“Our purpose of art is to alert people to things they may have missed.” Corita Kent
Every day, I see some wonder, some epiphany in the arts and in nature
that makes me want to clap my hands, jump up and down, shout ‘oh la la’, and do something about it like draw, paint or write. Corita Kent thought that “Our purpose of art is to alert people to things they may have missed.” Kent was a visual artist but her thoughts apply to all the arts. John Cage alerted us to silence, Alvin Ailey and Lucinda Childs to the possibilities of expressive movement, Marcel Marceau to the quiet conversation, Alice Walker to the word as social action.
My interest in the interaction of word and picture comes from the influence of Corita Kent, who as a graphic artist transformed word, color, and image into visuals that were the graphical equivalent of artist Robert Rauschenberg’s layered textural collages.
When I first encountered Corita Kent as a sixth grade student she was Sister Mary Corita, a nun teaching at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. I tagged along with my older sister to a class that taught us how to make stamps using the amen alphabet. Created by Corita, the amen alphabet capitalizes all letters except for a, m, e, and n.
Corita was the most imaginative and serious of teachers, as well as the most playful and thoughtful. I recently came upon a list of “rules” that she wrote. Here are a few of them:
- Find a place you trust and try trusting it for a while.
- General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
- General duties of a teacher: pull everything out of your students.
- Consider everything an experiment.
- Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and fail. There’s only make.
- The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch onto things.
- Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes.
- There should be new rules next week.
Corita Kent, the artist activist involved in speaking out about civil rights and the Vietnam war, eventually left the convent. She had a voice and a view which were far reaching. She invited seeing rather than merely looking. For a young girl voyaging into the world, I could not have asked for a better role model.
More information on Corita Kent: https://www.corita.org/