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Painting Identity: Intersection, Art and Teaching

By Michael Prescia

Emptying a box, my collage and mixed media professor senior year in college spread out hundreds of early twentieth century photographs and papers. We had to wade through the piles, work with what we had, and find what spoke to us in order to create a work of art. As I think back to that class, this process can be a metaphor for much of my time in JVC and life afterwards.


A close-up image of some of the artwork Mike has created as prayer and reflection.


While a JV, I worked in a Nativity model school in California. Frankly, I never wanted to work in a school, I was actually quite against it. I associated school with constant personal struggle. With shame, inadequacy, poor health, depression, privilege, elitism and the list goes on. I recognized these sentiments as finally being alleviated once I graduated. And somehow, my placement site was at a school during JVC, and I now teach religion at a Jesuit high school. These are the types of places we are often called to though–places with trauma that are next to and interwoven with beauty.


Being in schools my whole life, I’ve come to learn that sometimes we find ourselves already within our vocation. Even if we’re kicking and screaming about it at first, as Eve Tushnet, the author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith writes among other things. Discerning my vocation throughout JVC and afterwards has been a big struggle for me. Perhaps one more difficult than making sense of the intersection of my Catholic faith and sexual orientation as a gay man, although that is a big part of it. Sometimes just emptying the box and discerning through the consolations and desolations is the toughest component, not the actual work or artistry itself.

Michael sits creating art as both a form of self-care and love for himself, as well as a reflection and prayer with God.

Henri Nouwen once wrote, “real training for service asks for a hard and often painful process of self-emptying…our fulfillment is in offering emptiness, our usefulness in becoming useless, our power in becoming powerless.” This is how I pray to discern and serve, and this is how I create. This is how I choose to respond. Art isn’t about creation, it’s about responding, just as our service and faith at the end of the day isn’t about ideology, it’s about how we respondto God, our brothers and sisters, and our world. Revelation always requires a response. Ours is a faith of action. So create something beautiful. Let it be messy. Empty the tubes of your consolations and desolations onto the palette. Let the canvas speak and reveal itself to you. Respond. That’s what I have to do; that’s what we’re each called to do.


One of my favorite mystics, better known as the artist Marc Chagall, wrote, “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of love.” Which is the palette that you paint your world from? And what is your responsorial psalm?

Mike served as a Jesuit Volunteer in San José, California in 2014-15. He graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in Theology, and he currently lives and works in Jersey City.