Friday, December 7, 2012

Sister Mary Corita Kent and Visual Culture of the 1960’s


Thinking back to the most prolific artists of the Pop Art era, one name comes to mind; Andy Warhol. The Pop Art movement was often associated with Warhol because of his use of everyday items in art, mainly consumer goods. Would a nun befit what most characterize as a Pop artist?

Corita Kent, Questions and Answers, 1966; 
print on Pellon, 76.2 x 91.44 cm; 
Estate of Corita Kent.





Included in the GW Permanent Collection is Sister Corita’s work entitled, Questions and Answers, 1966, gifted from Ted and Lee Cron in 1983. Sister Mary Corita Kent, born Frances Elizabeth Kent on November 20, 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was of little recognition outside the world of art. In 1936, at the age of 16, she entered the convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles. Sister Corita remarked that she most likely would not have had such a strong passion for art had she not become a nun.[i] This could possibly be due to the fact that as a nun, she understood the world from a humanitarian viewpoint and recognized art as a viable outlet for expressing her opinions.


Corita Kent, Stop the Bombing, 1967;  
Courtesy of the Corita Art Center,
 Immaculate Heart Community.
About her own work, Corita explained, “I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail. But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art.”[ii] In 1951, at the age of 33, she began creating her first prints and serigraphs, which would eventually become her main form of artistic expression. Her early art treated traditional religious themes with an untraditional expressionistic manner.[iii] By the early 1960’s, Sister Corita was at the forefront of using popular commercial images as a vehicle to articulate her opinion. She incorporated bright colors, simple forms and phrases as she openly embraced the world of modern popular culture. In Corita’s work entitled, Stop the Bombing, from 1967, Corita’s commitment to social justice and peace is evident. “I am in Vietnam – who will console me?” is repeated twice on the canvas. This powerful statement reflects the horrors and trauma of war. Another work entitled, For Emergency Use Soft Shoulder, completed in 1966, is emblazoned with the blue lettering, “Get With The Action.” This work is a call to act, a reminder that anyone can make a difference in the world.


Corita Kent, For Emergency Use Soft Shoulder
1966; serigraph, 76.2 x 91.4 cm.

Advertising slogans and billboard motifs often found their way into the art of Sister Corita. She was trying to uncover this hidden beauty in popular culture. Theologian Harvey Cox put it, for Corita, “Art meant transforming even the ugliest parts of the urban environment into testimonies of joy.”[iv]

Sister Corita was very interested in the ‘art of the non-professional.’[v] Vincent Lanier, an art educator, contemporary and friend of Sister Corita noted her willingness to become engaged with new ideas. Corita admired the passion of Pop artists for their willingness to accept any kind of form. Writing of Sister Corita’s connection with her students, Lanier writes:

Sister Corita hopes to guide the student into some insightful response to the film media so abundantly spewed forth by our technology and our commercialism. Confident that such insight can transfer to other forms of visual art; she notes that film, in the form of photography, cinema and television ‘is art’ in today’s world [the world of the early 1960s] simply because of its universality. For the teacher of art to reach the child, perhaps no better way can be found than to capitalize on the child’s constant exposure to a visual medium.[vi]

Sister Corita expressed her own philosophy towards art in an article entitled, “Art and Beauty in the Life of the Sister.” Here Corita expresses:
           
Our time is a time of erasing the lines that divided things neatly. Today we find all the superlatives and the infinite fulfillment man hungers for portrayed not only in fairy stories or poems but also in billboards and magazine ads and TV commercials.

Corita also states her belief in the importance of art in mainstream society:

If we separate ourselves from the great arts of our time, we cannot be leaven enriching our society from within. We may well be peripheral to our society—unaware of its pains and joys, unable to communicate with it, to benefit from it or to help it. [vii]

Sister Corita was a lively character. Her work within the Immaculate Heart College changed the face of the Catholic Church in the United States. Corita saw ‘Mary’s Day’ as a rather dismal affair. She called upon students and faculty to brainstorm how to liven up the ceremony. The day was organized around the theme of ‘Food for Peace.’ While others overindulged and over consumed, others starved. While this unequal distribution continued, world peace would never be achieved. Sister Corita understood Mary as the nurturer of Christ and provided him growth and development. What better theme to link the spiritual with the physical and the theological with the political?[viii] The goal of Mary’s Day was to transport the community of Immaculate Heart College from their everyday concerns into a space where they could look more deeply into themselves, their world, and their God.[ix] Originally a solemn and reserved day of celebration, ‘Mary’s Day,’ was turned into a vibrant celebration where nuns paraded around with flowered necklaces, poets reciting from platforms and colorful students rolling around in the grass; some saw this as a prototype for the hippies.[x] 

Sister Corita was scrutinized by the archbishop of Los Angeles for her ‘innovative’ celebrations and for her religious art. Most notably one of her prints referred to the Virgin Mary as ‘the juiciest tomato of them all.’[xi] Other works that tie her to the Pop Art Movement include, for eleanor, which incorporates a sentence stating, “The Big G Stands for Goodn[ess].” There is an obvious play on the big “G” for General Mills Company and the symbol of God. In her work, As Witnesses to the Light for John XXIII and JFK, Corita incorporates the product Sunkist with two limes representing both Pope John XXIII and former President John F. Kennedy. She often used the word “sun” or an image of the sun to signify a person or an idea that she found particularly enlightening or clear-eyed, someone who was a visionary.[xii] She utilizes both historical and contemporaneous figure-heads from the Catholic Church. Lastly, in her serigraph entitled, enriched bread, Corita plays on the idea of Wonder Bread representing the Eucharist in Catholicism. Each work incorporates daily commercial products, a staple for the Pop Art Movement; however Corita includes her own religious and moral message to the viewer.


Corita Kent, for eleanor, 1964; Serigraph on Pellon, 
30 x 36 in.; Collection of the Associated 
Sulpicians of the United States;
 Courtesy the Corita Art Center, 
Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.
Corita Kent, enriched bread, 1965;  
print; screen print on Pellon, 75.57 cm x 92.08 cm;  
Collection SFMOMA,
 Gift of Robert Cugno and Robert Logan, 
Garnett, Kansas.
Corita Kent, the juiciest tomato of all, 1964; 
Serigraph on Pellon, 29.5 x 36 in.; 
Collection of the Associated Sulpicians of the United States; 
Courtesy the Corita Art Center,
 Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.
Corita Kent, As Witnesses to the
 Light for John XXIII and JFK,
1964; lithograph.

 Living through the 1960’s was a transformative age for the youth of America; however, the work of Sister Corita was not such a successful agent of change within her own time. Corita failed to acknowledge the fact that, despite the ‘youth culture’ of the 1960’s, most who were teaching in schools became educators in the relatively conservative 1940’s and 1950’s.[xiii] The way in which children understood the world shifted more towards television, billboards, and other advertisements. In order for contemporaries like Sister Corita to reach the youth, she would need to conform to popular culture in the visual world, and she did just that. Sister Mary Andre, a contemporary of Sister Corita with a similar mindset, teaching in Westchester, Illinois, advised fellow art teachers not to be “bogged down in the mire of a rutted and ingrained educational system, and to look ahead! Tomorrow is fast becoming yesterday.”[xiv]

Sister Corita was preoccupied with this idea of keeping present for herself and for her students. However, this continuously created strong tension with the Archbishop of Los Angeles and the Immaculate Heart College. In 1967, Sister Corita left the religious life, retired from teaching and moved to Boston to focus solely on her art. She did, however, maintain the name Corita. In 1986, at the age of 67, she passed away from cancer. Lanier saw her as a type of Renaissance [wo]man, who aspired to be many things at once. “Sister Corita was a nun, teacher, artist and thinker, and unlike many others she did not compartmentalize her several universes of action, but instead they all fed each other in their unity.”[xv]

Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. is currently exhibiting the works of Sister Corita entitled, To Believe – The Spirited Art of Corita. The show is in the May Gallery of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library until December 14, 2012. The link is below.

http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/releases/2012/cal-corita-exhibit.cfm


[i] Jeffrey M. Burns, “Be of Love (a Little) More Careful: Sister Corita, Father Bob, Love, and Art,” Catholic University of America Press: 2001, 68.
[ii] “Corita Kent Biography,” Corita Art Center, accessed November 28, 2012, https://www.corita.org/coritadb/index.php?id=5&option=com_content&task=view.
[iii] Burns, 68.
[iv] Harvey Cox, “Corita Kent: Surviving with Style,” Commonweal, 24 October 1986, 550.
[v] Vincent Lanier, “An Interview with Sister Mart Corita,” National Art Education Association: 1965, 14.
[vi] Lanier, 14.
[vii] Burns, 69.
[viii] Colleen McDannell, “Spirit of Vatican II: A History of Catholic Reform in America,” Basic Books: 2011, 133.
[ix] McDannell, 133.
[x] Burns, 70.
[xi] Burns, 70.
[xii] “Sister Corita,” PBS, accessed November 28, 2012, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/by-topic/sister-corita/10526/.
[xiii] Graeme Chalmers, “Visual Culture Education in the 1960s,” National Art Education Association: 2005, 6.
[xiv] Chalmers, 9.
[xv] Chalmers, 14.

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Covering exhibits at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery and giving you a peek into the Permanent Collection of the George Washington University.

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Howard Hodgkin: Paintings - May 16, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sister Mary Corita Kent and Visual Culture of the 1960’s


Thinking back to the most prolific artists of the Pop Art era, one name comes to mind; Andy Warhol. The Pop Art movement was often associated with Warhol because of his use of everyday items in art, mainly consumer goods. Would a nun befit what most characterize as a Pop artist?

Corita Kent, Questions and Answers, 1966; 
print on Pellon, 76.2 x 91.44 cm; 
Estate of Corita Kent.





Included in the GW Permanent Collection is Sister Corita’s work entitled, Questions and Answers, 1966, gifted from Ted and Lee Cron in 1983. Sister Mary Corita Kent, born Frances Elizabeth Kent on November 20, 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, was of little recognition outside the world of art. In 1936, at the age of 16, she entered the convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles. Sister Corita remarked that she most likely would not have had such a strong passion for art had she not become a nun.[i] This could possibly be due to the fact that as a nun, she understood the world from a humanitarian viewpoint and recognized art as a viable outlet for expressing her opinions.


Corita Kent, Stop the Bombing, 1967;  
Courtesy of the Corita Art Center,
 Immaculate Heart Community.
About her own work, Corita explained, “I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail. But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art.”[ii] In 1951, at the age of 33, she began creating her first prints and serigraphs, which would eventually become her main form of artistic expression. Her early art treated traditional religious themes with an untraditional expressionistic manner.[iii] By the early 1960’s, Sister Corita was at the forefront of using popular commercial images as a vehicle to articulate her opinion. She incorporated bright colors, simple forms and phrases as she openly embraced the world of modern popular culture. In Corita’s work entitled, Stop the Bombing, from 1967, Corita’s commitment to social justice and peace is evident. “I am in Vietnam – who will console me?” is repeated twice on the canvas. This powerful statement reflects the horrors and trauma of war. Another work entitled, For Emergency Use Soft Shoulder, completed in 1966, is emblazoned with the blue lettering, “Get With The Action.” This work is a call to act, a reminder that anyone can make a difference in the world.


Corita Kent, For Emergency Use Soft Shoulder
1966; serigraph, 76.2 x 91.4 cm.

Advertising slogans and billboard motifs often found their way into the art of Sister Corita. She was trying to uncover this hidden beauty in popular culture. Theologian Harvey Cox put it, for Corita, “Art meant transforming even the ugliest parts of the urban environment into testimonies of joy.”[iv]

Sister Corita was very interested in the ‘art of the non-professional.’[v] Vincent Lanier, an art educator, contemporary and friend of Sister Corita noted her willingness to become engaged with new ideas. Corita admired the passion of Pop artists for their willingness to accept any kind of form. Writing of Sister Corita’s connection with her students, Lanier writes:

Sister Corita hopes to guide the student into some insightful response to the film media so abundantly spewed forth by our technology and our commercialism. Confident that such insight can transfer to other forms of visual art; she notes that film, in the form of photography, cinema and television ‘is art’ in today’s world [the world of the early 1960s] simply because of its universality. For the teacher of art to reach the child, perhaps no better way can be found than to capitalize on the child’s constant exposure to a visual medium.[vi]

Sister Corita expressed her own philosophy towards art in an article entitled, “Art and Beauty in the Life of the Sister.” Here Corita expresses:
           
Our time is a time of erasing the lines that divided things neatly. Today we find all the superlatives and the infinite fulfillment man hungers for portrayed not only in fairy stories or poems but also in billboards and magazine ads and TV commercials.

Corita also states her belief in the importance of art in mainstream society:

If we separate ourselves from the great arts of our time, we cannot be leaven enriching our society from within. We may well be peripheral to our society—unaware of its pains and joys, unable to communicate with it, to benefit from it or to help it. [vii]

Sister Corita was a lively character. Her work within the Immaculate Heart College changed the face of the Catholic Church in the United States. Corita saw ‘Mary’s Day’ as a rather dismal affair. She called upon students and faculty to brainstorm how to liven up the ceremony. The day was organized around the theme of ‘Food for Peace.’ While others overindulged and over consumed, others starved. While this unequal distribution continued, world peace would never be achieved. Sister Corita understood Mary as the nurturer of Christ and provided him growth and development. What better theme to link the spiritual with the physical and the theological with the political?[viii] The goal of Mary’s Day was to transport the community of Immaculate Heart College from their everyday concerns into a space where they could look more deeply into themselves, their world, and their God.[ix] Originally a solemn and reserved day of celebration, ‘Mary’s Day,’ was turned into a vibrant celebration where nuns paraded around with flowered necklaces, poets reciting from platforms and colorful students rolling around in the grass; some saw this as a prototype for the hippies.[x] 

Sister Corita was scrutinized by the archbishop of Los Angeles for her ‘innovative’ celebrations and for her religious art. Most notably one of her prints referred to the Virgin Mary as ‘the juiciest tomato of them all.’[xi] Other works that tie her to the Pop Art Movement include, for eleanor, which incorporates a sentence stating, “The Big G Stands for Goodn[ess].” There is an obvious play on the big “G” for General Mills Company and the symbol of God. In her work, As Witnesses to the Light for John XXIII and JFK, Corita incorporates the product Sunkist with two limes representing both Pope John XXIII and former President John F. Kennedy. She often used the word “sun” or an image of the sun to signify a person or an idea that she found particularly enlightening or clear-eyed, someone who was a visionary.[xii] She utilizes both historical and contemporaneous figure-heads from the Catholic Church. Lastly, in her serigraph entitled, enriched bread, Corita plays on the idea of Wonder Bread representing the Eucharist in Catholicism. Each work incorporates daily commercial products, a staple for the Pop Art Movement; however Corita includes her own religious and moral message to the viewer.


Corita Kent, for eleanor, 1964; Serigraph on Pellon, 
30 x 36 in.; Collection of the Associated 
Sulpicians of the United States;
 Courtesy the Corita Art Center, 
Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.
Corita Kent, enriched bread, 1965;  
print; screen print on Pellon, 75.57 cm x 92.08 cm;  
Collection SFMOMA,
 Gift of Robert Cugno and Robert Logan, 
Garnett, Kansas.
Corita Kent, the juiciest tomato of all, 1964; 
Serigraph on Pellon, 29.5 x 36 in.; 
Collection of the Associated Sulpicians of the United States; 
Courtesy the Corita Art Center,
 Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.
Corita Kent, As Witnesses to the
 Light for John XXIII and JFK,
1964; lithograph.

 Living through the 1960’s was a transformative age for the youth of America; however, the work of Sister Corita was not such a successful agent of change within her own time. Corita failed to acknowledge the fact that, despite the ‘youth culture’ of the 1960’s, most who were teaching in schools became educators in the relatively conservative 1940’s and 1950’s.[xiii] The way in which children understood the world shifted more towards television, billboards, and other advertisements. In order for contemporaries like Sister Corita to reach the youth, she would need to conform to popular culture in the visual world, and she did just that. Sister Mary Andre, a contemporary of Sister Corita with a similar mindset, teaching in Westchester, Illinois, advised fellow art teachers not to be “bogged down in the mire of a rutted and ingrained educational system, and to look ahead! Tomorrow is fast becoming yesterday.”[xiv]

Sister Corita was preoccupied with this idea of keeping present for herself and for her students. However, this continuously created strong tension with the Archbishop of Los Angeles and the Immaculate Heart College. In 1967, Sister Corita left the religious life, retired from teaching and moved to Boston to focus solely on her art. She did, however, maintain the name Corita. In 1986, at the age of 67, she passed away from cancer. Lanier saw her as a type of Renaissance [wo]man, who aspired to be many things at once. “Sister Corita was a nun, teacher, artist and thinker, and unlike many others she did not compartmentalize her several universes of action, but instead they all fed each other in their unity.”[xv]

Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. is currently exhibiting the works of Sister Corita entitled, To Believe – The Spirited Art of Corita. The show is in the May Gallery of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library until December 14, 2012. The link is below.

http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/releases/2012/cal-corita-exhibit.cfm


[i] Jeffrey M. Burns, “Be of Love (a Little) More Careful: Sister Corita, Father Bob, Love, and Art,” Catholic University of America Press: 2001, 68.
[ii] “Corita Kent Biography,” Corita Art Center, accessed November 28, 2012, https://www.corita.org/coritadb/index.php?id=5&option=com_content&task=view.
[iii] Burns, 68.
[iv] Harvey Cox, “Corita Kent: Surviving with Style,” Commonweal, 24 October 1986, 550.
[v] Vincent Lanier, “An Interview with Sister Mart Corita,” National Art Education Association: 1965, 14.
[vi] Lanier, 14.
[vii] Burns, 69.
[viii] Colleen McDannell, “Spirit of Vatican II: A History of Catholic Reform in America,” Basic Books: 2011, 133.
[ix] McDannell, 133.
[x] Burns, 70.
[xi] Burns, 70.
[xii] “Sister Corita,” PBS, accessed November 28, 2012, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/by-topic/sister-corita/10526/.
[xiii] Graeme Chalmers, “Visual Culture Education in the 1960s,” National Art Education Association: 2005, 6.
[xiv] Chalmers, 9.
[xv] Chalmers, 14.

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Washington, District of Columbia, United States
"Found In Collection" or simply "FIC" is the way many museums classify the more mysterious items in their possession that have little or no documentation. Here at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery of the George Washington University, we do keep extensive records of our collection, but some of the items we come across in academic buildings or our own storage can leave us wondering. This blog is an effort to showcase some of the more curious examples and their stories, and to provide a glimpse of the great variety of art pieces within the collection. To learn more about the Brady Gallery's history, recent exhibitions, or the George Washington University, take a look at the links below.

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