Today, I’m continuing my Q&A with painter Bruce Herman (www.brucehermanonline.com). Currently Professor of Art at Gordon College, Bruce lectures widely and has had work published in many books, journals, and popular magazines. He completed both undergraduate and graduate fine arts degrees at Boston University School for the Arts. He studied under Philip Guston, James Weeks, David Aronson, and Reed Kay. Bruce’s artwork has been exhibited in over 55 exhibitions in eleven major cities including Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, and has been shown in five different countries, including England, Italy, Russia, Canada, and Israel. His work is housed in many public and private collections including the Vatican Museum of Modern Religious Art in Rome; the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts; and the Armand Hammer Museum at the University of California in Los Angeles.
LeAnne: What challenges have you faced from the world because of your faith?
Bruce: I don’t think my challenges are unique. In many ways I think it is simply the problem of communicating well and truly. Of course, as some wise Christian once said, if you’re not being persecuted, you may not be communicating your Christianity clearly—and as another said, the Gospel is innately offensive—we as Christians ought not to be. In one sense, to be an artist and a Christian might doubly marginalize you, but I have always felt a bit of an outsider being an artist in a culture of athletes, not aesthetes. Why should any Christian be surprised by being rejected? Like most artists, poets, and composers, I could probably wallpaper my home with the rejection letters I’ve received. That shouldn’t stop us from sending “love letters” to the world. It didn’t stop Jesus, and we’re supposed to follow him, right?
Contemporary art culture is confused and confusing for most non-experts. The popularity in middle America of Thomas Kinkade’s mass-produced kitsch is a testimony to how out of touch high-art culture is from the general populace. I am, for better or worse, a high-art sort of painter but I have a heart for those who don’t “get it” when they see contemporary images. My heroes are artists like Rembrandt, Robert Frost, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare—all those masters whose work can be appreciated by egg-heads as well as by lunkheads. A third-grader can read Frost, and the same poem can deeply move a literary scholar holed-up in his library.
LM: Have you found that the church in general doesn't understand your calling to be an artist?
BH: Like the famous St. Francis prayer, I seek not so much to be understood as to understand. By what I’ve already said, you can guess that I sympathize with rank and file Christians who don’t “get it” with art and artists. Yes, I’ve encountered a fair amount of misunderstanding and even rejection by fellow Christians for my art. The way I see it, that gives me a second job in my work as a communicator: make it accessible to the whole range of persons who Christ loves. My dream would be to make paintings like my hero Rembrandt, paintings that art connoisseurs and commoners alike can respond to, be moved by.
LM: What would you say to encourage your students and other artists trying to blend their faith and their art?
BH: Blend faith and art? I think it’s really impossible to disentangle them. For me, art and faith are almost identical or at least coterminous because they both flow from the Creator and flow back to the Creator. We are made to be makers like our Maker. There is no divide between knowing God and seeking to imitate God. That’s what children do—play act at being like Mommy and Daddy. My art is simply my attempt to act like Daddy.