It is the week before finals and this blog marks my final post in a series for my Art & Christ class. For our culminating project, we were given a vague project prompt called "Act of Faith." We were given the freedom to create a project as a reflection for ourselves or as an act of service. I was lucky to have a project opportunity presented to me earlier this semester. This post documents my journey through this complex project.Read More
This week’s reading covered two topics: symbols and truthfulness. Though both chapters were really interesting I’d like to focus on symbolism. Some of what we had discussed in class reminded me of my final post for Grace & Necessity. If you’d like to read it you can do so here.
In class we talked briefly about Christian symbols in art and I was interested in diving deeper into this topic to uncover one of the more obscure symbols we may come across. Flipping through the Bestiary of Christ, one that really stood out to me was the weasel. Though we didn’t talk about this specific one in class, I thought it would be an interesting one to learn more about. Initially I thought it might be a symbol for something bad, but it is actually a symbol for the perfect disciple (148, Bestiary). The weasel is a small carnivore that can “win combats with much bigger animals than itself” (147). An expression that has been tied to the weasel is “The weasel conceives through the war and gives birth through the mouth.” This can be reflected in a disciple who listens to the word of God and then becomes a teacher of more disciples. A type of weasel called the ermine actually changes colors with the seasons and is one of the symbols of the Resurrection. The ermine is brown in the summer and in the winter turns as white as snow.
In Searching beneath the Surface, Stewart wrote about language and symbols. Much of what he wrote about involved symbols he has been using in his own work. While it was interesting to see what these meant for him, I was really more interested in more universal symbols. Personal symbols can be great but unless the artist has the opportunity to educate their audience, the meaning may be lost or confused. Stewart wrote, “The idea that the mere repetition of an object creates an effective symbol is perhaps too simplistic. At some level there needs to exist a shared understanding between the artist and the viewer of the relationship of the image and its intended content or message,” (143). Without this shared understanding meaning could be lost. On the other hand, “just incorporating a well-thought out symbol in a painting doesn’t make the painting successful,” (145).
In using symbols in artwork, there often needs to be a stage of experimentation and exploration to find the most fitting symbol. Stewart wrote, “The most obvious solution to a problem isn’t always the most interesting. In this line of thinking, much could be said in favor of the struggle to stretch oneself to new dimensions of creativity, rather than doing what comes most easily,” (143). This is so true! And its a message that we constantly hear from professors. Anyone who has taken Intro to Graphic Design with Dave really knows the extreme extent of this through the Quad Radius Variable Square project. We all had to make pages upon pages of alternative solutions to find the best one. Settling for the first idea that comes to mind may be easier, but doesn’t necessarily come up with the best solution.
Honestly, in my own work I sometimes just go with my gut and my final product happens to be with the first idea I have. But there are other times in which I spend time sketching and exploring other options before figuring out which one will suit the project best. Though I don’t think there is a concrete way to do things all the time, a little (or a lot!) of exploration in our work can really push us to create our best work.
It Was Good Making Art to the Glory of God: revised and Expanded Version, Edited by Ned Bustard
The Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay. Translated by D.M. Dooling.
Last week we had the opportunity to visit the Mount Angel Abbey and hear from Brother Andre Love. Br. Andre Love took his final and solemn profession of vows as a Benedictian earlier this year in September. Here’s a video from Mount Angel Abbey about Monastic Formation:
At the start of our visit we went to the abbey’s museum, which was filled with a lot of surprising artifacts that I wasn’t expecting. Br. Andre Love serves as the curator for the museum and recently created a mission statement for the museum. He is now in the process of curating pieces in the museum to follow that statement. I thought it was so interesting the variety of artifacts in the museum and was really amazed at the amount of taxidermy in such a small space. Sometimes I feel like the internet and other media have desensitized us to seeing things like this because we can access images anytime we want. This is unfortunate because I feel like when we get to see these things in person, we can become apathetic.
We also got to walk through the library which was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. The outside of the building was very plain and unassuming but walking in the space really seemed to open up and there was a clear focus on the books. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of even little details (like the door handles) that Aalto designed. The interior was really stunning and I would love to come back another just to study and enjoy the space!
After visiting the library we sat in for the mid-day service in the chapel. I think this was the first time I had heard any Gregorian Chants in person and it was really amazing. The way the voices filled the space and echoed off the walls. I would love to come to another service with more people to experience what it would be like with the building more filled.
Overall the visit to the Abbey was really enlightening and opened my eyes a lot to the diversity of background that monks could come from.
Video on Monastic Formation from the Mount Angel Abbey http://youtu.be/fV7zdlaT-ZI
Mount Angel Abbey https://www.mountangelabbey.org
Three Monk Take Solemn Vows at Mount Angel Abbey http://www.catholicsentinel.org/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=35&ArticleID=26631
Our second reading, titled Beauty Transfigured, comes from arts theorist Adrienne Chaplin.
Beauty is back! Apparently it was shunned for many years in the art world but has made a come back recently and is now being embraced. Due to this “shunning” of sorts happening outside of my lifetime, I really have no experience of a world in which beauty is something we don’t strive for.
In our discussions and in the reading beauty, goodness and truth were three words often used interchangeably. As Corwynn Beals pointed out to our class, these three things are all transcendentals. Furthermore, this interchangeability is often referred to as “triple convertibility.” I found this really interesting because in my own experience with trying to define beauty, truth and goodness regularly spring up. Richard Harries describes beauty as being “about honesty, about seeing what is actually there and being true to one’s own response to it,” (11). His description of beauty clearly ties beauty together with truth.
Throughout centuries people across the world have been trying to define beauty, but never seem to come to a conclusion. We often associate the work we nature, bodies, and man-made creations – all physical things. Of course when we approach art we are mostly taking in what we physically see in front of us, and aren’t always aware of the context that it was created in. However, approaching beauty as only physical is a problem.
Chaplin writes, “the beauty-glory of the resurrected Christ is not rooted in physical appearance but in His self-sacrificial love, which passes through the ugliness of the cross” (42). Once the world can stop approaching beauty as something merely physical, then it may become more clear.
Later in the essay, Chaplin writes, “true beauty, if you like, is more than skin deep. Taken in its proper context it is a multi-layered affair, which is able to acknowledge and embrace friction, violence, brokenness, pain, suffering and all that a fallen world entails,” (47). I really appreciate her description of beauty as something that is multi-layered. Everyone seems to bring a different perspective on what beauty is and I think that it adds to the richness of it. This ties in well with an article written on CIVA’s blog by Ian Isaac. He writes, “When we talk about beauty, we enter into a shared dimension of life. While our definitions of beauty differ, we still acknowledge that it exists, has substance, and remains an enduring attribute of life apart from ourselves.” (You can read the rest of the article here.)
Though defining beauty will never be summed up in a simple tweet, I don’t think it is something that we should shy away from. We will never fully understand beauty but we can still partake in journeying to seek beauty. If we all work to widen our eyes for beauty we can start to recognize patterns in how God reveals beauty to us.
Art and the Beauty of God, by Richard Harries
Beauty as Experience, by Ian Isaac. December 19, 2013. http://civa.org/civablog/beauty-as-experience/
It Was Good Making Art to the Glory of God: revised and Expanded Version, Edited by Ned Bustard
We recently started reading a new book in class titled It Was Good Making Art to the Glory of God. This book is a compilation of essays that look into artmaking from a Christian perspective. The first essay comes from the book’s editor, Ned Bustard. This chapter, God is Good Like No Other, focused on goodness.
At the start of this chapter Bustard writes that artists making art to the glory of God must strive for goodness in their morality and it should also “permeate their artistic efforts” (17). Though we may strive for this, “good is not portrayed well due to a general misunderstanding of what the word really means” (21). Knowing this it is important to first attempt to define what is good.
Some of the definitions brought up by a simple Google search include the following: to be desired or approved of; possessing or displaying moral virtue; giving pleasure; and even “used in conjunction with the name of God or a related expression as an exclamation of extreme surprise or anger, ex: Good heavens!”
In our reading, Bustard identified the original words used in Genesis 1 that have now been translated to “good.” In the original text, the Hebrew word used was “ טוֹב” (ṭôḇ) meaning “that which is good, useful, and especially good morally.” The Greek translation used the word “kalos” meaning “aesthetically beautiful and morally good, pertains to that good which brings joy to God.” This is interesting because it shows that when we read “good” in this context it means both morally right and beautiful (19).
Learning these definitions of good brought to light my own “bounded awareness” in searching for goodness. One often associates the word “good” with words like nice or sweet, even though that isn’t necessarily accurate.
In an article from “On Being,” Courtney E. Martin writes that she doesn’t want to be “good” anymore and proposes that our actions be prompted by curiosity instead. She describes “good” as often being wrongly worn as a shield of immunity or a cape of specialness leading to bloated egos and deprived relationships. It’s a shame that these inaccurate representations of good can lead people away from it. I think that curiosity is a good first step, but we should still continue to step towards true goodness as revealed by God and not the skewed versions of goodness.
In following our curiosity of goodness, we must turn towards scripture. Bustard writes about this in the section “A Good Foundation.” From this section of the reading I found this quote really interesting:
When meditating on the attributes of God such as His goodness during the good work of giving, serving others, and sacrificial fasting, God is often generous in revealing aspects of His person. And when we focus on the person of Christ and His deity during prayer and worship, he helps us understand more adequately the attributes of God, including goodness.
I have recently discovered that one of my goals in my work is to serve others through helping them visually communicating their ideas. Despite this, I find that in my daily work flow I treat projects as just another task rather than a way of serving a client. I wonder why I have the mindset that spending time with God has to be “stepping away” from busyness. Why am I not integrating meditative time with God into every aspect of my life? What would it look like to bring together time spent in the presence of God’s goodness and designing as a service to others?
I hope that by approaching my design work as an act of worship and meditative time I will be able to step further into God’s goodness. If I want to live a life fully permeated by God then I must allow God to fully permeate my life and not continue to segment my life.
It Was Good Making Art to the Glory of God: revised and Expanded Version, Edited by Ned Bustard
There is No Honest Rest: All the Things I Would Rather Be Than Good, by Courtney E. Martin (http://www.onbeing.org/blog/there-is-no-honest-rest-all-the-things-i-would-rather-be-than-good/6983)
Good in Hebrew (http://hebrewword.org/Share-the-Hebrew-Word/good-in-hebrew/)
Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my journey through Rowan William’s Grace and Necessity! We made it!! This section (titled “God and the Artist”) held so much great content, but here I am going to focus on a few quotes that really stood out to me. Let’s get started!
There were a few quotes from this section that have added to my confusion of where I stand as a graphic designer in the world of art. When I was in high school I never would have foreseen myself pursuing a degree in art, let alone being an art major. Yet here I am four years later set to graduate as an art major!
Throughout these past few years at Fox I have jumped into a whole new world of art that I never knew before. Despite the integration of graphic and studio art, I still feel a great divide between the two worlds. Though both fields involving creating, the motivation seems to differ.
Williams wrote, “When we are tempted to confine our vision of mental activity to the successful manipulation of defined objects and the solving of practical problems as to how we negotiate with such objects, we need to recognize that this is not all,” (141). This really goes against a big part of graphic design. Many instances in graphic design require us to simplify and create symbols that can speak to the masses.
We have to take concepts and simplify them into symbols that can be easily recognized by many people. We need to create something that can be instantly recognized and associated with characteristics of the brand that we are trying to convey. In recognizing that each person knows things differently and has different associations with various symbols makes the job of designing a logo seem impossible.
Logos become symbols for a company’s identity. Logos also employ the use of symbols to do this job. Guerrini writes an interesting article on the impact of symbols in logo design here (http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/symbols-impact-on-logo-design/). Williams describes symbols as “a complex bundle of interrelated elements” which is different from signals that trigger reactions but have no meaning in themselves (136).
Later Williams summarizes a claim by Flannery O’Connor saying, “instead of beginning from some kind of search for a metaphor, the imagination shapes a character whose own structural integrity within the fiction produces an excess of meaning which offers a metaphorical possibility,” (143). This further demonstrates the divide between the world of fine art and graphic design. In graphic design, the work usually starts with a creative brief. The creative brief is everything. It will inform and guide all work following. Without it there would be no purpose and the design could just become fluff or meaningless.
In Essential Graphic Design Solutions, Robin Landa describes the design brief as “a strategic plan that both the client and design firm or advertising agency agree upon, a written document outlining and strategizing a design project. […] Most important for designers and the creative team, strategy is a springboard for conceptual development,” (78). But here O’Connor is suggesting that artists must let their imagination go first and from it will naturally come metaphors. This way an artist’s own desires for a specific metaphor isn’t forced upon something that it doesn’t belong to.
Though reflecting on this chapter has contributed to the divide between these two worlds, I am in no way trying to say one way is better than the other. Each of these realms has a different purpose and I am thankful for the opportunity for discussion and community with artists of all trades. Being able to understand one another can help us to grow in our own way and there is so much more value in that than trying to figure things out alone.
Grace and Necessity: reflections on art and love, by Rowan Williams.
Essential Graphic Design Solutions, by Robin Landa.
Symbols and Its Impact in Logo Design, by Sebastian Guerrini. http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/symbols-impact-on-logo-design/
Recently I was able to interview and listen to the story of Cabrina Alviar, a graphic designer from sunny Southern California. When we were given this assignment I knew that I wanted to talk to someone from outside the Fox bubble that I often find myself gravitating towards. I decided to randomly email a few designers who I found online to see if they would be interested in doing an interview with me. I was lucky to get a quick response from Cabrina, who I discovered on Azusa Pacific University’s faculty list.
Though I came up with a full list of questions for our interview, I decided to just frame the whole conversation around how she integrates her faith with her art/work. From there the conversation flowed naturally and I was able to gain a lot of insight to her story.
Cabrina grew up in California, never really realizing that she would someday become a designer. In high school she took a wide range of classes including anatomy and design classes for high school students at the Art Center. While she enjoyed the design classes, she only really saw creating art as a side hobby and not something to be pursued as a career. Cabrina really enjoyed her anatomy class and went on to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with a Minor in Exercise Physiology. Her family background played a big role in her decision to go into this field. A first-generation, hispanic student, her family really wanted her to go into the medical field. She completed four full years including internships and had plans to go on to get her masters degree to be a physical therapist.
After graduation she had the time to take a breath and think about if this was what she really wanted to do for the rest of her life. From her internships she saw that she wasn’t passionate about it. She quickly realized that she wanted to go back to school for graphic design, despite just finishing a four-year degree.
For her, the hardest part about this was having to tell her family. Fortunately her decision was graciously accepted and supported. They all saw that design was what God was calling her to do. She moved on to get her BFA in Graphic Design from Art Center College of Design.
When I asked Cabrina about how faith integrates with her work, she emphasized her thesis work from getting her her Master of Fine Arts. In this work she had the opportunity to explore her experiences dealing with death and memory. As a Christian, she doesn’t see death as the end since there is more to it than just being the end – she sees hope. Her thesis work in particular has to do with her brother who died at a young age. Despite this happening many years ago, she came back to it in her MFA work. Her final thesis show included photographs and mixed media pieces.
I really enjoyed listening to Cabrina’s journey through getting her MFA from a designer’s perspective. She was lucky to be in the right position at the right time to be a part of this program and still continue her regular work. Going into the program, Cabrina said she just felt like a designer and after finishing the program she felt more like an artist and designer. She reflected on the experience and said that it was really hard for her to change the way she approached art, but was really able to broaden her perspective.
She pointed out that in design, it’s really easy to get tunnel-vision and just focus on the objective and creative brief of the project. Her exposure to more visual artists and critiques of her work helped her to problem solve differently and become a stronger designer and artist. This really reminds me of our own program here at Fox and how valuable it is for studio and graphic designers to intermix and share our knowledge and experiences.
Now, Cabrina works as the Associate Art Director for the University Relations Department at Azusa Pacific University. She is also an adjunct professor at Azusa, teaching a few classes in design. She really enjoys working at APU because it is so much more than working for a company that she doesn’t believe in. Most of all she is able to do work for God’s glory.
Alviar, Cabrina. (2014, October 14). Telephone Interview.
Personal Website of Cabrina Alviar. http://www.cabrinaalviar.com/
Curriculum Vitae. http://www.apu.edu/faculty/cvs/calviar.pdf
“When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist.”
— Flannery O'Connor, The Church and the Fiction WriterRead More
This week in class we continued our journey though Rowan William’s Grace and Necessity. We are now in the second part of the book titled “David Jones: Material Words.” While there was a lot of great material in this section, the part I want to focus on here comes from the fourth section of the chapter.Read More
If I ever found myself wandering the city of Ravenna and happened to pass by the Mausoleum de Galla Placidia, honestly, I probably wouldn’t give it a second glance. The small cruciform (cross-shaped) building built of reused ancient roman bricks doesn’t seem like much from the outside.Read More