To purchase the ‘Nativity’ print, please visit www.newvisionart.com
This painting is called “Nativity”. The decision to avoid the definite article illuminates a particularly fascinating and miraculous aspect of Jesus’ advent. Notwithstanding the overwhelming significance of Jesus coming, He came very much like you and I came. His birth was like your birth and mine. He came into our dirt and sweat and blood and milk. He arrived into our hunger and discomfort, just as everyone else on the planet ever has. His birth was, in that sense, unremarkable. It hurt his mother and Him.
It was very likely troubling to Joseph as well (his vexation probably complicated by their displacement from home) and likely not so troubling to the midwives, smiling through the bloody ordeal as midwives do. I know that no midwives are mentioned in the scriptures, but bear in mind that almost none of the details of his birth are mentioned in these holy texts. Even the stable is inferred by the brief mention of an improvised cradle– his being “laid in a manger”. The chance of a young woman having her first child away from her usual residence and not being attended by women (even strangers) seems to me very unlikely. Women would come. They would hear; they would help. I feel sure of it.
In undertaking this sacred subject on such a large scale (the original is 17 feet long) I decided to not look so much for an actual historical reality, but rather to try to fathom an emotional reality to the experience. Virtually all of the visual memory we have of Jesus’ birth has come from centuries of this kind of imagining–the event being so very important, the historical details so very scant.
Perhaps the sheer number of them is a clear indication that I became engaged with the angels. The births of my own children felt so very “attended to” by otherworldly beings. Perhaps they were ancestors and descendants; any who had particular interest in our little nativities. Since none of us would have a chance of salvation without Jesus, it felt obvious that all beings looking to this redemption would take a peculiar interest in this birth. The number of angels in my work kept multiplying. I have counted them several times, but I come up with different numbers. I rather like not knowing exactly.
My original plan to include the conventional beasts was eclipsed by this cloud of witnesses. I did have a bit of room for a dog and her pups. Although no mention is made of any stable occupants, I wanted the animals to be represented and I love dogs. They have long been a symbol of fidelity in western art, so I put them in since Jesus’ coming is the ultimate and most impossible example of keeping the unfathomable promise of His essential condescension. Only the dog can see the glorious river of angels. The mortals depicted, like us, are understandably and rightly distracted with the quotidian tasks at hand.
I believe that the human hunger for dramatic conclusions (to sporting events or books or movies) is linked to our own impossible redemption. Our chances for reconciliation were all but lost when…this happened. Part of our attraction to these dramatic endings is because it is, in part, our story too. He said He would come. Then impossibly and improbably, He did, but not as we would have expected. Certainly the epic drama of redemption is far from over, but the message to me is this: He came. He came. Thank God, He came.
Check out this new short documentary featuring Brian, ‘Advice for Artists: 5 Ideas from Brian Kershisnik‘. It is part of filmmaker Steve Olpin’s series ‘The Talking Fly’ and features some of Brian’s thoughts on developing your own authentic creative voice.
A painting of mine called “She Will Find What Is Lost” has lately been receiving a bit of attention. This is all fine and good, and indeed the people who are responding to this image are doing so from a large spectrum of extremely varied experiences. That is an indication to me that I have stumbled into something that is needed. The circumstances that drove me into this piece are, as usual, particular and personal and not necessarily needed to have a personal reaction and use for this piece yourself. I have often said that my paintings are a kind of mythological autobiography whether the subjects are men, women, animals, buildings, etc. It was not, for example, intended as a painting about being a woman, but rather a human. Humans have gender and for fairly specific, but not exclusive reasons, I chose to paint a woman. I do believe that in art, very often that which is most personal taps into currents that are most general. In this way great art of the distant past can continue to inform and illuminate very current issues. Finding these “big subjects” involves a kind of dumb luck and often has little or nothing to do with an artist’s conscious intention.
The painting “She Will Find What Is Lost” has been used to underline and illustrate a good number of private and public experiences as well as political or social agenda. This has led to a notion of my endorsing certain views. Of course, I agree with some of these views, some of these views I am ignorant of, and others I actually disagree with. Most of the stories I hear are completely consistent with the hopes I retain for the usefulness of this picture which is an extremely and intensely personal sort of usefulness. I cannot pretend to be able to dictate how people are to feel about my work or the narratives that they will bring to it. That is in fact anathema to my understanding of how art works and should work. If I may ask it of you, I ask that you respect that my intention for this piece was to speak to the most intensely private and intimate kind of supernatural interference, influence, and assistance, whatever your particular experience. I don’t have to agree with you to believe that whatever your gender, circumstance, or issue, many unseen forces are interested in you, love you, and work to influence matters for your profound benefit. Most of what we all do is resist it, misinterpret it, or mess it up, but my experience indicates that these unseen efforts persist impossibly. I thank God for that.
On a more temporal level, please be reminded that it is a licensed image and any promotional or commercial use must be done by permission.
I am a Mormon. Warning: The following text contains some religious content as well as invitations to learn more about my church. You will not be bombarded with proselytizing materials or doctrinal messages from my website, but this essay will just be here and possibly updated periodically. Please feel free to read it, but obviously you are under no obligation. So here goes.
Some of you may have seen the short video on YouTube or lds.org about my being a Mormon. If not, I recommend you see it both for a peek at my notions of the cosmos as well as a look at my studio in Kanosh, Utah. Whatever your assessment of my cosmos, it is a pretty great studio to be sure. Better than I deserve, no doubt, but I am glad to have it and use it. Ethan Vincent was working on a documentary (his own self-motivated and unfunded project, so of course understandably unfinished) when he was commissioned to do several video portraits for the Mormon Church, and this dovetailed nicely with his project that was already underway with me. The result was satisfying, largely because of the skills and trustworthy intrusions of Ethan Vincent, and I was very pleased to participate.
My intention here is to invite you to know more about the Mormon Church, or as it is officially known, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons” is understandably easier to say) should you be in the least bit curious.
I was raised all over the world and have known and loved many, many people of vastly different religious and secular convictions. I believe truly in the virtue and holy participation of many of these people in the complex and extremely difficult work of redemption for this world. My conviction is that my church has a vital and central role to play in the unfolding history of the redemption of this earth and believe it would be silly for people to not engage in it who otherwise would if they had some, or better, information.
There is much good that is accomplished by individuals, and I prize greatly my individual effort to be and do good, to improve my humanity and the condition of those immediately around me. There are also very important things that are accomplished by the collective effort of groups and organizations. Group actions and hierarchies often push us into actions and interactions that we might otherwise have avoided, but nevertheless do us and those around us good — often affecting a circle much wider than our own small one. Both individual and group efforts have their profound advantages and disadvantages and I am convinced that both are needed notwithstanding the failings of each. My conviction of the truth and importance of my church is firmly linked to rich positive revelatory experience, but also does not ignore the mistakes and awkwardnesses that are infused in any organization involving human beings. My assurance of God’s interest in my participation in this church does not incline me to require of that experience perfection of action and result, or unmitigated bliss, but of course there needs to be enough satisfaction and bliss, and thank God there is usually more and to spare.
Most people reading this will be at least vaguely aware of the young Mormon men and women going about in pairs looking for people to teach. Of course these missionaries are very interested in talking to you and of course they want you to join the Mormon Church. Be patient and tolerant. They have devoted a few years of their life to this effort and are anxious to engage. They can also be a good resource for what Mormonism is about. Interestingly, they are not so much receptacles of vast amounts of information, but they know enough to get you started on your own understanding of the subject — an understanding that will hopefully lead to revelation of your own. Everybody can guess what the missionaries, or even I, want you to do. The point is always to find God and get a sense of what He wants you to do. I recommend and invite you to take a few minutes to widen your understanding enough to include talking to some of these missionaries or visiting mormon.org for information that may prove very useful or at least interesting. I am happy to field any questions you might have or refer you to resources I find useful. I will not, without your permission, put anyone else in contact with you.
The world is full of truth and beauty (if indeed those two things can or should be distinguished). It comes at us from every angle. It is often unexpected and hard to categorize. The sources can be sublime or inconvenient and even at times a bit unruly. I believe the work and message of the Mormon Church to be vital, significant and true. I am pleased to be a part of it.
Art, Belief and Meaning Symposium
BYU Museum of Art Auditorium
Friday, November 7, 2008
So, should I paint God? Certainly I have done just that, dozens of times, and yet I continue and continue to ask myself whether or not I should. If there is any merit in those works of mine that depict God, I believe that it is partially because I have never been able to lay down the question of whether or not I should have made them.
This is difficult for me because, notwithstanding regular sublime experiences while painting, I believe the entire realm of pictorial representation is tainted with rather unsavory elements that threaten the concept of holiness from the very onset. I’ll just mention three. Briefly. First, art is artifice; at its best art reaches for the truth through artificial avenues. For example, in visual imagery feelings of esteem and sympathy for the subject can be almost immediately aroused in the viewer through the use of physical beauty or attractiveness. To achieve this end, artists often resort to transient, current trends. Yet, as hardwired as we all are to like someone because they are beautiful, all of us would like to think we know that outer beauty does not indicate virtue. So, how does an artist, appealing only to the eyes by means of oil paint applied to a flat surface, paint virtue?
The second difficulty I see in my art with depictions of holy subjects is that for the professional painter like myself, art is a means of generating revenue and must continually define and redefine itself under the constant attack of my need for money. In such a grip, how do I differentiate between financial need and an interior need to delve authentically and honestly into a sacred subject? And how can I be sure I’m even asking myself these questions honestly? What if the style to which I have become accustomed locks me into making more paintings of the Lord whether or not I “feel like it”? I am alarmed at how authentically I can “feel like doing something” that would prevent the repossession of my home.
My third struggle with holy subject matter arises from a concern that the production of powerful works of art, sacred or otherwise, could propel an artist (myself, for example, to choose the example that really bothers me) into various degrees of local or general fame and the corrupting and distorting influence of well-meant but unwarranted esteem. As a painter I am a performer on a stage. I both love and need my audience and yet they post a most terribly devastating threat to my accurate perspective.
And so it is, at sea in these thrice (at least thrice) troubled waters that the artist, (Brian, let’s call him) takes up his tools to presume to depict the sacred in some useful, honest and illuminating way. How can it be done? I will not venture to answer this question for anyone else, let alone everyone, but I will state candidly that for myself, I am most often far, far better off not doing it — or at least not for the public. I might even have been known to state, when pressed to take a stand, that I suspect more people than now do, should, perhaps pause long to deeply consider whether they might not be better abstaining from holy subject matter more often. Children, drawing God with authority and honesty as often as it suits them, I completely except from this rule and from them we can learn a lot about true and right depictions of Deity. The innocence of children, the limited scope of their audience and their considerable indifference to the reactions and tastes of that audience, protect them. If as adults we could retain the untainted, unapologetic power and honest symbolism of children, then we like them should by all means fall to, drawing God with the honest authority of that sort of faith. I myself must depend on such childlike revelations either sneaking up on me or tumbling accidentally into my work and experience this very rarely, though I manage it as often as I can. Accidents are a difficult sort of stuff to manage.
But to speak to the three troubles previously acknowledged, if the first (the inevitable reliance on artifice) can be abundantly and systemically acknowledged within the work itself and the second and third (pressing need for money and the dangers of esteem) can be kept in check (if not completely ignored) at least in the production stages of my work, then I believe it is possible to explore through art sacred subjects in ways that are edifying to both the artist and the public. Works of art will savor of their primary motivations and, regardless of the approval or disappointment of collectors which can very well be deceiving, the artist is ultimately accountable before God for his own motivations. My own salvation is abundantly more important than my professional success.
I hardly know how to describe what must sound like a psychosis, but I feel a profound accountability for all of the people in my paintings. The ways that I manipulate them must acknowledge on their part a kind of agency, for they must never become the mere toys of my fancy. All the more certainly then, in my depictions of God I must stand ready to account for what I have done and my motivations for doing so. In this matter I am in constant need of self analysis and course correction, which is nothing other than repentance.
In conclusion, to answer my initial question, “should I paint God?” I have determined that it would be as insincere for me to avoid all paintings with God in them as it would be for me to paint nothing else. I would hope that my discipleship colors every subject no matter how secular it may appear on the surface, but when it comes to painting God as a subject I never feel free of the searching question of whether or not it is appropriate and acceptable this time. I have no intention to free myself of that question, nor to cower when it feels right to proceed.