"My Life in Art"

A Whole Month of the “Best Words in the Best Order” (from Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

by Elizabeth Bodien

bodien shapeimage_1What are you doing to celebrate National Poetry Month?

In this month, I like to read an old book of poetry and a new book of poetry.  The old book this year is The Nature of Things by Lucretius, translated from the Latin by A.E. Stallings. The new book is Night Thoughts  by Sarah Arvio.

In April, I go to more poetry events than usual.  I like hearing the Poetry Out Loud competitions. In spite of the ubiquity of electronic devices which offer us instantaneous access to poems, the work of our memorizing them honors the poems and poets while developing that often neglected human faculty.

Also, I am doing a workshop this month with soldier-poet Brian Turner who wrote the award-winning book Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise—which include poems about his experience in wartime Iraq.

And I am writing.

When did you begin writing poetry?

I began as a child and even started a poetry column in my high school newspaper. Then poetry hid in some underground cave until a few years ago when I took a poetry workshop where I was brought back to poetry – its magic, its mystery, the music of words.

Where do you draw inspiration?

The sound of a summer storm, taste of an artichoke, texture of tree bark, the curve of a hill, the rhythm of weaving or walking, anything might bring a poem.  Many of my poems are ekphrastic,  that is, inspired by art, such as painting or music. Or a poem might start with a phrase from some voice.  I like some poetic forms borrowed from the Japanese, such as tanka and haibun, which involve observations of the natural world.

Other people’s poems inspire me.  The margins of my books have scribbled fragments of new poems.  Current events and social injustice inspire me to write but without, I hope, getting boringly preachy. 

What opportunities do you pursue to read your work in public? 

I have enjoyed reading my work at libraries, bookstores, art galleries, colleges, on TV and radio, a weaving gallery, a health fair.

I enjoyed a recent reading,  Poems for Earth Day, on April 21st at Exeter Library, Reading, PA.

What are you currently working on?

Inspired by the work of the artist June Linowitz, I have been writing poems this month based on her intriguing sculptures of heads, each representing an emotion or state of mind .  And I am polishing a long poem of 18 pages.   Also I am reviving hypnotic trance, which I immersed myself in decades ago, to both write and revise poems, with some surprising results.

So much poetry this month!  I recommend the list of activities suggested by the Academy of American Poets  and for those wanting to write, to try daily poem writing .

Photo credit: BCTV


"My Life in Art"

My Life in Art–Charissa Grandin, An Artist’s Child

Clarissa 300446_10150285670249076_389123_nBecause I was born into a family with an artist for a mother, art was an automatic, integral part of my daily life. Original framed oils and watercolors on every wall throughout my home were among the first sights I took in before I was capable of forming thoughts or words about them. As I grew I gradually became conscious that not all homes were created with art as a foundation as our home was. So in my experience, art extended beyond the canvas and became part of the home my mother created in each place we lived. Deliberate design went into every aspect of home.

As a very small child I remember regularly looking through and committing to memory the works of Mary Cassatt, Andrew Wyeth and others in coffee table books at my reach. While I watched Saturday morning cartoons my mom would be teaching private art classes in her studio upstairs. When I got a little older, I took a more participatory role as a model being required to sit very still for her portrait class students and as a student myself in her children’s classes. Not only did she teach regularly, she brought art to places where there was none. When I was a baby, my mother volunteered hours of her time to coordinate other volunteers and teach art at my brothers’ elementary school. There was no art program at the school and the principal was overtaxed and burdened. Grateful for the care and help my mom brought to the school, the principal was delighted to watch me in my infant seat in her office while my mother taught. When I was old enough to crawl, I was often the model for some of the art classes. The principal even included my mother and me in the school yearbook.

I developed my own drawing ability. I drew pet portraits for friends, excelled in interior design courses in school, and today enjoy the creative aspects of my marketing job including Photoshop, photography and web design. Clarissa art untitled

All these experiences from early in life prepared me to be naturally attune to the visual and I excelled in areas favoring visual thinking and learning. Today, art still takes a similar subtle, yet fundamental role in my life. It is in the background continually running and powering my perception at all times. I see and find art everywhere I look on a subconscious level. On a more conscious and planned level, I am involved in helping my mother with administrative tasks in her gallery. When my own daughter, now 5, was a baby she rode perched on my back in a baby carrier while I helped my mom teach a children’s art class. Now my mother will do art projects with my daughter while I work on my laptop to manage and promote my mother’s business and work online. I intend to fortify an active role in today’s digital age helping her to market her work so that she can focus on her loves of creating and teaching.

My mother, Gwendolyn Evans, holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Art Education from Rhode Island School of Design, one of the top 3 national art institutions, and her work has been in over 80 juried shows. She has been teaching art to students of all ages and aptitudes for over 5 decades. Last year she moved to Bethlehem and opened a new in-home gallery and studio where she has over 400 paintings available for purchase. She also offers: private and group art instruction to beginner through advanced adult students, workshops and art placement in businesses and homes.

"My Life in Art"

Photographer Max Alper on “My Life in Art”

I have been a photographer and an educator my entire adult life. I have pursued both with the conviction of a religious zealot.

As a teenager in Pennsylvania, I discovered the exhilaration of photography when I received a 35mm camera as a gift. Soon afterward, I became a member of a local photography club which had access to a darkroom. My mind and life opened—I had entered another dimension of being—as I created images that seemed to appear magically on film. To me, the photographic reflections of the material world seemed more real than reality itself. So it is here, in this spiritual and aesthetic realm, that I have spent most of my life.

However, there were several forays into commercial activities that required balancing personal values with demands of clients. When I moved to New York City, I established a studio that specialized in headshots for actors and performers. They were wonderful to photograph; I admired their energy, humor, and unconventional attitudes. I also interacted with casting directors and theatrical agents in efforts to assist actors develop their marketing materials.

Later, I created a series of New York scenes, black-and-white prints, in the tradition of “street photographers.” The city’s inherent complexity, tension, and pageantry provided many opportunities to capture memorable images. I became acutely aware of Cartier-Bresson’s advice to seek the “decisive moment”—the desire to seize and shape a random event. The effort required patience and tenacity, but the results were extraordinarily satisfying.

While the actors’ headshots were controlled and formulaic, the city scenes were spontaneous and provocative. The constraints of the studio were surpassed by the chaos of the streets.

Propelled further toward stylistic liberation, I was profoundly affected by two events in my life. The first was the death of my mother. During my period of grief, friends and relatives related stories about near-death experiences (popularized by the media) of the spirit surging through a narrow passageway toward brilliant light. I also read again Dante’s The Divine Comedy and was deeply moved by the powerful descriptions of the soul’s journey. These concepts were burned into my subconscious and months later evolved into visual equivalents in my photographs.

A new series was born. This body of work portrays human figures who are approaching or passing through restricted space—corridors, windows, rooms, streets, and tunnels. The narrative movement is from a realm of shadows into bursts of light. The environments create metaphoric settings for a journey that ultimately releases an individual from the material world, represented by the strong geometric patterns in the photographs. These moody images are grounded in quasi-realism, but clarity of form is reduced into a haze of light and color. The series was first exhibited in New York City. 

The second event that affected my artistic style was my participation in a residency at the American Academy in Rome. The theatrical grandeur of the architecture, the sensuous Bernini statues, and the passionate people were all powerful influences on my psyche. Everything was emotionally charged, surging with the life force! I became a disciple (almost against my will), and soon my photography was transformed—more illusionistic, mysterious, and provoking strong feelings.

Experimentation continued with form, planar relationships, and luminosity. I developed a new series of distorted portraits (I refer to them as “fantasy faces”), independent of conventional visual syntax or preconceived commercial requirements. The photographs are “surfaces of personality” that can be attractive or grotesque, placid or agitated, lucid or mysterious. By diminishing the specificity of the faces or camouflaging them in some surprising way (through makeup, masks, or color tonalities), I was able to conceal aspects of their true character. The visual effect is further heightened by an unusual crop or a compelling camera angle.

Other techniques (which have become a permanent part of my technical repertoire) include deliberately defocusing the images by shooting through diffusion filters or distorted glass, by manipulating color gels on the lights or reflecting pinpoints of light off glass or mirrored surfaces, and by using delayed or double exposures. Appropriately, this series had its first exhibit in Rome.

I have truly been fortunate. The various series of photographs have received positive responses from gallery directors. Recent exhibitions in the Lehigh Valley and in Philadelphia have been successful. This year, I will surpass my 100th exhibit—an important time for celebration and reflection.

Throughout my life, I also spent many years as an educator. As a faculty member and arts administrator at New York University (where I received my PhD), I was responsible for programs in art, photography, writing, and filmmaking. My academic-related activities include serving on committees of several organizations, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (Media Division) and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (Emmy Division). In addition, I have been a contributing editor of Arts Magazine (NY) and have written art reviews for The New Republic. One of my greatest pleasures was writing and narrating a radio series for WGBH-Boston. I also wrote two books (published by Macmillan) which included numerous photos that were created for the project. At NYU, I enjoyed congenial interaction with students and colleagues. Both the university and the city provided an abundance of intellectual stimulation and expansive cultural opportunities.

I cannot imagine a more fulfilling life than one devoted to the arts. Surely it is a glimpse of eternity on earth.

"My Life in Art"

Theatre Artist Karen D. Connell, LCSW., BCD.,MSW., MA—My Life In Art

Foundations students (left to right) Victoria Rice, Terri Blum, Elizabeth Ferguson, & Leigh Ann Gruen

Table Top Theatre is my current passion.

My journey in the Arts has led me along an evolving path. As a lucky child born to a dancing mother and stage managing father, the arts were my playground. My life naturally evolved into years as a performer, director, choreographer, educator and clinician.  Through these experiences I came to know more and more, the value of a life centered in the arts and sought to bring that gift to others.   As the economy and opportunities in arts education and clinical applications began to shrink over the past few years, I wondered about a solution.  And then I remembered….

At the turn of the century families gathered around miniature theatres in their homes to perform scripted plays.  Known as Toy Theatre, small stages allowed families and friends to engage in big productions of classics and contemporary plays.  Families also wrote and performed their own productions. These tiny stages stretched the limits of ideas and resembled most closely a kind of two or three-dimensional puppetry.  Actors surrounding the small stages engaged in interplay with tiny images voicing text, playing musical instruments, singing and manipulating characters and scenes.

So, recently, I decided to think smaller; to shrink full participation theatre to a miniature, to a size that would fit today’s budgets while still providing that vital playground in the arts for children, teachers, clinicians and families. I teamed with Eric Covell, Assistant Technical Director in the Theatre and Dance Department at Muhlenberg College, to design a portable miniature stage for educators and clinicians to use in classrooms and clinical rooms.  We think it would also be a dandy thing to have around the house for creative play!

This summer we tested TTT in two settings: The first was in Focus and Connect: Arts Integrated Group Therapy that I offer for kids needing to develop social and communication skills. Kelly Weaver, a senior art major at Moravian College, led six 12-14 year-olds through a series of exercises that resulted in the kids improvising a play about bullying staged in the Table Top Theatre.

The second was during Foundations of the Creative Arts, a course I teach for Wescoe School’s Teacher Certification program.  In

TTT setting for Elements

Foundations, future teachers learn to integrate drama, dance, music and visual art with classroom curriculum.  Four students collaborated on an original text, The Elements, and made discoveries about the TTT performance space and the many possibilities it holds for the classroom teacher.

Make room on a table top for this playground in the arts!

"My Life in Art"

Theater Patron Jamie Balliet on “My Life in Art”

Even though I have never performed, I’ve always loved theater. I like to think of myself as a patron of the arts more than anything. I understand the importance of an audience: performers are at their best in front of an audience that appreciates them, and programs can continue when there is an audience to support them.

My job at the State Theatre is to give the artists an audience to entertain, to teach, to share in the kinetic energy. Theater is one of the last remaining gathering places of fellowship. The world is controlled by gadgets that have made life more solitary. But theater? Theater you share with somebody—sometimes many bodies.

I was fortunate enough to be at the State Theatre for the inception of the FREDDY Awards in 2003, a program that recognizes and rewards outstanding achievement in local high school musical theater. From the beginning, in addition to marketing the program to the community, I have produced the television broadcast of the FREDDY Awards alongside creator and executive producer Shelley Brown. One of the goals has always been to help fill the schools’ auditoriums for their performances.

But it wasn’t until this past season, ten years later, that I truly understood the impact this program has had on the community and on me. For the first time, I went to see all of the high school musicals participating in the FREDDY Awards—29 performances in 3 months—and I loved it!

It felt good to support the schools in a different way—by being a patron of their art. I went through every emotion this FREDDY season, and all these emotions were evoked by the work the students were doing on stage. With a great sense of pride in their dedication and achievement, I felt an automatic reaction to stand and clap during every curtain call.

When it came time for rehearsals to start for the opening number of the FREDDY ceremony, I would recognize the kids by their characters. Hey, there’s Tracy Turnblad. You played P. T. Barnum, didn’t you? To student after student I’d say, “I saw you on stage,” and they’d all light up.

Having this experience has reminded me that I truly do love being a patron of theater. Even though it’s my job on a daily basis to encourage others to share in that experience, it is also part of who I am. Live performances continue to inspire me at the State Theatre, which I like to call my second home, and at every theater I attend. They can be in high school gyms; outside under trees; in new, modern venues; or in old, historic vaudeville houses. It’s all theater.

I am a patron of the arts at heart…and I love theater.

"My Life in Art"

Ceramist/Sculptor Greg White on “My Life in Art”

Greg White

My high-school ceramics/philosophy teacher, Mr. Bob Blanchard, told me, “You could do this for a living.”  He was encouraging me to enroll in the Arts Academy program at William Allen High School.  Stubbornly, I opted out in lieu of calculus, anatomy and physiology, etc.  His early-bird class made a serious impact on me though, and it’s funny that I am now making a living as a ceramist/sculptor.

As a kid, art was like playing, something I loved to do, and not something I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a lot of crazy things, yet I’ve always made stuff.  Now, being a professional is about refining my technique daily in pursuit of a very particular, and yet sometimes ubiquitous, aesthetic.   After all the hard work, I still love opening the kiln.  Taking time to inspect the smallest, most beautiful details is something that gets me out of bed in the morning.  It’s my addiction: the thrill of discovery.

I’ll have an idea, a spark, and then imagine how I can create such a thing.  The process of physically making something from nothing is different from simply imagining it.  Along the way, I have cursed at my materials.  Sometimes, I want to make something a certain way, my way.  That’s an ego thing, I think.  What I want to happen isn’t always what happens though.

I’m increasingly interested in anomalous precipitations, and their fluid evolution in the continuum of possibility.  Things happen especially in the kiln, “gifts from the kiln god,“ like an unexpected drip from the shelf above.  Late at night when the studio is so quiet, there is something primitive about it, like man in a cave with fire.  After so many nights, I’ve developed a relationship with clay.  I’ve watched to see what it can do, and what it wants to be.  Getting to know my kiln, through five hundred firings and four rebuilds, has been educational, too.

I enjoy the pursuit of knowledge and learning by doing.  For the past seven years, I’ve been an artist-in-residence at Tobin Studios.  Gratitude is what I feel, since I’ve had the benefit of learning from two living-masters, Densabourou Oku and Steve Tobin.  (They can still beat me in a game of ping pong.)

Densaburou Oku has taught me about flavor, in terms of a Japanese aesthetic:  wabi sabi, and the beauty of imperfection and evidence of process.  He once said, “Make like sushi.  Don’t touch so much.”

My mentor Steve Tobin has encouraged my career and shown me a bigger picture.  It’s been a wild ride:  Pouring bronze, constructing, and delivering the Trinity Root 9/11 Memorial  to New York City; the night before the installation,  I camped out at Wall Street and Broadway with a military guard about 15 feet away.

Another memorable time was installing a 20-foot painting by Tobin at the OK Harris gallery in New York City.  The gallery was replacing their back doors because they had been vandalized so many times.  My friend John and I got the idea to make a painting with the actual doors, which had just been hauled away as trash.  We chased those doors all the way to Saddle River, New Jersey. I’ve gotten the kind of education that you just can’t buy anywhere.  It’s changed the way I see.

For me, art is language with the capacity to engage people and share what I see. It’s an honest way to make a living. The American Concern for Artistry and Craftsmanship has invited me to participate in their show at Lincoln Center this June.  I’ll be there, selling my porcelain cups and sculpture. Plus, if the modern world falls apart, I can still fire ceramics in kilns.

"My Life in Art"

Art and Soul–Give a Little Bit

“My Life in Art” by Ann Lalik

I  make art because it touches a place in my soul where nothing else can go. I teach and serve as an art administrator because I want to share this passion with others. It is a blessing and a privilege to do what I do.

I was raised in an artistic family, attended community art school from the age of four until I went to college, attended a fine art college for both my BFA and MFA, and then worked at the Baum School of Art for twenty-two years. My point is that, until the age of forty-seven, I always lived and worked with a 100% artistic population (just to clarify, my husband is not a working artist but an artist at heart). Call it sheltered, lucky, or peculiar, but I really didn’t know any other way of life. I didn’t know what it was like to live and work in an atmosphere where art was not the primary focus of everyone’s life, and truthfully, I didn’t often ask myself why I did what I did. It all happened so naturally.

I’ve been talking about this a lot lately because I never thought about how unique my environment was until two years ago when I started on my new path at Penn State Lehigh Valley. I found a wonderful community and a new challenge there. This campus, which had little art to speak of at its small property in Fogelsville, made the celebratory move to Center Valley in 2009. It acquired a building with more than three times the square footage and with that, room for visual art studios and an art gallery. After securing the job of gallery director and arts coordinator, with the charge to initiate the art gallery and art program, I realized why I do what I do.

For one thing, I realized how much I love starting new projects, as I did at the Baum School. But this time it was different because for the first time in my life, I found myself immersed in an organization where ART was not the focus of every person’s existence. Although Ann Williams, the chancellor, gave the gallery and studio a tremendous amount of support, it was hard for me to adjust to the notion that ART was not the primary function of the organization. I had to work with people who were passionate about biology, engineering, and, OMG, football…but not ART.

Why I do what I do? After less than two years of working hard to infuse the arts into the campus, I saw the light. The student-run newspaper now has regular articles about the gallery exhibitions; the Engineering Club is planning to build a piece of equipment for the art students to use; the studio art classes are well received by the students; many of the faculty and administrative staff have provided financial support, research, and equipment to the art gallery; and most of the campus seems to agree that the arts are making the campus a better place. The Lehigh Valley community has embraced the arts at Penn State Lehigh Valley as well and show their support through gallery attendance, continuing education art class enrollment, and financial support.

Advocating for the arts and crafting programs, exhibitions, and studio spaces are exciting to me. Even the more mundane activities, like generating budgets, contracts, and curricula, have all contributed to the rich experience I have been fortunate enough to enjoy in both the community art school and the college arena. I can’t think of anything else I would rather do!

Ann Lalik is Gallery Director and Arts Coordinator at Penn State Lehigh Valley, Center Valley. Prior to this position, she was Director of Educational Programs and Gallery Exhibitions and Executive Director at the Baum School of Art in Allentown.