Sister Corita rules OK

Golden rules to work by – how an American nun can help us all be better creatives...

By: Luke,   2 minutes

Attending an exhibition of Sister Mary Corita’s work, followed by a series of related short films, I anticipated gaining a greater understanding of her work. What I didn’t expect was to leave with a few new golden rules to work by.

As a long time admirer of Sister Corita’s work, it was a pleasure to see a number of her original serigraphs up close, in one dedicated space. The exhibition at Spike Island, Bristol was the first time I had seen her work in person and, as always is the case when attending an exhibition, the scale and vibrancy was of marked contrast to viewing the artwork in a book or on a computer screen.

Her use of words within her art has always been intriguing. Carefully chosen and thought provoking, she offers an expertly curated collection of text, phrases, lyrics and quotes from a diverse range of icons, and does so without it ever seeming pointless, or with pretension; something that is easily done when type and words are used to create art.

Maybe it’s because I’m aware of who she was, but there is a level of honesty and humility deeply embedded in her work. The words are never used purely for visual purposes; rather they are central and vital to her work, always with meaning. The directness of the colours, images and shapes in her work is matched by the potency of the words she uses. Harmonious and perfectly balanced.

As someone who works with words, I admire her skills as an editor. I’m an advocate of a plain speaking, less-is-more approach to writing, and she offers a compelling example of how a few, well-chosen words can contain a great deal of complexity without being complex. In another life, I’m sure Sister Corita would have a made a great advertising executive!

During one of the short films shown at Spike Island, Sister Corita, whose life as a practicing nun also meant running the art department at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, outlines her ten rules of teaching. Some of the rules are directly related to teachers and teaching but a few are of great relevance to anyone creatively engaged with their work and eager to improve:

Rule 4: Consider everything an experiment

 Rule 6: Nothing is a mistake. There is no win or fail. There’s only make.

 Rule 7: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

 Rule 8: Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They are different processes.

Helpful hints: Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything, it might come in handy later

I’ve since tried to apply these rules to my own work. They hint at the process that helped her to create her own art and I’ve attempted to allow a greater element of freedom into my writing, worrying less about the outcome from the start and instead focusing on output, trying stuff for the sake of trying, knowing that the editing can come later.

Writing of any kind can be painstakingly slow, the blank page causing the onset of snow blindness as you search for the right words. Anything that may help free up the process is always of interest to me, inspiring new ways of doing and seeing. Sister Corita’s work, her rules and her wordplay certainly do that and much more.

Watch artist and filmmaker Aaron Rose discuss the resonance of Sister Corita’s work:

Levi’s® Workshops: Sister Corita from bingo pyjama on Vimeo.

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