Welcome to the May 2009 Edition of Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. Webzine/blog

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:

The Artistic (un)Partnership that Ushered in the Renaissance

Book Review: God's Not Dead (and neither are we)

The Cafe for May

Songs About Spring

Master Class: Experimenting with Abstract Landscapes

Fine Arts Bible Study #7: When Faith and Art Collide

Poetry Corner for May: God's World

Happenings: Fine Arts Events in the Inland Empire

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.

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So, 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 out2.)Being used mightily for God3.)Frustrated4.)Seasoned professional5.)Curious6.) Talented amateur7.)Wanting to learn/improve8.)Not sure if God can use your talent9.)Good enough to teach others10.)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.

Happenings: Artistic Events Around the Inland Empire

To view the August 2009 Happenings, click here.

May is upon us, and while the school year is coming to a close and many theatrical seasons are finishing, some are just starting their summer seasons. Here is a listing of several artsy things that are happening around the Inland Empire this month.


May 2-June 1- One Body, Many Parts Art Exhibit
" Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Ephesians 4:15-16) Paul exhorted the believers to grow the body of Christ, or the church, by maintaining, living, and doing the truth in love. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. Olive Branch Community Church of Corona calls for two-dimensional images that express the meaning behind the above verses and/or answer these questions: How are you “growing the body of Christ” through your role as an artist? What part do you play? This art show is the kickoff event for a new gallery program at Olive Branch Community Church. For more about Olive Branch Community Church, please visit: http://www.olive-branch.org/.
Where: Olive Branch Community Church, 7702 El Cerrito Road, Corona, CA 92881-4295, Phone: 951.279.4477


Now through June 14- The "2009 Ontario Open Art Exhibition" is presented by the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, Associates. The "Open" occurs every other year. This juried exhibition provides an open venue for artists of the region. It also provides museum visitors with a broad perspective of current regional art.
Where: Museum of History and Art, 225 South Euclid Avenue Ontario, CA 91762
The museum is open Thursday-Sunday, 12-4 PM, and admission is free.


May 7-May 24- Redlands Shakespeare Festival. This year's "Season of Vengence" includes The Tempest, Hamlet, and Measure for Measure each weekend. For more information and directions, click here.

Where: The Redlands Bowl, admission is free.


May 9-June 14- Peter Pan at Lifehouse Theater. Join Wendy and her brothers on an amazing tour of Neverland sparked by the irrepressible Peter Pan. With the help of unpredictable Tinkerbell, mysterious Tiger Lilly, the impish Lost Boys, and the croc with a clock, Peter and Wendy lead a battle to thwart the evil plans of Captain Hook and his hilarious henchmen. A stunning new musical for all ages. For more information, click here.


Through May 17- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus, it tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master win the girl next door. The show displays many classic elements of farce, including puns, many doors and cases of mistaken identity.
Where: Rialto Community Playhouse, 150 East San Bernardino Avenue Rialto, CA 92376. Tickets $12-$15. For more information call 909-873-8514.

Music and Dance

May 16-6th Annual Riverside International Drum, Mask, & Dance Festival
Indulge in world visual and performing arts, crafts, literature, clothing and foods! Enjoy live professional entertainment and local community talent. Find out WHO’s WHO among artists in the Inland Empire. There will be a 30-min open stage session. Sign-ups required one hour before festival starts. No Exceptions. Vendors, Artists, or Sponsors call (951)784-9662.
Where: White Park, 3936 Chestnut Street Riverside, CA 92501.
When: 12-7.


May 21-23 Celebrate Dance
An intriguing exhibition of dance, movement and performances by RCC Students.Where: Landis Performing Arts Center, 4800 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, CA 92506. Shows start at 8 PM. For more information, call 951-222-8100


May 22-31- Peter Pan by Christian Arts Theater
CAT of Corona proudly presents the beloved musical, Peter Pan. This delightfully different, creatively wild production features all the favorite music like "I Won't Grow up" and "Neverland" but in a new fresh way. Show-stopping dance numbers and imaginative set design will bring a new perspective to an old favorite.
Where: Corona Civic Center, 815 West 6th Street Corona, CA 92879.
Tickets $11-$13. For more information and to purchase tickets online, click here.

Christian Rock Concert

May 26- Relient K, in concert with special guest Owl City & Runner Runner. 7pm.

Where: The Glasshouse, 200 W Second St., Pomona, $15 in advance, $17 at the door • ticketmaster.com. For more information, click here.

Christian Music

May 30- Christian Songwriters' Showcase. 4:30-6:30 at G.F.E. in the Albertson's Shopping Center on the corner of Baseline and Boulder in Highland. Free.

Poetry Corner- God's World

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To life the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Do you have a poem you want considered for an upcoming Poetry Corner on Artists Work B.e.n.c.h? Send inquiries to epistrophy@aol.com.

Past poems:

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.

Fine Arts Bible Study 7- When Faith and Art Collide

Should Christians see R rated movies? Throw that question out and you’re likely to get a variety of responses. Actually, that variety of responses is a good thing. It shows Christians are thinking.

There was a time in church history when going to R rated movies was considered sinful. There are, in fact, plenty of senior citizens who can tell you stories about how their families and/or churches restricted them from going to see any movie because it was considered sinful.

Since movie cameras are a modern invention, most Christians over the ages haven’t had to wrestle with that issue at all. However, drama and theater have been just as maligned, sometimes for good reasons, and sometimes for not-so-good reasons.

Is drama bad? Is the theater evil?

The relationship between Christians and the theater began as a difficult one. The Ancient Romans used to torture and sometimes even kill Christians as a spectacle. At first, dramas and mimes were performed that showed Christian holy sacraments indecently, and it turned public opinion against Christians. Later, Christians were actually forced to act in such shows before being publicly castrated or even killed.

Because of this, the theater has been a popular whipping boy for Christians from Christianity’s beginnings. Tertullian (155-220 A.D.), a North African early Christian theologian, denounced the theater because drama told untrue stories. He made converts swear to stop going to the theater as a condition of baptism. Throughout the ages, different Christians and Christian groups have taken up the cause of boycotting the theater. Famously, the Puritans during Shakespeare’s day felt strongly enough against the theater that they tried to have the British government shut it down. In 1642, just twenty six years after Shakespeare died, they managed to shutter the Globe Theater forever, and in 1644, the theater was razed and tenement housing was built on the spot the theater once stood.

It should be no surprise to Hollywood or to Christians that the relationship between Christians and the movies is tenuous, since Christians have always had a difficult relationship with the theater.

However, does all of this mean that Christians should shun the theater and/or movies? That brings us to our Bible study and questions.

Ezekiel 4:1-8
1-3 "Now, son of man, take a brick and place it before you. Draw a picture of the city Jerusalem on it. Then make a model of a military siege against the brick: Build siege walls, construct a ramp, set up army camps, lay in battering rams around it. Then get an iron skillet and place it upright between you and the city—an iron wall. Face the model: The city shall be under siege and you shall be the besieger. This is a sign to the family of Israel.

4-5 "Next lie on your left side and place the sin of the family of Israel on yourself. You will bear their sin for as many days as you lie on your side. The number of days you bear their sin will match the number of years of their sin, namely, 390. For 390 days you will bear the sin of the family of Israel.

6-7 "Then, after you have done this, turn over and lie down on your right side and bear the sin of the family of Judah. Your assignment this time is to lie there for forty days, a day for each year of their sin. Look straight at the siege of Jerusalem. Roll up your sleeve, shake your bare arm, and preach against her.

8 "I will tie you up with ropes, tie you so you can't move or turn over until you have finished the days of the siege.


1. What should be the relationship between Christians and the
theater or Christians and the movies?

2. Historically, many people would be shocked and offended with today’s churches that use drama and skits as part of the sermon. What do you think God thinks of using drama and skits as part of the sermon? Can you find anything in the Bible to back up your claim?

3. Do you feel like the current movie rating system helps you to make wise
decisions about what is o.k. for you as a Christian to watch?

4. In this area, we have Lifehouse theater, which does very good and professional
productions that are wholesome for the whole family. Should Christians support
this theater company and others like it to send a message? If so, what message
are they sending and to whom are they sending it?

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

Master Class: Experimenting with Abstract Landscapes

Abstract landscapes are fun and interesting to make. They help you develop your “artist’s eye” by breaking the elements of a scene down to the most specific shapes and colors. Best of all, you don’t have to be incredibly talented as a painter or visual artist to experiment with abstract landscapes. Being a good artist will help you produce more quality works, of course. But, even a beginner can produce a halfway decent abstract landscape.

Don’t be scared by the big term “abstract landscapes.” Basically, what you are attempting to do is convey a feeling through your art more than depicting exactly what the eye can behold. You want to show the scene through your heart and emotions. At a wedding I went to recently, the bride and groom temporarily escaped from the reception dinner so they could have the photographer get some pictures of them and the beautiful sunset that had developed on their important day. What would make a bride and groom value pictures of themselves in the sunset? It’s not the actual event, or the wedding finery they were dressed in. They already had taken plenty of pictures both before and after the ceremony to showcase those things. But, the sunset brought with it an emotion, and that is why those pictures were important.

So, as you paint or draw an abstract landscape, instead of portraying every single leaf on a tree, or realistically representing every petal on the rose, you can use general shapes and colors to convey the feeling that the scene has created inside of you.

Awe for God’s majesty
Feeling little in a big world
Overwhelming joy

There are myriad emotions a scene can evoke, and as you make your abstract landscape, you want to try to use colors and ideas that will evoke those same emotions in the viewer. It’s not about the exact representation of the scene. It’s about colors, lines, shapes, and ideas.

To make your abstract landscape, first, gather your materials. Since you are experimenting, I suggest you choose the cheapest materials in the medium in which you want to work. For instance, if you want to use acrylic paints, choose the less expensive brands and types. If you produce something you really like, you can replicate it later using better materials.

For this master class, I used pastels and computer paper.

Next, choose a photograph you like, something that evokes an emotion in you. The best ones have a variety of colors. For your first attempts, try to find a photo with no manmade objects in it. This is a great time to go through all those nature shots you took on vacations past, and all the postcards you have saved.

I chose this photograph of Big Bear Lake. I liked it because of the depth. If you look from the bottom up, there is the sage scrub in the immediate foreground, a big tree in the mid foreground, and a line of trees after that. Then, there is the lake, another stand of trees on the other side of the lake, the mountains, and the blue sky. I also like the rich array of greens and blues that dominate this photograph. Overall, this photograph gives me a sense of awe at the vastness of God’s creation, and that is what I want to portray in my abstract lanscape.

Now, to begin, using a charcoal pencil or a pastel, draw in the most major shape you see in this photograph. It’s a personal decision, and everyone might interpret the same photo slightly differently.

For this example, I think the large tree that’s slightly left of center is the most major shape. Is it a rectangle or a triangle? That’s an artistic choice. I chose a rectangle, and drew it on my paper like this. (For the purposes of this study, I recreated the same picture several times so I could photograph the process in different stages. If you look closely, you will see these are not all the same exact pictures, although they do represent the same scene using the same process.)

Next, anchor that major shape to the ground (or whatever it is on).

Then, look for other shapes in the photo you can add. Some people choose to draw in everything at this point, and others choose to simply block out a few ideas that they will add to later. Here is my blocking sketch of the photo. I used triangles for the smaller trees, and rectangles for the larger trees closer to the foreground. I used a very stylized mountain chain in the background, and I drew a line for where the lake and mountains meet. Notice at this point, perfection isn’t the key. It’s simply getting a few ideas sketched so you can fill them in later with the colors.

Finally, looking at the colors, I chose to color my trees green, and shade them with black. Notice that I added more trees as I did this, because my original sketch had some blank spots between the sage scrub and the lake, but the photo does not.

Then, I choose my blue for the lake, a different blue for the mountains, and a different shading of blue for the sky.

At last, I finished the picture with some details, such as the trees on the other side of the lake, and the yellow of the sage scrub in the foreground. The final picture looks like this.

Compare the final abstract landscape to the original picture. Do you think the abstract landscape I created gives you a sense of awe at the vastness of God's creation, as I orginally set out to convey? I find the perspectives interesting with the large tree shape in the foreground and the mountains blending into the lake and the sky.

Obviously, there is a wide array of materials, landscapes, and techniques you can use to make abstract landscapes, but the basic premise is the same. You want to convey the spirit of the scene, the emotion the scene evokes, paring the objects in the scene down to their bare essences. It’s fun to experiment with this style and technique, and learning to convey an emotion in your art is a skill that will help any artist of any discipline.

So, get to working!

Our past Master Class articles:

Preparing for Excellence, April 2009

It Builds Character, March 2009

Labanotation, February 2009

Singability, January 2009

Avoiding Cliches, December 2008

Songs About Spring

The weather is warming up, birds are singing, flowers are blooming. It's spring! Here is a collection of songs that should inspire springtime in your heart. While you won’t likely hear most or all of these songs on radio stations that play CCM, hopefully these songs will inspire you to write your own springtime song, or choreograph your own springtime dance. Enjoy!

One word of warning….the videos all have different volume quality levels, so make sure your volume adjust is handy as you go from one song to the next.

U2 - Beautiful Day

With a first chorus that goes, “It's a beautiful day/Sky falls, you feel like /It's a beautiful day/Don't let it get away,” this song may not be about spring exactly, but it certainly belongs on this list.

Spring Medley

This springtime medley performed by Erroll Garner on Piano, Eddie Calhoun on bass, and Kelly Martin on drums is fantastic for its musicianship and sound quality. It’s a big long (just shy of 10 minutes), but listening to it will put you in a springtime mood for sure.

The medley consists of three instrumental Richard Rogers (from Rogers and Hammerstein) tunes “Spring is Here,” “It Might as Well be Spring,” and “Lover.”

Springtime by Marc Errico

This one man band (he plays the guitar, sings, and plays harmonica while providing his own rhythm section) gives springtime a bluesy feel.

Beautiful Sunday by Daniel Boone

This song was released in 1972. The video cuts off before the end, but you can get the gist anyway. You can’t help getting into the springtime mood with lyrics that say

Birds are singing, you by my sideLet's take a car and go for a rideHey, hey, hey, it's a beautiful dayWe'll drive on and follow the sunMakin' Sunday go on and onHey, hey, hey, it's a beautiful day

The Rain, The Park, and Other Things by the Cowsills

If this song doesn’t temporarily transport you to springtime in the 1960’s, you must be crazy. This video has the added benefit of having Spanish translation of the lyrics.

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado

One of the most famous slices of cheese ever to emit from the 1950’s. But, if you like mambo, you’ll probably enjoy this song.

Spring Fever by Elvis Presley

Spring fever, Spring is here at lastSpring fever, my heart's beating fastGet up, get out spring is everywhere

Feist 1-2-3-4

This song isn’t about spring, but who can’t identify with the teen angst she’s singing about that comes in the springtime? The video is well-choreographed as well.

Cat Stevens Morning has Broken

Stevens got the lyrics from a hymn book he found at a bookstore while looking for song ideas. It was a children's hymn by Eleanor Farjeon, who also wrote a lot of children's poetry.

The Cafe for May

Looking for artistic inspiration? Fresh out of ideas? Check out the plethora of ideas we have put into this month's cafe. Perhaps you can find something that will spark the creativity inside of you.

May birthstone- emerald

May flower- lily of the valley
for directions on how to make lilies of the valley
out of gum paste for cake decorating, click here.
May is National Photo Month. For ideas on taking better photos from the mouths (or keyboards) of photographers themselves, click here.

It's also National Flower Month. Below is a dance choreographed to look like a seed germinating and a flower blooming.

First week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week
Second week is Police Appreciation Week
May 12 is Internatonal Nurses' Day

Thank a person who has helped you. Was it that police officer who calmed you
down after the accident, or the teacher who gave you a spark and a push? Perhaps
it was that nurse who helped you through a difficult diagnosis. Here are 5
inexpensive ways to say, "Thank You."

-Give a flower from your garden (or buy a plant)
-Bake some cookies
-Send a photo of yourself (if you can dig up a photo of you and the other person together, all the better)
-For a person who has done many things to help you, write all the reasons
you thank him/her on pretty paper. Put the papers in a glass jar. Glue a label
on the jar that says something like "30 reasons I'm thankful for you."

Remember to explain why you are thanking that person. A heartfelt,
handwritten note is always great, whether or not it accompanies a gift. And,
don't forget to tell that person's supervisor about your appreciation for the
employee who went an extra mile.

May 1 is Mother Goose Day. For Mother Goose rhymes and other goodies, click here.

May 2- Holocaust Rememberance Day (Yom Hashoah. For information, click here.

May 5- Cinco de Mayo. For information, click here.

May 7- Anniversary of establishment of the Pulitzer Prize. To view a list of winners, past and present, click here.

May 9- Anniversary of the first newspaper cartoon published. It was a political cartoon drawn by Benjamin Franklin. View it above. For more information on the history of political cartoons, click here.

May 10- Mother's Day. For a listing of famous mothers, click here. Above: James Whistler made his mother famous with the painting entitled "Whistler's Mother." But, this painting on the left, also by Whistler, casts a much more motherly light. It's titled "At the Piano" and it was painted in 1858-59.

May 12- Limerick Day. For information on writing limericks, click here.

A limerick that President Woodrow Wilson liked and quoted a lot:
As a beauty I'm not a great star,
There are others more handsome by far,
But my face, I don't mind it,
Because I'm behind it--
'Tis the folks in the front that I jar.

May 15 -L. Frank Baum's birthday (the author of the Wizard of Oz). For a biography, click here.

May 16- Armed forces day

The first Armed Forces Day was signed into law by Harry Truman.

"The heritage of freedom must be guarded as carefully in peace as it was in war. Faith, not suspicion, must be the key to our relationships. Sacrifice, not selfishness, must be the eternal price of liberty. Vigilance, not appeasement, is the byword of living freedoms. Our Armed Forces in 1950--protecting the peace, building for security with freedom--are "Teamed for Defense ..."
General Omar N. Bradley
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

May 18- International Museum Day
For a listing of over 60 museums in the Inland Empire,
May 22- Buy a musical instrument day. Of course, we would like everyone to buy a musical instrument today, even if it's a simple slide whistle, but in this economy, some people may feel more comfortable making their own musical instruments. For a good listing of how to make several different percussion instruments, click here.

May 25- National Tap Dance Day. For information on tap dance, click here. For a basic tutorial on tap dance, watch the video below.

May 29- Anniversary of the first Europeans to climb Mt. Everest.

Book Review: God's Not Dead (and neither are we)


God's Not Dead (and neither are we): The story of Christian alternative rock's pioneers then and now, as told by the artists themselves

Jerry Wilson, Author

Once upon a time, before worship music became a multi-million-dollar fad and emo ruled the CCM airwaves, a movement started in the church underbelly of California that would change the face of religious music most radically. For a decade or more, the young men and women who spearheaded this alternative movement were at the forefront of creative Christian expression. Today, most of them have basically disappeared from America's airwaves and the public consciousness. Why did this happen, and where did they go?

In his new book, God's Not Dead (and neither are we), Castro Valley, California author Jerry Wilson looks into these questions. The book is a fascinating collection of interviews and reminiscences with some of the movers and shakers in California's Christian rock movement. Beginning in the 1970s with the rise of Daniel Amos, Wilson traces the development and demise of the scene; the chapters are randomly ordered but still unified by common themes. Wilson was inspired to write the book by a 2005 reunion concert of bands associated with the Broken Records label. Beth Jahnsen, who helped coordinate that concert at Mariners Church in Orange County, contributes a very good, scene-setting foreword to Wilson's book.

Wilson spoke with many of the principal performers of the 1980s and early 90s: Terry Taylor, who has sometimes moved sidelong into videogame and cartoon soundtracks; Steve Taylor, who got sick of performing and began producing and making films; the progressive-rock powerhouses of Barnabas; Mike Roe of the 77s, a one-time outsider based in Sacramento; the members of Undercover and the Altar Boys, Christianity's first major punk bands; keyboard-pop icons Crumbacher; The Choir, an almost unclassifiable group from L.A.; and several others. All share stories of heartbreak and triumph, frustration and glory from their own perspectives, adding up to a truly compelling narrative.

Some of the tales aren't for the faint-of-heart. Barnabas' Nancyjo Mann is fairly graphic in telling of the botched legal abortion that led her down God's path. Marie McGilvray tells of working in the administrative side of the record business, and how alike the religious and secular wings of the music industry really are. There are tales of divorce, crises of faith, financial ruin, and through it all the knowledge that God is still in control. Beneath all the ugliness lies the core of truth and faith that propelled all of these folks into the limelight for a time. Some have hung up their mikes and guitars for good in favor of pastorships or day jobs; others have kept reinventing themselves, like Mike Stand of the Altar Boys, who recently debuted a red-hot rockabilly trio called the Altar Billies, and Joe Taylor of Undercover, now a music professor at James Madison University.

One voice is unheard but regularly referred to throughout the book, and it's one that might have made for some of the most compelling reading of all: that of "Gene Eugene" Andrusco, the child actor-turned-bandleader who fronted Adam Again, played with The Lost Dogs, and produced innumerable sessions before his untimely death in March 2000. Again and again we read of what a key force Gene Eugene was in the movement, and how deeply his passing is still felt. The Lost Dogs remain as perhaps the brightest light among these beacons, with all four current members (Terry Taylor, Mike Roe, Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong) interviewed for the book while preparing for another tour and album release.

Like most self-published books, God's Not Dead contains a smattering of mis-edits, but not enough to draw the reader away from the importance of the stories. Wilson has done a wonderful job of getting to the heart of why these folks made music, and why so many of them no longer do. Some questions seem to remain unanswered, like why the once-lively concert scene in Southern California has essentially dried up and blown away, and why radio playlists have become so tunnel-visioned as to exclude all but a handful of national stars. Yet we might find the answers to these questions buried more deeply in the stories herein, because it's all symptomatic of the same world-versus-faith problems. God's Not Dead is a very necessary book, full of valuable lessons and insight.
Click here to find out about the April-June Artists Work B.e.n.c.h. Book Club selection.

The Artistic (Un)Partnership that Ushered in the Renaissance

In 1399, at the end of the Middle Ages, a religious movement called Bianchi, a reference to the white robes practitioners wore, swept Italy. The pilgrims reached Florence in August of that year, and they made people rethink old customs and mores. Old enemies became friends, and some longstanding feuds between families were settled peacefully. Even some of the laws were changed to make justice more merciful.

The Bianchi brought something else to Florence: plague. In the winter and spring of 1400, twenty percent of Florence's population died from the black plague. This was not the first time the plague had swept the city. In 1348, two generations earlier, nearly fifty percent of Florence's population died from the plague. Unfortunately, it also wouldn't be the last.

The next year, 24-year-old Filippo Brunelleschi, a master goldsmith who had just finished his apprenticeship, was asked to enter a contest to design the north doors to the Florence baptistery. Brunelleschi came from a well-to-do family (his father was a notary, his grandfather had been a government official), and he had been well educated as a youngster in mathematics and Latin. He seemed like a shoo-in for the contest. Seven contestants in all were asked to participate: Lorenzo Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia, Simone da Colle, Niccolo d'Arezzo, Nicolo di Pietro Lamberti, Francesco di Valdambrino, and, of course, Brunelleschi. Some reports say that Donatello was also a contender, although not all records show his name, so it is disputed.

This contest was an attempt to bolster civic unity and pride in the people of Florence who had been dealt some blows. All of the artists that were asked to participate were from Tuscany, the region in Italy that Florence is in.

Above: Florence Baptistery

To enter the contest, artists had to design a bronze panel for the door depicting Abraham offering Isaac for sacrifice. They were supposed to depict the moment of divine deliverance, when Abraham, about to plunge a knife into his son, was prevented from doing so by an angel. Winning this contest meant winning the commission, which would have been an important economic boost to any of the artists. Since the patron saint of Florence is St. John the Baptist, getting the commission for the baptistery doors of the city's cathedral would have been a huge boost in confidence and prestige as well.

The Life of Filippo di Ser Brunelleschi, possibly written by Antonio Manetti between 1471 and 1487, says, "He did it quickly because he mastered his art boldly. When he had made it, chased it, polished it completely, he felt no impulse to talk about it to anyone, because, as I have said, he was no braggart, but he waited confidently until the time of the judging."

Brunelleschi's panel made reference to an Ancient Roman sculpture known as The Thorn Puller. It consisted of several bronze parts bolted onto the background plate. The book records the judges' reactions as well as the technical merit of Brunelleschi's piece.

But when the experts saw his model all were astonished and amazed at the problems he had set himself, such as the movement of Abraham, the position of his finger under Isaac's chin, his animation, the draperies and the style, the design of the boy's whole body, the style and draperies of the angel, his gestures, how he seizes the hand of Abraham; at the pose, style, and design of the boy drawing the thorn from his foot, and likewise the man drinking bent over. They were amazed at the many difficulties in those figures he had overcome and how well the figures performed their functions, for there was not a limb that did not have life. They admired the design of the animals that are there and every other detail as well as the composition as a whole.

Above: three views of Brunelleschi’s panel

Above: The Thorn Puller (see how Isaac’s head reflects the head on this statue.)

One of the other competitors, Lorenzo Ghiberti, chose to depict the scene differently. His panel showed more technical skill since it was cast as a single piece.

Ghiberti (1378-1455), a fellow Florentine who was only one year younger than Brunelleschi, was the son of a goldsmith. He was also an apprentice to Bartoluccio de Michele, the same goldsmith that Brunelleschi was trained under. No doubt, the two young men knew each other, and possibly even worked together on some projects. During the plague in 1400, Ghiberti fled to Romagna, a region in Italy that contains Ravenna and Rimini, along with other towns and cities. There, he assisted in completing a series of wall frescoes in a castle.

When he returned to Florence and participated in the baptistery door contest, he had an interesting method for creating his panel. While Brunelleschi hurriedly finished his panel in secret, Ghiberti invited the public into his studio to view and even critique his art. Some of the people who came to offer suggestions later became judges in the competition when the panels were finished. Whether it was this feeling of ownership that swayed the judges, or the superior technical skill of casting the whole panel in one piece, or the preference for his style (or a combination of all three) that swayed the judges, Ghiberti won the contest. But, Brunelleschi got a nod from the judges because Ghiberti was to share his commission with Brunelleschi. Filippo Brunelleschi, however, would not hear of sharing a commission with his rival, and he refused to work on the project unless he got the sole commission. Therefore, the city fathers had no choice but to reward Ghiberti with the full commission.

Above: Three views of Ghiberti's panel.

At the age of 25, Lorenzo Ghiberti began work on the commissioned bronze doors on the north side of the baptistery. The project took him 21 years to complete. When the contest was announced, the bronze doors were going to have panels that depicted Old Testament scenes, but when the commission was actually given to Ghiberti, it was decided that the panels would depict scenes from the New Testament. The door has 28 panels in all, and 23 depict scenes from the life of Christ.

Above: Flagellation

Above: Adoration of the Magi

Above: North Doors of the Florence Baptistery

Of all the entries, the only two that survive are those from Brunelleschi and Ghiberti.

Ghiberti's work on the doors was so beautiful that the city fathers commissioned him to do a second set of doors on the eastern side of the baptistery. That set, coined "The Gates of Paradise" by Michelangelo, took him 27 years to complete. His sculpting was well-known and he rediscovered the lost wax method of sculpting, which had been lost since Ancient Roman times. Because of this, most artists in Florence and even in regions beyond wanted to work in Ghiberti's studio to learn the art of lost wax sculpting.

Above: “Gates of Paradise” the eastern doors to the Florence Baptistery
Adam and Eve detail panel from Gates of Paradise

After losing the contest, a bitterly disappointed Brunelleschi went to Rome with his close friend Donatello to study the art of the ancients. Although much of the ancient artwork and architecture had been lost through the ages, they studied both the whole and ruined artworks to try to unlock the secrets of the ancients, specifically Ancient Greeks and Romans.

The term Renaissance is well known to mean "re-birth," but what exactly was being reborn? It was the classical style, the artistic knowledge that the Ancients knew but had been lost through the ages as society changed and all things Roman fell out of favor. The Renaissance began in Italy because of its proximity to Rome although, at the time, Italy was not actually a unified country, but rather a bunch of city-states and neighboring regions that shared some aspects of culture and language but did not actually like each other very much. Donatello used his study of Ancient Roman sculpture to make the first freestanding equestrian sculpture Europe had seen in over 1,000 years. And Ghiberti, as has already been pointed out, relearned how to sculpt using the lost wax system.

However, Brunelleschi wasn’t finished in the art world. He went on to get other commissions, many of them architectural. His mathematical mind and study of classical art helped him to be the first to develop the theories of hidden point perspective, something every art student studies even to this day. The first painting to use hidden point perspective was, ironically, a picture of his lost commission, the Florence baptistery. The painting has now been lost to the ages, but it was so important it was described by other artists of his day. Based on descriptions, it probably used two-point perspective.

But, another competition was announced. This time, it was architectural. The Florence Cathedral was begun in 1296, and it had an insanely large roof area. It still wasn’t finished, and in 1418, the city fathers announced a contest for an artist to figure out how to put a dome on the cathedral.

Brunelleschi was up for a challenge, and so was Ghiberti. The feud was still on!

Models of the cathedral were made by the artists vying to compete, some of them as large as a house. The city didn’t allow for the erection of buttresses, and no dome of this size had been built since antiquity (or possibly ever, since the dome of the Florence Cathedral is larger than that of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome).

The cathedral had been laid out in the usual floor plan of a cross, and the exterior walls were made of elegant green, red, and yellow sandstone. From its beginnings, the usual waves of politics stretched the construction of the cathedral out to more than a century, with each successive generation adding on to the foundation laid out in the years prior. However, each generation recognized and avoided the problem of what was considered an unsolvable dome. It had to be 140 feet across, and no one knew how to build a dome that large. By 1410, however, the construction of the cathedral was finished, except for the dome, and with nothing else to be done, the city turned its attention to finding a solution for this “unsolvable dome.”

Above: Floor plan of the Florence Cathedral

The biggest problem the architects faced was how to keep the dome stable while it was being built. Once the dome was finished, everyone recognized that it would be kept in place with keystones and ribs, but while it was under construction, it would simply be hanging out, unsupported, over that large space.

The other artists in the competition proposed building temporary scaffolding from the ground, or permanent columns to support the weight. But Brunelleschi figured out a way to build the dome without piers or scaffolding during construction. Not only was that interesting from an aesthetic point of view, but from an economic one as well, since the extra scaffolding or columns would have cost the city quite a bit of money.

The committee wasn’t sold on the idea, however, and they thought Brunelleschi’s proposal was impossible and absurd. Brunelleschi told the committee that not only was it possible to build the dome in such a way, it was necessary, as none of the other methods would actually work with such a large expanse that the dome was supposed to cover.

The committee didn’t want to give Brunelleschi the commission because they could not fathom how such large stones could be hoisted to the top of the building without scaffolding. Brunelleschi told them he had a plan, but he kept the details secret. The committee grew impatient with the secretive Brunelleschi because he would not reveal his plan (for fear others would steal it and get the commission). But, none of the other artists in the competition had satisfactory plans, either, so the committee pressed the confident Brunelleschi for his plan. Brunelleschi’s secrecy cost him the commission years earlier on the baptistery doors, and now, it was threatening to cost him the commission on the dome. However, with no other satisfactory proposals, they granted the commission to Brunelleschi, but they didn’t feel confident enough in his plans to let him do it alone. Instead, the town fathers granted a dual commission to both Brunelleschi and Ghiberti for the dome, even though they were going to use Brunelleschi’s plans.

Brunelleschi put up with this partnership for a few years, but one day in 1426, he did not show up for work. Ghiberti visited him and Brunelleschi said he was sick. Without Brunelleschi’s plans and direction, construction stalled (remember, he kept a lot of things secret). Brunelleschi was sick with some mysterious illness for several weeks, and a frustrated Ghiberti finally decided he had too many other projects and commissions to keep working on the stalled dome project. Ghiberti angrily walked away from the dome’s commission, and Brunelleschi miraculously recovered from his mysterious illness, but with sole possession to the dome’s commission.

The revolutionary ideas Brunelleschi had were mathematically brilliant and quite forward thinking. First of all, his proposed dome used a cupola design, a double-shelled dome within a dome. The double-shell gives the cupola strength and lightness. Also, the lantern at the top of the dome is massive and heavy. The committee thought Brunelleschi was crazy to have such a huge, heavy lantern sitting on top of a dome unsupported by scaffolding, but Brunelleschi was right. The weight of the lantern locks and holds the eight arches of the dome in place. He designed holes and fluting to ease the pressure the wind would put upon the structure, and he designed gutters and spouts to move rain quickly away from the surface of the dome. He also designed stairwells to make it possible to climb all the way up to the lantern.

The completed cathedral rises nearly 400 feet, including a prodigious 70 feet for the lantern alone. The dome itself is 90 feet high and spans 140 feet at its base. It's an astounding achievement. Brunelleschi used more than four million bricks in the construction of the dome. He had to design a device that could hoist the bricks that high, and he was granted one of the very first patents for that machine he used to put the dome on the cathedral. (Interestingly enough, Brunelleschi was actually granted the very first modern patent, but it was for a river transport vessel and had nothing to do with his art or architecture.)

Above: The dome on the Florence Cathedral, lovingly called "Duomo" by the Italians.

Was it a rivalry, a feud, or just two brilliant artists who just happened to live at the same time? Whatever the relationship between Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti actually was, one thing is for certain. Their competitiveness brought the art world into the Early Renaissance, and their techniques paved the way for the next wave of spectacular Italian artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.