Frances Elizabeth Kent was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1918. In 1936, Kent graduated from Catholic Girls High School—now Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto—and entered the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; this is where she took Sister Mary Corita as her religious name. She finished her BA at Immaculate Heart College in 1941. This order and the college were intellectually rigorous and open to diverse perspectives. The order constantly sought to renew its religious spirit by making changes to their practices in response to the social and political climate of the times; this concept remained incredibly valuable to Corita, and played a pivotal role in her teaching philosophy and art style. In 1944, she was assigned to teach primary school in British Columbia.
Flourishing as a teacher, she was called back to Immaculate Heart College to become an art teacher, while simultaneously getting her graduate degree at the University of Southern California. In 1952, she won first prize in both the Los Angeles County print competition, as well as the California State Fair for the lord is with thee, establishing her work as a renowned artist. She continued to work and teach at IHC, gaining praise and sharing her personal philosophy as an artist and teacher. In 1964, she became the chair of the IHC Art Department, and in 1966, The Los Angeles Times named her one of nine Women of the Year.
Exhausted, Corita took a sabbatical in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, yet at the end of it, she decided to seek dispensation from her vows and leave the Order, devoting her time solely to her art. In 1974, she was diagnosed with cancer, but continued to create notable works and spread her ideals of faith and unity. Kent passed away on September 18, 1986. She left her unsold works and copyrights to the Immaculate Heart Community. Since her death, the Corita Art Center has held hundreds of exhibitions of her work, sold her prints, and developed educational programs based on her ideologies and artwork.
Kent not only created modern art that appealed to the American consumers of the 1960s, but managed to incorporate and focalize her own religious values. Guided by her identity as a nun and her commitment to the Catholic faith, Kent communicated Christian ideals of hope and devotion to inspire her students and incite her audience. Kent crafted visually stimulating compositions that can be understood simultaneously as a statement of religious devotion, a prayer, and a celebration of the ideals of Pop Art.
In response to the political polarization of the international sphere, and the cultural liberalism of 1960s America, Kent spoke to her audience in their own language. She incorporated familiar pop culture images, such as advertisements and poems, and reworked them to form vibrantly inspirational pieces that encourage people to use their whole selves better. Kent’s work in serigraph in particular enabled her to create affordable work for all to enjoy; the cost-effective medium allowed her work to reach those who could not afford high-end art. Kent hoped that the accessibility of her art would allow her message to disseminate throughout society.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: 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.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: 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.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: “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
Supreme Court Case
The phrase “To the lovings” in the print refers to the impending 1967 landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1. The case invalidated anti-miscegenation laws, statutes prohibiting interracial marriage, federally. Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving who was white were sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in the commonwealth of Virginia.
They opted to instead to move to the District of Columbia, and were barred from returning to their home state for 25 years. Intermarriage between races was made officially illegal in seven southern states during the Reconstruction Era.
The Loving case overturned Pace v. Alabama, which affirmed that the anti-miscegenation laws were constitutional because whites and non-whites were punished equally under the law. The “one drop of blood” rule classified a person with one black ancestor as “colored”, which became a point of contention during the Loving case considering Mildred Loving had an ethnically diverse heritage including Native American.
With the help of then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought the case up the judicial ladder, starting in the Virginia Caroline County Circuit Courts. Eventually, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts’ Loving decision unanimously, ruling that the law prohibiting interracial sex and cohabitation violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
In March 1966, Greg Villet, took photography of the Lovings and their three children. The photo-essay “The Crime of Being Married. A Virginia couple fights to overturn an old law against miscegenation” was taken as the couple awaited trial after they had appealed the lower court’s decision.
It is likely that Corita read this article, which is laid out alongside modern advertisements, and was inspired to comment on the lofty, and for her spiritual themes of marriage and equality. Loving Day is celebrated on June 12th.
Vatican II, or the second Vatican Council ran from October 1962 to December 1965 in the Vatican. Opening under John XXIII, Vatican II reviewed and amended the Church’s official stance and involvement with the secular world, among liturgical and hierarchical matters.
Cultural shifts following World War II including anti-authoritarian and sexual-liberation movements, new media, and urbanization forced religious orders to engage with the world. Major changes brought about by Vatican II included the use of native languages over Latin during Mass and the encouragement of dialogue with other religions. For the first time, priests faces their congregations and aesthetics changes allowed for nuns to forgo their bulky habits. Jews were re-categorized from the faith that killed Jesus to a religion with a sacred covenant to God.
Vatican II put emphasis on the importance of human dignity and gave license for Corita to engage with the consumerist media of American culture to illustrate her beliefs. As such, a logo for Bell potato chips and Wonder Bread are transformed to represent the eucharist, the Virgin Mary is showed as a Del Monte “juiciest tomato of all”, and airplanes as guardian angels.
Corita's art in the context of the culture and art movements of the moment raise questions about the pervasiveness of consumerism, the politics of religion, and the “ideal” religious art.
Immaculate Heart College and Civil Rights
The nuns at Immaculate Heart were particularly eager to see the promises laid out by Vatican II come to fruition. To that end, Sisters of the Order opted for modest yet modern dress instead of the traditional habit and did not require daily prayer. The liberal-leaning order fostered continued education for nuns and took up causes such as world hunger.
Sister Corita became chair of the Immaculate Heart College art department in 1964 and would assign her students to visit an exhibits which included Oldenberg, Johns, and Warhol as well as supermarkets to look at packaging. Sister Corita was likely inspired by exhibitions at the Ferus Gallery, Brentwood Dawn Gallery and the Pasadena Museum of California Art which all held shows featuring prominent pop artists who dealt in medium and subject unique to the modern age.
The 1964 Mary’s Day Parade at Immaculate Heart, which looked more like a hippie gathering than a Catholic celebration, can be seen as a visual totem for the progressive nature of the women. Not all community members welcomed the experimental nature of the nuns, which was fostered heavily in the college’s art and theatre departments. Archbishop James Cardinal McIntyre, a conservative and powerful figure in the Los Angeles Catholic community, saw the nuns liberal practice as abhorrent and anti-Catholic.
In 1967 McIntyre gave the nuns an ultimatum: forgo their progressive teachings or be barred from teaching under the Archdiocese. In the end, 90% of the women dispensed of their vows and started their own lay community.
Throughout the 60s, Corita’s work became increasingly political. She focused on themes of hate, starvation, poverty and war, often balancing her bold work with quotes from contemporary thinkers such as Albert Sweitzer, E.E Cummings, and The Beatles along with bible verses. Cummings, who is featured in New Hope experimented with the construction and rules of language. Like Corita, Cummings often employed sentence fragments or oddly spaced words on a page to evoke meaning.
In August of 1968, Sister Corita decided to leave the covenant and became known, simply, as Corita.
“i love you much (most beautiful darling)
more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky
—sunlight and singing welcome your coming
although winter may be everywhere
with such a silence and such a darkness
noone can quite begin to guess
(except my life) the true time of year—
and if what calls itself a world should have
the luck to hear such singing (or glimpse such
sunlight as will leap higher than high
through gayer than gayest someone’s heart at your each
nearness) everyone certainly would (my
most beautiful darling) believe in nothing but love”
Art Historical Context
The pop art movement found its origins in early 1950s London, by the Independent Group. The Group consisted of young professional artists that focused on both high and low culture culture in art, and also had a knowledge of advertising, considering many of the members worked in the advertising industry. Despite the group's formation and introduction of mass culture into art in 1952, the movement was not officially named until 1954.
From the start, pop art was an intrinsically misogynistic movement. Marketing campaigns were blatantly sexist in their stereotyping of women as homemakers and sexual objects, and pop art served as a snapshot of the current media landscape. This became even worse once the pop movement reached the United States through male New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg. These artists often presented stereotyped images women in their work. Despite pop art’s fascination with domesticity and everyday consumer products that women typically dealt with, men were the first popular pop artists in the United States. As art critic Lucy Lippard said, “If the first major Pop artists had been women, the movement might never have gotten out of the kitchen.”
Post World War II, women in the United States were pushed out of the workforce and back into the home. This push resulted in a heavy focus on the importance of family in culture, both as means to sell domestic products and to fight against communism. Thus, women artists had to interact with pop art in a much different way than their male contemporaries. They were often not credited for collaborative work with men, or had to adopt pseudonyms.
Pop art’s appeal was found in that it was a reflection of the public language. It dealt with stereotypes and specifics, as opposed of the universality of the Abstract Expressionism that came before pop. Yet due to its relationship with mass culture, it did not take a strong political stance; pop art was entrenched within culture, not standing out against it.
However, some artists stood against this and sought to incorporate political messages in their works, including Andy Warhol and Corita Kent. Warhol, in his piece "Race Riot" (1964) depicted police and dogs attacking a civil rights protest. Similarly, Corita madethe Loving interracial marriage the subject of "New Hope". Both artists embedded these political messages within the confines of the pop art style: Warhol through his high contrast screen-printing style, and Corita through her use of bold and colorful lettering. They also both used titles to add additional context to their pieces. Warhol's "Race Riot" shows the protestors as violent, whereas Corita's "New Hope" expresses optimism in the face of systemic racism. In this way, both artists were able to depict political subjects in their artworks.
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