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CRAIG HAWKINS: PERSONAL REVELATIONS

Craig Hawkins is a fantastic artist who lives in Georgia.  I find his work http://www.craighawkinsart.com/ to be intriguing if not mysterious.  His paintings ask questions and cause you to ponder things like “Who Am I?” and “Why Am I Here?”  I love the fact that he’s also a Christian.  How does this impact his work?  Read on and find out …

“… I do feel more connected to God while drawing or painting. Like there's a place between doing and thinking where I get to be with Him. It's as if I've had my father's help putting a puzzle together and while he's done most of the work, he's let me hold the pieces and put them into place … I think God's love for His works are exponentially greater ...”

MICHAEL: Hey Craig, First off, I LOVE your website.  It's so clean, yet bold, warm and friendly.  Your work looks fantastic on the site.  What's the inspiration behind the site itself?

CRAIG: I just want a website that's clean, visually works and doesn't get in the way of digitally experiencing the work. A site that gives immediate access to what's most recent and makes everything accessible in no more than three clicks is a high-functioning, user-friendly website. I hope that's always true for my site and that the ease of access encourages more visual exploration. I use Weebly and it has been really easy to work with AND free.

MICHAEL: Your work is so fresh and contemporary.  Let's start with the figurative works.  First off, you seem to like to create a sense of mystery around your subjects; rear portraits, blindfolds, bands of color wrapped around their heads ... What's up with that?

CRAIG: That's a great question. There has been something veiled in my work since 2006. I only began to realize it in 2010 while I was in grad school. I think it serves as an entry point for the viewer, like an invitation to ask questions. It gives permission to look and it gives permission to wonder. 

A good teacher creates an environment for asking the right questions. I think art can function as a teacher in regards to beauty, meaning and morality, but it's certainly a vehicle for a worldview. I attempt to give away personal revelations in the form of a drawing or painting by creating a piece that can ask the right questions. 

MICHAEL: Are you saying that you're more concerned with questions than answers?  If that's the case, you might be intriguing and teasing us for the rest of your career given your current themes!  

CRAIG: Good point. My work does focus on questions, but answers are important to me too. Very important. I'll have to confess I used to try to give answers with my work, but I never figured out how to do it without creating a coded mess of metaphors and signs. I always had to be present to thoroughly explain them or produce a key for the committed viewer to decipher one of my pieces. I thought that, because I am a Christian, I had to make work that would evangelize and bring someone into a saving knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ. I wouldn't allow myself to just appreciate the process, the beauty of a composition and how a piece ultimately functions in livable spaces.

Over the past several years, I realized I was trying to substitute an object for an evangelist. It just doesn't work that way. God didn't come to earth in the form of an object to save the world. He came in the form of a man. So I began to see art as a catalyst for great conversation instead of the conclusion to a great discussion. While my work and themes are birthed from my world view I hope they are genuinely accessible to anyone because they express the appreciation of moments that I find inclusive yet tailored to my own heart and mind. So dialogue with people, not objects, gives answers but art is invaluable in the ways it can reveal and reflect the important questions of our lives.  

MICHAEL: Given that, how do you think that you and your work would be different if you were not a Christian? Are there definitely things in your work that may be suggestive, if not indicative of your faith?  After all, art is a reflection of the artist.

CRAIG: I've considered my character and lifestyle pre and post my decision to follow Christ, but I'm not sure I've really tried to look back and assess the difference in terms of my art. It's a very honest and thought-provoking question. Personally, I know I'm less selfish than I used to be. Caring about others before I became a Christian didn't happen unless I could benefit from them somehow. I also have a greater peace about the unknowns and “what ifs” of life. I have found that life has coherent meaning and purpose as a Christian.

MICHAEL: It certainly does.

CRAIG: Without sincere attempts to follow Jesus as a lifestyle, my art would most likely be more concerned with three “wants”: wanting my own way (not really accepting anything that didn't look like my process or style as art), wanting everything for myself (which could turn my work into more of a commodity or a tool of manipulation than a process of discovery) and wanting to appear important (probably resulting in the pursuit of fame, big or small, that would not challenge the first two “wants”). I base this guess on my tendencies toward doubt, contradiction, rebellion, cupidity and arguing out of the fear of rejection. 

In fact, any work of art I have from my years prior to my becoming a Christian dealt with fear as a theme. I attempted to illustrate scenarios that I hoped would stir up anxiety within the viewer. Maybe my style would be different than it is now, I'm not really sure, but my intentions with my work would be very exclusive and most likely vain. My relationship with God is so much of a fuel for why I do what I do that I'm not even sure if I'd be creating much art beyond college if I weren’t a Christian. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be a college professor either since I believe God led me to pursue teaching art as part of my artistic career.

What work I might make would probably be so introverted that my concept would be lost in translation. Clearly communicating the meaning of my work would not be a priority. Mark-making, showing skill and intentionally making my audience anxious would probably be my best guess at an answer. Visually, this would most likely result in unbalanced compositions full of tension. I don't really know though. That's a hard question.

MICHAEL: And what about the expression of faith in your work?

CRAIG: I would say that some of my subject matter could be indicative of my faith. Birds as metaphors for souls, hymn pages representing praise and common objects set apart from common use for worship, like bread and wine. Maybe that last reference of the bread and wine is the best indication of what I try to do with any subject matter I work with. Setting anything up for serious visual study is setting it apart from its common use. Getting the viewer to reassess things typically taken for granted is a goal of mine. However, a categorization of my work as “Christian Art” may not fit the mold most assume that name to denote. I think there is a difference between a Christian artist and an artist who is a Christian.

MICHAEL: I find it so interesting that most people including some Christians see God as trying to restrict or limit them.  All He wants us to do is follow Him so we don't end up killing ourselves which is exactly what the world is doing.  Has being an artist given you any particular fascination about God as an artist and creator?  Do you feel closer to God or more spiritual while you're creating? 

CRAIG: Amongst other feelings of ownership and accomplishment there is a feeling of satisfaction and awe that happens when I create. In that sense, I often feel I wasn't alone in the creative process despite looking around at the empty studio and myself. I do feel more connected to God while drawing or painting. Like there's a place between doing and thinking where I get to be with Him. It's as if I've had my father's help putting a puzzle together and while he's done most of the work, he's let me hold the pieces and put them into place.

There's wonder in the making and the finished piece that I find very addicting. I think I spend much more time looking at the piece than working on it. Time can seem to dissolve.  If I feel like that about pigment pushed around on paper or canvas. I think God's love for His works are exponentially greater. All of us, as relational beings created by God, are infinity and perfectly loved by Him. He cares about what happens to us. 

MICHAEL: Shouldn't an artist who is a Christian be painting cherubs, grandiose landscapes and depictions of Christ?

CRAIG: Only if a chef who is a Christian should be limited to baking artisan bread for communion, making wedding cakes and serving lamb to celebrate Passover while never finding freedom and joy in making excellent food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

MICHAEL: Love that answer. When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist?  Do you come from an artistic family? How did your relationship with art begin?

CRAIG: By the time I was in first grade, I knew drawing was something I enjoyed. I'm an introvert. In grade school, I could be quiet and draw something and people would come to me to see what it was and start talking to me. I rarely had to initiate a conversation. My mom is a creative. She was always quilting, making new curtains, rearranging furniture and encouraging me with praise over what I was making/drawing. I used to ask her to draw things for me and eventually she just told me that she knew I could do it. So I did. I don't think I actually considered myself an artist until I was in college though.  Committing that amount of time and money forced me to admit to myself that I was one and I recognized art as a passion I could not stop doing. I recognize now that it is a way of thinking and studying the world that I could not function without. 

MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world and art market and how they function? Living artists continue to struggle compared to dead, famous artists like Warhol and Picasso.

CRAIG: I will not pretend to understand it. Prices of art selling at Sotheby's and Christie's appear to continue to increase. I'll gladly expose my ignorance and say I have no idea how certain works even show up for auction. Is it a show and tell for collectors with the option to buy? With the rise of eBay, etsy and artists selling on Facebook, I think it's easier to personally sell work. I appreciate the gallery/artist relationship because it's a relationship with someone who appreciates and believes in my work. I trust my galleries to expose my art to as many people as possible. I personally continue to do the same but their reach is longer, wider and more influential in terms of getting my work into the homes or businesses outside of my realm of influence. I'm simple and probably naive about the art market. It's bigger than me. If I'm ever to be a part of it in a big way, it will have to be someone else's influence and admiration of my work. My goal is for people to see my work and enjoy it. Selling it, while absolutely lovely and incredibly grateful I am when it happens, is secondary. 

MICHAEL: Aren't you an art professor? What does teaching art do for you? Can you actually teach someone to become an artist?

CRAIG: Yes, I'm an Assistant Professor of Art at Valdosta State University. I lead foundation drawing classes as well as advanced drawing classes. I teach skill sets and research methods while guiding and encouraging students to pursue their interests and passion. Teaching provides the opportunity for me share my passion for drawing. 

It is a privilege to teach students just entering into the art department. The challenge is helping students discover and/or evaluate the passion they have for art making. I believe my enthusiasm, passion, and willingness to meet the student on their personal level of art-making is paramount when teaching. Guidance and instruction of content is essential. However, the student will never learn to equip themselves with the techniques and information provided to them in the studio unless they engage with a certain attitude and mindset. I aspire to bring an attitude of contagious appreciation and wonder of art making to the classroom. I encourage them to believe art is a learning and explorative process that anyone can engage.

MICHAEL: But I would think there is line between loving art making and turning it into a career.  No?

CRAIG: While teaching advanced level classes, I have the honor of guiding students who have acquired specific skills and have a desire to see those skills put to specific forms of research. Developing a series of personal work based on an area of interest is rewarding. Some work even becomes interdisciplinary depending on the intent of their research. Exploration develops meaning and content that the previously developed skill set can now communicate. 

Teaching the advanced students how to be life-long learners equips them for finding success no matter the environment they find themselves in after graduation. Being the best example I can be by actively researching, creating and exhibiting my own professional work gives my students the appreciation of what’s expected on a professional level. Preparing my students for grad school and/or the art world with the ability to find information they need when they are no longer part of a university is crucial to becoming a life-long learner. 

Wanting to learn and wanting to be an art major have revealed themselves to be two different mindsets during my time at VSU. I desire to encourage the former mindset because it encourages growth and asks the question, “Can I learn to do this” when confronted with a challenge. The latter mindset appears to be fixed on an end result and only asks, “Will I immediately be good at this?” When a student is confronted with a challenge and fails during their first attempt, a focus on growth provides the freedom to try again but a focus on “being good at this” condemns them for trying. Any commitment to excellence, discipline and relevant, creative work cannot be achieved with a fixed, “Will u be good at this?” mindset, but a mindset desiring growth is an essential quality found in an artist. 

MICHAEL: Absolutely. Finally Craig, What's the point of contemporary art? Most people won't ever buy art and far more people care about the New England Patriots than even Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst.  Isn't art ultimately a waste of time?

CRAIG: That's funny. Sometimes I feel the same way about football, but that's because, personally, it's easy for me to overlook the merit of football and only see overpaid superstars, commercialism, love of violence, fanaticism and crowd psychology.

MICHAEL: Uhh … You think?

CRAIG: Obviously contemporary art can embody that too, but just because it's easy for me to overlook something doesn't mean it's worthless. Planning, strategy, talent, structured play, sportsmanship, teamwork, fitness, leadership, endurance, and perseverance all make football a challenging and beneficial game.  

MICHAEL: Whatever.

CRAIG: As a spectator, football isn't valuable for survival, but neither is friendship or art for that matter. I can exist without ever watching a game of football. Although it would be lonely coexisting with people while never really getting to know anyone or let someone really know me I suppose it is theoretically possible. Eating, sleeping, and breathing without ever bothering to care about the taste, the comfort or quality of my life sounds horrible, but I suppose it's possible. However, these things make survival valuable. C. S. Lewis expands on this in his book, “The Four Loves.” In contrast to football, I would argue that it is way harder to live without art, contemporary or historical, than it is to live without football.  

MICHAEL: Yes.

CRAIG: Everywhere we look, we find something that has been designed, prototyped, composed and expressed in some way. Like it or not, even football teams have logos and uniforms, fight songs and professionally produced events designed by someone you could, at the very least, consider artistically oriented. While I can't truthfully express with eloquent words how football enriches my life, I can speak to the importance of art as a means to understand myself better. It can point to something greater than itself. It's a record of looking, feeling and thinking intentionally presented for experiential value.  

I believe art is an expression of appreciation for a moment in time. Art can ask great questions, place a person in a position to realize the truth and plant seeds of beauty that germinate into gratitude. In its best manifestation, art presents life as meaningful, even through superstars like Damien Hirst, who approaches the subject of death in very beautiful ways. Have you seen his butterfly kaleidoscope paintings?

MICHAEL: Nicely said.  Thanks Craig.  This has been a very cool chat.

Check out Craig Hawkins at http://www.craighawkinsart.com/



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