Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Marketing" Jesus

The other day in my graphic design class we had an intersting discussion that got me thinking about a few things. We were considering graphic design and advertising. What are the distinctions? are they the same? At first I suggested that advertising is a sub-category of graphic design, but then as I thought about it and heard what others had to say I'm thinking it may be more nuanced than that. Designing something in an attractive way, wether it be a poster, a book, a sign or an ad presents that something, and the values and ideals attached to it, in a more appealing way, giving it an image of credibility and quality. The question of morality came up. We are familiar with ads which try to make you feel bad about yourself and therefore more inclined to purchase a product. Or even misrepresenting the truth and making what is actually bad for you seem appealing. Examples of this are manifest in our culture, just look around critically. What is most concerning for me is presenting certain negative and harmful values as glamorous or normalizing them. And this goes beyond graphic design, although that's a dominant element of culture which permates our lives, to music, movies...basically any means of transmitting culture. I know I at least at times will catch myself singing a song with a catchy tune but an objectional message which I know to be false. Even knowing it to be false the appeal of the tune can influence me on some level to emotionally accept the message of the song. Same goes with something visually well presented. That being said advertising in and of itself is morally neutral, it becomes a problem when we use it to manipulate people or "sell" a product or message that is false rather than using it to serve others. So what does this have to do with me? The reason why I'm trying out graphic design is not that I'm interested in selling something like toothpaste or making a profit so much (not that there is anything wrong with that), it's because I think the skill would be useful to have for designing material that will present the faith effectively. The challenge for me, and this would apply to me as an artist whether or not I continue with graphic design, is presenting the message behind an image or design in a way that doesn't compromise the freedom of or manipulate the viewer. Presenting something in a visually attractive way is necessary (to a degree) if you want people today to even consider the merit of your message on its own terms. The question becomes how do you present or "market" the gospel in a visually compelling way while at the same time encouraging people to think for themselves rather than assimulating a message, no matter how good, based on the aesthetic value of its presentation rather than its actual merit. Granted nothing has more merit than Jesus but still this is a concern for me. I don't want to "brainwash" people, but I do hope to influence them. What are the distinctions between the two? Input appreciated!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Traditional Fine Arts In a Digital World

Being a fine artist who works with traditional media I am from time to time confronted with the question of where art forms such as painting, drawing and sculpture fit in with the world that we live in today. Hundreds of years ago people got their portraits painted because photography wasn't invented. Then one might ask what's the point of painting a person's portrait today when we can just photograph them? I'm not denigrating photography by any means, but painting or drawing someone is a very different experience than taking a photo of them. For me drawing or painting a person is very relational. It delivers something photography can't, (and photography delivers something a drawing or painting can't). Making a painting for instance occurs over a period of time, where it is characteristic of photography to be more immediate in regards to time. For this reason painting invites the artist and the viewers of the work of art into an experience and kind of directness with the subject that can't be replaced by more technically advanced mediums. The subject is "channeled" through the artist's eye's head and heart in a very personal way and invites the viewer into that same intimacy with and knowledge of the subject. This is why I prefer working from life than from a photograph when I paint or draw because then it is about communicating a relationship with an actual person or your experience of a particular place ect. It is my belief that each medium, whether it be sculpture, drawing, painting, printmaking, digitally generated images, photography or film each have their own strengths and limitations and any of these mediums cannot be replaced by another.

I am discerning my vocation right now and I am very much attracted to the Daughters of St. Paul for multiple reasons. Their big thing is evangelizing through the media so I am confronted with the question of could my working with traditional media such as oil painting be integrated into their mass media apostolate? For a while I dismissed them for this reason...mass media nuns would have no use for a fine artist working in such "archaic" mediums. Oil painting and mass media just didn't seemingly fit together in my mind. But I would ask myself...then for what reason am I painting in oil if it's not relevent to the culture today, a culture dominated by mass communications? I want to use my talent to engage the culture, there must be a way to integrate the new media into my life as an artist so I could reach more people. I can think of a few examples of people who are integrating fine art, Theology of the Body, and mass communications to reach people. One of them being Fr. Thomas Loya, who redirected me to the Daughters of St. Paul after I had more or less dismissed them. He told me that the we artists must use our art to help the larger culture see like us, that is seeing the glory of God in the human body- this is purity. So I have seen that fine art and mass media can be integrated together but still questions arise. Some pieces of art, i.e. art that is digitally made or altered lend themselves better to dissemination through the mass media e.g. the internet. Here's an example. Here's a pen and ink sketch I did of Mother Theresa, in preparation for a ceramics project I wrote about in a previous post "Faith, Hope, and Love".


I scanned this into photoshop and slightly tweaked the image there. This image loses nothing of it's beauty or power by being disseminated online seeing as how it was processed digitally. On the other hand, if I were to post an image of an oil painting, though you can see much of its beauty, something is lost through being transmitted via video, in a book or through the internet. Seeing an image of a painting, though useful and valuable, is a different thing than experiencing a painting in person. These are just some points that I need to reflect on further as I continue my journey as a TOB artist living in a media world. Any reflections or comments are much valued!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Some Reflections On the Human Body In Art, Viewer Reception and Mass Communications

Viewing Dony Mac Manus' presentation on TOB and art (see previous post) stirred up again in me some questions I've been mulling over for some time now. One such topic that surfaces for me which he touched upon is how my art will be received and my responsibilities as a figurative artist.

Pope John Paul II dedicated four of his 129 Wednesday audiences where he spoke of Theology of the Body to reflecting on art. His message regarding the unclothed human body and art have a strong cautionary tone, and rightly so because the human body and sexuality are so sacred they are subjects that need to be handled with extreme reverence and care. JPII spoke about how there is a danger of the gift of the model's body represented not being met with an appropriate reception from the people who view the art. To illustrate this I can speak of my own experiences as a figurative artist. There is a special relationship between artist and model. There is a deep level of mutual understanding and trust. The model reveals his or her body to the artist trusting that they will be received appropriately. The artist in turn makes a gift of their whole person through their art. As fine and dandy as that all is, there is also a fear in me in showing my art portraying the human body to others, because I don't know and have little control over how it will be received. This isn't as much a problem showing my art to other artists or people who I trust know where I'm coming from. When you show your art to someone you are making yourself vulnerable, especially if the piece is significant to you and if you are a figurative artist your model is vulnerable through your art as well. This hesitancy or fear on my part has been fostered by instances where my art wasn't received well. One instance I was showing my art to some friends and one friend covered her eyes and scurried out of the room upon seeing a painting of a nude model. Or comments such as "I'll check out your art as long as it's got no naked people...". Granted more instances than not my art is affirmed but I just mention these negative experiences to illustrate the challenges artist who work with the human form face.

JPII also spoke about the danger of a person's body being reduced to an object, that is as opposed to a body revealing a person. This point I need to reflect on so I can unpack it some more but my understanding is that we must create art that reveals the whole person, and doesn't divorce a person's body from their personhood, reduce it to an object as opposed to revealing a person to be loved. An artist's responsibility goes only so far, then it's up to the viewer to receive the piece of art in purity as well. One thing I appreciated about Dony Mac Manus' presentation was how he spoke of challenging those who view his art to purity. That's what I want to do through my art, to challenge those I share my art with to see the human body in purity and to recognize the dignity people have as being created male and female, in the image and likeness of God.

Being a figurative artist in a mass media world also raises some interesting questions. Especially seeing as how I want to evangelize with TOB through my art and the new forms of communication have the potential to expand my audience and impact. This raises questions relating to communicating the human form through art to a mass audience and the responsibilities that entails. As a point of discussion, I'll post a flier I made last semester that was an advertisement for a TOB study:

Theology of the Body@Sacramentality

I took the image out of my sketchbook, from an open figure drawing session I attended a year or so ago. This brings up for me such questions as, is this even OK? I believe the model has graduated so I didn't ask her permission if I could post her image all over the campus, what are the guidelines regarding such things, is permission necessary or was permission already in a way given in her modeling in a session that was open to the public? What about, and I hate to use this word, using a person's image to promote an ideal that they may not necessarily adhere to or agree with without their knowledge or permission, especially to a mass audience? Even in such a case as this where the ideal is something I believe to be positive. Also, seeing as how this image is a bit more "anonymous" than other images I could have selected, seeing how this is a quick sketch with the facial features largely undeveloped, is there more of a danger for the viewer seeing this body represented as an object rather than as revealing a person?

I hope to contact Dony Mac Manus, I would love to discuss with him such things as well as other topics I'll touch on in future posts. I would also like to contact Fr. Thomas Loya again, he's a TOB artist/ presenter as well who utilizes mass means of communication (e.g. DVD's, live web streams).

Anyone and everyone who has any input regarding any of this please share by leaving a comment!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Faith, Hope & Love

For nearly my entire life, I never really "got" Mother Theresa. Sure, I knew her fame...but didn't really understand her as a person, what was all this fuss about her, or know how I could relate to her. Recently little by little the mystery of Mother Theresa has unfolded for me, of course there is still a lot further I could go with her, but I know her better than I did a year ago, when I made this ceramic triptych based off of her. Today I just finished reading Mother Theresa's Secret Fire, which reveals that the driving force behind her person was a profound and deep encounter with the thirst of God for her love and the love of each person.


Mother Theresa@Sacramentality

Catholic art@Sacramentality
Faith, Hope & Love , Ceramic, 2009

This piece as you can tell is not completely intact, currently only one out of the three components of this piece isn't destroyed. I feel that working on this piece was an opportunity for me to physically express my desire to understand and know Mother Theresa better. Although other people have expressed fondness of this piece, I feel that I now would be much better equipped to make a piece on Mother Theresa that went below the surface. Or if not making a piece explictly depicting her, definitely having my art in general being influenced by what I now know of her. As I was reading about her encounter with God's thirst and how it changed her, I could definitely relate to my own experience of His desire for me and how it has changed me. Mother Theresa is an inspiration for me go deeper still. If I could let the truth of God's longing for me and for each person penetrate me deeper I am sure I'd be able to live my life, more so than I am now, in a way that draws people to Him. I need to be seeking to create art that communicates the love of God for each person I represent. It is important that I take mother Theresa's advice and reflect often on the divine words "I thirst". What do they mean for me? I'd like to get those who view my art thinking, what does this Love communicated through this image mean to me? How am I to act on this? God, who is Love, like any lover desires the love of His beloved. It is my challenge to make this beautiful Love clear and accessible through my art. I hope to do this especially through the subject of the human body, male and female, which speaks a language of relationship, of love and union which mirrors the life of the Trinity, in whose image we are made. Our call to love is stamped in our inmost being and is made visible in the design of our bodies.

Consider the person of Mother Theresa, the beauty and impact of her life came all from being consumed by God. We are all called to live with that sort of passion, and it comes by being transformed by knowing you are beloved of God and desiring nothing but loving Him with every fiber of your being. The way to grow in this relationship is to spend time getting to know God, and not getting discouraged with your shortcomings...your complacency, inconstancy and lukewarmness. Jesus lamented to Mother Theresa, "They don't know me-so they don't want Me...". Mother Theresa sought to make God known through her love in action. After encountering the love of God you can't help but act on it...that's how I hope to live and make incarnated in action, love made visible in image. I don't know how this is going to play out, but I know that any effectiveness I have in communicating Love, Truth, and Beauty will be an overflow of the creative Love I recieve from God. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Here's a portrait of my dad I did last year for my sculpture class as my final project. I did this piece the same semester as my bronze sculpture Prayer.

wood portraiture@Sacramentality

Father, wood, 2008

This was my first experience working with wood, and I really like it. This was also my first time making a reductive sculpture, (for the non-art folks that just means rendering a form by removing material instead of adding it). I really enjoyed it, I should do it again sometime. This was the most physically demanding piece of art I've ever made, but I loved it. I enjoyed the manual labor aspect of it. It's one of those pieces that you sweat and bleed for (until I acquired gloves to protect my hands). Eric from the wood shop at my university, kind man that he is took me to his house so he could cut my log and rough it out some. Then I chiseled away at it but was getting nowhere fast, until I went home for Thanksgiving break and used my dad's zig saw and some other tools, along with lended chisels and a handy mallet that was given to me for this purpose. (Anyone who wants to embark on wood sculpture I highly recommend using a mallet instead of a regular hammer unless you want to miss the chisel half the time and smash up your fingers...not fun). I used photographic references for this but my dad was around in case I needed to look at him seeing as how I was working in his shop.

I couldn't help but think as I was working on this about the spiritual implication of the medium. As I worked I reflected on the significance of Jesus the carpenter and felt a connection to Him in that way as I was working on this piece. That's not to say that wood is a better, holier or more spiritual medium, of course, just that Jesus had a special relationship to it as he walked this earth during his "hidden" life before his three year ministry which I find intriguing. To work with wood you need to be patient, strong and firm yet delicate and gentle. I believe that Jesus working with wood prepared him for working with people, work that would demand those same qualities of gentle strength. Similarly, sensitivity and firmness is not only a quality required to bring a sculpture to completion, but is also demanded in our relationships as we labor to help bring others to fulfillment by drawing the best out of them.

It seemed in a sense a bit like an ironic role reversal how I was in a sense "mothering" this sculpture of my father into being. I suppose on one level, if only in the recesses of my mind, this sculpture was an exploration of a man's fatherhood and how it is meant to be a reflection of the Fatherhood of God the Father. Perhaps this is why I titled this piece Father as opposed to Dad. I never address my dad as "father".

Technical note, if you work with wood that still has a significant amount of moisture in it it will crack as it dries. There is nice big ol' crack in this sculpture now because I worked it when it was still wet.

Also, I believe the medium served the subject well. The rawness and roughness of the wood is very masculine and fitting in expressing my dad.

Friday, January 8, 2010

N.T. Wright On Art and Mission

I like this comment someone left about this video:

I love how Wright talks about the honesty of art,of the present pain, the present glory revealed and the future glory. We have short-changed art by making only pretty pictures of demure Jesus and his sad, calm appearance.
The bible is full of angst along with peace. There is ugliness as well as beauty. The ugliness is part of the beauty – the precursor of what can come of it.

I came across this video through this web page:


In this post I'm sharing a piece I did about a year ago in my sculpture course.

Theology of the Body@Sacramentality

Theology of the Body@Sacramentality

Prayer, bronze, 2008

I am by no means a pro when it comes to bronze sculpture. This is the only one I've done, for a class assignment, which I was necessarily heavily guided through and assisted. Just wanted to make that disclaimer.

This piece is a self-portrait of sorts. No, it doesn't look like me. It's actually not modeled after any specific person, it's something I used no reference for...just drawn from my knowledge of the human form. It's generally very important for me to work from a reference, I particularly enjoy working from life, (from an actual person) though it can be challenging for me at times to work with the human form from life because I am just starting to learn how to work with models, that is working with a model one on one. The first and only time I had a model all for myself was this past semester for a series of two paintings and I LOVED it! So I'm getting there but it's still something to be worked on, it will come with time and experience. Though not working from a specific person with this piece perhaps worked well, because it makes the figure more inclusive in a sense but really it's something I'd want to generally avoid in my art because I really prefer capturing the likeness of an actual person. I'm much more engaged and focused in my art when that is the case. So when I said this piece is a self portrait of sorts I didn't mean so much a physical likeness as an expression of my experience and relationship with God. Without getting into too much detail, this piece is a reflection of how God revealed Himself to me when I was at a low point. It is recalling a certain time in my life, which had occurred the year I made this piece when I knelt before God in my pain and desperation, my loneliness and He met me in a way where I KNEW for the first time that yes God is very real and yes God is Love. Though this piece isn't only about an isolated experience, but rather how that experience was the beginning of an ever intensifying surrender to perfect Love. Through the language of the body, in its receptive open posture, in its kneeling, communicates openness and dependence on God. The nudity of the figure expresses the whole person,in the totality of their being as being presented to God. This sculpture is very TOB in that the body makes visible the invisible spiritual reality. It speaks of the integration of body and spirit, how the body reveals the person. The gash over the figure's heart emphasises the vulnerability of the person. I came to God broken and vulnerable, and in that brokenness and vulnerability He met me. In my own experience my brokenness drove me to seek God and receive Him in a way I otherwise may not have been open to. By presenting our pain to God we give Him the opportunity to be our Healer and transform it into something beautiful. For me that something beautiful that resulted from my pain is a love relationship with Jesus that has met my needs for total acceptance, love, and intimacy beyond my wildest imaginings. My lack of these things drove me to seek Him and He provided with His very self! I believe my experience is pretty universal and a lot of people would be able to relate to this piece in one way or another. Also, I recall as I was making this sculpture I was aware of its Marian dimension. On one level this piece expresses Mary's total submission, trust and receptivity before God. As a woman particularly, or more generally as a person before God I have an inherent connection with Mary. As I was making the gash in the chest of this figure I couldn't help but think about the Scripture where Simeon says to Mary "...and a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2: 35). This verse, and this layer of meaning in the sculpture speaks of participation in the Passion of Jesus Christ. I believe that this connects to my own experience in that Christ, by his suffering and death, entered into our own suffering and death and through his resurrection redeems and makes something beautiful come out of our brokenness if we but open up and let Him. Though of course Mary participated in the Passion of her Son in a different way than anyone else, by her being sinless and also through her special relationship and closeness to Jesus.

Marian themes are going to play a big part in my art and something I'm going to be revisiting again and again. After all, it is through and by her flesh that Jesus took on flesh, our humanity.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010 be young and in love.

Don't feel that I'm called to cloistered religious life, but I could definitely relate to her! :)

First Entry!

I've come to love people as the main subject for my art. Drawing or painting a person from life, meaning with my model present with me, engages me and makes me, and my work come alive. A year or so I came across Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body and it became clear to my why God has given me this interest in and talent for representing the human form.

When people ask me what is Theology of the Body (as a result of my obvious passion for it) I tend to be at a loss for words. I haven't yet found the perfect, short description of it but I'll try to explain it briefly. Theology of the Body is JPII's integrated vision of man (male and female) ; body and spirit, man created in the image and likeness of God. The body reveals the spiritual mystery of the person. Because man is made in the image of God, studying man's body is a way to study God. TOB is a presentation of the gospel in it's entirety that is accessible and relevant to the people of today. I'm afraid my explanation needs refining so it's more coherent and accessible to people unfamiliar with TOB. That's why I'm making this blog, to invite others to help me out with such things! If you want to learn more about TOB, Christopher West's website that I linked to is an excellent resource.

So what does TOB have to do with art? For me, everything. As an artist I have this inherent drive to engage the culture. What for? What do I want to communicate with my gift? As a Catholic the answer is Jesus Christ. I want to make art that is redemptive. So what is it that needs redeeming? What is broken about humanity that needs healing? We have lost sight of our dignity as people, made in the image of God. Abuse of our God-given gift of sexuality has done violence to us as individuals and our relationships at the core. We are created for a love relationship with God, the only one who can fulfill us, and many are looking elsewhere for this fulfillment in vain and lead lives of emptiness. How does figurative art play into this? I believe that God has entrusted to me, and other artists of today, the task of reclaiming and communicating through our art the FULL truth of what it means to be human. And the truth will set us free to live as we were made to. The truth, revealed through our bodies, is that we are made for LOVE.

I realize that this initial entry doesn't so much resolve questions as it does raise them. But that's OK, gotta start somewhere!

About the name of the blog: Sacramentality.
Sacramentality means that the visible world communicates God, just as a painting communicates and reveals something about the inner life of the artist. The body of a person, more than anything else in all of creation, is designed to express or make visible the invisable nature of God.