Corita Kent: In the Beginning was the Word

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While my mom was in town last week, we stopped by The Frost Art Museum at FIU. One exhibit up for display was the work of Corita Kent. She was an iconic pop artist, prolific activist for peace, and, at one time, a nun. Her pieces were so inspiring and I’d love to plaster them all over my walls. I thought her life story and work was fascinating, and wanted to share a little bit with you guys…

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Her Background: Born Frances Elizabeth Kent in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1918, Kent joined the Roman Catholic order of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles in 1936. She took the name Sister Mary Corita. After receiving an education in art and art history, she became an teacher and later the chair of the art department at Immaculate Heart College which housed the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Charles & Ray Eames. Her own art was almost exclusively serigraphy, developing innovative methods of screen printing. Over the course of her career she created hundreds of designs, for posters, murals, book covers, and even a U.S. Postal Service stamp. Her art, with a strong focus on messages of peace and love, gained popularity during the 60s and 70s. While her politics, geared toward activism and a strong opposition to war, led her to split from her Catholic order around that same time.

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Her Art: Corita Kent most often used popular culture as material for her art. Her screen prints would incorporate imagery from well-known products and brands alongside texts of a spiritual or peace-promoting leaning. In this way, she created a juxtaposition between acknowledged “art” and imagery most associated with American consumerism, art encountered in everyday life. She placed the ordinary with the holy, the picture on the front of the cereal box with the words of scholars and saints. As Harvey Cox, a theologian and friend of Kent’s, remarked, “Like a priest, a shaman, a magician, she could pass her hands over the commonest of the everyday, the superficial, the oh-so-ordinary, and make it a vehicle of the luminous, the only, and the hope filled.”

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Her Teaching: Whether the faith infused in Kent’s work is holy or human is irrelevant, because her body of work ultimately highlights the inherent fusion of both. As such, in her teaching, Corita Kent focused less on showing her students how to paint and draw and screenprint, and more on helping them see the world anew. She taught her classes to gain new perspectives with the help of a 35 mm slide mount that students could look through to frame compositions and images. She encouraged students to seek out revolution in their everyday. If you’re interested in experiencing Kent’s teachings firsthand, her book is linked below, and is chock-full of unique assignments for fostering creativity.

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Read More: 

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent

Corita Kent: An overshadowed pop art icon

Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit by Corita Kent and Jan Steward

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