Thursday, July 31, 2008
I came across this interview by Valerie Striker with screenwriter, author, and professor Barbara Nicolosi. She speaks frankly about the arts, the church, Hollywood, and preparing our kids for the culture. I hope you enjoy it.
Monday, July 28, 2008
This summer I've been reading even more voraciously than usual: fiction, nonfiction, fiction theory, nonfiction about the arts and artists in general. It has been a rich and wonderful summer because of it. I found a few quotes I'd like to share about books, story, reading, and the artist.
Also, I'm excited about my upcoming features. Stay tuned.
"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." Ursula Le Guin
"The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency--the belief that here and now is all there is." Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind
"One must be an inventor to read well." Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar"
"The proper study of mankind is books." Aldous Huxley [And I would add "so is art."]
"Artists are the antennae of the race." Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Today I'm concluding my interview with Dr. James Romaine, a New York based art historian. He is the co-founder of the New York Center for Arts and Media Studies (NYCAMS), a program of Bethel University. He has an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in economics and art history, an MA in art history from the University of South Carolina, and a PhD in art history from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is a frequent lecturer on faith and the visual arts and has authored numerous articles which have appeared in Art Journal of the College Art Association, American Arts Quarterly, Christian History & Biography, Re:Generation Quarterly, The Princeton Theological Review, Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, and Faith and Vision: Twenty-Five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts. His books include Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith and The Art of Sandra Bowden, both published by Square Halo Books. Dr. Romaine is on the board of directors of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA).
LeAnne: Let's discuss The Art of Sandra Bowden. How did that book come about?
James: The Art of Sandra Bowden developed out of an opportunity that presented itself because Sandra was having a retrospective of forty years of work and was nearing the conclusion of her tenure of service as president of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). The Art of Sandra Bowden is a testament to Sandra's faithfulness to her art and to God. When Sandra committed herself to being an artist of faith, she did not know any other Christians in the visual arts. Forty years later, I have students who cannot imagine that sort of situation. They have grown up in homes, churches, and schools that provide them with opportunities to intimately connect their faith and art. For artists of Sandra's generation, there was always a question of, "Can you be a Christian and an artist?" When I was a student, the question was, "How can I be a Christian and an artist, in a philosophical sense?" Today, there's a sense of, "Let's get to it. How can I be a part of this art world?"
Sometimes, when things change as much as they have for artists of faith in the past forty years, we take these changes for granted. Artists of faith emerging today owe an immeasurable debt to artists like Sandra and there should be a historical record of her work so that we don't forget where we have come from and how God has blessed us through her.
LM: You are an Assistant Professor of Art History with NYCAMS. What are two or three things that you want your students to have learned when they leave your classroom?
JR: The New York Center for Art and Media Studies (NYCAMS) is a semester studio program that provides undergraduate art majors from across the United States and Europe with the opportunity of working in New York. As an art historian, I teach two classroom-based classes. I say "classroom-based" because I try to get out of the classroom, to galleries, museums, and artists' studios as much as possible. These two classes are "The History of Christianity and Art" and "Contemporary Art". In both classes, I hope to 1) provide students with tools, such as visual literacy and an understanding of the creative process, that they can employ in their studio work and 2) give them a sense of the historical and contemporary contexts in which they, as artists of faith, are working.
LM: What else would you like to say to my readers--both the artists and nonartists--about this topic of Christians in the arts?
JR: I would encourage your readers to be shapers of culture. Books like Objects of Grace, organizations like CIVA, and institutions like NYCAMS demonstrate the vitality, diversity, and quality of work being produced by artists of faith. I would encourage your readers to become patrons of these artists, especially emerging artists. (One place to find these artists might be through CIVA.) I encourage people of every level of income to purchase at least one original work of contemporary art every year. Typically, you can get a good work of art for between $1,000 and $5,000. Someone might say, "I don't have $1,000." If you set aside $100 a month, in a year you will have $1,200. In that year, the art patron should be visiting museums and galleries to educate themselves on what makes a good work of art as well as reading books and magazines, such as IMAGE, about contemporary art. That way, when you have saved enough for a quality work of art, you will have the tools, such as visual literacy and a conception of what makes a great work of contemporary art, to collect a work that will challenge and encourage you creatively and spiritually for the rest of your life in ways that could not have been anticipated.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Dr. James Romaine is a New York based art historian. He is the co-founder of the New York Center for Arts and Media Studies (NYCAMS), a program of Bethel University. He has an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in economics and art history, an MA in art history from the University of South Carolina (thesis: A Modern Devotion: The Faith and Art of Vincent Van Gogh), and a PhD in art history from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (dissertation: Constructing a Beloved Community: The Methodological Development of Tim Rollins and K.O.S.). He is a frequent lecturer on faith and the visual arts and has authored numerous articles, in the Art Journal of the College Art Association, American Arts Quarterly, Christian History & Biography, Re:Generation Quarterly, The Princeton Theological Review, Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, It was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, and Faith and Vision: Twenty-Five Years of Christians in the Visual Arts. His books include Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith and The Art of Sandra Bowden, both published by Square Halo Books. Dr. Romaine is on the board of directors of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA).
LeAnne: Why should Christians be interested in art?
James: The creative imagination is one of the most powerful and mysterious gifts that God has given us and a critical dimension of what it means to be human. Dorothy Sayers, in her book The Mind of the Maker, notes that all of creation is a manifestation of God's creative imagination and that, being created in his image, we are endowed with a reflection of that capacity to imagine and create. Therefore these qualities are not incidental to our spiritual beings but rather integral to who we are and who, in Christ, we will be.
There are many ways in which this creative imagination is manifested. It is manifested in how we live; there are very few homes that don't have some sort of visual material. It is manifested in how we worship. From the spaces in which we meet to the imagery, objects, and materials we use, our individual or corporate worship is shaped by visual aesthetics. So the question is really not whether Christians will or will not have art. The question is what sort of art we will have.
Works of art generate visual experiences which, in turn, either feed or starve our visual literacy and spiritual imagination which are critical to vibrant, exuberant, and dynamic living. I say "feed or starve" because our creative imagination is a capacity, endowed by God, that must be exercised and nourished. If great works of art cultivate a creative imagination that, in turn, impacts our faith experience, surrounding oneself with quality works of art is as important as getting a healthy diet.
The creative imagination is a capacity to see, in a mirror dimly, an incarnation of a future reality in the present. The work of art calls this reality into being. Great works of art are more than well-made interior decoration. Every work of art is a proposal of how to see and act in the world. Every part of our lives, even the smallest decisions we make and how we respond to various situations, is a reflection of the quality of our creative imagination.
LM: Tell me about your book, Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith. What conclusions about creativity and faith have you drawn from those conversations?
JR: My aim for Objects of Grace was to highlight some artists of faith who were making good work. More than developing and moving forward an abstract body of knowledge, Objects of Grace surveys a certain artistic landscape and documents the quality and variety of artists of faith. There were also many exemplary artists who were not able to participate in Objects of Grace. I would love to do a follow up.
I chose the title because it became increasingly clear with every interview that these artists' sense of vocation was grounded in an understanding of the connection between their creative imaginations and faith. To go back to your first question about the purpose and value of art, Objects of Grace suggests how our creativity feeds faith and faith feeds creativity. As objects of grace, works of art challenge and encourage us in ways that heighten our sensitivity to the sacramental presence of the immaterial in the material. The creative imagination is a portal through which the still voice of the Holy Spirit speaks to us as we are objects transformed by grace.
More from Dr. James Romaine on Thursday.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Today I'm concluding my interview with accomplished conductor and composer Dr. Timothy Michael Powell, who conducted the world premiere of his Wedding Mass at Carnegie Hall last month.
LeAnne: How did this experience grow and challenge you?
Tim: Professionally, I approached the concert with Winston Churchill's mantra forever in my mind: "Never give up, never give up, never give up." I was more than prepared artistically for the concert, but had never recruited for an event this large and I found my personal resources stretched beyond what I thought I could accomplish. To put it into perspective, the budget for the trip was probably in the neighborhood of $270,000 and involved almost 180 people. There were many weeks, particularly through the late fall of 2007 and early spring of 2008 when we expected that the concert would be cancelled at any point due to low participation in the choir (they wanted a minimum of 150 singers and we were only able to recruit 130 for the performance). This would most likely have been devastating to my career and reputation. Concert organizers would have been unwilling to take a risk scheduling me or my music for future concerts in the event of a cancellation. I don't even want to imagine what the legal and financial toll would have been to the various participating ensembles.
The low point was in late February when I was told we needed 45 more singers by April. We recruited 36 new people in 6 weeks, which seems an almost impossible task in retrospect, particularly so close to the concert (each singer paid $1500 to participate). To maintain the level of excitement in the ensembles, working each day to perfect the music, without conveying my panic and desperation was a huge accomplishment. I lost count of the sleepless nights when my wife and I laid awake in the dark brainstorming over how to convince more people to participate, and the times I prayed myself to sleep. If there were ever an equivalent of taking a gamble and rolling the proverbial dice, the last two years of concert preparation have been that. The rewards, of course, have been worth the work.
LM: What's next for you? What are you working on now?
TP: I'm working on another Mass right now--a much smaller, more intimate setting with just choir and organ. It's quite a different piece and is in part a monument of remembrance, an Ebenezer, to my late father, the Rev. Danny Powell, who died a year ago of leukemia. In addition, I've been brainstorming about the possibility of a new opera or sacred oratorio, perhaps based on the book of Esther or the book of Ruth. It takes about a year and a half to write an hour-long major work, so chances are, I'll spend most of the next year writing smaller works (motets, spirituals, songs, etc), while I continue to develop ideas for the piece in hopes of developing a performance opportunity or commission for the opera. Further, I'm very excited about possible plans for more Wedding Mass performances by ensembles in South Carolina and in Connecticut, the latter as a result of contacts made at Carnegie Hall after the concert.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
This week, I'm doing a follow-up interview with Dr. Timothy Michael Powell, an accomplished conductor and composer. On June 14th, Dr. Powell conducted the world premiere of the full-orchestra version of his "Wedding Mass". (For more information about how the premiere came about, check out my original interview with him on January 14, 2008.)
Dr. Powell holds a DMA in Conducting from the University of South Carolina. He was a Fulbright scholar to Bulgaria in 2002-2003, and a 2002 Fellow with the prestigious South Carolina Conductors Institute, and the 1999 National Choristers Guild Scholar. His compositions include numerous major works, samples of which can be heard here.
LeAnne: What was it like to conduct the world premiere of your own work in Carnegie Hall?
Tim: On some level, it was no different than any other concert that I conduct. I had conducted the chamber version of the piece three times in concert in April in Houston, TX, with many of the same singers, so there were no real surprises going into this event. For me, as a conductor, once you turn your back to the audience and face the choir, the audience becomes secondary to making music. They never go away, particularly for the choir since they face them, but a conductor's perspective is much different. The "laser beam" focus that is required to shepherd 130 singers and 35 orchestra players through 45 minutes of complicated music leaves very little room for distractions, so to a great degree you have to tune out the audience and crawl inside of the moment and the music.
That being said, in Carnegie Hall it is much more difficult to ignore the audience and the venue. They are very close to the stage and very close to the conductor. The venue is a bit overwhelming in and of itself. I lost the ability to be nervous in front of people a long time ago, but the adrenaline level is not something that I have much control over. The hour leading up to the concert, I was high as a kite and spent much of it either laying on the couch in my dressing room trying to calm my heart rate or pacing up and down the hall. When the stage door opened and I walked onto the stage with Suzannah Moorman, the soprano soloist, I was struck by the sheer size and majesty of the hall and the crowd (I believe it was somewhere around 2600 people).
From a musical standpoint, the greatest difficulty was staying objective through the performance. I've lived with the simpler chamber version of the piece for almost seven years. The first time I heard the symphonic version was the day before the concert in an orchestral rehearsal. It was very hard to turn off the analytical part of my brain that wanted to process the sound of the brass and winds and determine if what I wrote really worked or not and focus on leading the ensemble in concert. That was probably the most dangerous aspect of the entire concert: turning off a part of myself for 45 minutes.
LM: What was your favorite moment?
TP: Even though the walk out on stage was overwhelming, it is one of the moments that is cemented in my memory. After that, I had to get down to business. Much of the concert I actually don't remember. It is kind of a wash in my mind of sound and gold and red light (the colors of the hall). But more important than the narcissistic moments of the standing ovation and acclaim that we received was the three times in the piece when I felt safe enough in the moment to wink at my mother Debra, my sister Katie, and my wife Jen, all of whom were singing in the choir and all of whom had an immediate personal and historical connection to the piece in some way. My sister, because the main theme of the Mass was used in her wedding and my mother, because I had dedicated the last movement to her and my late father. I winked at my wife because I wrote the fourth movement for our own wedding and it uses Brian Wren's hymn text, "When Love is Found," which I think is a template for the love that we share. Further, the success that I experienced was a result of two years of shared labor and planning. Without her help, we wouldn't have been on that stage.
On Thursday, more from Tim Powell.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Today I'm finishing up my interview with playwright, director and actor Joseph Frost. Frost earned an MA in Theatre: Acting and Directing and an MFA in Script and Screenwriting from Regent University. He appeared in the film The Proper Care and Feeding of An American Messiah and will be in the indie feature Endings written and directed by Christopher J. Hansen. He has won awards for his writing for both stage (The Great Play) and screen (The Heart of Saturday Night), and his plays were the feature of the 2005 Malone College Playwright's Showcase. He has directed both classic and contemporary works, including some world premieres. He has been a participant in Art Within's Symposium for writers of faith and was the president of the board of directors for Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA). Joseph is chair of theatre at Belhaven College and founding artistic director of the floodlight theatre company.
LeAnne: As an acting teacher, what two or three things do you want your students to know or understand when they leave the program?
Joseph: The most important thing I try to instill in all of my students is probably the simplest--that they are each a single part of a larger production. At Belhaven College, our mission is to train student artists to use the art of theatre to serve their community, their collaborators and their Creator. It's easy for actors in particular to get caught up in ego, in ambition, and be very self-absorbed. But if the focus is on service to one's collaborators (from playwright to wardrobe personnel to the designers and director) and on the audience and larger community, then the art of acting takes on a significance larger than bringing oneself glory or getting a paycheck. This attitude can then also carry itself onto the stage.
In acting, listening is probably the most important key--next to just relaxing and 'being' on the stage (and not 'performing'). If you're going to be listening on stage, you have to be aware and sensitive to what is going on around you, and understand how you are contributing to what an audience is receiving from the stage picture and event that you are creating. This involves listening to the actors around you, as well as being sensitive to the design choices that have been made by the technical team, all of which are on the stage with you at all times. To get actors to heighten this awareness, I work with the Viewpoints exercises of Anne Bogart and Tina Landau.
LM: Have you faced challenges or obstacles in theatre because of your faith? If so, how did you overcome them?
JF: I don't think that anyone working in the theatre can claim to not have had challenges or obstacles of some kind or other. Sure, as a Christian, I find myself positioned between an artform that poses difficulties for the church to embrace and a worldly community of artists who tend to recoil at the absolutes of Jesus.
Some of the obstacles, I think, aren't likely to be overcome. Some of them exist, I believe, to keep us in a healthy tension. How do we love without condoning? How do we point out sin without being guilty of pride or judgmentalism (or at least hypocrisy)?
It's certainly a challenge, but when faced with those issues that we often think of as obstacles--things like language, the portrayal of sin and fallenness, even the idea of working in environments that will put us in contrast with a prevailing lifestyle--are continuing opportunities for us to pray over each and every daily choice. And I believe that the answers to those opportunities might change in different situations, as the Lord leads us.
Joseph Frost is a playwright, director and actor living with his wife, Shannon, and children, Nina and Darby, in Jackson, Mississippi. He earned an MA in Theatre: Acting and Directing and an MFA in Script and Screenwriting from Regent University. Joseph appeared in the film The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah and will be in the indie feature Endings written and directed by Christopher J. Hansen. Frost has won awards for his writing for both stage (The Great Play) and screen (The Heart of Saturday Night), and his plays were the feature of the 2005 Malone College Playwright's Showcase. He has directed both classic and contemporary works, from Shakespeare to Chekhov to Ionesco, along with several world premieres including Paul Patton's Kurt Gerstein, and his own DisEase and Braids, and this fall will be directing a new work based on the book of Ecclesiastes. He has been a participant in the Art Within Symposium for writers of faith and the president of the board of directors for Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA). Joseph is the Chair of Theatre at Belhaven College and the founding artistic director of the floodlight theatre company.
LeAnne: Have you always been a performer?
Joe: As a kid, I remember my cousins, my brother, and I used to make up skits to perform for our parents, like an at-home vaudeville. I was involved in several performances at church and that kind of thing. But it wasn't until junior year in high school that I got involved in theatre--I was a guy, and I was standing too close to the auditions for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (12 brothers needed!). I went to college thinking I'd go into Music Education, but halfway through the first semester I got hooked into the theatre program. It was a very small department, and I had the opportunity to be involved at every level.
LM: What two roles have been your favorites?
JF: I had the privilege to play the role of Hamlet at Regent University in 2003. It's an absolute mountain of lines, all of which are brilliant, and it challenges one's acting abilities both dramatically and comedically. It was a turning point kind of role for me. I was really blessed to be able to step up to it.
I also got to play the lead role of Davis in the original production of James Frizzell's In the Flesh. The process of working on new plays is a real passion of mine, and that play in particular was one where I felt very strongly about the importance of the story, though it's a difficult one.
LM: Tell me briefly about your playwriting process. Do you start with an idea, a character, a scene? Are you working on any plays right now?
JF: It can vary from project to project for me. I actually have a very bad writing process in terms of discipline--when the inspiration strikes, I write. A more disciplined writer might be able to take a theme and shape a story to suit it, but I generally start from a single element--a setting or piece of dialogue--and build from there. One of my first plays was inspired by watching a performance that I didn't like. I started thinking, "What would I rather be watching right now?" I can only write what interests me, rather than thinking purposefully about pleasing or speaking to a particular audience. For that matter, I often don't know what my writing is about until it's done.
I'm in rewrites on a new play called Anathema. It's a difficult play, and the story deals with the unraveling of an unhealthy family dynamic. I started on it because I read an interesting news article about a particular family that I found striking. As I wrote, things happened in the story that I hadn't expected so it's become quite different from the original article I read. I'm hoping to finish another draft before the end of the summer.
On Thursday, Joe Frost will talk about teaching acting as well as the challenges he has faced in theatre because of his faith.
Another classic book about art is Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water. I'm rereading it for at least the third time for a book discussion in my writers' group. Here are a few gems:
"If the work comes from the artist and says, 'Here am I, serve me,' then the job of the artist, great or small, is to serve" (16).
"When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist; Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work, and so he often wrote better than he could write; Bach composed more deeply, more truly, than he knew; Rembrandt's brush put more of the human spirit on canvas than Rembrandt could comprehend.
"When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.
"But before he can listen, paradoxically, he must work. Getting out of the way and listening is not something that comes easily, either in art or in prayer" (17).
Coming soon: an actor and professor; a follow-up with Timothy Michael Powell about the world premiere of his Wedding Mass at Carnegie Hall; and more