LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Judith Couchman: Writer, Art History Teacher, Speaker

Judith Couchman has published more than 40 books, compilations, and Bible studies. Her books cover topics as diverse as art history, discovering your purpose, thriving in difficult times, shaping the soul, body image, flower gardening, and breadmaking. But whatever the topic, Judith leads readers to consider their own spiritual growth and formation in everyday life. In addition to her publishing career, Judith now teaches ancient, early Christian, Byzantine, and medieval art history courses as a part-time instructor for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Judith has worked as a full-time freelance writer, speaker, and writing coach for 15 years. During this time she created the Write the Vision Retreats, intensive weekend gatherings for female writers, and the Designing a Woman’s Life Seminar, a one- to two-day workshop to help women find their purpose and passion in life. She’s also spoken to professional and women’s groups around the country, and has served as a magazine teacher and consultant to nonprofit organizations overseas. In recent years she’s donated consulting time to Eastern European editors of Christian publications.

Before working as an author, Judith founded and served as editor-in-chief of Clarity, a national magazine for women. She’s held jobs as an editor, journalism teacher, communications director, and public relations practitioner. She’s also received national awards for her work in each of these positions, and for her books. Check out her website and blogs:


LeAnne: I came to know your writing through your book, Designing a Woman's Life. What draws you to writing?

From an early age I knew I wanted to be an author. In my sixth-grade journal I wrote, "I want to write a book." I think it's the only sentence I wrote in that journal, so I wasn't off to a good start! But I remember writing poems and stories in grade school and by high school I wrote for the school newspaper. I thought writing would be the coolest job in the world. I considered some other things, but always returned to a deeply embedded desire to write. I spent years teaching journalism and working as an editor, but I knew that eventually I'd write books. At the same time, those jobs prepared me for what I'm doing now. I learned to write by editing other people's work.

Saying I'm "drawn" to writing probably isn't strong enough. I'm compelled. I can't not write. Being an author is my main identity. It's hard to explain, but something about expressing myself through the written word deeply satisfies me. I also consider writing my calling. It's my ministry in the world; something I want to pursue the rest of my life.

LeAnne: What kind of topics do you write about?

I write nonfiction about a wide variety of topics, but primarily the work encourages readers to integrate faith into their everyday lives. But I don't think of myself as a how-to person--at least not these days. I like to use stories and memoir to create a common ground with readers and make them think. I don't like giving them "answers." I'm especially drawn to helping people pursue their purpose and passion in the world--to use their gifts and be who God created them to be. That's why I wrote Designing a Woman's Life and have taught seminars based on that book. I also write a blog called Starting Over, for people beginning again in any area of their lives. These days the publishing industry stresses author identity, so I've been thinking about this. I've recently learned that I can be an agent's nightmare because I'm interested in so many things. So after creating 40 books and compilations, I'm wrestling with how to define my brand or author identity.

LeAnne: You also teach art history. Why did you pursue a degree in art history? What draws you to it?

: Even though my main identity is "author," I also love art. I think many creative people are interested in more than one artistic endeavor. Often they work in one main field, but dabble in others. I'm not a visual artist, but I've visited museums and gazed at art for years. Whenever I traveled, I found the nearby museums and spent hours walking the galleries. I wasn't formally trained, so my appreciation was from a gut level. I enjoyed or disliked something based on my feelings. That's not a wrong way to approach art, but I eventually wanted to understand what I observed. Even though I already had a master's degree in journalism, I began taking undergraduate courses in art history--one at a time--in the evenings. Then eventually I pursued another master's degree in art history through an online university. I juggled studying art history with writing. I studied Christian art from its inception through the Reformation. Eventually this led to teaching art history part time (online) for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. This combines nicely with my writing life.

I've also begun writing about art, combining my two interests together. I recently finished a book for InterVarsity Press called, The Mystery of the Cross. It's about the art, life, and worship of early Christians, based on images of the cross. The book can be described as "art meets spiritual transformation." Readers apply what they've learned to their spiritual lives today. Right now I'm writing The Art of Faith, a handbook about Christian art, for Paraclete Press. I particularly wanted to write about and teach early Christian art. When we explore the art, rituals, and culture of early and medieval Christians, we understand our spiritual roots. When I began studying early Christian art, I was shocked by how I didn't know about my heritage as a believer. The early church and its art was different than I'd envisioned it--more elemental and tied to the Roman culture than I'd thought.

More from Judith on Thursday.

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