The statue of Moses (1513-1515) by Michelangelo Buonarroti is a world renowned work of art. According to popular tale, after Michelangelo had completed the statue of Moses that seemed so real and alive to him, he ordered it to speak. But after realizing that it couldn’t speak, he slammed down his hammer on it and destroyed a bit of its knee in a fit of anger and frustration. This caused a little furrow on its knee.
How may furrows on Art do you think were created in time throughout these years of history by the artists themselves because in their own desperation and disillusionment, their artistic masterpieces seemed to have acquired real life, but in reality they had not! Soul-wise, yes, they had!
A new incarnation
In April 23, 1999, the Focolare Movement organized its first Arts Congress. Its founder and president, Chiara Lubich came to offer some insights on Art. Aware of the great value of Art, Chiara had prayed to our Mother Mary: “Satiate the world’s thirst for beauty. Send great artists, but shape with them great souls, who with their splendour may direct men and women towards the most beautiful of the sons of men, your sweet Jesus.”
She continued: “Without doubt, for us too, absolute Beauty is God, God who is eternal. And in some way authentic artists share in this quality of God through their works. True works of art outlive the earthly life of artists because they possess something that is eternal. This is an evident sign that they are in relationship with Supreme and eternal Beauty, with God, or with the human soul created immortal by Him.
In this perspective then, a work of art, whether it be executed with brushes, chisels, notes, verses… cannot help but be considered a sort of incarnation, a renewed incarnation, as Simone Weil writes in her book Gravity and Grace: “(In true art) there is almost a kind of incarnation of God in the world, the sign of which is beauty. This beauty is the experiential proof that the incarnation is possible.” But if this is true, art cannot but elevate, cannot but raise one’s soul above, into that Heaven from where it descended.”
Painting from the heart
From the Arts Congress of 1999, let’s now fast track to the year 2018. A month ago, I called up Teodulfo Arago, Ted for short, and asked if he was available for an interview for New City Magazine, and he was.
Ted is a volunteer of the Focolare, while his wife, Asela, is a married focolarina (both committed lay persons in living the Gospel in their everyday life).
As soon as I entered their home in Pasig, I realized that this couple is very “special”. The colours inside the garage, the arrangement of every piece of furniture and space in the living room, kitchen, dining room and the tête-à-tête for two of tiny room spaces within the house could be defined by one word as – HARMONY or I would say simply, ART.
Ted teaches Art in university but has been involved in the creation of hundreds of designs, of art work of every medium, from simple advertisement placards, lay-outs and arrangements of various pictorial magazine, comics with moral lessons and stories, information articles for various firms, to photography, carbon and pencil sketches, paintings, sculptures, 8mm documentary
film productions, 3D sculptures for lobbies, etc., commissions he gained through his previous work in social development with the United Nations and with other notable private firms.
I believe that Ted alone, if he wanted to, could hold his own personal Art Exhibit in a big museum. If I had to define him as an artist, I firmly believe that he would fall into the category of genius eclectic artists, persons who derive into their ideas, styles, or tastes from a broad and diverse range of sources.
Name it, and for sure Ted has it, as he tailors his works of art according to your needs! What a discovery! I asked Ted, which of his first creations he considers as his work of Art. After smiling and pondering over which work of Art it was, Ted assures me, “It was a pencil sketch of a small black and white photo of my wife, Asela, when she was just 18.
I wanted to have a bigger copy of it so while under a sort of spell and inspiration, let’s say when my love for her was growing, I simply took to sketching with a pencil and paper, although I had her small photo in front of me, it was her radiant smile that remained in my heart and in my mind. So in the end, I almost drew the whole photo from memory and from my heart. That was the very first time I realised I could draw.”
I saw from his paintings that he loves to work more with water-based colour paints than oil or acrylic. Curious, I inquired if that was a technical thing or there was another element involved. Ted replies: “Water-based colour paints are tenuous delicate colours. It reminds me a lot of the delicate colour pastels. I like and love them so I can play more with the illumination and shadows that I can create on the subject or design. Practically, water-based colour paints dry easily so one has to be quick in one’s designs and have an alert mind to see immediately what to paint.”
God as Beauty
Sharing his inspiration, Ted confides: “My model of an artist is what Chiara Lubich defined in the first Arts Congress organised by the Focolare in 1999, when she said that God is the Absolute Beauty that the world needs and she followed it up with a request to our Blessed Mother: “Satiate the world’s thirst for beauty. Send great artists, but shape with them great souls, who with their splendour may direct men and women towards the most beautiful of the sons of men, your sweet Jesus.”
So every time I work on something that could show an immortal part of me through Art, I am very conscious of Chiara’s words, about directing everyone to look at Jesus and appreciate him, being the representative of beauty of every human being. I may not be designing Jesus literally on every medium that I use but I try to execute every design thinking that it could be Jesus Himself who would look at them and how I wished that He would appreciate them because He is there in Spirit!”
In a friendly and cheerful way, I requested him to show me his latest design or something that could prove what he just shared? He admitted, “Oh my…it’s been a very long time, Robert. I’m now more into teaching theatre direction management, stage managing, very practical things similar to what I did for the 50th anniversary of the Focolare when I was the Stage Manager. . .”
Pushy, I said, “I mean if I ask you to sketch me with a pencil, could you do it? Ted looked at me and asks, “Who?” I said, “Me! Come on just get a pencil and a paper and I will time you, or rather, I will just give you 5 minutes to sketch me from zero.” Ted obliged, saying, “This is a challenge! It’s been a very long time now since I last did this… but for you, I will try it, hopefully without offending you with the result.”
I started timing Ted while he continued looking at me with his pencil moving quickly on paper. For someone who had his last pencil sketch some light years ago, I could only compliment him as he did it out of love for Jesus in me and for me. Excellent job, Maestro!!!