LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, April 28, 2008

Gathering Around the Roundtable

This week I’m excited to announce a new occasional feature on the blog: the roundtable. Some weeks, instead of interviewing just one artist or art expert, I will talk with a few people, both artists and art enthusiasts. These posts will have a roundtable discussion feel. If you’re interested in being included in one of these discussions, please email me.

Please also note that the roundtables will not replace the weekly features of artists. They will allow me to interview more people and keep the blog fresh.

Today, I’m talking to a poet, a creative services director at a PR firm, and an executive who works with philanthropists to “maximize the good of giving.”

LeAnne: Why do you think should Christians care about the arts?

Jeanne Murray Walker (poet, playwright, essayist, professor of English):
The arts get below the surface. We live in a materialistic society and we see the surface of things. Most art (opera, painting, dance, etc.) is really about love, death and human longing. It gives us good, rich, deep questions. The arts are always surprising, not clichéd. They offer a new way of seeing things.

They also create camaraderie or community. They bind people who are unlike together, like when we see a movie and talk about it afterward. Or when we see a ballet, we are together with the dancers and the audience. Or when we read a novel and think, ‘This author knows! I’ve had that experience, too!’

These are very biblical principles—creating community and getting below the surface.

LM: Why do you love the arts? Have you always loved them?

Mart Martin (creative services director of PR firm):
I loved to draw as early as I can remember. In fact, I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I participated in chorus and plays at school and church from elementary through high school. And being raised just a few blocks away from a university with an exceptional fine arts program -- Southern Miss -- I was exposed at en early age to live theater and the symphony. All of those interests have carried over into adulthood.

There's much to love about the arts, but I think it's that common thread of beauty that attracts me most. Beauty is one of those rare things that comes close to perfection. And it offers us a glimpse into Heaven. The idea that there are colors we haven't yet seen and notes we haven't even heard just blows my mind. The fact that we can get a taste of that through the arts is fascinating and extremely satisfying to me.

LM: Do the arts impact or enhance your daily life? How?

Calvin Edwards (executive who works with philanthropists to “maximize the good of giving”):
Yes. But not easily, not automatically. Like many others, I live a very busy, full life with many demands. Clients, staff, family, and others seem to want something all the time. In other words, my life is packed with non-arts before the arts show up. So how do they fit in? One has to make time, make space for them. I schedule time for the arts during what downtime there is.

But back to your question, does doing this make any difference to the rest of my busy, pre-programmed life? I think it does. In a manner that is hard to explain, I am a better person after an encounter with the arts. I am more sensitive, more informed, more prone to listening, more attuned to life’s nuances and subtleties. I am refreshed, re-created a little closer to God’s image.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Writing as Sacrament: Image Journal and Ron Hansen

The current issue of Image has an interesting interview with novelist Ron Hansen. The last question caught my attention and I’ve been mulling it over this week. I include a piece of it here. I’m wondering: does Ron’s answer apply to the arts in general, not just writing? I think it might.

Image: You’ve written about the idea of writing as sacrament. How has your thinking on that developed?

Ron Hansen:
I go back to the old idea that a sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace. I liken writing to sacrament in that way. Writing witnesses to something that’s happened to you, or to some power that’s moving through you. In writing, you’re trying to communicate what’s been going on in you spiritually and make it somehow tangible to others. You’re trying to give it life. And that’s what the sacraments are intended to do. They’re symbols of something that God is actually doing to us…Sacraments all function as ways of telling stories about God’s relationship to us. And that’s what I think writing is doing as well.

Coming soon: more interviews with artists and a new occasional feature that I’ll be explaining next week

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Ruth Pitter: Award-Winning Poet and Friend of C. S. Lewis

I have something a little different for you today. I met writer and poet Colin Burch a couple of summers ago at a poetry workshop at a CS Lewis conference. Recently on his website, Colin interviewed the author of Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter. A British poet, Pitter was a personal friend of C.S. Lewis and also the first woman to win the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry as well as other awards. She was admired by W.B. Yeats and members of the Inklings. To learn more about Ruth Pitter and Lewis as well, read Colin’s interview with Don W. King.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stephanie Tumney, Part 2: Faith & Sculpting Intertwined

Today I'm concluding my interview with Stephanie Tumney, a stone sculptor. At an early age, her creativity and love for art were evident. In kindergarten, her favorite sculptor was Michelangelo, and she is still influenced by his work today, along with others such as Bernini, Picasso and Henri Moore.

Stephanie graduated from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. She has shown in galleries, museums and private homes in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, and Cairo Egypt. She works primarily as a sculptor, although she enjoys drawing, painting and photography as well. Her work in stone is often figurative, in poses that depict raw emotion, as well as spiritual and psychological transformation.

Sculpting is a spiritual exercise for Stephanie. Her work is derived from Scripture, often the Psalms. She tries to meditate and pray while she sculpts, depending on God throughout the process, and rejoicing at His work when it is finished.

Stephanie grew up on the East Coast, in Massachusetts, and currently resides in Campbell, California, with her husband Mark, who is a Presbyterian Pastor.

LeAnne: How does your faith impact your sculpting?

My faith and my sculpting are intricately intertwined. I hesitate to say “my sculpting” because I have to be so dependent on God throughout the process, that it isn’t really my sculpting at all. I can take credit for the mistakes, but anything that is good and beautiful must be credited to the Ultimate Artist.

The sculptures I make are always derived from or inspired by God’s Word. Many times it is the Psalms, whose raw emotion and visual images lend themselves greatly to art. During the process of sculpting, I try to pray and meditate on the chosen scripture verses. I pray for people I know, and those I don’t, people that feel the same way as what I am depicting. Particularly with stone, I end up praying a lot for God to turn my mistakes into something great for Him, my life mistakes and my sculpting mistakes.

LM: Have you faced career challenges because of your faith?

Yes. Honestly, I think that in any career, a Christian faces challenges because of their faith, even “Christian careers” like being a pastor. It just would be so much easier to give in to the way of the world, but we are told to fight against it, to love our enemies, to flee from evil. It is very difficult to be a Christian in the art world, particularly a Christian who believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to God the Father, who gave us His Holy Spirit, our Helper. Many not-yet-Christians are willing to tolerate my faith as long as it doesn’t interfere with theirs. But if one person believes the Earth is round, and another believes it is flat, both can’t be right. You are both going to be preparing for very different journeys, and it’s a Christian’s responsibility and charge to show the truth out of love for them. I still don’t do this very well.

Some people in the art world are intrigued by the commitment and conviction of being a Christian. Others have been hurt in the past by other Christians who were not acting like Christ at that moment, and there are good and healing conversations sometimes. Still other artists try to be as shocking and as offensive as possible, and I struggle most in those situations. It is also challenging to put Christian themes into a context that not-yet-Christians would not be repulsed by, but drawn toward, and prayerfully introducing Christ to them.

LM: What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working in a couple of different areas. I have been learning how to sculpt in bronze, and am now working on two almost life-size figures, male and female slaves, in poses that allude to Michelangelo’s slave series.

I have also been experimenting with a stone called dolomite, whose physical properties are similar to marble, but whose chemical properties are more akin to limestone. I have just finished a small piece this week of a grieving figure based on Psalm 69, and am working on ideas for the future.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stephanie Tumney, Part 1: Working with Stone

Stephanie Tumney is a stone sculptor. At an early age, her creativity and love for art were evident. In kindergarten, her favorite sculptor was Michelangelo, and she is still influenced by his work today, along with others such as Bernini, Picasso and Henri Moore.

Stephanie graduated from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC. She has shown in galleries, museums and private homes in California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, and Cairo Egypt. She works primarily as a sculptor, although she enjoys drawing, painting and photography as well. Her work in stone is often figurative, in poses that depict raw emotion, as well as spiritual and psychological transformation.

Sculpting is a spiritual exercise for Stephanie. Her work is derived from Scripture, often the Psalms. She tries to meditate and pray while she sculpts, depending on God throughout the process, and rejoicing at His work when it is finished.

Stephanie grew up on the East Coast, in Massachusetts, and currently resides in Campbell, California, with her husband Mark, who is a Presbyterian Pastor.

LeAnne: What is your background in sculpting? What draws you to it?

My first sculpture was a terrier that I made out of layering and sanding cardboard, when I was 7 years old. Since then I have been sculpting out of whatever materials were available: paper, acrylic, fabric, wire, clay, plaster, bronze, wood and wax. I was introduced to stone carving while I was at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, and immediately fell in love. I have also gone to Greece to learn from a master marble sculptor there. Currently I am exploring the possibilities of bronze at San Jose State.

I have been creating things ever since I can remember. It is the way God made me--how I express my emotions and my spirituality, and how I relate to the world around me. Creating is also how I psychologically work through the struggles and joys of my life. If I am not working on something artistic, painting, sculpture or drama, I am frustrated and unfulfilled, and generally difficult to be around. My family discovered this while I was still very young and fostered and directed my creativity for their own sanity as much as for mine.

I love sculpting in particular for many reasons. It is extremely challenging, and I enjoy the mind puzzles that result. Stone sculpting is also very physical and very dirty, which makes it a lot of fun for me. Stone is an organic element; it is unfabricated, real, and unpredictable. It seems to take on a direction and a life of its own. In a society where so much is expendable, cheap, machine-manufactured, controlled and predictable, I enjoy the opposite qualities of stone.

LM: How is your work received by nonChristians?

Although I have made work for several churches, the bulk of my artistic career has been through shows in secular galleries. My work has been well received by not-yet-Christians so far. I think that this is in part because I have artistic integrity, and my work is not overtly, in-your-face Christian or preachy. I try to be a witness by using visual and literal language that not-yet-Christians would understand and identify with, and introduce Jesus to them in their own context. For instance, I have a piece based on the first three verses of Psalm 128. It consists of three figures, one in a grief stricken fetal position, another rising up, shouldering an invisible burden, another wrestling triumphantly with an abstracted cord or snake. In the secular world, the title is Revolve, and the theme of grief, struggle and overcoming resonates with Christians and not-yet-Christians alike. This particular piece has spurred many interesting conversations with not-yet-Christians. However, the true depth of meaning can only be fully understood from a Christian perspective.

Another example of how I have been received outside of a Christian environment is the show I had in Cairo, Egypt. The culture there is predominately Muslim, and Muslims share some of the same Old Testament stories with us. Some of the pieces that I showed there picked up on that commonality, in Adam, Eve and the serpent. Because what we have in common was showcased first, I think the artwork that was solely Christian was viewed more openly. The show was very well received and hugely publicized.

LM: What has been an important highlight of your career so far?

From the perspective of the world, the most important highlight of my career would be that show in Cairo because of the publicity and important political dignitaries who attended. However, my truly greatest highlight would be when I was living in North Carolina. God sent me an amazing connection to limestone there, and a period of time without distractions. Because of this, I was able to spend my entire day praying and sculpting, for a year or so. It was an artistic breakthrough, and I have never been happier.

More from Stephanie Tumney on Thursday.

Friday, April 11, 2008

On Writing and Books

“A small drop of ink produces that which makes thousands think.” Lord Byron

“I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.” Eudora Welty

“A real book is not one that we read but one that reads us.” W. H. Auden

“The contents of someone’s bookcase are part of his history, like an ancestral portrait.” Anatole Broyard

“The good book is always a book of travel; it is about a life’s journey.” H. M. Tomlinson

“There is no worse robber than a bad book.” Italian proverb

Next week: another great interview

Monday, April 07, 2008

Poets Past (and Present), Part 2

Throughout the ages, poetry—both the writing and the reading of it—has helped us make sense of the human experience. Poems written by Christians that have stood the test of time often ask difficult questions, exploring the depths of our relationship to a holy but loving God. With beautiful words and images, these poets’ work can give glory to God and edify and encourage their readers. Here are a few of them through the eyes of readers who admire their work.

Note: This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Lookout, December 17, 2006 . I posted the beginning of the article a few weeks ago if you'd like to read it.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889): British Victorian poet and priest.

Jeanne Murray Walker, professor of English at University of Delaware and award-winning author of six volumes of poetry: Gerard Manley Hopkins didn’t succeed in getting his work published during his lifetime. Now we think of him as one of the pre-eminent 19th century poets. Good for [beginning readers of poetry] are “Pied Beauty” and “God’s Grandeur.”

13. Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced-fold, fallow, and plough; 5
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 10
Praise him.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963): Irish-born professor, scholar, novelist, and after converting to Christianity from atheism, a well-respected apologist for the faith.

David Bruce Linn, pastor-teacher, radio Bible teacher, and writer: C.S. Lewis, in his one piece As the Ruin Falls, destroys me with the transparency of a man whose heart has been stripped bare by the Holy Spirit. Phil Keaggy wrote this poem into a song which enabled many of us to memorize it easily. It was not hard to remember, but it has taken me decades to appreciate the burning depths of spiritual reality Lewis expressed.

Here are some contemporary poets whose faith informs their work.

Wendell Berry (1934- ): American poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer.

Beverly Key, visual artist: I love Wendell Berry. He is from Kentucky, lives on a farm and taught for many years at the University of Kentucky. His work is tied to the land and ecology and our responsibility to it as Christians and humans. Two particular favorites begin - “When despair for the world grows in me” and “I think of Gloucester blind, led through the world.”

I respect Berry’s balanced view of what is God’s responsibility and what is our responsibility. Berry seems to be the kind of man who lives his beliefs, has a deep reverence for life and a keen sense of justice. Whenever I read him I take hope.

Jane Kenyon (1947-1995): American poet and translator.

Phil Bauman, senior pastor: Jane Kenyon wandered away from Christianity. While at college at the University of Michigan, she married her professor, Donald Hall (who is the past Poet Laureate of the U.S.). They moved back to New Hampshire and started attending a little country church and over time she regained her faith. She wrote one of my favorite poems called “Let Evening Come.” I like its confidence and gentleness, both rooted in the lovingkindness and faithfulness of God. I find it almost musical and read it like a psalm, or as a litany.

Other contemporary poets recommended by our readers include Scott Cairns, Robert Seigel, Luci Shaw, and Jeanne Murray Walker.

This week, I'm going to visit two good friends. I'll post again on Friday instead of Thursday.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dallas Kinney, Part 2: The Defining Moment

Today I'm concluding my interview with Dallas Kinney, Pulitzer-Prize-winning photojournalist, writer, director of graphic arts, and Sunday features editor. He has also worked in computer-based multimedia, television and film production. Kinney's communication skills have been utilized by many of the nation's prominent newspapers and magazines, by major profit and non-profit corporations and by national television networks.

As a newspaper journalist he has worked for the Washington Evening Journal (Iowa); Dubuque Telegraph Herald (Iowa); Palm Beach Post (Florida); Miami Herald (Florida); and the Philadelphia Inquirer (Penn).

As a photojournalist, Kinney received the following awards: Pulitzer Prize for Photojournalism, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, World Press Association/Photojournalism, and more.

Kinney's photojournalism has been featured in exhibits at the National Geographic Society (Martin Luther King assassination); Pulitzer Prize Photos exhibits in Japan and Korea (current); Traveling Exhibit of Pulitzer Prize Photos to U.S. Universities and Colleges (current), and more.

Kinney has been a featured speaker and lecturer at the National Geographic/University of Missouri Visual Workshop, the Medil School of Journalism, Miami Communications Conference, the World Press Institute, and more. With his wife Martha, Kinney co-authored and presented eight daylong communication and marketing workshops for the international fine art industry in Miami Beach, Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta.

Kinney preceded his photojournalism career as a student of renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams in Carmel, Calif. He confirms his abiding love for and ongoing desire to create “Adams-like” photographs.

LeAnne: In 1970, you won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. How did that experience affect your career and your life?

Dallas: I’ve been blessed-of-men in my journalism career: a writer/photographer for the Washington Evening Journal, Washington, Iowa; Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Dubuque, Iowa; Miami Herald, Miami, Fla.; and the Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Director of Graphic Arts at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Penn.; and Sunday Features Editor, with a return to the Palm Beach Post.

During the turbulent ‘60’s, I covered the assassinations of two influential Americans: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert “Bobby” Kennedy. I was in Memphis the day after Dr. King was assassinated, and I had an exclusive interview with Kennedy on the campaign trail the day before he was assassinated. In that same year, I also covered the infamous Democratic Convention in Chicago, Ill. But nothing compared to the opportunity I was blessed with in observing, fellowshipping with, and being given the opportunity to memorialize the life of migrant workers in an eight-part series, “Migration to Misery.”

In addition to the Pulitzer, I also was awarded the first annual Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award for the “Migration to Misery” series. Needless to say, “Migration to Misery” was the apparent highlight of the journalism career of one Dallas Kinney…farm boy from Buckeye, Iowa.

And yet…until after being informed I’d won the Pulitzer, I was unaware I had even been nominated for the prize. As my peers in the Palm Beach Post newsroom celebrated the award, I snuck away to my executive editor’s office, closed the door, and thanked God for what I had just learned. I then broke into a cold sweat with a classic “fear-of-man” reflection: “What do I do to top this?”

Bottom Line: My Pulitzer moment was not a positive, life-changing event. What was life-changing was an encounter I had had with one of my migrant subjects, Lillie Mae Brown. Lillie Mae had been a migrant worker since her youth. When I met Lillie Mae, her body was “broken.” She was living in a 10 by 10 foot shack, with no running water and no electricity. She was all but destitute. In her own words, she was “waiting to die.”

And yet, during our conversations in her humble environment, I discovered this “broken” woman, this classic “victim,” had more than I had ever possessed. Lillie Mae Brown was far richer than I, with all I had thought important: my upscale Palm Beach suburb home, sports car and valuable cameras.

In her humble abode, Lillie Mae talked about God like He was right there with us. And guess what? He was! When Lillie Mae talked about the imminent end of her life, she wept. Yet hers were not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy as she contemplated an eternity with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It was not the Pulitzer Prize, but Lillie Mae’s conviction, Lillie Mae’s confession of Jesus Christ, that was the defining moment for this journalist.

LM: Recently you've been focusing on nature photography. Tell me about one or two of your favorite locations and why.

I returned to my “Ansel Adams days” with the advent of quality digital. For the past five years, I’ve been working on a series of nature photographs entitled “God has a Great Imagination.” I’ve made pictures for the series in environments that represent much of God’s best work: The Atlantic and Pacific coasts; the grandeur of the Grand Canyon; Burr Trail, Monument Valley, and Bryce Canyon, in southeastern Utah; Appalachia, in all of its mystery and majesty; but I would have to say my favorite place was on the Sol Duc Falls trail in the Olympic Peninsula National Park in Washington State.

The Sol Duc trail winds through a rainforest environment, culminating at a spectacular three-channel waterfall. On the morning of my first encounter with the trail, my wife Martha and daughter Yubiana had walked on ahead, as ever, impatient with my peripatetic picture making choreography – walk ten paces, stop, set up camera and tripod, make pictures, walk ten paces…stop….

As I was making a picture of a pristine stream, dropping through a series of mini-falls in this lush, green rainforest, I stopped looking through the camera’s viewfinder, backed away from the tripod, and said out loud: “Lord if my ‘coming home’ is near, this would be a grand place to ‘launch’ from.” Bottom Line: If I don’t encounter an area comparable to that one on the Sol Duc trail, in paradise, I’ll be surprised.

LM: You’ve already touched on this a little, but I'd like to hear more about how your faith has affected your photography and vice versa?

I find it impossible to look, through the viewfinder of my camera, at person or place without thinking, “What hath God wrought?” Psalm 111:2 says it well: “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”

I am doubly blessed. Not only am I privileged to observe, up close and personal, His creation, be it person or place; I also have the use of a tool, the camera, that allows me to isolate and capture that moment, and then share that visual wonder with the world, prayerfully to His glory!

Since my salvation, thanks to the death and resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus, the Christ, I don’t think I’ve taken on a communications task, be it making pictures, writing a story, or designing a page for print, without praying, in essence, a paraphrase of Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”

As I said earlier in the interview, I’m blessed-of-men! Thanks be to God!

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