11 Jul 2008

sister corita

cover image of "Learning by Heart" by Corita Kent and Jon Steward

cover image of "Learning by Heart" by Corita Kent and Jon Steward

On Wednesday, I attended a private, small-group tour of the Corita Art Center here in Los Angeles. I left the talk and tour incredibly inspired.

Certainly I had seen and read all the blog entries and news articles that made the rounds during the Corita exhibition at the Hammer and with the publishing of Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita. Last fall, I had asked my Seniors to read and consider her "rules":

From this barrage of general interest, I felt like I had a surface understanding of her life and her work.

However, the tour given by Director Sasha Carrera and my colleague Juliette Bellocq, deepened my appreciation for Corita as more than an image-maker and "activist artist." As a budding educator, I could not ignore Corita's gift for teaching and not only hear her advice, but feel it. She challenged her students to see in new and different ways, demanded hard work and dedication to a creative life.

Juliette passed around her copy of Learning by Heart: Teachings To Free The Creative Spirit which contains classroom exercises to train one's eyes. Corita saw it as giving her students "the gift of wanting to see." Others remind me of Fluxus compositions or instructions, like in Yoko Ono's Grapefruit. Juliette mentioned a reading exercise that asks you to read a text, as slow as possible, in the same place at the same time day after day. The idea is that eventually you would begin to hear the words differently and the words could become image or sound strange or mean something new. Another was to have students watch two Eames films simultaneously or watch one with a different soundtrack, then push students to have a conversation that would lead them astray, to expand or pull out something new from the films because of the resulting juxtapositions.

The same kind of juxtaposition we see in Corita's own work, like when she places Beatles lyrics near scripture near advertising copy. From here come her "new meanings."