When I tell people that I am enrolled in the Master of Sacred Arts program at Pontifex University, I usually get the same response, well the same two responses. First they seem impressed that I am taking on a graduate program at my age, apparently there is a societal consensus that higher education is for the under-30 crowd.
But the second response is a question. It is the same question phrased in different ways. “What are you going to do with that?” “Can you land a job with that degree?” or “Where will that take you?” And I always give more or less the same answer, “I’m taking advantage of an opportunity, and waiting to see what doors God will open for me.”
In one of our recent classes, during a sidebar conversation, Fr. Sebastian, the instructor, pointed out that there are many Catholic institutions that make financial decisions based on investment strategies and return on investment. Most of these institutions are struggling financially. Father opined that they would be better off making decisions based on what is best for the Kingdom of God, and the money would follow.
I see the same mentality when I talk with other artists about forming a group that offers conversation, mutual support, and a sharing of ideas. Sooner or later the conversation always turns on ways the artists can sell their work, usually through shows, competitors, and the ever elusive “exposure.” I can’t really blame the artists, this is how society teaches us to think, and artists, like everyone else, have families to support and responsibilities to meet.
But it is time we started to shift our thinking and worry less about how society judges us in terms of our financial value and worry more about using our gifts to build up the Kingdom. God will take care of the rest.
Ron DiCianni is a popular successful artist. If you do not know the name you undoubtedly have seen his work. Ron has an interesting story.
His mother nearly aborted him. She changed her mind at the last moment. She was on the table and the doctor had a syringe in his hand. But at the last moment she pushed him away, walked out, and never looked back.
Ron recognized his calling early in life. At a youth evangelist meeting of approximately 2000 young people, he was singled out for an altar call. The evangelist leading the meeting asked Ron if he knew that God had chosen him. Ron said yes, even then wondering how he was going to explain this to his friends on the van ride home.
Ron worked his way through art school and was met with encouragement from his instructors. He also received financial aid that he sees as God working on his behalf. Inches first year of school he told an instructor that someday he would devote his talents the Christian community, in hopes of being involved in a second Renaissance.
He was shocked by the instructor’s response. The instructor told DiCianni that it would never happen, the church was uninterested in aesthetics and there would be no budget or support for Ron’s art there. He suggested Ron take his talents into advertising.
And, sadly, Ron found out his instructor was right. The church had no interest in using his art for anything other than decoration. Consequently his career went in a secular direction where he achieved success beyond the wildest dreams of any artist.
He has worked for some of America’s largest corporations. The highpoint of his career came when he was named the official illustrator for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. The ad agency told him that after this 99% of America would know his name.
But America boycotted the 1980 Olympics and Ron’s opportunity vanished.
Ron and his wife were stunned by the news. But looking back He sees the setback as providential. Had the Olympics gone through, he almost certainly would have chosen a different road and missed God’s plan for him. He didn’t see it at the time, but since then he has come to “Trust in the Lord with all his heart and lean not on his own understanding.”
His career continued to progress but he never lost the passion to serve his brothers and sisters. After a turning point in his life, the details of which he keeps private, he founded the Masterpiece Collection and as he puts it, “discipled” other Christian artists who have been successful in the secular market. He is now going his part to foster a second Renaissance, a new springtime in the arts.
So the message for all artists of every type, for everyone really, is to do what is best for the Kingdom of God, and be prepared to go through the doors He opens for you.