allotted as in the 1 % for the public art budget.

The last but most important piece to replace will be that of sacred content. This is not easy as artists will have to exclude self expressions and include the viewers. But even as the artist includes the viewers, the greatest challenge of the artist of the twenty first century will be to restore the confidence of the viewers as to what beauty can do. It will be nothing less than to restore the covenant broken all too often. Above all we must remember that we are not returning to beauty in sacred art because that is the way it was. We are returning to beauty in sacred art because that is the way it is

The Masterpiece and Co Creation


The Masterpiece, like a Saint, is a mirror. Like a saint, it work is to reflect the Will of God.

We hear of co creation but what does that mean? Is it our sacred link between the gift of free will and Divine Plan? How does our work reflect the Will of God? If there is the desire to serve all else will follow as all the saints and masterpieces have this desire to serve in common. Thus the first question must be "who does it serve?" Once answered, the second question is then "how does it serve?" These two questions and their answers will either place us in cooperation with the Holy Spirit or the ego.

The Saints are God's Masterpieces who cooperated like good materials in the hands of an artist who wants nothing but good to come from his or her work. The acceptance of God’s Beauty alone makes any gift or talent all the more available. The use of beauty in the service of God invests that talent and makes it tremendous. What better investment can be made here?

The Holy Spirit works on all levels, above your intellect as well as the depths of your unconscious as the Spirit continually generates movement within the artist’s body, mind, and soul. Co-creation with the Holy Spirit is receiving. However, it must be an active form of receiving triggered by an artist's being ready, willing, and able to accept the gift.

The artist, like the saint, needs to know that the Holy Spirit is always ready, willing, and able to assist you. Our only requirement is to be as equally ready, willing, and able to graciously accept the assistance we are about to receive. However, in order to accept and receive what the Spirit so willingly wants to give us, we must learn to listen. In order to listen, we must learn to recognize the Spirit’s voice. In order to recognize this Holy Voice, we must truly desire truth and want to make beautiful in the service of God to serve others in their devotion to God.

Seeking Beauty gives the artist the strength to do all things that are necessary to make the Masterpiece. Just by letting the Holy Spirit know that we seek Beauty gives us the assurance that we will now have guidance. As their are no contradictions in Divine Plan, we can not truly seek Beauty and intentionally make something that is ugly.

Of course each of us works to the best of our abilities with what we have been given. But to invest that talent in the service of God and the faithful is the labor of saints. It is co creation at its fullest. It is the masterpiece in the making.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Day of Sacred Art and Architecture

This coming December 12th will the first time we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside the shrine church dedicated to her name in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

As part of the celebration, there will be a one day walk and talk tour with the artists and architects of the shrine on Saturday, December 13th, the Feast of Saint Lucy. As the patron saint of vision, I can not think of a better day to hold this event as it was God's gift of vision, both external and internal that guided us through these past years in building the shrine to Our lady of Guadalupe.

"A Return to the Sacred" will be a one day conference starting at 8:00 AM till 4:00PM. to meet, discuss, and tour the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe dedicated this past July 31, 2008. The art and architecture of the shrine are getting world attention and rightfully so. It is a clear and simple return to beauty in the service of God.

As a one day event, Saturday December 13th will be a rare opportunity in that it is the first time artists and architects will come together in unison to discuss in public what and how this incredible building came together from concept to dedication. It is a great workshop for the vocational artists and architects who desire to offer their talents for the greater glory of God. It also serves as a good foundation for any church community looking for a design, a plan a vision for a better way of serving the devotional needs of the faithful.

The morning portion will have keynote speakers Denis Mc Namara, followed by Christopher Carstens, and church architect, Mike Swinghammer of River architects.

At 11:00AM Holy Mass with His Excellency Raymond L. Burke as celebrant priest in from Rome to lead us in these days of prayer and honor to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego.

Mass will be followed by lunch . After lunch, John Canning will speak on the church decoration and treatments.

Fellow artist Neilson Carlin will join me in discussing the devotional art of the church. We will also give a walking tour of the church and discuss the work we did from narthex to nave, from side aisle shines, lower narthex shrines to the cupola pendentives depicting the Four Doctors of the Church.

Please join us for a most memorable day of sacred art and architecture!
Date: December 13th, 2008
Place: Shrine of Our lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse WI
Time: 8AM to 4PM
Contact Information:For more information on the day's event, a brochure and
registration form, please contact:

(seen here: detail from the narthex ceiling mural "The Visions of Guadalupe", oil on linen, 2008)

All Souls Day

This Sunday November 2nd, is the Feast of All Souls. It is a time to remember the deceased and the transitus of the soul into eternal life.

Saint Nicolas of Tolentino knew of our connection to the Poor Souls, their need for our prayers and our need for their salvation. He considered those souls in his daily prayer.

When in 1884 Nicholas of Tolentino was proclaimed "Patron Saint of the Souls in Purgatory" by Pope Leo XIII, confirmation was given to a long-standing aspect of devotion toward this friar which is traced to an event in his own life. On a certain Saturday night as he lay in bed, Nicholas heard Fra Pellegrino of Osimo, a deceased friar who Nicholas had known. Fra Pellegrino revealed that he was in purgatory and he begged Nicholas to offer Mass for him and for the other suffering souls so that they might be set free. For the next seven days, Nicholas did so and was rewarded with a second vision in which the deceased confrere expressed his gratitude and assurance that a great number of people were now enjoying the presence of God through Nicholas' prayers. As this event became known, many people approached Nicholas, asking his intercession on behalf of their own deceased relatives and friends.

The Feast of All Souls Day is a day set aside by the Catholic Church to remember the poor souls in purgatory. On each day during the octave (Nov 2- Nov 9), a plenary indulgence (complete pardon for all past sins and offenses) can be gained for a person who has died (a deceased relative, loved one, friend, etc.) which means that if you pray for their soul on that day, their soul, if still in purgatory, will go to Heaven by your prayers and sacrifices.

You may release 8 souls from purgatory by these means.

1. Remain in the state of grace during the 8 days (i.e., avoid all mortal sin).
2. Receive Holy Communion each day.

3. Visit a Catholic cemetery each day and pray for that soul as follows:
One Our Father
One Hail Mary
One Glory Be
(for the intentions of Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI)
The Apostles Creed
Finally, recite: "Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and, may perpetual light shine upon them".

(pictured above: statue of Saint Nicolas of Tolentino at the National shrine of saint Rita of Cascia, Philadelphia, PA)