end of project 2006

The Arts Track

The artists, just before we dismantled our installation & exhibition

Our triptych of paintings completed!

Here's me working on one of our pieces

My Painting Partner, Alana, working on one of our pieces

Jenn, a staff member who works with TransFORM, Crusade's art student ministry.



Look at that stack of Nationals...

The Gay Pride Parade coming through

Cafe Lalo (of "You've Got Mail" fame)

At Cafe Lalo

Cheap hot dogs from the Famous Gray's Papaya

Maya Schaper Cheese and Antiques (This was turned into "The Shop Around the Corner" for the movie You've Got Mail)

Me at the Tenenbaum house

The house used in the movie "The Royal Tenenbaums" (one of my favorite movies)

Tony's De Napoli family style Italian

Pearl Paint Art Supply store. Just take a look at all those pens....

Brooke and me at the Subway


Monday, June 19

This morning we met at the studio and had some more training on communicating the Gospel in conversation. We took stories from Acts and broke them down visually, sketching out different ideas and writing how the Spirit used certain people to tell the Good News. In all of the stories we read, the Lord used people to bring others to Him. He could use any means he wants, but he so often chooses us to do his work. We are the body indeed.

We had a brief break for lunch, and then spent time in our installation groups nailing down our final ideas to present. We each presented our final proposals, with an idea of what materials we will need. It was quite a relief to see the basic plan laid out finally. Of course it will evolve as we go, as most any art does, but it is always good when you have an idea about where you're headed. I'm excited, because I'm going to be able to help with some illustration type work. With some who are more experienced working with me, I'm looking forward to learning new techniques and media.

Final presentations for installation proposals

One thing we will be doing each week is going to Bryant Park on Monday nights for free movies. They show classic movies on a giant screen, and thousands cram in to watch. After the movies, we break them down to see what worldviews, metaphors, and themes it might present. In what we call a "Film Autopsy," we talk about the spiritual things the movie hints at or gets into. This is an attempt to understand pop culture on a deeper level. Part of the hope that the project directors have is that we as believing student artists will seek to engage and transform our culture.

Anyway, the movie tonight was Hitchcock's "The Birds." Few movies have such staying power after so many years, but this one is still pretty freaky. It was cool to watch a movie with a couple thousand people.

The flock of people gathering for the movie

Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"


Sunday, June 18

Some of our staff that live here are part of a Crusade ministry called Transform, which is focuses on creative students. They have partnerships with city churches that are especially supportive of the Arts, and they gave us a list to choose from. We will be going to these churches for the rest of the time here, and hopefully there will be a stronger connection between them and the ministry when we leave. I went to The Neighborhood Church, which is in a tiny storefront on Bleecker St. in the Village. The meeting room/sanctuary serves also as gallery space, where there are changing exhibitions. I was fortunate to be there on the last day of a show by an illustrator whose work has been on the covers of Time, Mad Magazine, the Village Voice, and others. Pretty neat stuff. The music was mainly hymns, and they were played on guitar, mandolin, viola, and cello! It was beautiful. Before going to seminary, the pastor was an actor, and he has incredibly good diction. His preaching style is somewhat professorly, and is a bit of what I might imagine an 18th century New England parson to sound like. We shared the Lord's table at the end (They even had little cups with wine for those who prefer traditional communion).

The musicians tuning up at church.

...And He rested on the Seventh day from all the work He had done...

After church was nap time or else. I was about beaten from the last few days.

When I woke up in the evening, I made a sandwich and got creative with some laundry detergent and the bathtub. The price of washing clothes in a laundromat here...highway robbery.

Saturday, June 17

The staff let us have Saturday to relax or do whatever we wanted. Relaxing is no fun, but museums are! So a group of us met and took the train up to the Museum of Modern Art. My mentor, Jimmy, met us there. He works at an art college in the City, and is able to get friends in for free. We started at the top, and worked our way down. I was thrilled to see in person works of art that I have seen in books since kindergarten. It is true, paintings do look different in person. You can see so much more, and it makes it so personal to see the tiny cracks and strokes. I was close to breaking into song and dance when I saw Edward Hopper's paintings and Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World." I also got to know Jimmy some as we browsed through Warhol's soup cans, some of the great Picasso works, Monet's "Water Lillies," and Mondrian's minimalist paintings.

The boys on the train, MoMA bound.

Carolyn and me with Van Gogh's "Starry Night" (!!!)

Me with a great big Jackson Pollock.

Jimmy the animator.

After over 3 hours in the MoMA, we had some lunch at a really cool (and cheap) little Italian place, complete with an outdoor courtyard. When we finished our penne, we headed for another museum. On the way we stopped by Trump Tower and Tiffany's. That's just how we roll.

Trump Tower (Perhaps the most gaudy looking place I've ever seen, well...except for those Gyspy houses in Georgia)

We spent a couple of hours looking at the Dahesh Museum, which my illustration professor told me about. It is home to works done in the style of the French Academy. There are many paintings with religious subject matter. All of the work there is incredible. It was a very different kind of experience from that at the MoMA, which is full of art from the 20th century, when there was more of an "anything goes" attitude in the art world. This collection is made up of works done by master painters, many of whom could sculpt as beautifully as they could paint. It was enlightening and inspiring to be there.

Later in the evening, Cinelle, Puc, Megan, and I went down to Greenwich Village for supper. Since we like to live life on the edge, we decided to have dessert first. The Magnolia Bakery is famous for their cupcakes. The line wrapped around the corner outside, it is quite a popular place. The icing itself (homemade, of course) was incredible!

Cinelle with her Magnolia Bakery Cupcake.

Having finished our dessert, it was on to supper. It was very neat to walk through the West Village on a Saturday night. Although a lot of it has changed in the last couple of decades, it still has a very Bohemian feel to it. We decided on Meskerem's Ethiopian Cuisine, on McDougal Street. Everyone odered, and they brought it out on a giant platter. With Ethiopian food, you go at it family style. Good thing we all loved one another. No forks or other utensils. Hands only. On the side, there was injera, a sour spongy crepe-like bread made of teff (a cereal grain native to northern Africa). We used it to grab some of the other things on the platter. There was lamb, pan-cooked with butter and herbs, beef, vegetables, and the most amazing collard greens. We all enjoyed it, and it was one of the most interesting dining experiences I've ever had.

Inside Meskerem's Ethiopian Cuisine

Our meal

Looking north on McDougal

On the train headed back to my bed...

Friday, June 16

For breakfast, I met one of our directors, Matt, at Jimmy's cafe next door. He worked as a medical illustrator for years, and then came on staff with Crusade. As it has been with several people on this trip, it was encouraging to hear about his experiences as a professional artist (especially an illustrator).

We met the others at the studio after breakfast, and were broken into the groups that we will be working with on the installation. After hearing our pitches for the exhibition, the staff worked on getting us into groups of people that they felt would work well together. We spent the whole afternoon combining our ideas and deciding what our group was going to do. At the end of the day, we all came back together and shared sketches and told what our group was starting on. Each group will work on a section of the installation, but we will regularly meet and critique to ensure that the installation is unified in concept and execution.

Sketches and ideas from each group being presented

When we were finished, we all left to meet our dinner groups. We meet each week with a group of students from each track. It gives us an opportunity to connect and find out what everyone is working on. Our group met at Junior's in Times Square. Junior's is famous for Cheesecake, and their burgers ain't bad either. At dinner, a girl from the Campus Track showed us pictures of Toby McGuire and the crew of Spiderman 3, which is filming all over the city this summer (Cool!) We went to the Times Square Toys R Us afterwards. This place is incredible. Each section of toys has amazing decorations. The Barbie Section is a giant dollhouse, There is a section with skyscrapers made of legos, and things like that. My favorite was the action figure area where there is a life-sized animatronic T-Rex, and decoration insipired by Jurassic Park. Needless to say, I was pretty pumped.

Cheesecake at Junior's

T-Rex at Toys R Us

A group of us got together at the King's College lounge in the Empire State Building to watch "You've Got Mail." Perhaps next weekend we will go to the Upper West Side and visit where it was filmed. After hanging out on the roof of the apartment with friends, it was off to bed at a very late/early hour.

Watching a movie in the Empire State Building


Thursday, June 15

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we go out to campuses and areas where there are many college-age people. Today my group went to Washington Square Park, which is in Greenwich Village next to New York University. We did some more image surveys and had some long discussions with a few people. While we were there, we grabbed some lunch on McDougal (Where Bob Dylan lived for a spell in the sixties). It was Indian food from the Kati Roll Company. It was quite tasty. We had chicken tikka rolls, which have grilled marinated chicken rolled up in wok-griddled paratha bread.

Peter, Me, Jaymee, and Sarah at Washington Square


Sarah and Jaymee doing a survey

Later in the afternoon, we returned to the studio to do some sketching and discussion. We did this into the evening, and then had dinner together at the studio. After dinner, we had a t-shirt design meeting. I'm on a small committee that is working on a t-shirt for the whole project. Then a few stayed behind and we sang and played until around midnight.

One of the project directors, Matt Guilford, doing some sketches.

Malinda, one of our staff leaders, learning her way around the banjo.

Wednesday, June 14

I met Peter and Eric, another student, at Jimmy's cafe for breakfast. We discussed a variety of topics over coffee, a cappuccino muffin, and some bacon.

It was on to the studio then, and time to share our ideas for the installation. We went around the circle, and everyone gave a "pitch," or their idea. Some had fairly detailed plans of how it might look, and some of us had more thematic thoughts. It was kind of interesting to see how similar many of the ideas were. We will take everything into consideration and begin to nail down the plan.

After a lengthy discussion about ideas, we had a break for a birthday celebration for one in our group. My group got to mop the studio today, so we completed that, and headed for dinner.

The Arts Track on an ice cream break

The entire project met at King's College (which is housed in the bottom of the Empire State building) and had dinner. Mass quantities of Chinese food, mmm. We worshipped and had some speaking on a life filled by the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost seems to be short-changed when it comes to conversation on God. We hear plenty about the Father and the Son, but I always find it interesting to hear more on the Spirit.

The speaker, Chad, used a pretty interesting analogy about the Spirit living in us. He took out a glass of milk and poured in some chocolate (When we receive Christ, the Spirit enters - John 7:37-39, John 14:16-17). The chocolate settled to the bottom. So the chocolate was in it, but it still looked the same on the surface (We have the Spirit, but we continue trying to be in control of our lives - Galatians 3:3, Galatians 5:17, 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Then he stirred the chocolate into the milk, making it look, taste, and smell different [When we surrender to the Spirit, we yield to the will of the Lord, and we're made into something more beautiful - and more powerful - than we started as (Galatians 5:16, 25, Galatians 5:22-23)].

[The Chocolate Milk Anaolgy]

One thing that's kind of funny about all of this is that it is not a list of suggestions. The Scriptures don't present this concept of being filled with the Spirit as "10 steps to better living," or, "Try this and your life will be easier." We're commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Also, we're promised that if we ask for it, we can have it (1 John 5:14-15). When we step out of our desensitized western mindset for a moment and try to imagine the Spirit of the Creator living inside of us, it is a fairly fascinating idea. If we can take it a step further, and have the faith to believe it, we get a power that the rest of humanity can't understand (Ephesians 3:16-17). Now, going back to the chocolate milk analogy, you'll know if you've ever made some chocolate milk and left it for a while that the chocolate will collect at the bottom again after time. We're fickle creatures and we must continue this process, surrendering daily.


Chinese Banjos And The Art of Survey Conduction (sounds like a book)

In the morning, we met at NYCAMS and were divided into pairs to go to campuses and college areas all over the city. I went down to Union Square with Peter, who is discipling me. The purpose of our campus visits was to do some more of the surveys that we did at home. These surveys have 50 images that you look at and answer questions. Some of the questions are:
"Which images represent your life and why?"
"What images represent what the spiritual dimension has to offer?"
"Which ones describe God?"
The pictures are varied, including things like doorways, winding roads, money, and family, and many others. The surveys are a fun, non-confrontational way of getting people into discussions on matters of the heart.

Union Square Park

The first guy we met was on a blanket in the park, and he agreed to do one. Soon, a few others trickled (or wandered) up and settled on the ground. Some of them were clearly dealing with substance abuse (which usually makes for pretty interesting spiritual talk anyway, however incoherent it may be). Another guy came up and wanted to know what we were doing. We told him that we were artists trying to get ideas for a collaborative work, and he said, "Oh ok, as long as it's not religious material." (Ha.) He asked us if he could do one too, so he started with his. He was very open with all of his answers and we had a really long talk about all manner of things - art, laundry, the DaVinci Code, the current affairs of the Anglican church, and the Gospel. He told us he was looking for what he wanted to believe in, and was reading up on many different things. He also mentioned that he recently decided to go to church for the first time in over a decade. It is good to know that it is not us in control. It was obvious that the Spirit has been working in his heart for some time now. When we were getting ready to go to lunch, he thanked us for "The most intelligent conversation I've had in weeks," which earned him a middle finger and a dirty look from his lethargic girlfriend. We exchanged e-mails and he said he wanted to come to our show when it opens.

Several of us exchanged contact information with people that we met today (including a really nice guy named Mojo). The other tracks of the project are also getting into similar conversations. My roommate got an e-mail from a person he did a survey with today. People are searching, and we're being given opportunities to show them the answer.

Late afternoon, we had some free time. If you were reading a few posts ago, I said something about "Sleep can come later, there's a city to see..." Later was this afternoon. A nap, friends, is a many splendored thing.

In the evening, the museums along the northeast side of Central Park, known as museum mile, had the annual Museum Mile Festival. All of the museums are free and open to the public, and there is a plethora of street performers. My heart nearly skipped a beat when I heard a the twangy acoustic sound of strings being plucked over a skin-covered rim. I thought I was hearing a gourd banjo or (even better) a West African instrument like the Akonting or the Ngoni. Nope, neither, it was the Sanxiam, a Chinese folk lute that it very similar to many Banjo-like instruments.

Museum Mile Festival in front of the Metropolitan Museum

Sanxiam player on Fifth Avenue

All of the museums were packed outside, but we decided on the Guggenheim, which is usually pretty pricey, and one that we might not see if it were not free. It is pretty cool when you get to see works by Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Vasily Kandinsky, and others for free. Oh yeah, it also happens to be housed in one of the coolest buildings in New York, designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. Sweet.

Rotunda of the Guggenheim (this picture does not do any kind of justice)


Monday, June 12

The group with Chris Anderson in her studio

On this the 12th of June, we met as a group in front of our building to walk together to an artist's studio. Her name was Chris Anderson. Her studio was very nice, but very small. Chris is another believing artist making it in the secular art world. She has been a professor at several universities, and is a painter. You can see some of her work at www.chrisandersonart.com. She gave us a lot of good teaching, enough to keep me rapidly writing the whole time. I'll try to outline some of it.

Our artwork must be based on the standard that does not change. The two most important things that she said to remember are that (1.) The Lord (or the Great Artist, as she says) loves me, and (2.) He is Sovereign.
One of my peers asked her the "big question" among art students, "What about making a living?" In a very rabbinical style, reminiscent of the way Christ often conversed, she posed another question in response. "What is God calling me to do?" We must do what we're called to do. "If you've been called to do something that you don't pursue, it will haunt you," she said. I immediately thought of Jonah. He tried something else and I'd say it haunted him. Our living must be what we're called to do. The word "vocation" comes from the Latin "vocationem," which literally means "Calling." Chris pointed out that many fine artists have a "tentmaking job," or an alternate area of income. One thing she warned against was changing our standards for the purpose of being liked or selling art. Also, she said it is important that artists not "dumb down" or simplify their work just for everyone to "get it." Christians in the arts, she said, should be about bringing up the church, and not lowering standards to stay in the same place.

In regards to working in the secular world, her first advice was to do everything unto the Lord, with our very best effort, and to be excellent. After all, he is greatly to be praised. When we seek excellence, it is also more likely we will succeed. "In the art world, you must EARN your right to communicate." We have to be good. In response to the tendency of believing artists to do all of their work for other believers, she said Christians ought to be where the action is. If we are serious artists, we will be invited into inner sanctums of communities that a pastor or other Christian might never see. In addition, if we really consider the Scriptures to be true, then we know that as believers we have the very Spirit of the Creator with us (that means we're powerful!) As Chris said, "You can't see the leopard in the jungle but you better know he's there." In the often dark world of modern visual art, the Christians may not be painting praying hands and pictures of Jesus, but they are there offering an answer. "That Leopard," Chris said, "should not be caged." We're not given our talents to only serve the church.

She left us with some final points:
-Be Excellent
-Be Honest with your message
-Everything in life is not beautiful, so don't pretend that it is.
-Every character is not converted before the curtain falls. There is pain and death, do not ignore it.
Hold true to the course you've been set on, and don't give up your values. They will try to offer you the world, but don't buy it.

After talking with Chris for a while, my friend and I headed back South toward NYCAMS. We walked the 14 blocks down, and picked up some lamb and rice from a street grill. It was quite satisfying. The afternoon was spent with all of the art students and staff, sharing our portfolios and talking about our experiences as young artists. We have photographers, painters, sculptors, fashion designers, graphic designers, video/cinematographers, and some who are just getting their feet wet. I see now that our collaborative work will have so many areas of expertise to draw from. I am in the midst of a talented group of folks.

The group viewing a portfolio slide show

In the Arts track, there are almost enough staff to be one for each student. We all have a staff person who will be discipling us. We'll be spending time together getting dinner, hanging out, studying the Scriptures, and things like that. Tonight, I had dinner with my discipler, Peter. He is from New Mexico and is a film artist. He does a lot of promotional work for Campus Crusade. The two of us, along with Matt who is one of the project directors (he has worked in medical illustration), had some Italian. We had an incredibly refreshing conversation about our art and faith. Matt scribbled out this outline to describe the difference between the believing (regenerate) artist as opposed to the non-regenerate artist:

The illustration on the left shows a relationship between the artist, the art, and the viewer, where the art is the highest possible thing. Since all of our art is ulimately a response to Creation, what is the point? God is conveniently placed outside of the equation. The only reason he shows up is because, whether the artist likes it or not, his creativity comes from the Creator. The second illustration shows a dialogue about the art between the Creator, the artist, and the viewer. The art is a a means for all three to connect with each other. The art is not an end-all, but a place for a dialogue to begin. (If this makes no sense, sorry, it did on the napkin)

This was only part of one of the deepest dinner conversations I've had in...well, a few days. Following that, it was up to the roof for some much needed time with the banjo and the view of the Empire State buiding, which was lit up in green, blue, and yellow tonight.