Thursday, September 27, 2007

No more starving artists

Jerry Yoshitomi teaches artists to be entrepreneurs at the Arroyo Artists Collective

A common complaint from artists is that progressive spiritual art attracts big crowds, but doesn’t sell well.

Painting the queer Christ is considered the biggest financial sacrifice of all.

I challenged the popular wisdom and found inspiring new solutions by attending an “Entrepreneurial Artists” workshop by arts consultant Jerry Yoshitomi last week.

Yoshitomi believes that all art adds value to society, so he teaches people like me how to make their artistic visions real by increasing income and audience.

He got the whole group of 30 people to brainstorm about how to transform this very blog into a powerhouse that supports progressive spiritual art globally by building on the successes of my website JesusInLove.org, my book Art That Dares and the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art.

I told the group my dream of sponsoring a big progressive spiritual art contest with a prestigious judge and winners displayed online, in a book, and in a U.S. gallery tour—and they can up with practical steps to make it happen.

“You’ve got the vision and you’re doing the work. Money is the easy part,” Yoshitomi said at one point.

It was a personal breakthrough for me.

“Make it easy for people to give you money,” Yoshitomi advised.

He recommended using chipin.com. On that note, I set up a chipin.com account (see below) to collect funds for a huge mailing that we are doing to 800 art and religion professors who expressed interest in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. AndroGyne Press designed the flier and is sharing the costs, but my portion is $450. Please use the chipin.com button below to help with a donation.

The workshop was sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective, an amazing arts group that happens to be based in my part of Los Angeles. A group of strangers became a mini-community at the workshop as we took turns brainstorming about each other’s art projects. We generated enormous enthusiasm as we encouraged each other in all our diversity-- a flamenco dance teacher, a woman who does cigar art, a painter of family portraits, a man who wants to do animated films, and of course me, the lesbian Christian author.

Before the workshop I was planning and dreaming (and sometimes worrying) about how get the resources to go to the next level with Jesus in Love. I believe that re-envisioning the sacred is one of the most important tasks of our time. I had faith that God’s abundance was out there with more than enough funds to meet the need, but I couldn’t imagine how to access it.

The key is to get your audience to think about and express the value that your art adds to their lives. Let me say here and now that the Entrepreneurial Artists workshop gave me motivation and practical steps to make my artistic dreams come true. Some attendees grumbled that Yoshitomi’s approach minimized the purpose of art by packaging it like detergent to sell to a specific demographic. Perhaps this proves his point that audiences are not uniform, but are comprised of subsets of people with differing needs.

Yoshitomi is lead consultant on information and network strategies for LINC (Leveraging Investments in Creativity), a national initiative to improve the lives of artists. In the workshop he taught marketing theory with examples from museums and corporations. But his greatest gift was creating a sense of community and vision that empowered us to see that the resources we need are already within our grasp.

I’ll be presenting more specific ways to join the vision of promoting spiritual progressive art in the future.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Censored Christ Mother appears at last


Christ Mother by Janet McKenzie © 2002

Artist Janet McKenzie is world-famous for her sacred art, but her most daring female Christ has rarely been seen until now.

McKenzie’s controversial Christ Mother painting is included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. The book contains color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe.

McKenzie is best known for painting the androgynous black Jesus of the People, which appears on the cover of Art That Dares. The famous painting was chosen by Sister Wendy of PBS to represent Christ in a contest sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter. The resulting controversy brought bomb threats and hate mail to McKenzie’s secluded Vermont studio.

Undaunted, McKenzie followed up with an even more challenging work—a nude female Christ that has largely been censored by the gatekeepers who decide what gets exhibited. Called Christ Mother, it is a towering, gritty, and majestic painting of a naked woman bound in a crucifixion pose.

“Sometimes ‘controversial’ art simply comes forward, like it or not. It is like a scream; you are doing it before you realize you are,” McKenzie recalls in Art That Dares.

In the book, McKenzie describes the opposition to Christ Mother and explains why she painted a female Christ. “She is the feminine aspect of Jesus, mother to us all, and to my mind, she is undeniable,” McKenzie says. Christ Mother is in the act of being crucified, yet she stands with strength, in acceptance, although bound. Her body glows with life but also reflects the coming hereafter.”

I interviewed McKenzie from afar for Art That Dares, but I didn’t get to meet her in person until we both converged on Taos recently for the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art, where McKenzie was one of the top-selling artists.

I was touched by McKenzie’s sincere joy at seeing me with my mother in Taos. A highlight of our time together was when she took a photo of me with my mom. McKenzie is known for paying homage to the female figure, a commitment that she attributes to the loss of her mother and grandmother at an early point in her life.

Other female Christ figures in Art That Dares include Edwina Sandys’ famous bronze crucifix Christa.

I believe that re-envisioning Christ is one of the most important tasks of our time. The new images are much needed now because Christian rhetoric is used to justify discrimination against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (lgbt) people.

In Art That Dares, the book’s 11 artists all tell the stories behind their controversial images, including censorship, violence, death threats and vandalism that destroyed their work. A lively introduction puts the art into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom.

Author Kittredge Cherry, left, with artist Janet McKenzie

Friday, September 14, 2007

What is queer spirituality?



I created this blog as a place to discuss queer spirituality and the arts. I realized that more explanation was needed when I got an email from a straight ally saying:

I understand, a little bit, the current need to have, for instance, “queer spirituality.” But I want to say that every time I am faced with that “Keep out” sign (your blog's description means it's not for me), it makes it harder to feel like I can be in loving community with gays.

This comment inspired me to add the phrase “open to all” to this blog’s header.

Queer spirituality is indeed the focus of this blog and my website JesusInLove.org, but I always intended to welcome ANYONE to engage the subject, including straight people. It’s sort of like how I as a white woman was interested in African American literature and took a class where I was welcome to read and discuss it. Actually the word "queer" is considered to be relatively inclusive.

While “lesbian” and “gay” have specific meanings, almost anyone who feels different can identify as “queer.” The Wikipedia has an elaborate definition of queer that includes “asexual and autosexual people as well as well as gender normative heterosexuals whose sexual orientations or activities place them outside the heterosexual-defined mainstream.”

The use of the word “queer” has changed a lot in recent years, as I wrote in my coming-out guide, Hide and Speak. Here’s an excerpt:

The word “queer,” once a terrible insult, was reclaimed for popular use. The process began in 1990 when activists founded Queer Nation to force people to confront their homophobia. The group caused controversy even in the LGBT community by using such radical tactics as “outing” closeted public figures, staging public kiss-ins and using the in-your-face slogan, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” Queers became so acceptable that universities started offering degrees in the new field of “queer studies.” In 2003, the term got the ultimate stamp of mass-market approval when a TV series called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” became a surprise hit.

One thing that’s queer about queer spirituality is that it defies definition. Spirituality is about personal faith, in contrast to the more institutional approach of religion. In my view, queer spirituality is an alternative to mainstream religion, rooted in the personal experience of LGBT people and anyone else who identifies as “queer.”

Anyway, you don’t even have to feel queer at all to read and make comments on this blog.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Exploring Jesus the Bisexual


Saying Goodbye to John and Mary by Peter Grahame

Jesus Christ was human, so he must have had sexual feelings, but maybe he was so enlightened that his attractions were not limited to a single gender.

The bisexuality of Jesus is a new subject being explored by a variety of artists and authors. For example, I wrote about it in my novel, Jesus in Love, and photographer Peter Grahame explores it in his photo montage Saying Goodbye to John and Mary.

Jesus, John and Mary embrace in a naked trio with bread and chalice in the foreground of Grahame’s richly symbolic image. A future scene appears in the background, where Jesus rises while Mary carries a child of light and flowers multiply around John.

In the text accompanying the image, Grahame writes:
“The night before he was to die, after his last supper with the twelve and
before going to the garden's hilltop to pray, Jesus expressed his deepest most
profound Love to Mary and to John, the two he loved more than his own soul.
And Mary brought forth his daughter.
And John brought forth his word.”
Grahame contacted me from his studio in New Mexico after he discovered Jesus in Love, my fictional autobiography of a bisexual Jesus. “You make Jesus seem like some sweet guy I just met!” Grahame wrote to me while he was reading the novel.

I felt an immediate kinship with Grahame’s art. His specialty is “transformational, iconographic” male nude photos. He has compiled many of them into a beautiful book called Contemplations of the Heart: A Book of Male Spirit. It’s a gem with poetic text, glossy pages and a wide variety of male nudes all set in a spiritual context.

Although it was created as a gay men’s meditation book, Contemplations of the Heart also moved and inspired me, a lesbian. I was caught off-guard by the appealing, authentic and spiritual qualities of the photos. I've often thought that women’s bodies are objectified in western culture, but this book made me see that men have been subjected to equally strange misrepresentations in pornography and popular culture. Grahame’s nudes are a relief and a blessing.

“The book is about self image, and its intention is to help alleviate self hatred and internalized homophobia,” Grahame says. “The images are sensuous but not overly erotic and present guys of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages (all over 18.)”

Contemplations of the Heart began as a couple of hand-bound volumes that Grahame passed around to men on gay retreats, straight retreats and even at a Native people’s ceremony where it was blessed by a two-spirit elder. Their encouragement led to publication in its current hardcover form. Now Grahame is working on his next book, which will focus on queer spirit archetypes and further explore the sacred feminine.

Grahame lets viewers figure out his symbolism for themselves, but he did offer this reflection on his bisexual Jesus image: “In the back Jesus ascends to ever-new adventures in the cosmos, leaving his legacy behind... as each and every one of us will also do... what will our spiritual legacy be? It’s up to each of us.”

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Click here for more of Peter Grahame’s work at the Jesus in Love Blog.