In Focus • 2
A Catholic Nun is... cool? You're damn right. A focus on Corita Kent, the graphic designer activist.
My name is Christian Solorzano. This is my newsletter, Beginner’s Mind — a newsletter about intentional awareness. You can learn more about the meaning of a beginner’s mind in a previous post I wrote. This issue is part of a new segment I introduced last month called, In Focus, A bi-weekly 🤞 collection of curiosities that inform and shape my outlook of the world. The thread that will run through In Focus will be: examining the human condition and discussing artifacts that push the status quo.
Expect to receive In Focus in your inbox, every other Wednesday Morning. 🌅
Welcome to my…
Alice Cooper was the first concert that I went to on my own. I was 15 years old and I went with my friend Robert. His mom drove us to the Genesee Theater in Waukegan Illinois. The show was electrifying. It included all of Alice Cooper’s theatrics — he was decapitated, he killed a nurse, and he brought out a snake. And not long after, I discovered that Alice Cooper was a devout Christian.
Since then, I’ve been fascinated by polar opposites and unpredictable aspects of people — people that break stereotypes. Sort of like this issue’s person I’ll be focusing on. Corita Kent.
Growing flowers out of darkness
A while back, I learned about the Catholic Nun, Corita Kent (1918–1986). She was a nun, designer, advocate for social justice, and educator. She combined Christianity with activism — drawing inspiration from popular culture, biblical verses, and consumerism. For decades, she taught at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, California, where she encouraged her students to challenge the way they view the world and their design practices.
After being exposed to the work of Andy Warhol, she began to understand art and design as something that can be a byproduct of everyday life. She began to create messages by creating compositions from street signs, packaging, advertising, and newspapers. Her aesthetic and process being a strong juxtaposition from the Modernist movement that dominated the 1950s.
As an educator, she had her students analyze the visual landscape of their environments and find new ways of creating art out of ephemera. In the classroom, she cultivated a space that would grant her students the permission to be free and experiment. As part of her curriculum, she would have her students activate their work by contextualizing it and making them participate their work in parades and demonstrations as an effort to teach them about the power of the dynamic aspect of graphic design and its effect.
I admire people who march. I admire people who go to jail. I don't have the guts to do that. So I do what I can.
— Corita Kent
In the classroom, she created a set of rules to guide both the teacher and student. She blurred the lines of hierarchy, working alongside students and practicing what she preached. Her aim set to making art accessible, not something that sits in an ivory tower.
I’d like to share those rules with you. I hope you find them useful. I know I do.
Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules
Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
Consider everything an experiment.
Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
“We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.
Work by Corita Kent
Learn more about Corita Kent