Welcome to Artists' Work B.e.n.c.h. for July, 2009

Welcome to the e-magazine/blog for Artists' Work B.e.n.c.h., the Inland Empire's Christian fine arts organization! We hope you will find this to be a useful, enjoyable and worthwhile resource. Here are the newest items in the blog. Just click on the titles to go to the articles:

July Cafe

Poetry Corner: A Nation's Strength

Christian Songwriters' Showcase Has a New Home

Third Quarter Bookclub Selection

Fine Arts Bible Study 9

July Happenings: Artistic Events around the Inland Empire

Artist Profile: Rev. Howard Finster

Master Class: Writing Good Poetry

Songs About Unemployment

So, brew a cup of coffee, herbal tea, or whatever you like, and stay a while. This page will be updated monthly with new articles and interviews. Enjoy!You are part of a growing group.

What is Artists' Work B.e.n.c.h? This is a place for Christian artists in the Inland Empire of Southern California to mix, network, relax, share, and learn. What types of Christian artists?

1. Visual arts (sculpture, painting, glass blowing, etc.)
2. Dance (performing, choreography, etc. )
3. Music (playing, writing, learning, singing, etc.)
4. Creative writing (poetry, stories, etc.)
5. Drama/theater (acting, playwriting, directing, etc.)
6. ??????

Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. is for Christian artists: simply, people who are Christians and who are also artists. Some Christian artists make art exclusively for Christians, but many use their talents in secular ways as well (writing screenplays for television, jingles, playing in a philharmonic orchestra, acting in a community theater, displaying their paintings in a gallery, etc.) All are welcome here.

Christians follow the Creator of the Universe, and therefore should be the most creative people in the world. The church has historically been the patron of great artists. Hildegard, the writer of the very first opera, was a nun. Michelangelo, Donatello, Edward Hicks, and many others made art for church and used church subjects.

But, today, Christian art is not considered "forward" or "interesting" in many circles. This reputation is well-deserved in most cases. Christian art has become a punchline. In our own little way we hope to change some of that perception.

What does Artist's Work B.e.n.c.h. stand for?

B=BUILD new Christian artists, ministries, avenues.

E=ENCOURAGE Christian artists to use their talents.

N=NETWORK with Christian artists, churches.

C=COORDINATE opportunities for Christian artists to use/exhibit their talents.

H=HELP Christian artists and help churches utilize artists.

This group is for people who fit one or more of these categories:
1.) Just starting out
2.) Being used mightily for God
3.) Frustrated
4.) Seasoned professional
5.) Curious
6.) Talented amateur
7.) Wanting to learn/improve
8.) Not sure if God can use your talent
9.) Good enough to teach others
10.) Wondering if your talent (flower arranging, calligraphy, photography, etc.) even qualifies as art.

Christian artists--unite! Let's be creative, interesting, and forward thinking enough to lead the artistic world, while still making quality pieces that reflect our worldview.

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July Cafe

The best way to have a good, creative idea is to have lots of ideas. Here are some ideas that might get your creative juices flowing and keep you from getting into an artistic rut.

July birthstone: Ruby
Flower: Larkspur

July- National Blueberry month- Click Here to find out how to make an easy blueberry print using corks. You can also use the same idea but a different color to make cherries, grapes, etc.

July 1- Creative Ice Cream Flavors Day

Are you ruing the days because the kids aren’t in school and are driving you crazy? Why not get them to flex their artistic muscles by making ice cream sculptures out of salt dough? Afterward, you can treat them to real ice cream as well. The picture above was taken from here.

July 4- Independence Day

The 4th is always a nice day of family picnics and fireworks, but the pictures usually leave me disappointed. For ideas about how to get better fireworks photographs, click here.

July 7- Chocolate Day

Shoes made of chocolate (yes, those red pumps are chocolate)? How about a city-scape? Click here to see an exihibit one gallery had with creations made of chocolate.

July 12- Different Colored Eyes Day

What is the color of your best friend's eyes? What about your relatives' eyes? Take this day to look into the eyes of others. It also brings to mind a condition called heterochromia, where one person has two different colored eyes. Some famous people with this condition are David Bowie, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Walken.

July 13- Barbershop Quartet Appreciation Day

July 14- Bastille Day

Did you pay attention in high school history class? The United States celebrates July 4, but France celebrates Bastille Day. Here is a website with history, recipes, and celebration ideas to make this a special day.

July 17- Yellow Pig Day

This is a holiday invented by university mathmaticians. They chose July 17 because it is a special number. Did you know that the average person breathes 17 times per minute and it takes 17 muscles to smile? The White House has 17 bathrooms, and there are 17 species of penguins. Why is this day called Yellow Pig day? Because yellow pigs have 17 eyelashes, of course! Enough of a reason to celebrate this day? Well, click here to find a lot more information including lyrics to special Yellow Pig Day carols.

July 20- Moon Day

This day commemorates the first landing and walk on the moon by humans on July 20, 1969. Click here to see an interesting Smithsonian web course about this historic event.

July 24- Amelia Earhart Day

July 25- Culinarians' Day

This is a holiday for everyone who likes to cook. If you are a musician who likes to cook, why not combine your two talents today and make this guitar sandwich? Click here for directions. If you poke around on that website, you will find a lot of interesting snacks and fun things to do with food.

July 27- Take Your Pants for a Walk Day

Despite the imaginative title, this is not a day to put a leash on your wardrobe. It's a day to get out and enjoy a stroll. Click here for information on hiking trails in the Inland Empire.

July 30- Mutt Day
Three things to do on this day:

1. Love your dog. Here is a link to a book called The Mutt Styling Guide.
2. Read a Mutt and Jeff cartoon here
3. Learn about Duchamp's Fountain and consider what makes art art (he signed his Fountain installation "R. Mutt"). Click here for a discussion on this topic.

Poetry Corner- A Nation's Strength

July is the month we celebrate "America's Birthday." We decided to include a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson called "A Nation's Strength." While Emerson's spirituality is questionable in many cases, this poem does ring true and makes one think.

A Nation's Strength
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation's pillars high
And it's foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

painting above by Thomas Hart Benton

To read the master class on writing poetry, click here.

Below are previous poems we have published on this site.
To see June's Poem, click here.
To see May's Poem, click here.
To see April's Poem, click here.
To see March's Poem, click here.
To see February's poem, click here.
To see January's poem, click here.
To see the poem for December, 2008, click here.
To read a poem by Steve Turner, click here.

Christian Songwriters' Showcase has a new home

We had a big surprise at the May 2009 Christian Songwriters’ Showcase: we showed up and found GFE Coffee closed up tight! It seems that the economy has forced them to cut back on their hours so they weren’t open late enough for us to hold the Showcase there. Many thanks to Pastor Dave Robson of Highland Hills Church for opening his doors to us on a few minutes’ notice!

Our June Showcase was the first at a brand-new location: The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, in the Vons/Trader Joe’s Center on Orange Street in Redlands. We appreciate Lance and his crew granting us a new space for our monthly get-together. We enjoyed some excellent performances by Eric Kennedy, of the Huntington Beach band Paravell, and Forest Falls-based singer/songwriter Steve Carroll. Here's a recent YouTube post of Steve Carroll performing his song "Folks Like Us":

Be sure to join us at 4:30 PM on on July 25th at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, when we will present another bevy of up-and-coming local Christian songwriters. For more information or to book a performance slot, contact us at epistrophy@aol.com.

Book Club: It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God

We hope that everyone who participated has enjoyed, and been enlightened by, the first selections in the Artists’ Work B.e.n.c.h. Book Club. Our selection for the third quarter of 2009 is a profoundly inspirational collection of essays entitled It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God.

Edited by Ned Bustard and published by Square Halo Books, this marvelous collection discusses subjects like conveying the concepts of good and evil in art, developing a sense of community, beauty, substance, mission, truth and many other issues of importance to the Christian artist. The contributors include:

Ned Bustard, founder of the graphic arts company World’s End Images, author of children’s educational books, and artistic director for Square Halo Books;

Charlie Peacock, award-winning musician, composer, author and producer;

Sandra Bowden, founder of Christians In the Visual Arts, whose vivid artworks were featured in a recent Work B.e.n.c.h. issue;

Makato Fujimura, cross-cultural painter and founder of the International Arts Movement;

Roger Feldman, large-scale multimedia artist;

Edward Knippers, painter renowned for his compassionate but stunning depictions of the human form;

and several other artists across many disciplines. Here’s what the publisher has to say about It Was Good:

“The Christian looks at the world through the eyes of one who has a restored relationship with the Creator, and receives a new vision affecting every area of life—including the creative process. So what does it mean to be a creative individual who is a follower of the creative God? It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God seeks to answer that question through a series of essays which offer theoretical and practical insights into artmaking from a Christian perspective. The Christian worldview is foundational to the approach a believer in Christ takes to making art and artmaking inevitably raises difficult questions. This book offers aid in developing some of the internal tools needed to work through those questions, and so to glorify and enjoy God while trying to speak with a clear and relevant voice to a fallen world.”

Please note that we will be working with the 2007 expanded edition of the book, not the earlier, smaller edition. The updated edition doubles the number of essays and should be considered an essential resource for any Christian artist.

Fine Arts Bible Study 9

Scenario 1: You have been a musician for quite some time, and you’ve formed a few bands over the years. The one you are in now is quite good and you have heard nothing but praise about your songs and music. One day, while shopping for new strings in Guitar Center, you see a sweet instrument and decide to ask to play it. It’s way out of your price range, but you try it out anyway. As you are playing, a man taps you on your shoulder and introduces himself as an employee of a record label. He thinks you are a good player and wants to know if you are in a band. As you converse with this person, you explain that you are, and you just happen to have a copy of your band’s demo CD in the car, which you retrieve and give to him. He promises to listen to it and gives you his business card with both his office and personal cell phone numbers on it.

Scenario 2: You have acted in various plays since middle school. Now that you’re out of school, you mostly act in an average of one show a year in community theater. Since you have to hold down a job, you figure that theater is a fun hobby, a nice outlet. Still, when a friend gives you information about an open casting call for a major commercial, you decide to give it a try. On the day of the audition, as expected, there are hundreds of people vying for two open roles in the commercial. You don’t expect much, but if you do end up getting the part, the extra money will be nice. So, you give it your all and you actually get called back for a second audition. At the callback, you see the producer and some other bigwigs for the commercial, but you also notice that a famous director is sitting with them taking notes. You do a great job and hope you nail it. After the audition is over, you chat with another person who says that the famous director was sitting in on the auditions to find new talent for an upcoming movie. Well, this little audition your friend talked you into might turn out to be your big break after all.

Scenario 3: People have always said you have artistic talent, and two years ago you even had your own gallery show. Your work is somewhat controversial because you paint pictures depicting your experiences as an immigrant in the United States. You sell a piece here and there and you make some money off of your art, but you realize that earning a decent income from your artwork alone is probably a pipe dream. That is why you almost faint the day you get a call from a person identifying herself as Oprah’s producer. She tells you that Oprah is very impressed with your work and even owns one of your paintings. She wants you to appear as an expert on an upcoming show about immigration, and she wants you to bring some of your art that might be used during the show.

What do these three scenarios have in common? The person might be on the verge of a big break.

In the Bible, a big break of a different kind happened, but the reaction to it was quite different than the way you or I might react.

Read Acts 16:16-40:

16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone's attention to us by yelling out, "These men are working for the Most High God. They're laying out the road of salvation for you!" She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, "Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!" And it was gone, just like that.
19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, "These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order." By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.
22-24 The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas's clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black-and-blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jailkeeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that—threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them.
25-26 Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn't believe their ears. Then, without warning, a huge earthquake! The jailhouse tottered, every door flew open, all the prisoners were loose.
27-28 Startled from sleep, the jailer saw all the doors swinging loose on their hinges. Assuming that all the prisoners had escaped, he pulled out his sword and was about to do himself in, figuring he was as good as dead anyway, when Paul stopped him: "Don't do that! We're all still here! Nobody's run away!"
29-31 The jailer got a torch and ran inside. Badly shaken, he collapsed in front of Paul and Silas. He led them out of the jail and asked, "Sirs, what do I have to do to be saved, to really live?" They said, "Put your entire trust in the Master Jesus. Then you'll live as you were meant to live—and everyone in your house included!"
32-34 They went on to spell out in detail the story of the Master—the entire family got in on this part. They never did get to bed that night. The jailer made them feel at home, dressed their wounds, and then—he couldn't wait till morning!—was baptized, he and everyone in his family. There in his home, he had food set out for a festive meal. It was a night to remember: He and his entire family had put their trust in God; everyone in the house was in on the celebration.
35-36 At daybreak, the court judges sent officers with the instructions, "Release these men." The jailer gave Paul the message, "The judges sent word that you're free to go on your way. Congratulations! Go in peace!"
37 But Paul wouldn't budge. He told the officers, "They beat us up in public and threw us in jail, Roman citizens in good standing! And now they want to get us out of the way on the sly without anyone knowing? Nothing doing! If they want us out of here, let them come themselves and lead us out in broad daylight."
38-40 When the officers reported this, the judges panicked. They had no idea that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. They hurried over and apologized, personally escorted them from the jail, and then asked them if they wouldn't please leave the city. Walking out of the jail, Paul and Silas went straight to Lydia's house, saw their friends again, encouraged them in the faith, and only then went on their way.

Question 1- Paul and Silas were beaten up and thrown in prison. They sang to God through the night, and an earthquake happened that opened the prison doors and loosened the chains of the prisoners. Maybe this was their opportunity, their big break! Why did they choose to stay in the prison?

Question 2- What was the result of the decision they made to stay put? How would that result have been different if Paul and Silas had run away from the prison when the earthquake set them free?

Question 3- What are some ways a Christian can discern if a momentous occasion, such as opening of the prison doors, a chance meeting in a music store, a callback for an audition, or even a call from Oprah, is actually God opening doors?

Question 4- Verse 37 says that Paul wanted to be led in broad daylight. What are some factors that might make you hesitant to take advantage of an opportunity that comes your way?

Question 5- Do you think that Paul and Silas thought of the beating and jailing as a misfortune or an opportunity? How can willingly changing your opinion of a bad situation affect the way you perceive the path through the situation?

Note: It’s important to realize that the three scenarios described above might be from God’s orchestration, or they might not. There is no way to tell simply from the paragraphs because there is too little information provided. But, in your case, you are an expert on your own life and circumstances. Sometimes the best approach to open prison doors is to run, and sometimes the best approach is the stay. Notice that in order for the prison guard to be saved, God had to open the prison doors. If those doors hadn’t been opened, things would have continued as the status quo for that particular guard. So, the earthquake didn’t open the doors and loosen the chains for Paul’s and Silas’ benefit, but for the guard’s benefit. Preparation for the artist includes training and practice, and preparation for the Christian includes reading the Bible regularly, spending time in prayer, giving, and fellowship with other believers. Preparation for a Christian artist of any mode or genre should include both because we deal in both the artistic realm and the spiritual realm, and we have to consider possible opportunities from all points of view.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study #1 click here.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study #2 click here.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study #3 click here.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study #4 click here.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study #5, click here .

To read Fine Arts Bible Study 6, click here.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study 7, click here.

To read Fine Arts Bible Study 8, click here.

Inland Empire Happenings for July 2009

For a listing of happenings for August, 2009, click here.

Now Through August 2nd - "Zorro"

Lifehouse Theater, at 1135 N. Church St. in Redlands, presents their original production of "Zorro". Tickets are $5-$19. Call (909)335-3037 for tickets and more information. Note: a special performance of “Zorro” with sign language interpretation will be presented on July 11 at 7:30 PM.

Sunday, July 12th - "The Rave" in Chino

The Rave presents Phinehas in concert, with DJ Steve, The Cafe, prizes, and more. 6-8:30pm, New Hope Christian Fellowship, 13333 Ramona Ave., Chino. Call (909) 702-3736 or visit http://www.myspace.com/chinorave.

Thursday, July 16th - Christian rap tour

“Don’t Waste Your Life Tour” with Lecrae (above), Trip Lee, Tedashii, Sho Baraka & FLAME. 7pm, Victory Outreach Church, 990 W. Mill St., San Bernardino. Tickets are $15-18 Call (909) 884-1921 or visit http://www.reachrecords.com/dwyl

Thursday, Jul 23rd – Robin Hood auditions

LifeHouse Theater announces auditions for their upcoming production of “Robin Hood” on Thursday, July 23rd. Show dates are Oct. 3rd through Nov. 8th. Auditions are held from 6 – 9 PM on a first come-first served basis. Auditions are held at LifeHouse Theater, 1125 N. Church St. in Redlands. Parking is available behind the theater. Auditioners should be at least 10 years of age and have a recent photo of themselves and a theatrical resume to leave with the audition panel. Polaroid photos can be taken for you at the auditions for a $2 fee. Please come to the audition prepared to sing 16 bars of the song of your choice, making sure to bring sheet music in the correct key. Roles are open for both men and women, all season long. Men are especially encouraged to audition.

Friday, July 24th - Jars of Clay

Jars of Clay with special guest Phil Wickham. 7:30pm, The Packinghouse, 27165 San Bernardino Ave., Redlands. Tickets are $15-40. Call (949) 250-0444 or visit transparentproductions.com.

Saturday, July 25th - FishFest

Fishfest 2009, with Mercy Me, Jars of Clay, Matthew West, Needtobreathe, Phil Wickham, Hawk Nelson, Red and more. Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine, CA. Visit transparentproductions.com or fish959.com.

Tuesday, July 28th - Hawk Nelson

Hawk Nelson, in concert at High Desert Church, 14545 Hook Blvd., Victorville. Visit transparentproductions.com for more info.

Artist Profile: Rev. Howard Finster

Alternative rock icons R.E.M. Alabama CCM folkie Pierce Pettis. New Wave giants Talking Heads. Orange County soul-rockers Adam Again.

Artistically and spiritually, there’s not a lot to link these artists together. The one factor they have in common, aside from profession and nationality? They are among the musicians who came to the late Rev. Howard Finster of Summerville, Georgia, for album artwork and inspiration.

Born in December 1916 and ascended to Heaven in October 2001, Howard Finster was one of the most unique American artists of the 20th century. A central figure in the movement called “outsider art”, representing self-taught artists with few or no connections to the bigger artistic world. A fiery backwoods Baptist preacher and visionary, deeply spiritual in his life and his artistic conception, Finster first burst into the national public eye through his unlikely connections to the world of college rock.

He was born in Valley Head, Alabama, one of fourteen kids, and claimed to have had his first vision at age three, when he saw his late sister emerge from the sky in a white gown and tell him he would be a visionary. His education ended in the sixth grade, when he went to work to help support the family. In 1930 Finster received the Holy Spirit at a Baptist revival, and three years later he became a passionate preacher of the Gospel. He pastured at churches in Rock Bridge and Fort Payne, Alabama, and took up art in the 1940s as an avocation. When he wasn’t pastoring, he worked as a bicycle repairman.

In about 1948 he bought a plot of land in Trion, Georgia, near the northeast border of Alabama, and began to build what he termed a “garden park museum”. Finster’s outlandish vision for the property included a duck pond, a pigeon roost, a museum of every historical invention he could get his hands on, and models of various homes and churches. While he never achieved the full measure of his initial vision, Finster built and added elements to the property until he completely ran out of space.

Above: a well-worn sign at the site of Finster’s original Paradise Garden in Trion, Ga.

In 1961 Finster moved to Pennville, now Summerville, and began constructing a four-acre Plant Farm Museum inspired by God’s natural creations. Reminiscent of L.A.’s Watts Towers in its use of debris, from broken glass and mirrors to wires and stone, even concrete reliefs, the Plant Farm Museum included constructs like the Machine Gun Nest, Bicycle Tower, Bible House and a five-story-tall Folk Art Chapel. The entire property was eventually riddled with Bible-verse signs, structures, cars, sculptures, and his signature paintings: no visual perspective and every square millimeter of surface covered with his distinctive, self-taught art. Among the frequent subjects were Elvis Presley, angels, George Washington, and Coke bottles, for which his passion resembled Andy Warhol’s for shoes and Campbell’s Soup cans. A poem posted at the compound, later redubbed Paradise Garden, simply states Finster’s recycled-art aesthetic:

I took the pieces you threw away
and put them together by night and day,
washed by rain and dried by sun
a million pieces all in one.

Above: Howard Finster’s Trumpeting Angel”. Note that the multicolored robe is completely covered in text.

While his Christian faith was always evident in much of Finster’s art, it was not until 1976 that his art evolved into a deeper method of ministry. Guided by a vision of a face on his fingertip, he began creating his unique form of sacred art almost exclusively. Finster painted primitive images of angels, people and buildings, captioning them with Biblical quotes or sermon snippets. Besides flat, rectangular works, he would often paint three-dimensional sculptures assembled from cut wood. As before, he completely covered the surface of his pieces with paint and text.

R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe first came across Finster’s work on a visit to a museum. In 1984 Stipe asked the artist to collaborate with him on cover art for the band’s album Reckoning (I.R.S. Records). The cover, shown above, bears much of Finster’s cartoonishness, but no scriptural references, which was highly unusual by the mid-80s. A snake in tones of blue, green and purple (with the song titles at intervals) weaves over a black-and-white background of buildings, faces and other doodles. While it was not really representative of Finster’s usual work, the artist got a lot of publicity as Stipe and his bandmates touted Finster’s art in multiple interviews. The band filmed their video for “Radio Free Europe” at Paradise Garden, and Finster himself briefly appeared in the video for “Shiny Happy People”. Finster appeared on The Tonight Show in 1984, regaling Johnny Carson with his folky humor, backwoods tales and banjo music:

The following year, 1985, Finster was contacted by David Byrne of Talking Heads for a similar commission. Byrne had started the band while a student at Rhode Island School of Design in the 1970s and had long been interested in American folk art. In Finster he saw the ideal American visionary artist, combining a nationalist spirit with religious fervor and bold use of color. The cover that Finster created for Talking Heads’ Little Creatures (Sire Records, 1985, below) was a surrealist wonderland featuring portraits of each band member amidst smiling clouds and black mountains, towers, churches, and Biblical notions like “A new world is coming down from on high.” In the center of it all was a portrait of David Byrne, clad in tighty-whities and black shoes, holding the globe upon his back like Atlas. The art seemed well-suited to oddball, almost otherworldly songs like “And She Was”, “Perfect World” and “Road to Nowhere”. Rolling Stone Magazine named it the top album cover of the year.

1987 saw the emergence of Adam Again, an Orange County band fronted by singer, songwriter and keyboardist Gene Eugene. The band’s music fused the soul of Marvin Gaye, the funk of George Clinton, and the spiritual outlook of O.C.’s bright new Christian music scene. Their debut album, In a New World of Time (Brainstorm), boasted a cover by Howard Finster (below) that was somewhat reminiscent of the Little Creatures cover. The smiling clouds, black mountains and voluminous text were still dominant, and the faces of the band members were placed on the central mountain amidst a blue and green sea of scanty trees. It didn’t quite match the electronic funk of the band’s music, but it certainly connected Adam Again with the wider community of secular musicians. And, once again, it brought Finster further into the public eye, this time to a more specifically Christian audience.

Not long before his death, Finster completed the cover for State of Grace (Compass Records, 2001, below) by Pierce Pettis. It depicts a colorful village scene with the caption, “A land where peace is forever in his promised land. No one shall be evil. There in the last days, whoesoever call (sic) upon the name shall be saved in the name of Jesus.” The bucolic imagery, more brightly colored than any of Finster’s past album covers, reflected the folky comfort of Pettis’ God-glorifying songs.

In one of his early visions, God told Howard Finster to paint five thousand pictures in order to spread the Gospel through his art. Numbering every one of his works, Finster reached that goal by Christmas of 1985. By the time of his death from congestive heart failure, Finster was estimated to have made 46,000 individual artworks. Beginning with his first public exhibition in 1976, Finster presented his art to the world through innumerable TV features and museum shows. Among the highlights were four pieces crafted for the Library of Congress, participation in the Venice Bienniale, painting an eight-foot Coke bottle for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the inclusion of portions of Paradise Garden in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art collections. Finster was honored in a number of songs, including R.E.M.’s “Maps and Legends” and Vigilantes of Love’s “The Glory and the Dream”.

Above: Howard Finster’s Baby Elvis (1988) – unknown whether it was inspired by The 77s’ song “Mary and the Baby Elvis”

Howard Finster online: http://www.finster.com

Paradise Gardens website: http://finsters.ipower.com/index.html

To view past profiles on Artists Work B.e.n.c.h, click below:
Sam Maloof
Thomas Blackshear
Dr. He Qi
Sandra Bowden
Laura Kramer (Psalm 23 Jewelry)
Chris Schlarb John Newton
Vincent van Gogh

Writing Good Poetry--The Tools of the Adult Poet

When a baby is given a crayon and the baby produces a few red scribbles, the parents applaud and put the “artwork” on the refrigerator. But, when that baby turns four years old, a few scribbles on paper are no longer considered “good,” and does not gain the child a coveted spot on the fridge. By then, the child is expected to attempt to color within the lines and use several different colors in realistic places (blue for the sky, but not for a person’s face, for instance). When that same child turns six, that child is expected to be able to create his or her own art from scratch. He or she may try to draw a family, and the house is basically a square with a triangle roof on top. Dad has one arm that’s way too long, and mom’s head is too small for her body. The family is mostly made up of stick figures, but it’s creative, interesting, and age-appropriate, so the parents put it on the fridge. But when the child turns fifteen, producing art of that same quality would not gain the child any praise because it would seem babyish and immature for a fifteen-year-old.

In the same way, poetry that is produced when a child is eight might be called “good” for an eight-year-old, but it is not good for a fifteen-year-old. Poetry produced by a teenager might be good for a teen, but if an adult produces that same poem, it is not necessarily considered “good.” Yet, for most people, their high school English teachers are the last people who ever instructed them on how to write poetry. So they are stuck with tools that worked when they were sixteen, but seem outdated now that they are adults.

If you are stuck in this limbo, here are some tools that should help you to write better poetry.

1. Pay attention to sounds

Poetry is meant to be read out loud, and poets are fascinated with the sounds of words and how those sounds fit together to form thoughts and ideas. One way to open your ears to the sounds of words is to obtain a blank manila file folder and use it as your portable word repository. Every time you hear or read a word that you think sounds interesting, write it on your file folder. If you want, you can make categories (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. or A words, B words, C words, etc.) but you don’t have to. The words don’t have to relate to each other, and you certainly wouldn’t use all the words together in the same poem. The point is that you start to consider how words sound together.

Some of my favorite words, based on the ways they sound, are:

Blue, Blew

This is just a short list, but you can get the idea. Keep the folder in your car, take it with you to the office, keep it by your computer, take it to the grocery store, and so on. You will be able to start finding words that just sound good to you. Since it’s a file folder, others will just assume it’s something you’re working on, and you won’t seem weird.

Later, when you are stumped while writing a poem, get that word list out and go over the words that sound good to you. Most likely you will be able to find something that will fit in your poem. Even if none of your favorite words are right for that particular poem, reading over words that you enjoy hearing will trigger pleasure centers in your brain, and it will help you to continue working on your project with a positive outlook.

In addition to paying attention to the words you like, you will want to construct and adjust your poetic lines around sound. In a poem, sound and meaning are equal partners.

Are you writing a poem about water? You would probably want to include a lot of “Sh” sounds in your poem, because running water sounds like an "Sh" sound.

So, a line that says:

The Living Waters engulf me and make me scream with joy!

Might sound better if the author revised it to include more “Sh” sounds like this:

Ambushed by the inrush of Living Waters
I shout with joy gushing from my soul!

When a sound is repeated within a small proximity, like the “-sh” sounds above, it is called alliteration.

One useful link to help find words that contain combinations of letters is http://www.morewords.com/. Realize, though, that English has many possible letter combinations for some sounds. For instance, the /f/ sound in fluff is also in enough and philosophy, even they aren’t spelled the same. Since poetry is about sound, using these words in close proximity would get the right effect because they have similar sounds, even though they don't look the same.

2. Pay attention to the rhythm.

In Spanish, the vast majority of words have an accent on the penultimate syllable. But in English, the accented syllable can be anywhere in the word.

Dictionary= DIC-tion-ary not dic-TION-ary or dic-tion-ARY
Computer= com-PUT-er not COM-put-er or com-put-ER
Music=MU-sic not mu-SIC
Attack= at-TACK not AT-tack

When you write lines of poetry, pay attention to where you put your accented syllables. See if you can create a simple rhythm such as TUM-tum-tum-TUM-tum-tum-TUM-tum-tum.

So, a line of poetry that says:

Jesus is my Living Savior who brought me out of hell.

Might be improved if you try to consider the rhythm of the accented syllables:

Jesus is living and active; He carried me out of my misery.

When you read the second line, you get the TUM-tum-tum-TUM-tum-tum rhythm.

JEsus is LIVing and ACTive; he CARried me OUT of my MISery.

Using a good thesaurus will help any poet to find words that have similar meanings but different stressed syllables. Microsoft Word has a built-in thesaurus under the Tools pull-down menu (go to Language when you pull down the menu). There are many other thesauri online that are more extensive, as well as hard copies available at most bookstores and libraries.

There are other rhythms you can use, such as TUM-tum-TUM-tum-TUM-tum or even a more complicated tum TUM-tum-tum-tum-TUM-tum-TUM-tum-tum-tum-TUM-tum-TUM which mixes two different rhythm patterns into one. You can get creative as you practice. Realize, though, that the rhythm you choose will affect the complexity and length of words you have available that can fit into that rhythm.

3. Can you sing your poem?

Not all poems make good lyrics to songs, and not all song lyrics are good poetry. Getting beyond that fact, before you declare a poem “Done,” go into the shower, close the bathroom door, and try to sing it or rap it. This will help you to judge the length of the lines and make adjustments in the meter of the poem.

Look at the following draft of a poem:

I eat Your Word for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,
I love to hear from You, my Lord.
I am listening. Speak to me.
Let me know your will for my life.

The first line has 11 syllables, compared to the next lines which are each 8 syllables. If you were to try to rap it or sing it, you would have to rush that first line then them tempo would be off. Perhaps an improved draft of the poem would be:

I eat Your Word at every meal,
I love to hear from You, my Lord.
I am listening. Speak to me.
Let me know Your will for my life.

Every poet writes first drafts with some lines that are long and clunky. Good poets go back and revise their work so that the lines fit into a pattern more easily. That’s not to say that every line needs to have exactly the same amount of syllables. Some good poems establish patterns such as 8 syllables, 10 syllables, 7 syllables, 8 syllables in each four line stanza. So, the next stanza will have the same 8-10-7-8 pattern, and the next will as well.

One trick to help write a poem with good meter is to start with a song you know and write lines of poetry about a different subject that match the lyric lines of the song.

This may seem childish, but many famous poets use this approach. There's no telling what went through Emily Dickenson's head as she wrote her extensive chache of poems, but every single one of them can be sung to the tune The Yellow Rose of Texas. The song predates her by a few years, but whether or not she knew the song is debatable. Nonetheless, she used the same pattern to create a plethora of poems on many different subjects.

For the sake of example, you probably know Lord, I Lift Your Name on High. But, I want to write a poem about my children, so I will change that first part to:

I know my children are bright,
They like to write and do their math.
Their vocabulary’s high,
Why don’t they like to take a bath?

I wrote that poem by using the lyric lines to Lord, I Lift Your Name on High, and you can sing it to the first four lines of the song. When you pay attention to the syllable lengths of each line, it is called meter.

Of course, that little poem above is humorous, but it’s not polished because I haven’t gone through and played with/fixed the rhythm or the sounds. It takes a lot of time, plenty of drafts and revisions, and lots of false starts to write good poetry. It’s not easy when you consider everything that goes into a poem, but these are things that mark great poetry and set the good apart from the bad, or the adult apart from the childish. As you read poems by other people, consider whether or not they paid attention to sound, rhythm, and meter. Studying other people's poetry will help you to become a better poet. Read one poem every day and think about how the poet used or didn't use these tools. For this month's poetry corner, click here. You can also find links at the bottom of the poetry corner to previous poems we have published here. Then, as you write your own poems use these techniques as tools to help you create better quality poetry.

Look here for our prior Master Classes:

The Five C's of Songwriting

Experimenting with Abstract Landscapes, May 2009

Preparing for Excellence, April 2009

It Builds Character, March 2009

Labanotation, February 2009

Singability, January 2009

Avoiding Cliches, December 2008

Songs About Unemployment

With worries about the economy all around, and people taking pay cuts, losing jobs, and losing their homes, most people have either been effected by money troubles themselves or they have a close friend who has. Christians are not immune from money troubles, and Christians seem to be losing their jobs at the same rate as others. Perhaps you can create art that reflects the troubled economic times of today. Here are some musical inspirations to get your creative juices flowing.

Bruce Springsteen- The Ghost of Tom Joad

With a truly down-and-out situation of financial disaster and subsequent homelessness, this haunting song contains the lyrics, “Welcome to the new world order/ Families sleepin' in their cars in the southwest/No home no job no peace no rest.”

The La’s- Doledrum

This song isn’t necessarily about unemployment, but, as the title suggests, it’s about finding a way out of the doledrums. “I'll just get on my coat and shout/ Get on the boat get out of Doledrum.” The catchy tune is sure to help people who are depressed about money.

Sufjian Stevens- Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)

His name is pronounced to rhyme with “You-see-Ron,” he’s a Christian, and he’s very popular with the indie and college audiences. This song pairs a beautiful melody with a very serious subject. “Since the first of June/Lost my job/And lost my room/I pretend to try/Even if I tried alone.”

The Jam- Smithers Jones

This song about a person going to work on Monday morning as if everything is normal, and getting fired when he gets to the office, is upbeat and mod. “Come in Smithers old boy/take a seat, take the weight off your feet/I’ve some news to tell you/there’s no longer a position for you/sorry Smithers Jones.”

Billy Joel- Allentown

As explained in both English and Russian at the beginning of this clip, this song is about American youth who were promised the American dream if they worked hard, but the dream has never materialized for them. “Well we're waiting here in Allentown/For the Pennsylvania we never found/For the promises our teachers gave/If we worked hard/If we behaved/So the graduations hang on the wall/But they never really helped us at all/No they never taught us what was real…”

Bing Crosby (Yip Harburg, Jay Gorney)- Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?

This song about lost dreams and poverty is a classic for financial difficulties. “They used to tell me I was building a dream/With peace and glory ahead/Why should I be standing in line/Just waiting for bread?”

Sawyer Brown- Café Down on the Corner

This song about a farmer turned restaurant employee because, as the song says, “They say crime don't pay/But neither does farmin' these days/And the coffee is cold/And he's fifty years old/And he's got to learn to live some other way.” This country song describes the other lost souls in that café, “soldiers without wars…dealers without deals.”

Styx- Blue Collar Man

The song starts off with, “Give me a job, give me security/Give me a chance to survive/I'm just a poor soul in the unemployment line/My god, i'm hardly alive.” That’s the essence of the song.

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush- Don’t Give Up

This beautiful and interesting song really describes the despair of someone who has lost hope in life. Gabriel nails the voice of the helpless and hopeless. Bush answers, “Don’t give up/’cause you have friends/Dont give up/You’re not beaten yet/Dont give up/I know you can make it good.”

John Rich- Shuttin’ Detroit Down

“While the boss man takes his bonus paid jets on out of town/DC's bailing out them bankers as the farmers auction ground/Yeah while they're living up on Wall Street in that New York City town/Here in the real world they're shuttin' Detroit down” Kind-of says it all.