This week, I stumbled upon a remarkable artist: Sister Corita Kent. She was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, but grew up here in Los Angeles. At the tender age of 18, she entered the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a group of Catholic women who, among other things, ran the Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood (now the campus of the American Film Institute). In the heady days following the Second Vatican Council, the sisters had the temerity to re-evaluate the way they prayed, ministered, and lived, which upset Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, the archbishop of Los Angeles. Given an ultimatum to conform or disband, the women voted to become a lay community and a nonprofit organization. Facing declining revenues and financial hardship, the college closed its doors in 1981, but Sister Corita had already made a name for herself in the art world.
Corita ran the college art department, and specialized in creating serigraphs, or silk screen paintings utilizing both text and color to make profound statements. She drew from song lyrics, poetry, and words of famous people to populate her art. By all accounts a restless spirit who suffered from chronic insomnia and depression, Corita withdrew from the order in 1968 to move to Boston and work full time as an artist. She died of cancer in 1986.
During her tenure as department head, Corita developed a set of rules which became the teachers’ and students’ guiding standards. They are as follows:
Rule I: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
Rule II: General duties of a student—pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
Rule III: General duties of a teacher—pull everything out of your students.
Rule IV: Consider everything an experiment.
Rule V: 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 VI: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
Rule VII: 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 VIII: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
Rule IX: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
Rule X: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even your own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
Additional 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.
For an artist, a teacher, a student, and anyone else, these are pretty good rules to follow from a humble and driven former Catholic nun who in her way changed the world.
All images of Sister Corita Kent and her work are used with permission from Corita Art Center and the Immaculate Heart Community.