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Inside NCR

NCR art adventure: Search for a contemporary Jesus

The National Catholic Reporter announces an international visual art competition to find an image of Jesus for the new millennium.

;When Y2K is raised in conversation, most people seem to think of computer glitches or parties. There is little or no mention of what the millennium is fundamentally about -- the arrival, 2,000 years ago, of Jesus Christ among us.

;It’s extraordinary what impact Christ’s life had. He founded a church and it’s extraordinary what impact that church, in turn, had.

One could argue that the church was never more alive and powerful than now. Or one could argue that it’s in the doldrums, irrelevant in this hectic, hedonistic, materialist culture.

One could go on to argue why this is so, or why people are looking elsewhere for solutions and solace and ultimate meaning, why so many churches, once full on Sundays across the world, are closed or nearly empty now.

There are various reasons why Jesus is perceived to be less central to the culture than in the past. Today, he seems remote, elbowed aside in the secular world’s hectic pursuit of success and good times. The popular image is vague, not compelling as he must have been on Galilean hillsides or at the Last Supper. If the Christian religion is, as we insist, some amazing relationship with its founder, with this savior whose 2,000th birthday anniversary, approximately, it is, then the picture we have of Jesus becomes paramount.

But we have lost touch with this Jesus, a down-to-earth person who at the same time incarnated divinity and pointed to a transcendent world.

Scripture scholars and theologians have written endlessly about this Christ. Millions of words have been published. Yet the image is fading.

The image of Jesus has always come primarily from pictures. Even the most sophisticated and literate people usually concede their abiding consciousness of the divinity comes not from words but from visual images, whether holy pictures or statues or yesterday’s masterpieces. Here most of all a picture is worth a thousand words.

Christ’s presence in history remained alive to the faithful through such representations as the Good Shepherd or the Pantocrator, Byzantine or Renaissance, the infant in a manger or the man on a cross. Each image had its day. In the 19th century Jesus became romanticized, whether suffering in the garden or ascending into heaven.

In our century many artists competed to grab Christianity’s imagination, from the dramatic but pallid works of Salvador Dali to the intense, brooding art of Georges Rouault. But finally, at century’s close, no image has been created, or re-created, to catch the spirit of the age dawning ahead of us.

Can it be that the spirit of the age excludes messiahs and saviors? Or that the mainline churches, wrestling with their various demons, have smothered the founder? Perhaps that is why our world fails to link the millennium to the person of Jesus Christ.

Or perhaps it’s the moment for some artist to transcend these times and say, in whatever medium: Look! This is the one you have been waiting for.

We invite art works in any and all visual media, including painting, drawing, watercolor, mixed media, sculpture, photography, stained glass, computer art, silk screen, ceramic or other. The search is for a work -- a face, a persona, an image -- that best represents Jesus at 2000.

We will accept slides only, at least in the initial phase; it may later be necessary to request some works of art.

There will be a first prize of $2,000. There will be three further prizes of $200.

More important than the prizes will be the distinction of creating a significant work of art at a privileged and vital moment in our history. Even in this weary culture there remains a hunger for the divine and an urge to search for transcendent life. The artist who can seize this moment will have a bigger reward than money. NCR, with subscribers in 93 foreign countries, aims to make a wide and deep impression on people’s perception of the millennium, and we invite artists of all stripes to be partners in this.

While the project is, first and last, a visual art competition, its nature and purpose require that the theme be paramount. There are theological and philosophical considerations in this search for an image that will capture the hopes of a hankering humanity as we walk over the threshold toward another thousand years together on earth.

Deadline for receipt of slides is Oct. 18. The winners will be announced and featured in the Christmas (Dec. 24) issue of NCR. A special issue of the paper will, in addition to the award winners, feature the work of 30 to 50 of the top entries.

Judging will be by a jury of professionals in art and religion, to be announced later.

There is a nonrefundable entry fee of $20 for up to three slides/works, the maximum allowed per artist. Checks and money orders should be made payable to National Catholic Reporter.

Entry in the competition implies submission to the rules and decisions of the judges and NCR, and includes permission to use the winner’s name and art in NCR; to reproduce the art for publicity purposes; for any further publication that might be realized; or for possible public exhibition later. Copyright remains with the artist.

Entries should include slide(s); attached to each slide a label with title of the work, date of work, precise dimensions and description of artwork (such as, 20 inches by 60 inches, acrylic), top of work marked clearly; no glass-mounted slides, please; check; artist’s name, address, phone number or e-mail address. We will acknowledge receipt only of those entries that enclose a stamped, self-addressed card. For eventual return of slide(s), please enclose stamped, self-addressed envelope. While NCR will take maximum care of artists’ work, we cannot be responsible for lost, late or damaged slides.

Ongoing information about the progress of our search will be available on NCR’s Web site: www.natcath.org

Send entries to ArtSearch, National Catholic Reporter, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111.

We welcome in this issue a distinguished coterie of new readers: former subscribers to NCR’s erstwhile sister publication, Praying.

Since its founding in 1983, Praying was a spiritual beacon for a loyal band of readers, but due to the vagaries of the marketplace it ceased publication with the June issue.

The good news -- we hope -- is that our new readers will find NCR a compatible and refreshing substitute. Praying wasn’t our sister publication for nothing. Since its inception 35 years ago, this company has embraced the conviction that the spiritual and the rest of life are tied in a knot that the world can never quite untie. Life is full of clichés and lines of poetry to the effect that spirituality is everywhere we turn a stone or talk to a neighbor. Readers will find this spirit lurking throughout the pages of our newspaper.

There is, of course, an additional NCR slant on all this. It’s a care about the world, reflected, for example, in this week’s cover story on ecotheology; it’s an emphasis on peace and justice, so that we don’t get selfish about spirit; it’s the lyrical, ebullient lilt of life as reflected, for example, in our surprisingly popular new poetry page.

There’s more good news. Former Praying editor Rich Heffern has a column in this issue. Furthermore, Heffern, an inspiring writer and author of several books, will continue to write occasional columns in these pages on the themes that made him so popular in Praying.

And speaking of art, this week’s cover is yet another reminder of the power of pictures to make a point. The Sisters of Earth network may well represent the leading edge of a movement that in the new century will transform our vision of ourselves in the cosmos. The cover and the illustration on page 3 are the work of St. Joseph Sr. Mary Southard, LaGrange, Ill. She can be contacted at Ministry of the Arts: 1-800-354-3504.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 1999