Corita Kent / Paulo Freire
Corita Kent / Paulo Freire
Corita Kent / Paulo Freire
Corita Kent / Paulo Freire
Corita Kent / Paulo Freire

Corita Kent / Paulo Freire

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Corita Kent
Corita Kent was a printmaker working with text-based collage silkscreen before it was cool, and many of her students have said that she forever changed the way they thought about art. She showed her students how to really look at their surroundings, and that when we first look at things, we are not really seeing them. She was a true revolutionary in the form of a small person wearing a nun's habit.

As a Catholic nun, Sister Corita headed the Art Department at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, California, where she instilled her artistic values of close observation, imagination, and social justice in her many students. A creative iconoclast in her own work, she famously formulated what could be considered "Corita's Decalogue," otherwise known as the "Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules."

In the 1930s, Kent entered the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and her love of art found her taking classes at the Otis Art Institute (now the Otis College of Art and Design) as well as the famed Chouinard Art Institute. She was one tough cookie and that's what everyone loved her for: her unyielding determination to bring about social justice and change through her art and her hope that love and peace would always prevail if given the opportunity. In 1951, at the age of 33, she began creating her first prints and serigraphs, which would eventually become her main form of artistic expression. Her early art treated traditional religious themes with an untraditional expressionistic manner.

“I was trying to make ‘religious art’ that would be not quite as repulsive as what was around,” she said in 1976 interviews that form part of an oral history prepared by UCLA archivist Bernard Galm. But she adds, “Pretty soon I realized that anything that was any good had a religious quality, so that it didn’t matter whether it had that kind of subject.” Her best work transcends any specifically doctrinal content (which is usually slender). Far more common is a dialectical, even interrogative, text-heavy visual counterpoint of vibrant primaries and secondaries that occasionally modulate into deeper hues or pale washes. She exploited the silkscreen process brilliantly to achieve the desired chromatic effects.

In the 1960’s Sister Kent gained national fame and stirred up the Catholic authorities with vividly coloured prints that conveyed a message of hope and protest. Her "Peace on Earth'' Christmas exhibit in IBM’s New York showroom in ‘65 was seen as too subversive and Corita had to amend it. However, her work continued to be an outlet for her activism—in Corita's words: "I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail. But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art."

Sister Corita was scrutinized by the archbishop of Los Angeles for her ‘innovative’ celebrations and for her religious art. Most notably one of her prints referred to the Virgin Mary as ‘the juiciest tomato of them all.’ The archbishop couldn’t see it for what it was: a beatific Madonna, reimagined for the era of the neon-lit diner and the interstate billboard. For Mary’s Day in 1966, Corita created a wide banner that was hung behind the altar at the convent. It consisted of the words POWER UP (a catchphrase of the Richfield Oil Corporation), beneath which she transcribed a sermon by Daniel Berrigan, priest, poet and advocate of civil disobedience. It is one of her most striking works, and it moved the archbishop to fire off another furious letter: ‘What pertains to the liturgy and to sacred art comes within my jurisdictions. We hereby request again that the activities of Sister Corita be confined to her classroom.’

Sister Corita was preoccupied with this idea of keeping present for herself and for her students. However, this continuously created strong tension with the Archbishop of Los Angeles and the Immaculate Heart College. In 1967, Sister Corita left the religious life, retired from teaching and moved to Boston to focus solely on her art. She did, however, maintain the name Corita. In 1986, at the age of 67, she passed away from cancer. Lanier saw her as a type of Renaissance [wo]man, who aspired to be many things at once. “Sister Corita was a nun, teacher, artist and thinker, and unlike many others she did not compartmentalize her several universes of action, but instead they all fed each other in their unity.”

10 Rules
The authorship of the 10 Rules is always credited to John Cage, which doesn't ring true, not the approach, the writing style, or the typesetting. And it doesn't appear in any of the numerous books by or about Cage. So who might have written it, if not Cage? And if he didn’t write it, how did it get attributed to Cage, while it was hanging on the wall of Cage’s longtime partner’s studio?

In 2012, Brain Picking had said that despite what everyone thought about Cage, 10 Rules’ actual author was everyone’s favorite serigraphicist nun, Sister Corita Kent. Which was funny, because in 2010, blogger Keri Smith wrote about 10 Rules because she’d heard exactly the opposite: that despite what everyone had heard about Sister Corita, those rules were actually written by John Cage. And one source of that information was none other than Laura Kuhn, of the John Cage Trust. Smith’s post attracted some seriously high quality comments in 2010-12, including students of students of Sister Corita who remembered the Rules; and scholars of dancers who remembered the flyers. Then in June 2012, Jill Bell quoted “Richard Crawford who was in on the creation of ‘The Rules’.” Crawford was a student of Sister Corita’s in 1967-68, and says she gave the class the assignment to come up with a list of rules one night, and then to design and print them up. Cage’s quote was contributed by one of the students.

“The rules were formulated in late Fall, “67 or early Spring, ’68. Corita gave us the assignment out of the BLUE in an evening class she taught on Mondays, I believe the name of class was: Art Structure.  We THE STUDENTS “made up” the rules spontaneously.  Corita was magnificent getting “STUFF” out of her students.  (She liked the word STUFF.)  ”None of that stuff…..”   “You know, the good stuff”, she’d say.

Davy (David Mekelburg) and I were first year students…we only had Corita one year.  The rules evolved in two classes.  A key player was Barbara Loste….who had been at the College for a couple of years. I THINK it was Barbara who came up with the Cage quote. The Rules took 2 classes to complete.  We started near the end of one and the following Monday refined them.  Barbara Loste stick-printed the rules and took them to a copy place. We got the rules about the 3rd week.

Only later did Davy stamp out the rules…cannot remember the occasion. He used one of the stamp sets Corita had used for one of her Container Corp. ads…(Corita always created pressure for herself, because she waited to the last minute to “DO”  the Ads, all of her commissions….and then she did them quickly….1,2, 3.).  Corita LOVED DAVID’S STAMP SETS because he was “the best carver…..ever.”  He may have stamped out the rules for a short movie he made for the Calligraphy society? Cannot remember. I personally did not have much to do with the rules those 2 classes. What was amazing to me was how Corita worked her magic…giving the assignment, and getting “THE STUFF” out of her students… She was a celeb that last year…and not very happy…..she wanted a life of her own away from the College.  In David she saw a TEACHER….completely different than she………in David, Corita saw “how to create a life of her own in Boston.”  She handed over her classes to him. WE TOGETHER CREATED “THE ART DEPARTMENT RULES”….we the students along with Corita.  They were pulled out of the BLUE….!” - Richard Crawford, Jun 14, 2012

Aaron Rose’s documentary, Become A Microscope, shows Corita Kent with her students, using what she called “finders” to learn how to see with fresh eyes. “You have to look at the world in  small pieces at a time,” she said. “Look at it. Just a small part of the world.”

Just like the viewfinder on a camera, Corita taught her students to use a "finder"––a tool that "helps take things out of context, allows us to see for the sake of seeing, and enhances our quick looking and decision making skills." A finder allows for viewing "life without being distracted by content. You can make visual decisions––in fact, they are made for you." 

“Corita was notorious for her quantity and process assignments. Not only did she make assignments like, ‘look at a tree for one hour, make 10 drawings and then select a section of each of those drawings and make 10 more,’ the assignments built on each other. Students might be instructed to pick out pictures from a magazine, then reinterpret those photographs as watercolors, then make collages from those watercolors; and so on.”

Duncan laughs about some of the video documentation of Corita at work with her students. “You see her in class telling her students, ‘I want you to make 100 collages this weekend. By number 60, you’ll be doing something I want to look at.’” Another former student’s family members talk about an assignment to make 20 puppets with a scenario crafted around them—“the weekend we went crazy making those puppets.”

“As they became more and more desperate, they started breaking the rules,” just as Corita intended. “They’d camp out weekends on the campus, sleep over, to finish these over-the-top homework assignments,” Dammann recounts. “She’d screen a short Charles Eames movie and tell the students to write 500 questions they wanted answered about the movie…at a certain point, you get to a state where your mind frees up and creativity can happen.”

The Irregular Bulletin
“When I was editing Industrial Design magazine in the 1960s, we began receiving a curious publication called the Irregular Bulletin. The name was appropriate, for it arrived frequently but irregularly, with no indication of when it would come or why it came to us at all. Published by Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, the Bulletin was a desktop publication before there was any such thing, photocopied from numerous sources and cut and pasted in whatever typography the original had been set in. Since the subject matter was mostly related to the college, I merely skimmed the first couple of issues, but sat up and took notice when I began seeing references to people like Bucky Fuller, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Charles Eames, Saul Bass and John Cage, and to spiritual leaders like the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip. Also by this time I had become a regular reader of the Irregular, which was written and edited with the kind of holy irreverence that, I soon discovered, fueled Corita's art and design, and most of the activities at what had to be the hippest college in Christendom, where Corita chaired the art department.” - Ralph Caplan

Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire was born in 1921 in Recife, Brazil. In 1947 he began work with illiterate adults in North-East Brazil and gradually evolved a method of work with which the word conscientization has been associated. Paulo Freire contributed a philosophy of education which blended classical approaches stemming from Plato and modern Marxist, post-Marxist and anti-colonialist thinkers. His book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, can be read as an extension of, or reply to, Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, which emphasized the need to provide native populations with an education which was simultaneously new and modern, rather than traditional, as well as anti-colonial—not simply an extension of the colonizing culture. Freire considered the contemporaneous Chinese Cultural Revolution an exemplar of his notion of cultural action and praised Mao Tse-Tung’s innovations to Marxist theory and praxis.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire, reprising the oppressors–oppressed distinction, applies the distinction to education, championing that education should allow the oppressed to regain their sense of humanity, in turn overcoming their condition. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that for this to occur, the oppressed individual must play a role in their liberation.

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.

In terms of pedagogy, Freire is best known for his attack on what he called the "banking" concept of education, in which students are viewed as empty accounts to be filled by teachers. He notes that "it transforms students into receiving objects and attempts to control thinking and action, leading men and women to adjust to the world, inhibiting their creative power." The basic critique was not entirely novel, and paralleled Rousseau's conception of children as active learners, as opposed to a tabula rasa view, more akin to the banking model.

John Dewey was also strongly critical of the transmission of mere facts as the goal of education. Dewey often described education as a mechanism for social change, stating that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction." Freire's work revived this view and placed it in context with contemporary theories and practices of education, laying the foundation for what would later be termed critical pedagogy.

If pedagogy is, as Paulo Freire suggests, about challenging relations and subject positions, spatiality and the urban are crucial, since, as Margaret Kohn states: “Space is one of the key ways in which the body perceives power relations. The physical environment is political mythology realized, embodied, materialized.” Such an approach and finding out is necessarily a collective endeavor, which involves experiential, critical and projective actions. 

Dialogic Action
In chapter 3 of his most influential work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,”  he explores the term dialogue in a philosophical way. Freire discovers the essence of dialogue based on its instrument, that is word with two dimensions, reflection and action. “Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world,”  thus “this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person “depositing” ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be “consumed” by the discussants.”

According to Freire, true dialogue cannot exist unless the partners engage in love, humility, faith, trust, hope, and critical thinking. This view shows that dialogue demonstrates not only the positive connection between people but also the constant drive to transform themselves as well as reality. Therefore, dialogue becomes the sign and the central concept of the true education, “without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication, there can be no true education.”

Educators, in order to promote free and critical learning should create the conditions for dialogue that encourages the epistemological curiosity of the learner. The goal of the dialogic action is always to reveal the truth interacting with others and the world. In his dialogic action theory, Freire distinguishes between dialogical actions, the ones that promote understanding, cultural creation, and liberation; and non-dialogic actions, which deny dialogue, distort communication, and reproduce power.

The concept of dialogic learning is not a new one. Paulo Freire's work introduced these ideas to educational theory. Within the Western tradition, it is frequently linked to the Socratic dialogues. It is also found in many other traditions; for example, Nobel Prize of Economics winner Amartya Sen situates dialogic learning within the Indian tradition and observes that an emphasis on discussion and dialogue spread across Asia with the rise of Buddhism.