It is by shadows that we see the world. Which in turn is to see the world by contrasts of this from that. Contrasts which can be clearly defined, but which often are not. But what matters is that we do see the world about us with sufficient clarity to live in the world.
And sometimes that lack of clarity is desirable for the same reason that paintings are beautiful in part because they are abstract, because they don't have the precision of photographs. Paintings, like history, are not a blow by blow account of every known detail, but a picking and choosing of the important or pertinent. But more important paintings are beautiful or in turn ghastly depending on what the artist chooses to accentuate.
An artist can degrade or praise a women by how he portrays her. A praise nicely expressed in Paul Gauguin's Two Tahitian Women With Mango Blossoms because while the painting directs our eyes to the breasts Gauguin does so while treating the figure of the women with dignity and grace and loveliness according to her nature.
Gauguin's painting accentuates the loveliness of a woman's form, where colour variations are muted and flow one into the other. Where all come together into a most beautiful and fascination whole as typical of all women.
And yet amidst all this fusion of beautiful fascination, is there anything more practical than a woman? Women, who first look first at all the practical aspects when sizing up men for marriage where physical appearance is at best one consideration among many where a multiplicity of more practical considerations of everyday life lived are all weighed in the balance.
In contrast, men first look to a woman’s appearance and accompanying attributes. A contrast enjoyably used for our amusement in the movie Arsenic and Lace :
Elaine: “But Mortimer, you're going to love me for my mind, too?”
Mortimer: “One thing at a time.”
It’s a contrast which also reflects the difference between the practice of architecture compared to the practice of fine art, where architecture has the likeness of a women in comparison to fine art’s likeness to men.
Fine art is also to a lesser extent an imitation of women, but it is architecture which imitates a women in her fullness because architecture, like women, are eminently practical. Because while architecture is art, it is also finally a practical art where a multiplicity of practical needs are all simultaneously held aloft, with each considered, weighed and blended into an organic whole designed for 3dimensional human life to be lived in.
To clarify by example, an organic whole designed for 3dimensional human life to be lived in is similar to well placed chairs in a secluded garden alcove. The garden setting is not the intimate conversation which is human life lived, but the garden setting is the foundation for that conversation. The same with architecture, architecture is not human life, but architecture provides the foundation that human life is built upon.
Likewise, architecture is not formation, but it does form. Just as walls with book and cozy places to read them form our children. And insofar as architecture is beautiful, so will it form us to the beautiful. And insofar as it is good architecture it will give us stability and a sense of place. Just as the secluded garden alcove gives a sense of place by its seclusion and womb-like protection.
As Catholics, we have become strangers in our own land, not because we have changed, but because our neighbors have. Those about us can no longer offer us the stability and sense of place we once had where in recent memory we could expect our neighbors to react rationally.
Our schools are gone, which is why many of us homeschool and form homeschooling groups for our children.
Or local parish is gone, which is why many of us drive across town to the personal parish where we can find like minded Catholics.
And so it goes, we seek out society and culture which is Catholic because Catholic culture simply doesn’t exist locally, except in fragment and shades and shadows of its former self. All of which is an burdensome effort. Burdensome efforts which are not natural to everyday life, and which can and do take their toll.
The problem we face is how do we live a Catholic life surrounded by secular neighbors? How do we live as Catholics without Catholic neighbors to lean on for support?
Similarly, we've all read the perfect mommy blogs and perfect mommy magazines with their idealized settings and such also take their toll. It’s easy to live that idealized perfect life when one has loads of money and time at one's disposal, just as it’s a whole lot easier to buy all organic clothing, and food and such when the money is flowing in. But pulling it off on a shoestring is no easy trick, just as it's no easy trick to pull off living as Catholics surrounded by secular materialism.
Beautiful well designed architecture is like those perfect mommy blog, it's simply for the most part beyond our reach, but while most of us may not be able to afford good and beautiful architecture, we can instead plant bushes to form a garden alcove. And we can form cozy places for our children to read books. We can plant gardens and make mulch piles and do much which is within our reach. Which is really the point. Where we need to first look is within our reach because our home is where formation occurs, and where the beautiful needs to occur.
A home where it too comes together into a most beautiful and fascinating whole, because it's the wife and mother, who is most necessary in forming the home as an image of herself. It's feminine grace which makes a home into that garden alcove with its sense of place and womb-like protection.
What is looked for is not precision, because life lived is not precise. Or at least not more precise than the variations of light and shadow. Or of textures and colours flowing one into the other. God in his goodness designed our world so that we just had to get it close enough. And in turn designed it so that our homes would naturally be close enough when formed by feminine grace.