Friday, April 3, 2009

No Other Gods, Michael Carter

"How true it is that sadness is often the result of our attachments to the world."
Henri J.M. Nouwen
There was a time in my childhood I read the Bible every night. It was a bedtime ritual. I memorized the usual verses, John 3:16 being the first. At some point I decided I would start from the beginning and read cover-to-cover. It was interesting stuff, for the most part; creation, good people, bad people, flood, slavery, redemption. Then one night I read these words, “And when He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” I stopped and read the verse again. Written by the finger of God, in stone! What did that look like? I remember thinking, ‘I’ll bet He had good handwriting!’ The awe I sensed that night, sitting cross-legged on my bed, has never left me. Years later I would meditate on these words, “You are a letter of Christ, cared for us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.”
My father owns a memorial business, i.e. he makes tombstones. As I grew into the business I developed an appreciation for stone. Among stone workers there is a saying; “It’s not the big ones that will hurt you, it’s the little ones.” The logic behind the saying is that most people have sense enough to not pick up large stones, but size can be deceiving. Weighing in at 180 lbs. per cubic foot, a little bit of granite goes a long way. It is also durable, able to weather the elements for centuries. ‘Between a rock and a hard place’ takes on personal meaning when unloading a truckload of granite. These qualities, hardness and durability, make for good tombstones. Mount Sinai is covered with granite. I can imagine the God of the universe stooping to write in Sinai granite, with His finger.
My High School experience does not fill me with fond memories. Actually, I hated High School. I skipped classes, failed tests consistently. My passion of course was rock and roll. School seemed to be a major waste of my time. Weekends were spent playing gigs with the band I was in. Senior year became a countdown for weekends and, ultimately, graduation. Upon graduating I vowed I would never set foot in a school again. And then, for reasons known but to God, I enrolled in college. In my second year of college my advisor recommended I change my concentration from painting to graphic design. The word graphic comes from the Greek grapho, meaning ‘to write’ or ‘describe’. Hence the iconographer writes images. As the name implies, graphic design is about the business of writing design by arranging visual elements to form a composition which, ultimately, arrives in printed matter. Years ago it was called advertising design. “The only thing you can do with a painting major,” he said “is teach. You can actually make a living with graphic design.” I suppose that was his way of saying, “You’re not good enough to make a living as a painter.” Little did either of us know that one day God would call me to teach High School. God has a great sense of humor.
Now I am putting the finishing touches on a book project- working title, 'Jots and Tittles', The Commands of God. Imagery began with a call-to-entries for an art competition. A Jewish society in New York was sponsoring an exhibit based on the theme ‘The Second Command’. I was intrigued. A visual art exhibition depicting, “You shall make no graven image”, was challenging and, in my opinion, bold. I liked it. My solution was to paint my hands, palms upward and empty. No tools, no materials; just the hands of an artist, as an offering unto the Lord. I bordered the canvas with the command in Hebrew. I finished the painting but I didn’t enter the competition. I didn’t quite ‘pull off’ what I saw in my minds eye, the discrepancy between my imagination and my reality was too large. What I did do was begin to wonder. How would I depict the commands of God with hands as the primary images? A series emerged inside my head. Hands can express emotion in a way faces cannot. Then I began to see feet, feet and hands; a mode of transportation and tools of operation. And, to some degree, the letter form was always integral to the composition. As a young ‘graphic design’ major in college, my appreciation for the letter form deepened. I studied the work of typographers and calligraphers. The nuances of serif weight and terminal swashes, ligatures and dingbats excited me. I wanted the letter form to ‘work with’ the image, a contemporary illuminated manuscript feel. My favorite medium is watercolor but I felt this series needed to be on canvas. After working through a variety of shapes, false starts, and media (acrylic, watercolor and oil) I finally began to work with digital art. I am, after all, a ‘graphic designer’. I’m still working on “actually making a living.”

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