26 April 2010

Interview with Nick Jarratt

This is the fifth interview of the "Where are we now?" series. Please take a look at the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series. If you would like to suggest someone for me to interview, please leave a comment below or email me at

Interview with Nick Jarratt
via email
13 March 2010

Nick is the son of Tammy Jarratt, whose interview I posted last week.

IA: First, please tell us a little about yourself as a musician, writer, and participant in the arts in general. What's your experience, in what media do you work, where are you studying, and what's your major exactly?

NJ: My major area of focus is piano, and over the years I have played guitar and drums as well. In the arts, music has always been my greatest passion, but I have also been involved in theater as well as written several poems. My other musical activates include participation in church worship, composition, and involvement in several hard rock bands during high school. At the moment I am a student at Grove City College, majoring in Music/Performing Arts with an emphasis in piano.

IA: What does the "Performing Arts" part of your degree title imply?

NJ: It is similar to a Communications minor. While I am taking all the core music courses, I will have to take classes such as journalism, photography, stagecraft, and television production.

IA: So you are in an excellent position to see what is being done in many different fields of arts. And I assume that you will have classes in which you will study the theories that have been and are motivating forces in these fields, such as Music History and Theory, general Arts appreciation, and maybe even an Aesthetics or Philosophy of the Arts course?

NJ: Yes to all of those!

IA: Let’s talk for a bit about your own piano playing. Would you tell me what your current repertoire is, what pieces you have your sights set on to learn in the future, and any specific techniques you are learning? Who is your teacher? Does she seem to have a particular school of thought or philosophy that informs her own playing and teaching?

NJ: Currently I have a repertoire primarily consisting of Bach Inventions, Chopin Preludes, and Beethoven Sonatas. This semester I am working on “Scherzo in E Minor” Op. 16, No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn, a piece I have been exited to work with for a quite a while. At the moment I am considering either a Chopin Etude or a Rachmaninoff Prelude for next semester. I do not think any pianist should ever dream of escaping regular scale and arpeggio practice, as I have been working heavily in that area, improving my speed and technique. Dr. Huebert, my current piano professor, has been a wonderful help. She is a very experienced teacher and has taught college students and children of all ages. When it comes to speed, her philosophy has been something like, “play it 20 times ridiculously slow until you even think about going any faster.”

IA: What theories inform your work? You told me you've been thinking a lot about where the arts are now, where they've come from, and where they're going. Can you tell me about what you have learned in this area and what you are currently thinking?

NJ: In my work with piano, I have been instructed to know the history and development of these pieces. We should to know what the composer originally intended, though we ought to give our own interpretation. I have learned that media has changed everything. A hundred years ago, our understanding of music was based on geography. Through films, radio, and YouTube we are in an age where everyone is well informed of what’s out there. At this stage in history, we are breaking down the cultural barriers like never before, and I think this affects the arts as well.

IA: When you say that “A hundred years ago, our understanding of music was based on geography,” I’m guessing that you are talking about the ways that artistic perspectives were limited by geography; i.e., any given artist really only knew what was going on in his (or, more rarely, her) own country or maybe continent, but mostly only art that was produced by people of the same ethnic and language backgrounds. What are some of the specific cultural barriers that you see breaking down?

NJ: First of all we are informed. We are not necessarily affected by this, but we know so much about the other cultures of the world. Through news, films, and documentaries we know what distant countries look like, how the people dress, how they speak, and the kind of art they produce. Secondly, I would say that since the world is so connected we have foreign films and music readily available. All the world's art is a mouse click away.

IA: Do you see this new openness as entirely positive, or is it in any way problematic? Some Christians think that opening oneself to other cultures means opening to their religions. Do you draw lines between sacred and secular influences, or do you avail yourself of any artistic influences there are?

NJ: Well, it does put the entire world in competition. These days you have to be very unique and GOOD if you want to get anyone’s attention. Of course this leads many artists to grab their audiences’ attention in other ways, ways that have nothing to do with aesthetic appeal. As for opening myself to other cultures and more specifically other religions, I feel that we must dive in and explore what is out there. Not only is there some amazing art and culture, but it helps one better understand their place in the world by. Sacred and secular influences are very, very interwoven, so it is both or none. I say, bring it on!

IA: Finally, then, do you want to make any predictions about something you think might happen in compositions for the piano specifically, music more generally, or the arts as a whole later in your lifetime? (And do you want to be a part of that change?)

NJ: Composition for piano seems to be at a halt. There are few rules to break, whereas in the Baroque period there were so many rules they seemed to choke the creative potential of the music. But I will say this about music in general. There is always the “popular music,” and then the music that a minority of people enjoy because of its old aesthetic value. Every genre of music, as I have been learning at school, was at one point the pop music, or the music of the people. I think all this pop and hip-hop is eventually going to become something more complicated, and will no longer be the “music of the people,” just the way Jazz went from Swing to Bebop. During that time a new music was invented, Rock and Roll, which developed into something that was more than just a mixing of genres, but a whole new genre. I think just as Jazz was invented in the culture chaos of New Orleans, we could very well be on the verge of something remarkable in music.

19 April 2010

Interview with Tammy Jarratt

This is the fourth interview of the "Where are we now?" series. Please take a look at the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series. If you would like to suggest someone for me to interview, please leave a comment below or email me at

Interview with Tammy Jarratt
at the Master’s Academy of Fine Arts in East Greenville, PA
25 March 2010

IA: I am here with Tammy Jarratt, who is an art teacher at The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts. Thank you very much, Tammy, for talking with me today. Why don’t you start out by telling us a little about the Master’s Academy and what you do here and from there we can go on to discuss other aspects of your work and of the culture in general.

TJ: The Master’s Academy is an arts school for homeschool kids about ages five to eighteen, and it’s a history-based art program. We teach art, music, history, and expression/drama, all based on a certain time period. There are six time periods that we study. We immerse ourselves in that time period. I teach art here. We do art history and we do projects that are based on the styles and techniques of the artists.

IA: In each historical time period, then, you’ll show the students works of art that are from the time period, you’ll discuss the techniques, and then they’ll make imitative pieces? Or their own original pieces that use those methods?

TJ: Imitative, yes, sometimes. Each time period is different. We can’t just do oil painting the whole time for the Baroque period. So we try to zero in on things that were new in that time period, like perspective. So we have to do technique in addition to trying to get a feel for what artists were doing in the time period and learn about what they were painting and why and how that connects with history, music, and literature.

IA: So I imagine that you are giving basic art lessons as well as art history. Let’s take a hypothetical student. Let’s say this hypothetical students comes in at, oh, age ten in the Ancient time period. Would that student be able to learn techniques gradually as he or she went through all the time periods?

TJ: Yes. It’s very much exposure-level. The younger classes will do more basic techniques than the older ones. We’re hoping that the older ones will already know about line and shading and color theory so we can work on getting more in depth with each of those techniques.

IA: So that’s the exposure program. And then you also teach advanced classes, right?

TJ: Yes, I have.

IA: Can you talk about those?

TJ: We have done non-time-period classes, like Oil Painting. So, a student comes to the Master’s Academy and they realize that art is their “thing.” They can take higher-level art classes in Oil Painting, Drawing and Painting.

IA: What is your individual goal for each of these students? Is it just to expose them to art, to get them to like it, or is it to develop them into highly-skilled artists in one field, or to make historians out of them?

TJ: Well, in a class of, say fifteen, you’re going to get the kids who come in the door and say, “I’m not an artist.” They say that to me every year. But I say, “My goal for you is to understand art.” I want them to be able to go to a museum and be able to look at art and try to understand it and try to think deeper about that artist: what time period they would be in, what would influence them. To be able to look at a painting and be able to see technique, design, composition, color. They don’t necessarily have to imitate it or to be artists themselves, but they have to be able to understand it.

[Note by IA: Tammy is being very modest here. She has turned out several students who are excellent artists, and a few who went on to study the fine arts in college.]

And I think by painting it they learn a lot too. They learn that it is not as easy as they think.

IA: Does that get away from “Oh, my five-year-old could do that,” with Modern Art? They actually learn what goes into it?

TJ: Yes. That is our time period now, 1900-1950, so we’ve done Kandinsky, we’ve done Mondrian, we’ve done Matisse. They really thought the Matisse was going to be so easy. We did paper cutting. And they learned that it wasn’t. For all of those, they’re finding that there’s more than just throwing in on canvas.

IA: I heard that you’re doing Pollock next week. He’s probably the biggest case-in-point of the Modern Art that’s unintelligible to the “uninitiated.”

TJ: Yes! The students already want to use more color. I heard them saying that. They think, the more color the better. I know that’s what they’re going to do: they’re going to start throwing color on there, and it’s going to look like a mess because they’re not thinking like he did. It looks like he just threw paint on canvas, but there’s was a lot of thought put into it. And it was hard, hard work.

IA: So the students are going to have a level of appreciation that they didn’t have before. But they’re also going to be able to see, or at least figure out, research, and so on, the philosophies that go into art, as well.

TJ: With the older kids, we try to expose them more—say, with the Modern period—to what was happening in our country at the time, to understand where the artist was coming from.

IA: I want to come back to that; that’s what I want to come back to and maybe end there (we’re going to talk about, How did these periods lead into what’s going on now), but let me go off on another tack for a moment. What about your own work? What’s your own training as an artist and what do you do besides teaching, in the arts?

TJ: I have always loved art. My mom was an artist. I went to Kutztown University. I loved art but I didn’t think I was good enough, technique-wise, to be a fine artist. I went for a graphic design degree called Communication Design. I didn’t really know much about it until I went to Kutztown. Computers weren’t (now I’m showing my age!) part of your life as a graphic designer. What excited me the most was the design element of it. I see type on a page as art. I see it as shapes, color.

IA: I suppose there’s a very practical aspect: it’s art for immediate use. Does that appeal to you as well?

TJ: Yes. Maybe it’s similar to an artist who does decorative art. I feel like it gets a little old sometimes. It doesn’t feel like it means anything. It’s just to advertise. I don’t see it that way, but it gets used that way. I have a friend who’s a folk artist. She wishes she could do less decorative art because it’s immediately being sold and put in people’s homes, so she’ll get, “Do you have it in a green? Do you have it in a blue? That doesn’t match my couch.”

IA: It’s being treated like a piece of furniture or a home accessory. Well, that’s funny because, on the other end of things we have the complaint surrounding the “Art for Art’s Sake” school, that it’s useless, it’s meaningless, it doesn’t connect to real life. And what you’re talking about is on the other extreme: it’s so connected to real life that it gets questioned whether it’s “Art.”

TJ: I have that struggle with my own home. I don’t have a lot of artwork up because I don’t want to match it to my house. I’m thinking of that. I’m thinking of what I would like to put up in my home, but it’s a struggle because it’s not a gallery, it’s a home.

IA: Could you match the home to the piece? Could you acquire one piece and then arrange the wall around it?

TJ: I actually have done that, yes. It’s a process. I just got “The Kiss.”

IA: Klimt?

TJ: Yes.

IA: I can see that fitting into your rooms. Your rooms are very very bright, warm colors, and sharp contrasts.

TJ: Anyway, so, graphic design: sometimes I feel it’s that way too. But I do like to paint in watercolor. I don’t have tons of time to do that. I enjoy helping a student learn watercolor; that’s part of being creative, too.

IA: Now, with the graphic design, have you had to adapt to the computer world? Do you now use the computer in your design?

TJ: Yes, yes. My first job after I graduated had just gotten computers. This is a funny story. It was a graphic design studio. We did graphic design and we handed the copy over to a typesetter who was not an artist. We would have to measure (I know, this is archaic!) the area where you would want the type to be and tell them how to do it. Well, I always tell people that I invented desktop publishing! This was back in ’86 and there were no personal computers. I begged my boss to let me stay after work and learn the typesetting. I said if we could just design on the screen, that would save me so much effort and time! I said I need to see it, I need to see the elements, so I did. I learned typesetting. I’ve kind of fallen in love with type. When I went to college I didn’t know anything about it, but then over the years that developed. I love type just for the design of it. Different typefaces and different things like that.

IA: And you’ve done some book making and book binding.

TJ: Yes. That’s another love of mine.

IA: You’ve taught the students to do that as well. Now, I don’t know if this question applies as much to graphic design, but when you go about making a piece of work, let’s say it’s been commissioned for a very specific purpose. I know you’ve done work for a church and for a theater department. Let’s say you have a specific job that’s been commissioned. Do you have a theory that informs your work? Do you have an ideology? Or do you look at the piece pragmatically? Pick one that you’ve done recently. Did you do the graphic designs for the play that’s coming up, The Velveteen Rabbit?

TJ: Yes.

IA: So when you sat down to do that, what was in your mind?

TJ: Hum. That’s a hard question. It has to be tailored for its use. I like it all to be incorporated together and to be seen as one piece. I think at first as graphic designers we look around and see everything out there that’s so badly designed, because we’re bombarded by stuff constantly. Because of personal computers there are a lot of people who are designing things who shouldn’t be. And companies that think they don’t need to hire a designer because they can do it themselves so easily and make it look so cool with different fonts. They just go font-crazy. So I try to have it be one pleasing-looking piece with everything incorporated together. So if I use art I want it to incorporate with the type. I don’t want it to be: Here’s your type, here’s your picture, here’s your information, but not to be designed. Some people don’t really realize what goes into graphic design. And you’re really controlling other people’s eyes. Similar to a painting: a painting will make your eye go certain places in the composition and make it stay in the painting. It’s a little bit of control.

IA: It’s visual manipulation.

TJ: Yes, visual manipulation. But in a pleasing way. You want them to see the information. You use different colors…

IA: And it conveys a certain attitude and atmosphere as well. There is a psychological component to every color and to certain color combinations. So you’re going to use a different color scheme for The Velveteen Rabbit than you would if, say, you were staging Lord of the Flies. There would be an entirely different psychological response. Now I think I’m hearing, in a subtext to what you’re saying, something that’s hugely relevant for right now. This will tie back in to where we left off, about the time periods and the teaching. I think I hear you saying that in graphic design right now there is vast fragmentation. Do you think that is a cultural phenomenon across the board for all of the arts and for what we call “Western Culture” in general? Do you think that it is fragmented?

TJ: That’s a really good question. I do think so.

IA: We’re teaching the “modern” period right now, 1900 to 1950s or 1960, and then next year we’ll teach what we’re going to call “Postmodern.” That will be 1960 to present. When we boil these things down for our students we kind of simplify them, but we’re definitely talking about fragmentation. We certainly will be talking about that next year. There are different kinds of fragmentation. It’s a very negative word, but the positive way to look at it, I suppose, is that philosophies now are very individualistic. It’s very specific. In the moral world we call it “relativism” or “pluralism.” Every individual story is important. It’s all about the little pieces. It’s not so much about the whole into which they fit. Have you seen that?

TJ: I’m trying to connect it to graphic design, because I’ve seen it in other areas. Just this Modern period, it kind of exciting because that where it started, really, in my opinion, just from studying the other time periods, just with artists like Picasso and Kandinsky: they were very much looking for the Universal. They were out on their own, trying to do this without God. They looked around. I know Mondrian looked at nature and was irritated by it. He’d see things and it was messy to him. And so he tried to create it himself: his own little world of everything being neat. He was a little OCD. That’s where he came up with his extreme color and boxes and things like that. You can see him going from this tree that he did, how it progressed to his extreme. So they were trying to do it on their own. And a lot of them failed, and they knew they failed, and they committed suicide, they had horrible personal lives. We try to look at that kind of thing. Students look at that.

IA: They were searching for a Universal different from the traditional ones that their culture had inherited. They didn’t want to just take, say, the Judeo-Christian God as their Universal, or Divinity being shown through nature: they wanted to create a different one.

TJ: Yes, that’s right.

IA: I can see that in music, certainly. I’m thinking about the school from the 1940s, the Viennese school: Schoenberg, Berg: they wanted to set up a new system of tonality based on twelve-tone music. They were trying to do that Universal. And they claimed—Schoenberg said—that in a generation or so that children would be whistling twelve-tone rows in the streets because he thought that he could totally retrain the ear based on his new system. But what he was denying and getting away from is the idea (that some acoustic scholars claim) that the diatonic system has some basis in nature and so on. So that’s a musical metaphor.

TJ: I’m trying to read a book by Francis Schaeffer called The God Who Is There. He talks about philosophy. I don’t know how many years he said the influence would take, but if you look at what’s happening in the arts right now, you look backwards to philosophy and see what was happening. He feels that it influences first philosophy, then art, then music then pop culture then theology—I think; it might be theology and then pop culture—but anyway, it’s the domino effect of philosophy. I think it’s interesting…

IA: …that the idea comes first and then eventually it goes down through those layers of thought into the general current of common ideology.

TJ: Yes. So he was studying what was happening in philosophy in the late 1800s to see what we have in “Modern Art,” early “Modern Art.”

IA: Do you know when that book was published?

TJ: It was a lecture. I believe it was in 1960.

IA: So we have to look at 40, 50, 60, or even 70 years back to find out where our ideas are coming from. So that would mean that in 2010, we have to look at the 70s, 60s, and 50s at what was being done in philosophy, in “High” Philosophy.

TJ: I don’t understand philosophy a lot, although I’m trying to understand it so I can understand what the influence was on art. He says that the most influential thing that happened in our country to influence where we are now was a modern art show in 1913, the Armory Show, which was the first art show that Picasso and various artists were shown in our country. And not that we would have shunned it or not attended, but just to know what was happening. This idea of truth apart from God. Trying to do the Universal on your own.

IA: And if I’m not mistaken, that was fairly early in Picasso’s search for the Universal.

TJ: Right. I have said to my students: If you don’t understand this progression of truth, you won’t understand the people that you meet out on the street because they are influenced by that too. That’s where they’re coming from. It influences everything. It even influences churches.

IA: Let’s end there, with the church theology. Let me just ask a question: I think that you would agree with me, that we share a philosophy here at the Master’s Academy and in Christian thinking about the arts in general, that the Church must not be afraid of any idea. The Church must not isolate itself from the trends. So if we were to look back and say, OK, what philosophy was developed in 1950, ’60, and ’70—and basically it’s Deconstruction, Poststructuralist thinking, Derrida and those fellows—that even now is having very direct influences that I’ve been looking at. So let’s just end by talking about Where do you think the Church is in all of this and/or Where do you think it should be? You could talk about specifics, like your own church that you’ve been attending.

TJ: I haven’t seen many [churches using the arts]. The church that I did attend did try to at least think about that by using classical art in our worship service. Not that we just tagged it on, like, Oh, here’s a piece of art. But I think connecting the arts in general, whether it’s music done well, even speaking, preaching done well, or drama. And not just drama for entertaining, but drama from an artistic standpoint. We even had a service one time in which an artist painted a painting in front of everyone while someone danced and someone played the violin—Pachelbel’s “Canon.” So that was all happening at the same time and it was done as a worship time to God to be able to understand Him and to worship Him through the arts. I’m not saying that that went well; I had mixed feelings about it, but it’s good even to be thinking about those things and to be not ignoring them. And even decorating. The way you decorate a church. When I was in Rome we sat in a huge cathedral. It was beautiful. We thought, Why can’t we do this today? Why aren’t churches being built like this? Well, it’s the money; we’ve cut corners. We build churches out of steel, because of money.

IA: We rent warehouses.

TJ: We meet in movie theatres! So don’t know how I feel about that kind of thing, but we had a discussion when we were in Rome, saying that it became corrupt. During the Baroque period there were some good things about that: they wanted to create and art to connect it, to create worship and beautiful architecture and art, but it did become corrupt. And I don’t know if we can do it without it becoming corrupt. There was something well done there.

IA: We should look to the “Well done” part of it for our inspiration and ponder how to do it without going down that road to political power, corruption, and bribery.

TJ: Our church met in a movie theatre and during our first service there, the worship leader said, “This is a sacred space.” We’ve done what we can here to embellish it and to encourage worshipful thinking with candles, etc. It does become a sacred space when we are there. There’s that balance between “It’s in your heart, it’s not what you see,” and art that can help create ideas and thinking.

IA: It breaks down the divide between the sacred and the secular. It shows that when we unite our vocations and our avocations.

TJ: Definitely. Because that’s all God-given and God-inspired. He gave us that for that purpose.

IA: I like that: that’s a good quote: “Art can create a sacred space.”

16 April 2010

What is Posthumanism? part 2

The Curator, an online magazine, has just published my second article reviewing Cary Wolfe's new book, What is Posthumanism?

The first article is an "objective" book review.

The second article is a Christian analysis.

I would be grateful for your comments. Please go over to The Curator and read the articles, then come back and leave your thoughts here. Thank you very much.

12 April 2010

Interview with Chris Ugi

This is the third interview of the ”Where are we now?” series. Please take a look at the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series. If you would like to suggest someone for me to interview, please leave a comment below or email me at I would especially appreciate information on how to get in touch with the artists you recommend—or I would love to hear from you if you are in the arts and can offer yourself for an interview.

Interview with Chris Ugi
at the Master’s Academy of Fine Arts in East Greenville, PA
25 March 2010

Chris Ugi is the director of The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts, based out of Quakertown, PA. In this interview, she explains the Academy’s purpose and work. In addition to directing the program, Chris often teaches history in one of the Academy’s programs.

IA: Thank you very much, Chris Ugi, for this interview. Why don’t we start out by you telling our readers about the Master’s Academy and its work, and then we’ll move from there.

CU: The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts is a supplemental homeschool arts program which is based on a foundation of history. All of the arts are influenced by the history of the time period. What we try to do here at the Master’s Academy is to take a time period each year and expose the students to the history and then we fill in with the arts so they get a whole picture of the time period and see the interworkings and the connections between each discipline and subject area and how one influenced the other.

(IA: We have visual arts, music, drama, and then literature of the time periods as well.)

CU: Although we are all creative beings, I am not an artistic being, and that’s why I started this school. I saw a lack of the arts in the homeschool community. It didn’t seem to be important. I knew and I felt that because we are created in the image of God, Who is the greatest Creator, that the arts were important in our lives, and I wanted to establish a program where students could be influenced. And by every account, we should be like God and be the creative factor in the world and not the secular people. We are God’s emissaries. The whole purpose of the Master’s Academy is to reclaim the arts for the Lord.

IA: So you saw that there was a lack in the homeschool community. Did you see that in the churches as well?

CU: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. When discussing future career options for their kids, not one option was ever an artistic option: either a musician or an artist, going into theatre, being a writer. It was all very practical: “I want him to be a lawyer, I want him to be a doctor.” Even if they were taking art lessons and were talented, that was never an option. Going to an art school was not an option. Going into Dad’s business, that was it. They’d rather send their kids to Vo-Tech than to an art school.

IA: Now, the Master’s Academy has been in operation for nine years?

CU: Actually, we’ve been incorporated now for twelve.

IA: And have you seen a change in those years?

CU: I have. I always say my kids are my résumé. Lauren, my oldest—we always knew she had some type of artistic flair, and we finally narrowed it down years and year ago to the graphic design area, and I would have never known that had it not been for Master’s Academy. Joy [her second daughter] has gone into mass communications. She’s a fabulous writer. They’ve all been involved in theatre. Even Sommer [high school freshman, the fourth daughter] who has more of a scientific mind, is very much a drama person.

[Note by IA: Sommer gave a dramatic recitation of Robert Frost’s “Out, Out” in class this year that moved us to tears. She is such a good solo performer that I am trying to write a monologue worthy of her performance.]

So, yes; I see that students can enjoy the arts but not have to necessarily follow that path. They can follow an academic path and have the best of both worlds.

IA: I would say from my observation that your family is probably a microcosm of several spheres: of the Master’s Academy families in general, and then the Christian homeschool community here [in Eastern PA], and then hopefully of the up-and-coming generation of young people: that they are embracing the arts more either as a vocation or as a strong avocational pursuit.

CU: Right. It was always the idea that the Christians should not be involved in the arts. It was a very secular area. Around the 1970s, Christians decided that they did need to become more involved in politics, and thus we have the “Right Wing” (all those terms), but still they did not feel the conviction to become involved in the arts. And thus the decline that we see in that whole area. Vivian [the national director of all The Master’s Academies] and I have a saying: “Christians do the arts badly and twenty years later.” Here’s a perfect example: when you were looking for Christian poetry—you couldn’t find any!

IA: Almost a century ago now, C. S. Lewis said that before he became a Christian, he associated Christianity with bad music and poor architecture.

CU: Yes. How sad.

IA: Very sad. Let’s then talk about the larger movements. And actually it’s my work with the Master’s Academy that helped me get the inspiration for this interview series, because I thought, well, now that I’ve taught my way through most of the time periods I sort of have an idea of, “OK: this is the Renaissance, this is the Baroque, this is the Classical period.” I can sort of characterized them, I can describe the big ideas and the big artistic movements. But I can’t do that for 2010. I can do it for Postmodernism, but then where are we now? Are we still in Postmodernism? So maybe if you want to sort of characterize a little bit of the last couple of time periods and then any ideas that you have about where we are now?

CU: My feeling is that we can best characterize a time period after it’s gone, after it’s passed. We’re so enmeshed in it now that we’re trying to figure out where we are. I’m encouraged by the greater impact that Christians are having. I see this because some of the best universities in the country are recruiting students from The Master’s Academy. They see the benefit of an artistic education in academics. In fact, statistics show that medical schools recruit more music majors than biology students. So that says a lot for the arts. I’m happy to see that trend. I’m happy that Christians are making more noise about the terrible art that’s out there. What I hope is that they will now take the next step and say, “OK, that’s horrible art: Here’s what good art is.” Trends? I’m still not seeing really great Christian artists, fine artists.

IA: What about what’s going on just in the main stream? Maybe, actually, you can just tell me—tell our readers—a little bit about the twentieth century. What were the major events and ideas and concerns that have influenced the arts for the last two or three generations?

CU: Well, war is always a great influence on anything artistic. As we know, after World War One, young people were very very disillusioned with the world. They had gone into the war, which involved literally the whole world; as young people, as young men, they had no background, they had no past that they could go back to and then when they came out they had no future because all they knew was war. They had no foundation. What they had was camaraderie. That’s what developed during they war and so they clung to each other. They had no hope, basically. And that is definitely seen in the artwork and the literature of the time period. You feel for them. There was absolutely no hope. They saw no future. I think then that affected the Twenties, the Roaring Twenties, where everything was “Whatever.” We saw rebellion, standards were not required, you did what feels good because it doesn’t matter what you do, nothing’s going to make a difference. I think war has a great deal to do with it.

IA: Then World War Two, of course, was a huge cultural disappointment for three-quarters of the globe because they thought, “We fought our one war, we’re done. Terrible as it was (we lost a generation of young men), we can rebuild.” And then not even a generation later, turn around and have to do it again. And then the later half of the twentieth century has a series of smaller but also very disillusioning wars that the United States and Europe are involved in. Vietnam and so forth. Do you think, then, that historically speaking we are still in that phase because we are in smaller wars that are harder to characterize? It’s harder to know what victory is in these wars?

CU: Right, because there’s no end. We see no end to it. We’re supposed to be pulling out of Iraq but we’re not. We’re trying to build a democracy, which seems to be America’s mantra all the time. You know: “Save the world from the tyrant”—which I agree with. “To whom much is given much is expected” to a degree. And I do see that. Our young men who should be perhaps artists are trying to protect our freedoms and so I think we’re losing a generation of creativity and of artistic ability because of the concerns over tyranny. I think we’re losing a great deal of talent. There’s also the abortion issue. How many great artists are being lost through abortion? I just think about that. The thirteenth child: Beethoven.

IA: That’s a very profound assessment. Now, you work with young people all the time and you have quite a few of them in your own home! I have been hearing recently, from teachers and theorists and so on, that there is a very big shift in the consciousness of young people right now. You know every generation is sort of given a label afterwards. You’ve got the Baby Boomers, then I guess I’m Generation X, then my first students were Generation Y, and then you had the Millennials, apparently, and the new term—this is a brand-new term—for children who were born after September 11th [2001]. They are called “Homelanders” because they’re born under Homeland Security. It’s kind of interesting because the time period that we’re studying teaching right now, 1900-1960, a lot of this dystopic fiction has a lot of totalitarian surveillance and so on. Some writers are thinking that we might be entering a phase like that. Now those Homelanders are still too young to be in high school yet, to be entering into the arts world. But do you see any difference in, let’s say, this year’s high schoolers versus the high schoolers when you started The Academy?

CU: As far as their attitude towards the world?

IA: Their attitude towards, let’s say, towards government, towards faith, and towards the arts. Let’s hit those three.

CU: Definitely. They are much more opinionated. They have a response. They have an opinion. Absolutely. Whether it’s their own or whether it’s something that they have heard from the media. They definitely do. They’re more outspoken about it. Not in an angry way, but they seem to voice their opinion. Also the music that they’re listening to, which they call Christian (although I would have a problem with that!), which to me sounds like noise, but to them it’s saying something about perhaps what they’re feeling or what they’re going through. Again, that’s perhaps confusion: “There’s no one telling me the right answer,” maybe, “No one giving me the right path.” And that’s why the Master’s Academy is so important in teaching our students to be critical thinkers and to be discerners and not to be confused because confusion is not of the Lord. They need to be able to give a response, a correct response, based on fact and not on emotion or opinion or reaction.

IA: You think that affects their approach to the arts as well? Do you think that they are confused and not sure about their own specific career paths but also about what to create? Let’s say that they are painters or musicians. Do you think that they are confused about what to create? Or do you think that those opinions are going into their work?

CU: I think their opinions are going into their work and I think that they are, as far as themselves, they are sure of their talents and their creativity. I don’t think they are sure of the world. I think they’re sure of themselves and what they want and what they want to create. I see that in my own home. There is no confusion as to what Amber [the fifth daughter] wants to do, the music she wants to play or the music she wants to write or the film she wants to do. I see that in Joy as she writes and what area she wants to get into, and with Lauren with her graphic design. They are very certain about that. I don’t think they are happy with the world.

IA: Again, what you said is a beautiful characterization, in both its strengths and its weaknesses, I think, of the current ideology. It is very particularized. There’s not a totalizing philosophy anymore that runs what might be called the collective mind of America or even of “Western Culture.” Instead, we look at individual moments, individual stories, individual ideas. And then the question is whether or not they add up to something big.

CU: On one hand, you have African-Americans, you have Spanish-Americans, you have Russian-Americans: there’s no more “The America.” And on the other hand, you have government trying to control your health care (that’s just an example): trying to collectivize, trying to make everybody the same. It’s confusing. Are we all individuals needing individual attention, or are we the same? Can we lump everybody in one category? Which is it? Are we a melting pot or are we individualists? Which one is it here? I think that’s where the confusion is with our young people who are trying to decide. I think as they get older they couldn’t care less, but that they need to feel that they know who they are. Does that make sense?

IA: It does. And maybe we will leave it there unless you have any final thoughts. How about a prediction for the future? What’s going to happen in the arts in, say, the next hundred years?

CU: I would love to see like the way America used to be—or actually how Europe used to be. Artists were sponsored and were encouraged to do their craft. It was not a hobby. Now the arts are a hobby and are secondary. I would love to see the churches be able to support, as the secular community supports, their artists. That’s what I would love to see. I am hoping and praying that through the Master’s Academy, through people like you, that the Christian community would come to that point.

IA: Where the church is the patron of the arts again?

CU: Hello! Yes.

05 April 2010

Interview with Vivian Doublestein

This is the second interview of the ”Where are we now?” series. Please take a look at the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series. If you would like to suggest someone for me to interview, please leave a comment below or email me at I would especially appreciate information on how to get in touch with the artists you recommend—or I would love to hear from you if you are in the arts and can offer yourself for an interview.

Interview with Vivian Doublestein
via email
26 March 2010

IA: Please tell us about yourself. In what media do you create or perform? Do you also teach? Are you also a student? Please talk about yourself as an “artist,” student of the arts, teacher of the arts, thinker-about-the arts, etc.

VD: My name is Vivian Doublestein and I am the founder and Executive Director of The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts, which I began 20 years ago. I began my foray into the arts at the tender age of three when I started to play piano. My mother is a piano teacher and my father a piano tuner, so learning to play the piano was as natural for me as learning to read or walk. I graduated from the College of Wooster in 1978, with a Bachelor of Music degree. I finished my Master’s degree at Michigan State University in 2003 with an emphasis in accompanying and chamber music. I pursued a career as a professional accompanist for several years, working at several universities on staff.

After moving to Atlanta in 1989, we began homeschooling our three children and I realized that there was absolutely no emphasis being placed on the value of the arts and their importance to the educational development of children. At that point, I began The Master’s Academy of Fine Arts.

Our proprietary form of arts education focuses on learning the arts in their historical context. Each year we study one of the six time periods of the arts (Ancient, Medieval/Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern). Within those time periods the students study history, art, drama and music and as a result learn to grasp concepts that encompass a larger view of the time period rather than just distinct elements such as one musical work, or one painting.

IA: What topics tend to recur in your work or the work that you study?

VD: I am always fascinated with the idea of connessione: Leonardo’s concept that all things are connected and interrelated. I am always fascinated to study history, understand how people were thinking at the time, and then see it played out in various forms, from scientific discoveries, to medical advances to writing and music and art. All things are related and if we begin to understand the connections, I believe we are much more likely to be grounded in our philosophies and values.

IA: Do you think of yourself as belonging to any particular ‘school’ or ‘movement’?

VD: I have always been and will always be a Romantic, and as such I think I embody the ideals of that time period. I seek beauty and creativity at all costs. I think it is a reaction to the technological advances in this period of history. When everything is about computers and numbers, beauty is removed from the culture and without it we become mere machines. I always seek to bring freedom, creativity and beauty to everyone and everything my life touches. This means taking time to prepare beautiful meals and serve them on pretty dishes. It means choosing to listen to beautiful music while I work in a beautiful room. It means having fresh flowers in the house, and handwriting notes on beautiful stationary. It means foregoing the “big box” stores in favor of unique boutiques and galleries to find unique and beautiful gifts and accessories. It is all about reflecting the beauty that God put into the order of His creation. To be sure, I could not do my job without the advances of technology, but without the beauty promoted within the Romantic Movement, we would have all long since been gobbled up by the Industrial Revolution and the Technology Revolution.

IA: Where are we going?

VD: I am very excited about the future of the arts and particularly their effect on culture, for I think we have entered the Creative Revolution. All indicators, including business development, economics, community growth and well-being, and even education, all point to a shift to a focus on creativity and its ramifications for the foreseeable future. Daniel Pink, in A Whole New Mind, comments on this extensively. “The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities—inventiveness, empathy, meaning—predominate.” Studies from the Arts Education Partnership have done multiple studies proving the rise in creativity and how it is driving our cultures. I for one am excited to see what will come from this new focus!

02 April 2010

Ekphrasis Report #5

Last week, we began our meeting with a slide show of paintings by Bruce Herman. His work is very, very good: I introduced it by saying, "This is REAL art." It is profound, and technically proficient. It is worthy to stand with the works of the great masters of the past. We were riveted by the sheer virtuosity and spiritual vision. We all commented on how the boundaries between the subjects and their environments are open, allowing the surroundings to invade the person, or the person's passion to flow out and influence the environment. We discussed how beautifully these works express an emotional or spiritual state by means of color, shape, and something hard to describe: speed? movement? motion? We considered the Medieval and postmodern elements of these pieces, how they fuse the timeless and the up-to-date. We talked about the subtle revelations of the human body: how those who are unclothed seem swathed in glory, and those who are clothed do not have their beauty hidden by their garments. We lamented the necessity of viewing these huge works of art on a little screen, for we could tell what an overwhelming impact they must have "live," full size, in their intended contexts. But even thus, they dazzle and amaze!

Present at this meeting were SMB, TM (a new and valuable member), DM, ES, and CG. SMB began with showing us a whole slew of her photographs. She’s got a great vision for gladness: her works are delightful, light in spirit without being light of value, showing (mostly) nature or members of her family through unique perspectives. The colors are vivid, the atmosphere delightful. She’s got a great eye. There’s one of her little sister standing on top of a snowbank with just snowy ground and snow-filled sky behind her: and both ground and sky are totally white, bright, without markings. So the little girl looks like she’s cut out on a white page. Totally Harold and the Purple Crayon, as DM observed to my delight. There was a picture of her little brother draped in Christmas lights, looking like a mischievous godling wreathed in the Milky Way. There was one of somber winter trees in parallel verticality. There were a few, of a different tone, recording President Obama’s visit to Lehigh Carbon Community College, where SMB is a student. There were fluorescent lights in the dark, bubbles, flowers, and grass. One we discussed longer than any other was a mysterious narrative fragment. Two people, shown just from their torsos downwards, crouched on a sun-baked ground in the barren summer light. There was little color in the picture, but it was burning with light. There were a few dark leaves in the foreground, and touches of red on the two character’s clothes. They conversed over a stainless steel sink, wrenched from context, tipped out on the bare earth. The picture was expressive and suggestive and felt like it was cut out of a Flannery O’Connor story.

Then TM shared a prose piece. It reads like a short story, but is clearly drawn from both real life experiences and imaginative extension. It’s called “The Dinner” and recounts the narrators thoughts as three down-and-out dinner guests pour out their heart-wrenching stories: a girl tempted into prostitution, an elderly man out of work, a teenage boy run away from home. After each tale of woe, the narrator wants to help these sorry souls, but cannot. At the end, he resolves to do better tomorrow, to go out and change the world. We appreciated the powerful, natural dialogue used to bring the characters to life. We suggested a more subtle ending, in which the tone makes clear that the narrator will fail again—otherwise the piece sounds too glib, too facile, too false. TM obviously has a huge heart for helping people, and his deep and open vision influences all of his work.

Then CG shared a poem fragment, which sparked a lively debate. The poem set out to tell about four characters. The narrator, who watches in awe as love is expressed around the bed of a dying man. The dying man, slipping away as a victim of HIV/AIDS. The dying man’s partner, who expresses his last love and grief. And then there’s Jesus, pouring love out over these two hurting people. And the narrator adores Jesus because of His love. So the debate was over how to show Christ in representative writing. CG is just head-over-heels in love with Christ, her heart to His, her person to His. So she just naturally pours out this love in her writing. I said that in literature, though, we can’t show Jesus as a character in the action. Asked why not, I said it’s cheesy. Asked why it’s cheesy, I said that it’s because Jesus already came incarnate and spent 30 or so years in the flesh on this earth, and four books were written about that: the Gospels. So for us to put Jesus as an enfleshed character in our writing is derivative, unoriginal, and just not good theology. The ways that we experience Christ now are through other people, through providential events, and through nature. I suggested that CG think of her favorite books—the Narnia chronicles, for instance, or Lewis’s Space Trilogy. There, Christ appears either in a symbolic character (who is yet a valid character on his own) or through mythology, atmosphere, and the actions of characters who do His will. When I got home and recounted this to G, he said that also we know Christ now through the Holy Spirit, not through His incarnate self. What do you think?

And of course I’ve been thinking about it since. There’s one other aspect that I’d like to mention. That is that we are living in the nighttime, the dark night of the soul between Christ’s ascension and His return. He talked a lot, while He was on earth, about how hard it would be for His disciples during the time He was gone. He compared it to the longing a bride-to-be feels when she’s waiting for her groom to come and make her his wife. He said He’d sent us a Comforter while He was gone. We wouldn’t need a Comforter unless there was need of comfort. And there is great need of comfort. This is the dark night, a period of suffering (even the Tribulation according to some theologians), the dry and dreary loneliness when we long for union with our Lord. We are not yet united with Him. And I feel that downplaying the sufferings of this time is first of all unrealistic and secondly unsympathetic to the pain of this time.

Then I shared a poem fragment, too. It turned out to be really bad. It doesn’t need revision: it needs to be scrapped and started over. Then most folks left, and DM and CG very kindly listened to a series of narrative scraps I wrote about my recent trip into NYC for a conference. On each subway trip, I was blessed with the observation of some extreme case of human eccentricity. They had lots of excellent suggestions about how to use these scraps: to turn them into some coherent article or story. But now I have another idea all together, guys, so I think it’s going to turn out totally different! Thanks for all of your suggestions; sorry I put you through that!

The really great feast of the day (besides the work that was shared) was the excellent talk. And that I just can’t reconstruct. The longest conversation was one I’ve had before, and about which I’ve posted. About how far is too far in art, especially visual art: about nudity and objectification. I won’t recount it here: suffice it to say it was a fantastic conversation and one that needs to happen over and over: probably at least as many times as there are young Christians finding their way into the arts.

What is Posthumanism?

I recently wrote a book review of "What Is Posthumanism?" by Cary Wolfe. You can read my review in "Curator" magazine. I'm working on part two of my review now: a Christian response. I'll let you know when that's available. But please do take a read and let me know what you think of this profound, and profoundly disturbing, new cultural theory.

01 April 2010

April poem of the month

Oops, it looks as if I've missed the poem-of-the-month for a few months! My apologies. I have a few excuses: I've been writing a ton of other stuff besides poetry (short stories and academic articles); the poems I have written are either too personal or too disturbing to publish here (I know, tantalizing, huh?); and I've been dedicating a pile of time to the new interview series. So even this poem is an old one I've dug out of my files. Sorry.

But April is Poetry Month, and so I'm taking on a challenge: Write one poem a day for the entire month! This is for a a contest sponsored by Writer's Digest; there will be a prompt for each day. Why don't you try it, too?

Radcliffe Camera, Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Follow these spiral steps,
connected, rung by rung, logical
chain of well-wrought iron flats, rational
handrails cold and artful in a downward helix.

Come, aware, into another room of consciousness.
It’s quieter here than out where senses
cower under the chaos of physical streets.
There’s less to feel, and what’s to see
striated horizontal on the perimeter of thought:
staves in motionless progress rake the walls,
make inaudible meaning while the sight
circles, fascinated, seeking the conclusion of these shelves.

But beware synthetic knowledge: one book
(ascetic contemplative in paper brown)
unhooked from its nestled hush
is thesis: offers its neighbor in antithesis
who pulls another by the cover
until hand-over-hand the hypothetical unity revolves.

You cannot take Making Shakespeare from the shelf
without its dragging the authority of King James and his
superstitious witchcraft tract, which clings to Scott
(that’s Reginald) and Miller (Arthur, Crucible),
which dumps a chunk of history
from Salem to McCarthy on your head, and then you have to know
the Lord’s Prayer and the devil’s mass, and Latin, and some
cures for warts, and the script
a college prof. began for trying audiences
as a witch’s jury, and soon
you’re searching for quotations about “mandrake root”
then you’re on the stage and in the noose
and suddenly:

the chamber’s cataloged diameter goes into orbit,
creates a universe complete with rings and atmosphere,
with cyclic seasons and with gravitational appeal
where a single thinker is a satellite—

As if one newborn scholar could endure
the velocity of thought;
as if one human psyche could survive
the spatial ecstasy of synthesis.

~ Sørina