Ah, the tangled webs we weave
Right, Copper cross, geode, stained glass
Connecting art and faith began for me in the 70’s as I linked new theological insights regarding women in biblical history and interpretation with the work of two contemporary women artists, Judy Chicago and Sister Corita Kent. At that time I embraced the women’s movement and the feminism which espoused equality and inclusion in secular and religious life. I still do. As inclusive language became the norm in public life, I longed for the church to utilize it in worship and conversation including references to the feminine imagery for God found in the Bible. I became acutely aware that visual images and words, read and spoken, influence self image and behavior and inform an understanding of the world and faith.
Left: Now we see in a mirror dimly...
The works and words of artists Judy Chicago and Sister Corita Kent profoundly influenced me as a woman and an artist. Viewing Chicago’s The Dinner Party at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1982 was a revelation. I came to realize the importance of women’s work and history and experienced “AH-HA” moments of joy and excitement related to the artistic techniques of embroidery and ceramics connecting the beauty of the female body with women of history who struggled for equality and justice. Chicago’s collaborative approach to art making, so like women’s work around the world, reflected a quality of church and community life I desired. Her feminist views were controversial; her art expressions of female sexuality did not conform to traditional artistic forms. By and large, my enthusiasm for her views and art fell on deaf ears. Judy Chicago’s book, Embroidering Our Heritage, The Dinner Party Needlework remains a great read for those who sew, create in ceramics or are inspired by creative expression, and who would enjoy a “refresher course” in Western women’s history and heritage.
Sister Corita Kent (1918-1986), a teacher, artist and gentle activist elevated the art of serigraphy (silk screen) to a fine art medium and taught new ways of seeing, making, and living. She was what I would call a “free spirit.” Corita’s philosophy of teaching creativity encouraged artistic experiment using all mediums of art. Ronald Steen, a noted art and museum historian, described Corita’s art as a reflection of her spirituality, a commitment to social justice, hope for peace and fascination with life and the wold around her. Kent’s posters featuring huge bold streaks of colour and words spoke to the social issues of the day: the war in Vietnam, hunger, amnesty for prisoners. She was a quiet and cautious protester, not engaging in acts of civil disobedience, but speaking volumes through her art. Buckminster Fuller described his visit to her art department as among the most fundamentally inspiring experiences of his life. Although Kent died in 1986, Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit by Corita Kent and Jan Steward continues to be a source of inspiration. (from Amazon.ca or a public library)
Lately, Sister Wendy Beckett, a contemplative nun, living in solitude on the grounds of a monastery in Norfolk, England, has been like a personal mentor for understanding spiritual insights in the world of art. She makes a distinction between “religious art” and “spiritual art”,
observing that they are not synonymous. I understand what she means. I’ve observed “religious art” in church settings and art galleries that fails to inspire while some contemporary art touches me deeply.
Beckett’s years of art research and expertise are reflected in BBC produced DVD series available for purchase online and borrowed from public libraries. As an artist and Christian I have found her book Sister Wendy Beckett on Art and The Sacred especially helpful. Her thoughtful
insights about 65 contemporary works of art are celebrative commentaries of the transforming power of art and prayerful meditations on the presence of the divine in our everyday life.
The art and lives of Judy Chicago, Corita Kent, and Sister Wendy Beckett nurture my spirit and inspire my art. The spring 2008 theme of Geez, holy mischief in an age of fast faith, a magazine published in Manitoba, was Art in an Age of Brutality. This issue shakes up traditional art
opinions. I commend this magazine to those who wonder about non-traditional views of church and Western culture.
For me creating and viewing art is evocative of the phrase in Revelation, “Behold! I make all things new.” Creating art outside the lines is my preference. I am thankful for the Good News that encourages new possibilities, invites us to sing new songs and enables personal transformation. That gospel gives me permission to create works of art that extend beyond traditional boundaries using a variety of media and artistic styles.
Image and the Spirit by Karen Stone is a useful book for individuals and groups seeking to renew a spirit of creativity, imagination and joy. (Book Room, PPC)
Published by permission from Women's Perspectives Magazine in Canada.
Carolyn Boyer is a teacher, artist, writer, grandmother and elder in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Canada.