Fine Arts Seminar (Houghton College)

thinking critically and building community around art and design

Jordan Darby

Not being a graphic designer myself,many of the programs or processes used in graphic design are unfamiliar to me, but I am a Christian and I do understand the desire to make a difference in the world through my art.

Jordan’s talk in Fine Arts Seminar, though based in a medium with which I have no experience, resonated with me. In the past year, I have come to understand my work as a tool that I’ve been given, as is my liberal arts education, and it is my job description as a Christian to use the tools I’ve been given to show people Christ.

Jordan uses his graphic designs to make confrontational pieces of art that deal with symbolism in order to start conversations. These pieces are powerful partially because of their use of symbolism. In our culture, symbols are everywhere and loaded with meaning. Logos and brands are kinds of symbols which embody whole worldviews and broadcast those worldviews from the product. Jordan hopes that these confrontational pieces spark conversations with people so that he can have a discussion with them about ideas and beliefs. Making the pieces to be confrontational is his personal shortcut to real talks about real beliefs.

These conversations are often uncomfortable but he says that it is important as an artist to be perpetually uncomfortable. It is one of the best ways to grow because it challenges and strengths a person’s beliefs and ideas.

Confrontations are not everyone’s strong point, but it seems that Jordan thrives on it and as a Christian no less. This is something that we do not see much of in the modern art world. Christian artwork has a bad reputation for a good reason. Much of the art is culturally biased and not tasteful. Christians should be stepping up to the plate in the art world and offering an authentic personal experience that is backed with truth. Jordan said after class that he would rather see a horror movie than some degenerate, poor-quality Christian movie. At least the horror movie is honest in its portrayal of horror. The christian movie is selling a lie of perpetual happiness and being untrue to the reality that people face everyday.

All in all, having Jordan Darby here as the visiting artist has been encouraging to me as a Christian art student. In my three years at Houghton, he is the first visiting artist that I can remember who has openly declared that he is a follower of Christ.

Adam Bell

Adam Bell’s photographic work focuses primarily on the evidence of humanity. It’s more conceptual than visually stunning, more thought-provoking than awe-inspiring. Certainly, they’re more interesting with a story behind them. Vacation Properties and Night Houses are two eerie photo series focusing on homes in the dark. Vacation Properties catalogues the modest vacation homes near Bell’s home in New Jersey, photographed silent and empty in the late autumn. The photos were taken in the dead of night, on black and white film, silent pale specters washed out by the force of the camera flash. (During the making of this series, Bell repeatedly got the cops called on him by concerned neighbors who noticed the lone figure on the nearly-empty streets taking pictures of the empty houses like the world’s least stealthy potential burglar.)

Night Houses has a similar theme, appearing at first as a series of black empty photographs until one gets closer and notices the faintly brighter area behind the houses, revealing the majority of the image as the dark silhouette of houses only noticeable against the slightly lighter darkness of the night sky. The series has a quiet, contemplative feel to it, almost eerie.

Hollow Earth is all about caves, specifically commercial caves, but not the parts that show up on the brochures. The series focuses on the layers of soot-graffiti on the cave ceilings, the plywood-blocked openings, the metal handrails attached directly to the living rock–silent evidence of the humanity changing the landscape around them.

He also does a significant amount of writing, both as a means of a living and as a way to stay connected. He writes a lot of reviews and has co authored two books.

-Anna Walker

Katarina Riesling

Katarina Riesling’s work is haunting, consisting primarily of the human figure robbed of its context and thus given new meaning. Her work is inspired heavily by things like medical textbook illustrations and police sketch artists. She works in many different mediums, from video to photography to painting and drawing to silkscreen.

Much of her work is an exploration of identity, often explored in marked-up photographs. One of her projects involved asking strangers, as well as her parents, to describe her like they’d describe a stranger to a police sketch artist. She compiled these into a video. For the video of her parents, she combined it with a video of herself lip synching her parent’s descriptions juxtaposed with other images of herself from varying angles, edited with greenscreen.

A lot of her art deals with parts of the human form, but removed from context, like medical illustrations. She makes collages of disembodied hands and fingers or nothing but eyes. She uses herself for her inspiration and her model, bizarre self-portrait twisted into something unrecognizable. The overall effect is both fascinating and eerie.

-Anna Walker

Adam Bell

I was very glad that Adam Bell came and presented to the class. His insight into the art world is extremely beneficial to hear from, mainly coming from his struggle as an artist that is trying to build their portfolio outside of schooling.

I know that Adam said that he did not really like his series called “Resemblant”, but these pieces were the ones that spoke to me the most mainly because of the way that he was able to capture his models faces in a way that were intriguing and that the emotion was obvious. I loved that he was able to allow the work to create meaning in itself. He did not give the impression that there was a trajectory for this series and that it basically created itself.

I was not however very interested or impressed by his cave series. I did not really enjoy the monotony of the colors that he used or the subject matter. All of it just seemed to be very blah. It was ok, but I feel like he should have pushed it further. I think making a book was the best way he could have taken this series and project.

Maggie Reynolds

Jordan Darby: Christian Graphic Designer in a Post-Ironic World

Jordan Darby is a graphic designer who has degrees from both Christian and secular American universities. This gives him a uniquely well-informed perspective on the cross-section between American culture, the Christian faith, and graphic design. I found his commentary on our culture and times fascinating, and resonated with much of what he had to say about art, faith, and politics. As Darby began his talk, he began to deconstruct graphic design: why he does it, what it is, and what he thinks it should be. I appreciated his reminders that graphic design does not have to be digital; it doesn’t have to be commercial either, or look the same as popular design work. In his own work, Darby demonstrated how powerful and effective graphic design work can be when it is open-ended, approachable, and intentionally more meaningful to non-educated and/or working class people. In so doing, Darby has found that he has more opportunities to share his faith in Jesus Christ. As someone who is working through the relationship between design and Christianity, I appreciated this integration of the two. Though I am not a huge fan of Darby’s visual aesthetic, I greatly appreciate his thoughts on how to approach design.

From there, Darby went on to describe his theory of American culture today: that it is post-ironic, and what that means. I found his example of protest photography powerful and effective. In the example, Darby pointed out how photographs of protests used to be simply depictive, showing and telling the fact that people are protesting. In contrast, people today now take smiling selfies with protests in the background. In an ironic world, this could tell a convicting narrative about how insane it is to keep smiling while violent protests go on all around us. In today’s post-ironic world, though, these selfies are only taken and shared to gain social capital. Darby hit the nail on the head as he described today’s satire as a means to be cynical as a means to be liked.

With this honest and real description of our times in mind, Darby exhorted us to remain cognizant of world events and contemporary ideas. “If you don’t stay culturally aware, you can’t make relevant artwork,” He said. Possibly more than any visiting artist in my time at Houghton, Jordan Darby has motivated me to keep struggling to make graphic design relevant, important, and inspired by my faith.

-Michael Carpenter ‘17

D. Chase Angier

D. Chase Angier is a choreographer and professor at Alfred University. Her art is an interesting mix of performance, dance, and installation. The first of two works that Angier discussed with us was her “Framed” series. In it, she uses a large-scale frame and a set of lawn chairs to give a small audience an opportunity to view and concentrate on a specific view of a specific place for up to a few hours. This work showed a surprising depth of concept, as it explored the ideas of time, the feeling of home, and what art can be.

Angier’s second piece was even deeper, though, in many ways, and focused on enactments by dancers and performance artists. Performance is my favorite type of art I’ve never done, and I loved the ways this work incorporated multiple types of performance. As various performers interacted with piles and piles of rice, viewers were encouraged to think about their relationships to the world and their place in our world’s economic structures, among many other things. Angier’s pieces are clearly thoughtful, captivatingly beautiful, and appropriately contemporary. D. Chase Angier is fantastic in demeanor, personality, and creativity, and I hope to be able to incorporate aspects of performance and installation in my future work.

-Michael Carpenter ‘17

Adam Bell

His vacation house photos were very illuminating and ghostly images. The photographs captured this cold unwelcoming feeling to a place that usually brings comfort and relaxation. Bell used a flash on his camera to create these black and white photos, and this was part of the reason the photos seemed so ghostly. The process of making these photos was a big part of what makes this piece whole to the viewer. When staying at a vacation house it can be easy to concentrate on the location and beauty of the surroundings. It is easy sometimes for a person to look over the “not so beautiful”, and look at the “beautiful” because it is pleasing to the eye, and this is what he seemed to be striving for in his artwork . Adam Bell’s talk was enjoyable, yet he only touched the surface of the meaning behind his art.

– Rachel Rava