Sr. Wendy Beckett

Sr. Wendy Beckett (1930-2018) was a Catholic sister, hermit, mystic and TV celebrity.

She is an icon for me because what she says about art I experience when I look at individuals—each one a work of art.  In her essay, The Art of Looking at Art | Britannica, Sr, Wendy talks about how to appreciate art. Ayun Halliday distills out the essence of her approach, 10 Rules for Appreciating Art by Sister Wendy Beckett (RIP), the Nun Who Unexpectedly Popularized Art History on TV | Open Culture

  1. Visit museums
  2. Prioritize quality time over quantity of works viewed
  3. Fly solo
  4. Buy a postcard
  5. Pull up a chair, whenever possible
  6. Don’t hate on yourself for being a philistine.
  7. Take responsibility for educating yourself…
  8. …but don’t be a prisoner to facts and expert opinions
  9. Celebrate our common humanity
  10. Listen to others but see with your own eyes

She became famous for her BBC documentaries on the history of art. Sr. Wendy began her career as a teaching sister in South Africa (Latin and English). At 40, she left the order to become a hermit at a Carmelite monastery in England. She resided there for the next 48 years in solitude except for when she was filming for BBC.

The Carmelite prioress who showed her such hospitality is Sr. Rachel, a renowned spiritual teacher, who publishes under the name, Ruth Burrows. Sr. Rachel speaks in this video.

In Her Own Words

While life lasts, let us live it, not pass through as zombies, and let us find in art a glorious passageway to a deeper understanding of our essential humanity.

Looking at art is one way of listening to God.

All great art is a visual form of prayer.

We know great art by its effect on us. If we are prepared to look without preconceptions, without defenses, without haste, then art will change us.

You are not a saint because you keep the rules and are blameless; you are a saint if you live in the real world, going out and loving the real people God has put into your life.

Again and again I’ve taken quick glances and then for some reason I’ve got to sit before a picture waiting and it’s opened up like one of those Japanese flowers that you put into water and something I thought wasn’t worth more than a casual, respectful glance begins to open up depth after depth of meaning.

Although we cannot command it, we choose joy, making a deliberate commitment to happiness (essentially another word for peace).

This is the real power of joy, to make us certain that, beneath all grief, the most fundamental of realities is joy itself.

Featured Media

Sister Wendy in Conversation Part 1
Sr. Wendy on Art
Sister Wendy’s Odyssey Art Criticism
Sister Wendy Beckett on Islamic Art