Corita Kent, New Rules, and the Creative Process

The Olson Gallery’s exhibition of artist Corita Kent’s work provides a teaching resource for student projects.

By Aiyanna Klaphake '20

March 09, 2020 | 10 a.m.

Students in Professor of Art Amanda Hamilton's advanced painting class complete a mural in response to Kent's work.

Students in Professor of Art Amanda Hamilton's advanced painting class complete a mural in response to Kent's work.

For more than 25 years, Bethel’s gallery program has highlighted work by exceptionally high-caliber artists. Even so, there is special excitement around the Olson Gallery’s latest exhibition, which displays serigraphs, or silkscreen prints, by pop artist Corita Kent.

Kent, also known as Sister Mary Corita, was a Roman Catholic nun known for her influential artwork addressing religious and socio-political themes, especially in the 1960s and 70s. But Kent’s influence extends beyond her art. Also a well-loved educator, she eventually headed the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. Equally impressively, she remained a significant advocate for social reform until her death in 1986.

“She led parades and celebratory art experiences, and did a lot of radical protests about social justice,” says Department Chair and Professor of Art Amanda Hamilton, who describes Kent’s work as “big and colorful and exuberant.”

The exhibition of Kent’s work, titled There Should Be New Rules Next Week, references Kent's famous “Rules” for the art department at Immaculate Heart and includes eight serigraphs carefully chosen for the Bethel community. When selecting pieces to include in the exhibition, Gallery Director Michelle Westmark Wingard sought works that reflected Bethel’s values. “One of my favorite Corita quotes in the show is ‘Maybe you can't understand the Psalms without understanding the newspaper and the other way around,’” Westmark says. “This seems so connected to Bethel's core values of being salt and light.”

“This exhibition is an excellent teaching tool...Our students have the opportunity to learn from and live with museum-quality work right here on campus."

— Michelle Westmark Wingard

In the gallery, a cozy reading nook invites visitors to write their own “rules,” and a mural in honor of Kent’s work completes the space. The mural, designed by art and graphic design double-major Josh Eller ’20 and painted by the students in Hamilton’s advanced painting class, features verses from Scripture, bold swaths of color, and the phrase “new recipe, same classic flavor,” which Eller pulled from snack packaging.

“Corita draws these really interesting parallels and tensions between culture and faith by using found text from the world alongside Scripture,” explains Eller. “I thought the phrase was a funny way of expressing that it’s been 50 years [since Kent’s work], but things are still the same in a lot of ways. I also thought it was a nice nod to the idea that a new generation is making work in reference to her.”

Although the mural is temporary, painted onto a false wall to be removed when the exhibition ends, it provides students a much-appreciated opportunity to create a public work in a real-world context. The designer must consider the mural’s site specificity, and in painting, Hamilton’s class must quickly learn to work together while projecting the design, testing images and colors, and finally putting brush to wall.

“The mural teaches collaborative work,” says Hamilton, “and it’s a good chance for me to show students how you dream up, plan for, and execute a public art project.”

Josh Eller '20 prepares to add to the mural.

Josh Eller '20 prepares to add to the mural.

Hamilton isn’t the only professor utilizing the artist’s work to inspire students. Department Chair Jeff Wetzig asked the students in his advanced printmaking class to also complete a project based on Kent’s work.

“There is a lot of excitement about having Corita's work on campus,” Westmark explains. “The opportunities to get involved, be creative, and learn from historically significant work seem to be drawing both art majors and non-art majors alike.”

“Corita Kent is such a giant in the art, design, and art education worlds that I’m absolutely blown away we can even show her work here,” adds Eller. “The way she approaches culture, art as a practice, teaching, collaboration, and faith is honestly an inspiration and a great resource for developing students.”

“This exhibition is an excellent teaching tool,” Westmark agrees. “Our students have the opportunity to learn from and live with museum-quality work right here on campus… The Corita quote, ‘Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make,’ could easily be an art department motto. [Students] are challenged to see the creative process in all they do as connected.”

There Should Be New Rules Next Week will be on view in the Olson Gallery through Sunday, March 29.

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