The Passing of an Artist

By Santiago Ramos, Published in Image Journal September 10, 2009 Back from an unannounced (and unforeseen) hiatus in blogging, I have so many ideas accumulated that I don’t know which to focus on. So here are brief mentions of various articles that have piled up over the last few weeks, all of which deal with artists who have worked within the “pile up” as Annie Dillard understood it—i.e., the place where art and faith meet.



The first is the passing of an artist, Karen Laub-Novak—a painter, printmaker and sculptor whose vocation was largely spent in a dialogue with literature, through which she tried to capture the religious sense in art. Among her most memorable works are lithographs inspired by the written word: on St. John’s biblical Apocalypse; on Rainier Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies; on T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” She also illuminated the covers of many of the books of her husband, the writer Michael Novak. It’s interesting to think that Laub-Novak began her work in the 1960s, a time (as Camille Paglia documents in her essay “Religious Vision in the American 1960s”) teeming with interest in the religious traditions exotic to the West.

Laub-Novak was in some ways very much of her time, but she opted more often than not to plumb the depths of her own, Western religious tradition for inspiration. She also wrote some interesting Sontag-esque essays about art, many of which are found on her website.

From “Art and Mysticism are a Journey” (1973):

Words don’t express the awakening of creative experience. An experience valued by few. I try to talk about it. I feel this experience is one of shared humanity. Simple and fundamental in all of us. Talent varies. Commitment varies. The sheer guts to continue on with an activity that seems “unessential to progress” varies. But insight, inspiration, creativity are at the center of all of us. The rising and falling of the spirit are our common heritage, our common goal.