On Aesthetic

One thing that’s obviously on my mind a lot, as a community art and theater major, is art. More specifically, why do I like art? What kind of art do I like? Why is that important to me?

I’m a writer, and have been for as long as I can remember. To me, writing is a type of art that uses words to paint stories and pictures in our minds. I believe that words hold the power to create worlds and change worlds. And, in that way, writing is a form of art.

However, if my classes, discussions, solo field trips, and journal entries have taught me anything, it’s this: There are no words I could possibly share that would touch the soul in the exact same way that art does. And that’s not because words don’t also have the power to be beautiful, hopeful, ugly, shocking, or vivid. It’s merely because there is a part of our brain that is stimulated by visual sight, and taking in words can’t tickle that section of the brain in quite the same way a painting, sculpture, or piece of theater does.

But if we accept that there are certain types of art that must remain visual, in order to stimulate that section of our brain and touch us in ways that novels and theses never can, we must also accept that different types of visual art stimulate and affect us in different ways. And therein lies the question: What kind of art is good art?

My experience, especially among Christian circles, has been the view that art must reflect the beauty and glory of God and His created world. Christians are very quick to praise the work of Impressionists, Hudson River School painters, and the always docile Kinkade. We love these painters because they created worlds of unrivaled beauty and wonder. Who doesn’t see the hand of God in the mist of a stunning waterfall, the curve of a ballerina’s foot, or the parasols on the French Riviera? I’ll be the first to admit that I love to stand and look at Impressionist paintings up close. I’ve seen the works of Monet and Degas face to face, and I’ve waited in line for hours to catch a glimpse at the portraits and sunflowers of Van Gogh. There is so much beautiful art to be seen and appreciated, and I really do want to take in all of it.

But even if we did soak in all the “pretty art” of the world–trek to every foreign country and private gallery salon to see it–we still have to stop and ask ourselves if perhaps we have only witnessed half of what art, and human existence, reveals itself to actually be.

The problem is this: We view art as being purely aesthetic. We have our tastes, preferences, and favorites. Who doesn’t? When we are conditioned to view art as something pretty, meant for our enjoyment and culture, why would we not turn a blind eye to the pieces we don’t understand or like?

I don’t think this reality in any way indicates that Christians are blind to the needs of the world or indifferent to the suffering of others. On the contrary, it has been my experience that many Christians are the first to react to the injustice found around them. But why does the Christian’s acceptance that the world is broken and hurting stop short when it comes face to face with art? Why do we insist that art must “be pretty” and “reflect Jesus’ light” and “remind us of pleasant things”, when there is so much ugliness and darkness and unpleasantness around us?

In my opinion, this comes down to a mistaken understanding of what art is. In the Christian world, art has generally been placed into one of two categories: frivolity or history. We can admire art for the way it has changed over time and the different beautiful works artists have created through the years, but it retains its museum status even in the 21st Century, because we are unwilling to accept the fact that imperfect, honest art is creeping up all around us.

The Bible doesn’t have much to say about visual art. Ancient Israelites are warned about the worship of carved images, but the emphasis on visual creatures seems only unacceptable in a worship context. However, if we think back on the conclusions I made in the beginning of this post about how writing can be a form of art, then the Scriptures come alive with poetry, song, and meditations–not even half of which are “pretty”.

In the Book of Psalms, David and other poets pour out their hearts to God with visual images calling to mind drought, famine, war, death, and solitude. They express the full nakedness of their souls’ conditions, and plead for drops of living water. In Psalm 22, David cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” Sound familiar? That’s because Christ quoted those very words as He died, stretched out on a cross and completely abandoned by His heavenly Father and many of His earthly friends.

Now take a look at this painting by a Jewish painter named Marc Chagall. And let me warn you–it’s not pretty.

Chagall painted this portrait of Christ’s crucifixion in 1938–in spite of the fact that he wasn’t a Christian. But as a Russian-French artist who visited Europe during the pre-World War II killings of Jews in his native country, Chagall was struck to the soul, just like David, and could not understand why God–and Christians–were forsaking him. In this painting, Christ is crucified again as His people are killed, burned, and scattered across Europe during the mid-20th Century.

Another painting that I think should be viewed and talked about by every Christian who cares about art is “Die” by Faith Ringgold, painted in 1967.

Believe it or not, this painting is just one of many in a series Faith (an African-American artist also working in the mid-20th Century) entitled “The American People”.  This painting highlights the violence and brutality of the Civil Rights era, as both black and white Americans battled with each other and our nation was split and hurting. The power of this image is that not only does this reflect one African-American woman’s perspective on what was happening to the people around her, but it also gives 21st Century Americans (and Christians) a slap in the face as we recognize how little has changed in almost fifty years.

I’ve only shown two pieces of art today and believe me, I could show twenty or thirty more. But my goal in writing this is to remind Christians that yes, some art is meant to be beautiful. I hope that we can always find joy and peace in the sunflowers of Van Gogh and the waterlilies of Monet. But there is more art out there that could really change us if we allowed ourselves to experience and think about it. How are we, like the Christians in the 1930′s and 40′s, ignorant to the pain and suffering of minority groups all over our world? How are we, just like the Christians in the 1960′s, blind to the injustices of racism in America today? How can this art be used, not as enjoyment, but as prophecy?

The writers of the Psalms used art as a way of expressing the beauty, pain, suffering, joy, and glory they saw in the world around them. And I don’t think our art is a full reflection of God and His created earth until we use our art in all the same ways.


Eye Candy & Soul Food

Stills from Terrence Malick’s Badlands

e.e. cummings

Matisse’s sketchbook

Dallas Clayton’s perspective on love

Sunshine on a rainy day

Rachel Castle’s life manifesto

This article, perfect for all the people out there who like all types of music, and whose sense of humor is so random


The perfect dress for cocktail-drinking and red carpet-attending (or maybe just a summer BBQ)

This daily reminder

A treasure of a book you simply must read

This technicolor reminder from one of my very favorite movies that some nights are just wonder-worthy

It’s a Grand Night for Singing – State Fair

A bedtime reminder and goodnight


Dream Factory Workshop – Summer 2016

Oops, I did it again. Or I’m going to do it again, at least. Today, I’m beyond excited to announce the details for the next Dream Factory Workshop, hosted once again at my house this August 5-7.

You saw the pictures and read the stories from my first workshop in October 2014 and I’m praying that this next group of young women create bonds that are as raw and deep as the souls that met in the fall.

What I’m offering is simple. Three days living heartbeat to heartbeat with like-minded dreamers, creators, and life-squeezers. We’ll ball up in sleeping bags on late nights with cheeks that strain from smiling and notebooks full of our pounding thoughts. We’ll gather around the table for home-cooked meals and pile in the car to go exploring. Our cameras won’t stay in their cases and our words won’t be bottled up inside. Together we’ll learn to see and think and create in new and amazing ways.

This is a workshop for storytellers. It’s not for the weak of heart or the fearful. It’s for the shy girls who journal by flashlight late at night and the center-of-attention girls who can’t stop talking. It’s for the thinkers and the feelers and those who are a little of both. It’s for those who like eyes that burn from beauty and hearts that throb with passion. It’s a weekend for deep connections and awkward getting-to-know-you’s and tearful goodbyes. For sharing. For growing. For pouring out.

This time around, I have some different surprises in store for this next batch of dreamers…

This summer, we’ll drive to the beach and order ice cream cones and sit in the sand with our sunhats while we swap stories from our childhood. We’ll tear pages out of magazines and make collages with pictures and words and thoughts that are important to us. We’ll wander through an art museum and take notes on what we feel and how we ache and laugh and make faces in amusement over the confusing pieces of modern art. If the weather is nice, we’ll pack a picnic dinner and watch the sunset over the city skyline. We’ll make strawberry shortcake and lick whipped cream off our fingertips and eat cake together. And every evening we’ll gather together and talk and share and learn how to better tell these stories.

And I really think you should join us.

Come and write. Come and see. Come and laugh and rest and explore. You have a voice, so let’s learn to use it. Come share in my life and let me share in yours. Let’s live and tell these stories together.

DATES: August 5-7, 2016 (guests can arrive on Thursday afternoon, if necessary, but food will not be provided until Friday)

WHERE: My home, in central Virginia

FOR: Creative young women, ages 15-25 (writers, photographers, + girls who just want to develop their creative talents)

COST: Three full days – $400 (Price includes lodging, three meals a day, activities + other fun stuff—you are responsible for your own travel expenses and souvenirs)

YOU NEED: A brain. A laptop. A notebook. A camera (doesn’t have to be an SLR).

To sign up, send me a brief email at rachelcokerwrites(at)hotmail(dot)com to receive an application. A $400 deposit will be due at the time of your application, which will be non-refundable after July 1st. Please don’t apply unless you know that you are physically and financially able to make it that weekend. I wouldn’t want to turn someone else down only to have you bow out because of finances or inability to get here. Thanks!


“It was retreat. A getaway, where I was able to commune and spend time with other girls like me. A place where I wasn’t the only one snapping pictures of everything visible. A time where I could share my writing, and grow in my skill. A place where I could learn from others, and be built up by their encouragement. The fellowship was beautiful. The writing brought tears. The activities were flawless. The friendships made were unforgettable. The inside jokes still remain funny. The food was amazing. And the overall experience was one I wouldn’t give up for the world.” – Abbey

“The Dream Factory Workshop was exactly what it said: a dream. Through lectures, sharing time, adventurous outings, and brand new best friends, I’ve been able to learn not only about HOW to tell stories, but I’ve also had the opportunities to actually TELL the stories.” – Samantha

“Since your workshop I have such a different perspective. I see things and want to take their picture. I see someone laugh and I think of beauty and how I would want to capture that. I have found stories in other people. I’m looking for them. It’s really amazing.” – Abby