New Work: She is Sheltered By Faith

Organized religion has always had an interesting relationship with women. While many of the ways in which various religions are practiced (notice I say practiced, because often how one chooses to express their religion and how they are kind of supposed to practice it based on the basic tenants of their religion’s teachings can be quite different) have not been too kind to the ladies, even in this day and age, women on the whole are practicing their faith in greater numbers than their male counterparts. This is especially true in Christianity, the faith I will be discussing as it is the one I practice, and the one I am most familiar with.

Interested in this dichotomy, I knew I had to do a piece on women and faith¬†for my current series surrounding women and the various themes that intertwine their lives. Thus, this art nouveau¬†inspired piece was born, titled “April: She Is Sheltered By Faith”. The lush flowers and vines radiate in growth around the central figure, sheltering her from the rains of darkness. She is surrounded by a metallic gold halo of light, and smiling calmly and assuredly through the storm.

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As one who strives for equality for all, including between different genders, I often find myself in an awkward space where it comes to my Christian faith. Though Jesus himself surely stood for equality, churches don’t always do the best job carrying this message through in our everyday life today. One need look no further than the recent trending hashtag on twitter, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear, to read statements that range from laughable in their utter lunacy to those that are absolutely heart wrenching.

…And, there are many, many more. These are not made up stories or exaggerations. As thankful as I am that I grew up in the same church I attend now that I feel comfortable in¬†for the most part, many of these messages are familiar through the stories of friends of mine and through articles and advice in Christian teen books or magazines I remember from my youth. We need to do better, and it starts with listening to others’ stories, speaking up when you do hear any of these toxic messages spoken, and knowing the truth. I used to feel so uncomfortable about being the very antithesis of what both mainstream and religious conservative¬†media would have you believe a practicing Christian is “supposed to” be, but nowadays I kind of embrace it. I feel like I’ve finally found a lot of my purpose in life, and besides, aren’t we supposed to stay true to what’s right and not worry about “fitting in” with everyone else?¬†Maybe, this sometimes¬†even means not fitting in with those within our own little group.

So what draws women to faith based lives despite the challenges of organized religion? I’d say it is because the Person¬†they follow advocated for equality way ahead of His¬†time, and that in the stories of His teachings and examples of how He treated others, justice and love have always been at the forefront.

I didn’t want this post to turn into a theology lesson so I kept the background brief, but here are some resources concerning women and Christianity that I think are worth a read, and that definitely challenge the status quo of what Christian women are hearing from society:

On Being A Christian and Being A Feminist … and Belonging Nowhere / Sarah Bessey / (Pst! This cool lady actually started the #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear thread.)

15 Christian Women Get Real About The Role Of Women In The Church / Huffington Post

Women’s Faith and Power¬†/ ReThinkChurch / “We believe advocacy for the equality between women and men results in positive change that improves the world.” – Yeah!

Jesus and Women¬†/ Christianity Today / “In His treatment of women, as in many other areas, Jesus of Nazareth was a radical contrast to the standards of His times”

The Case For Women In Ministry / ReKnew

On Being ‘Divisive’¬†/ Rachel Held Evans

10 Ways Male Privilege Shows Up In The Church / The Junia Project

 

 

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Art Discussion: New Year’s Resolutions

I have to admit, I never make New Year’s resolutions;¬†partly because if you¬†are truly dissatisfied with something, it seems silly to arbitrarily wait until the turning of the calendar to fix it. In part also¬†because we all tend¬†to¬†set the same goals, those goals that we know everyone else is setting so we can easier relate to those around us as we share¬†that we want to find our soulmate, get a promotion, or lose weight, and we can all laugh together about how we probably won’t actually do anything to work towards¬†most¬†of those things. But, what would happen if we committed to doing one thing that we were truly passionate about in this new year, one thing that we didn’t over analyze to death, asking ourselves,¬†Should I want this? Is it too silly? Too shallow? Too lofty? Too weird? No one would understand anyway …¬†

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During my senior year of college 7 years ago (Whoa! 7 is a big number.), I entered an art book into the Annual Student Exhibition at Central Michigan University. I asked a sampling of the people I encountered in a day, some I knew well and some I did not, to think of a couple of experiences they would like to have before their life was over, and pick the most obscure one to share with me. I chose 35 different submissions to illustrate, and¬†Underneath¬†was ¬†born. This¬†was my first experiment with¬†creating art based on collected personal stories, something I would use to create many more projects in the future. I also ended up winning the Grand Award for this piece, which was the first time I’d ever won anything for my art aside from a coloring contest in 4th grade, and not a bad way to exit my college career ;).


As annoying as it may be that the first thing anyone asks when meeting someone for the first time after “What’s your name?”¬†is, “So what do you do?”, we kind of are what we do. This doesn’t have to mean our day jobs, or even be workplace related at all. What we do with each day is a choice, and it is these choices that reflect what we value and shape who we will become. True goals can give immense insight into each individual’s unique personality, drive, and psyche. That is why I so enjoyed sifting through the responses I received for this¬†project.

I was reminded of Underneath¬†recently for an unfortunate reason. The young woman who 7 years ago submitted the far right response above took her own life in a murder-suicide earlier this month. She attended my high school, but our school¬†was so large growing up there were tons of people who walked in graduation with me that I felt like I’d never laid eyes on my whole four years there. I never knew her well, but our paths did cross and I remembered her submission deeply affecting me back then, as the news of what occurred deeply saddened me now. A couple of my good friends had had classes and clubs with her, some¬†even keeping up over the years at least through texting and facebook, and the news hit them even harder.

This may not be a typical resolution, but something to be mindful of in the new year is this: we do not know everyone else’s story. We have no clue about everything the people we run into in our day to day life may be going through. People learn to adapt, and to act, and to portray themselves in person, at work, and in social media as how they want others to see them. I know I do it; I think we all do to a point. I have always been fascinated with the dichotomy between individual’s alone personas versus their public personas. It is a concept¬†that is interesting to explore. It can also be a concept that is dangerous, because it can prevent people from reaching out who need help. If you make one resolution (aside from foregoing all convention and chasing your oddest dream / within reason and lawfulness, of course), resolve to be transparent and authentic, and resolve to be someone who is willing to make that reach when someone needs support either in the form of just a listening ear or otherwise. Christmas falling on a Sunday, I attended the Christmas morning church service at MFMC with my family this year. We spoke about how there¬†is the whole Christmas story which most of us, churchgoers or not, have known since childhood. But, we all have stories, and our story, how we live and interact, can change someone else’s story for the better if we allow it to happen. We have nothing to lose for trying.

To see the rest of my art book in order, visit the album on my website.

Art Discussion : Deliverance

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I have always thought of doing an art discussion post on this particular piece.¬†Whenever I show it, everyone wants to know the story behind it as the fact that¬†there is a symbolic visual narrative is clearer in this piece than¬†in many of my others. Still, I have been putting it off for quite some time because explaining the concept behind this piece is very personal and would involve being really freaking transparent, so hold onto your hats. (I’m actually a big fan of transparency, but it usually manifests itself in the form of out-bursting deeply personal information in a sort of accidental social vomit, not neatly typing my feelings out for the world to see.)

This painting is a prayer.


When I started this piece, I was newly graduated from college and had been back to living in my childhood home for awhile afterward, which was super uncomfortable. I’m sorry, no matter how much you love your family it just is, unless said family adopts a sort of chill, ¬†we are mutual adults living together almost like roommates sort of attitude, which nearly never happens.

I’d just finished training for a new job in sales that I already knew I was going to hate. Approaching tons of random people I don’t know all day and having to make forced conversation until they buy something? I might as well just get into the fetal position now for efficiency’s sake. The month long training involved driving 3 hours away and staying in a hotel with all the other trainees, and everyone was either horrifyingly mean and offensive or overtly sexually creepy. On more than one occasion, I finished a bottle of wine by myself sitting alone in my hotel room and I’m not a huge drinker. Not by any means advisable, but I honestly could not conceive of getting through this sordid affair without self medicating no matter how physically and mentally unhealthy. I’d had anxiety so bad 2 years before during my junior year of college that I had actually experienced¬†brief hallucinations brought on by stress. I was not looking to have that be a repeat experience.

Even before I had embarked on my ill-fated new job, my emotions had been cycling out of control. I felt like my body was constantly sending off fight or flight signals, releasing chemicals that triggered the feeling that I was about to be chased by a tiger, except nothing was actually wrong. I would be elated and laughing and feeling creative and motivated one minute, and then suddenly this deep sense of dread¬†like the sky was filled with pianos tied up on ropes that were about to all drop down on my head like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would shake me to my core. I’d always been someone who felt BIG. When I feel joy, it’s intense and when I feel despair, it’s intense. I like to think it’s worth it for the times of joy, where the littlest thing can make me jump up and down like a little kid. A lot of people use that sense of celebration in the smallest details of life as they get older.

The first time I heard this song by one of my favorite artists, these lyrics really resonated with me because I think one of my biggest fears is people who never express their emotions. It’s just so foreign to me.

…But I would kill to make you feel
I’d kill to move your face an inch
I see you staring into space
I wanna stick my fist into your mouth
And twist your Arctic heart

The rapid up and down thing¬†I was going through was something different, however. I’d always been in control of my mind and I felt like I wasn’t anymore. For someone who really likes to be in control of absolutely everything at all times, it was terrifying (I make itineraries for day trips even if I’m only traveling 20 minutes out of town. Excel spreadsheet lists are my best friends. Change plans on me at the last minute? Not unless you have a death wish. Just to give you a bit of insight…) It was also exhausting because the thing is, when your mind keeps sliding into that fight or flight state you actually¬†feel as if you’ve just been in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation whether anything has happened or not. The fatigue is the same.

Another thing you may or may not know about me is that I am a Christian, albeit a Christian who has never felt very at home in the ofttimes bizarre sort of bubble of Christian culture (I swear people must have been able to sense it, because youth group was terrible. Maybe they could smell it like dogs smell fear.). This is mainly because it has always felt very exclusive, and also because being a female¬†puts me in a sort of precarious situation with religion in general. It’s why the subject of “Women and Religion” actually has an entire college course of study devoted¬†to it. Organized religion of any belief system tends to not be too kind to the ladies. (If I actually behaved how those super conservative “complementarian” advice articles advised that I do to be a “Godly woman”, never expressing a damn thought without asking “What do you think honey?” first, my current boyfriend would toss me off of our balcony. Or have me committed, one or the other. I found a keeper ;).) Basically, they just don’t seem to leave a lot of room for people actually being created with variation, people’s brains, hearts, and minds each working a little differently from the other. Luckily, Jesus doesn’t need you to be a robot that copies what everyone else in his bandwagon thinks, and He doesn’t need you to join any super special cool kids club. Also, despite how people like to twist religious truths to allow them to control others, he actually validated and lifted women up in contrast to society at the time. Don’t believe me? Some discussions on this issue can be found on God’s Word to Women, Sojourners, and a great interview on Christianity Today with one of my favorite christian writers, Sarah Bessey.

This is the first overtly faith based piece I’ve ever created, though my faith, my beliefs, and my passions inadvertently end up in all of my work in bits and pieces. I was obviously at a breaking point, and I was reluctantly praying about my struggle. I really didn’t even want to, because to be honest, I was frustrated, and I was pissed off. This was not what adult life was supposed to be like. I wasn’t supposed to still be dealing with this crap; I wasn’t supposed to still feel anxious and lost and overwhelmed; I wasn’t supposed to still feel like an outsider no matter where I put myself. Since drawing helps me focus and communicate my thoughts, I decided to draw my prayer.

Dealing with intense anxiety cages you. You aren’t able to function as your normal self, or even interact with others in the same way because every ounce of your energy goes into self care and basically trying to not feel like garbage all the time. This painting is a right to left narrative. A death version of the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks are embedded into this girl’s torso near the location of where her heart would normally rest. Hands are coming up from behind her and touching her shoulder in an act of comfort, you are not alone. The hands represent God, but they are not passive like a pat on the back or a “there there, everything will be ok”. They are active and forceful, saying “No, I will not let you continue to suffer.” A suffocating darkness creeps up from below. In the next part of the narrative, those same hands are breaking the mask in two, and out of the center, though still tangled, falls the girl; her true inner self, out of the cage. She is holding a watering can. In the final part on the far right, she is fully escaped from the prison inside the mask and water flows from the watering can she is holding, while silhouettes of human figures with flowers at their hearts stand in it’s spray. She is “watering” their souls, symbolized by the flowers.

When we go through tough things, we can use our experiences to better connect with and support others. No, that doesn’t mean the trials we go through are “good” (Seriously, “everything happens for a reason” has to be my least favorite platitude, and I really,¬†really hate platitudes), but it means we can use something that was bad for good later on. Because of the struggles with anxiety I have experienced, I am able to better relate to a lot of my Artshop students and their mental health struggles which are oftentimes far more severe than what I have dealt with. I am better able to help them when they are going through a panic attack situation, better able to understand why on some days it bothers them to have a lot of noise during class when they are already on edge, better able to understand and empathize with the fact that they were fine an hour ago, and now are very upset even though nothing tangible has changed. I am able to be someone who says, “I hear you. Your feelings are legitimate. And you are not alone”.

A week or so passed afterward, and I ceased experiencing the out of the ordinary, rapid ups and downs.

No, my anxiety has not magically “poof!” disappeared, but over time ¬†I have become far better at managing it and breaking out of its cage using a variety of learned techniques. For some, engaging in their faith and educating themselves on emotional management techniques isn’t enough and they may need to additionally seek counseling or medication. Everyone is different, and there should be no judgement.

Also, everyone should read this post about high functioning anxiety. I have never been able to articulate an experience so well, and it is a must read for all in my opinion, because I do not think this experience is uncommon. I think people just are apprehensive, like I was, to talk about it. I guarantee someone in your life right now needs you to know this.

What are some things you do to recenter yourself when everything around you feels out of control?

 

Artists To Know! Installment Four

I really don’t give photography or sculpture enough love. I tend to have my eye caught most by drawings, paintings, and mixed media because it’s what I do and I understand the process, but there is so much more thrilling art out there in every medium. So, for these next couple “Artist To Know” installments I am going to focus on art forms besides the aforementioned. Today is photography’s day to shine. Though there is also a lot of stunning landscape and animal photography out there (I mean come on, nature is amazing!), I chose to feature a type of photography less often explored, utilizing props, costumes, and often times incredibly extensive handmade sets to create a new and different world that the photographer envisions. These photographs tell a story beyond the appreciation of beauty. These are not about capturing the perfect moment, but creating the perfect moment to capture.

Tim Walker

British fashion photographer Tim Walker shot his first fashion story for Vogue at the young age of 25, and has continued shooting for British, American, and Italian Vogue ever since. He has also created stories for W magazine and LOVE magazine. I love the entrancing worlds he creates ranging from the soft and ethereal to the colorful and kooky. As a kid, I always wished there existed a magic television that could record people’s dreams while they slept, so I could watch others’ dreams (curious and nosy kid, for sure ;)). I imagine Walker’s photos are what the recordings would have looked like. He invites you into his dreams. You really have to visit his website and see his series of surreal photographs featuring well-known actors and actresses that he did for W – they are of the colorful and kooky variety, and some of my favorites. Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Keira Knightley, and Eddie Redmayne? Yes please.

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard’s first exploration with photography was a series of self portraits he began taking at 16. I find people that are able to simultaneously compose amazing shots and also act as model in them and convey the correct body position and emotion on their face mind blowing as it is. It is clear that each of Stoddard’s photographs tell a story, and the viewer is dragged straight into it, no longer just a passerby gazing at a scene or figure but an active participant in whatever is going on.

Lindsey Adler

Lindsey Adler is a professional portrait and fashion photographer, known for her bold, graphic compositions. What is also cool about her is she loves sharing her passion with others, and lectures tens of thousands of photographers each year worldwide. Not every artist is willing to share their secrets, or wishes to take the time out of creating work to teach others, and I find that very admirable and inspiring. What I was most drawn to¬† about her work is her super-close-up face shots that turn her model’s face into a work of art. There is obvious careful attention to color, space, and line, even when working with the natural hues and contours of a face rather than adding fantastical artistic details like below.

Kirsty Mitchell

Winner of Lens Culture’s Visual Storytelling Grand Prize in 2014, Kirsty Mitchell worked as a successful senior fashion designer for an international label until personal illness brought on unexpected life changes. It is then that she connected with the camera, and she states that it changed her life forever. Her series “Wonderland”; my personal favorite and the series from which the image below is a part; was inspired by her mother, who sadly passed in 2008. The sets, costumes, and props are hand-created and filled with exquisite details, which is what captivated me in the first place. Mitchell says she found herself creating pieces that echoed her mother’s stories, and the need to create the worlds of her dreams and make them tangible grew. The greater meaning behind these images is evident in the awe-inspiring end results of the project.

Michael Belk

Michael Belk is an accomplished fashion photographer whose work has appeared regularly in Elle, Vogue, and many other publications. He always said of his work “There is no hidden meaning in my photography, no agenda beyond the image itself. I am attracted to beauty …” Then suddenly, his focus shifted away from the model of “art for art’s sake” and he began spending all of his time composing modern day biblical scenes. In an interview with The Christian Post, Belk says of the inspiration for his new passion, “I was in New York prepping for a photo shoot a week after 9/11 and saw many people searching for something.” It was out of this realization that in the midst of chaos people were fearful and didn’t know where to turn, in conjunction with Belk’s own experience of faith in what he calls one of his “darkest hours”, that “Journeys With The Messiah” was born. Belk places the stories of Jesus in a modern day context to communicate timeless biblical themes in a way that is sharply relevant to today’s culture and issues. The strong light source and worn, sepia filter over all the images in this series communicate a strong feeling of sincerity, and seamlessly merge imagination and creativity with history. “Journeys With The Messiah” is beauty, with a purpose.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s photography! Next time, it’s sculpture. Have any favorite photographers I didn’t mention in this group? Give me a shout! I love learning about new artists myself.