Fall 1997

Art and Forgiveness

Rodolfo Balzarotti

At the moment when his work is born, the artist is always a forgiven man, whether he is aware of it or not. —William Congdon

William Congdon was born in 1912 in Providence, Rhode Island and grew up in the cultured, aristocratic society of New England. But Congdon’s background was only apparently privileged. A stifling moralism and puritanism presided over the family home, planting in him the seeds of rebellion:

The first thing I was aware of (as a child) was the feeling of profound solitude, even though I was surrounded by numerous family members and servants. Solitude because of my father’s rejection. I was afraid. I don’t know if you can call this situation an “experience of art,” but it was certainly the situation of a frustrated, aborted relationship, and it awakened in me the creative gift.

Congdon’s artistic vocation, which matured during his years at Yale University, was a rebellion against a society at once “materialistic” and “moralistic,” a society whose relentless calculation of everything, whether profit or loss, merit or sin, excluded precisely the dimension of gratuitousness, grace, and love that Congdon would always identify with the dimension of art:

At the moment when his work is born, the artist is always a forgiven man, whether he is aware of it or not. And the forgiveness that has forgiven him by its very nature seeks out through the work of art someone else to forgive.


. . . . . . . . . .
To read this article in its entirety, please download the free PDF or buy this issue.