Behind the Scenes

I feel like my blog posts on here are always about art and I wanted to try to mix it up, so this blog post is partly inspired by an earlier post by the lovely Violet, but also my newly discovered love for set production. I’m a film and tv fanatic for the plot and characters just like everybody else, but what really fascinates me is all the work that goes into film behind the scenes (if you will). Every set is specifically designed for that production and the attention to detail often goes beyond what the viewer might realize, but that’s what I love about it. You never know what might be revealed to you just by taking a closer look at the background and paying attention to the minor details. Below are just a few exemplary movies and tv shows that blew me away with their set production. (I do my best to avoid spoilers, but I would read at your own risk if you haven’t seen these particular movies or shows).

1. Knives Out

First of all, can we talk about the cast of this movie? Incredible. And who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? This movie had me on the edge of my seat the entire time as I tried to keep up with Detective Blanc and piece together the clues. Watching the movie for the second time around, it’s much easier to pick up on those clues and you often find those Easter eggs from within the background. In the very beginning of the movie we get a shot of a cheesy coffee mug that says “My house, my rules, my coffee.” We see this amidst a shot of Harlon’s mansion, which is insane in and of itself. You could pause at any moment and get lost in the decor behind the characters. My favorite scenes by far are the ones that take place in Harlon’s study. The twists and turns you have to make to get to his study and how it’s filled to the brim with books and oddities really helps to build on Harlan’s character. Okay, sorry, back to the mug. In the beginning, this mug seems rather pointless and to be just a prop, but it has quite the comeback at the end of the film. In the last shot of the movie we see the rightful owner of Harlan’s estate holding the mug covering all the words except for “my house” as the villain is escorted off the premise by police. In addition, throughout the movie an incredible painting of Harlan himself is seen multiple times. In the beginning of the movie and throughout the investigation Harlan’s portrait has a rather somber expression, but in the end when the mystery is finally solved Harlan’s portrait is seen giving a slight smirk.

2. Rocketman

I LOVE this movie. I love Elton John and this was a beautiful recreation of his story and the costume design, I mean come on! And Taron Egerton, enough said. Anyway, for this movie I want to specifically talk about the Crocodile Rock scene. The movie’s recreation of the Troubadour is fantastic and is just another amazing element of this period piece. The best part of this scene, in my opinion, is when the whole room freezes and the crowd is literally lifted off their feet. Not only is this just an iconic moment in the movie showing Elton falling in love with performing and illustrating the influence his music would have on the world, but the movie magic behind that scene is also quite interesting. In order to get the whole crowd to “float” the crew built long polls with multiple bicycle seats attached to it. This way each person in the crowd had a seat that would lift them into the air, while still making it look like they were naturally standing. 

The Crocodile Rock scene. Link to the clip: https://youtu.be/BGGyUpO3W-A

3. Hunters 

Okay people I saved the best for last. This is just going to be a crazy rant about how much I love this tv show on Amazon Prime. The plot is absolutely incredible and the show will have you invested into the wellbeing of its characters instantly. It’s filled with action, tragedy, mystery, history, and once again those groovin 70s. I don’t want to get too into the plot because I don’t want to spoil anything, but this series follows a group of Nazi hunters. I know it sounds crazy and that’s because it is, but it is so worth watching. Please check it out. I’m begging you and then contact me when you finish it so we can talk about it.

 Anyway, this is the show that got me to be head over heels in love with set production. Unfortunately, there is only one season of the show out at the moment, but I’ve seen the whole thing twice and watching it for the second time allowed me to pick up on more of the set design in the background. One of the most interesting things about this show is that there is clearly a color palette for costume design and with a little research I found out that certain colors represent certain things. For example, red represents blood and characters that have blood on their hands can often be seen surrounded by or wearing the color red. Blue represents justice, green is for secrecy or militancy, and yellow is innocence. The main character, Jonah, is often seen wearing some sort of yellow whether it’s his jacket or shoes. In addition, the set designers did a great job at recreating an accurate depiction of New York City in the 70s. They showed the grime and the crime, yet still somehow have the viewer wishing they could be there.

Hunters poster.

I hope you enjoyed these movie magic fun facts about these three movies and tv shows. I’ll include the links to the articles and videos I used to learn more. I strongly encourage you to look into the set production of your favorite films and shows because you never know what you might be missing!

Links:

The case for genre

Hello everyone! I have to admit something: this was the first Opus blog post where I had no idea what I was going to write about. My earlier posts are soapboxes I was already fired up about and knew I was going to write, but after I exhausted my main topics, I didn’t know what to say. So I did what any college student with a deadline would reasonably do—I procrastinated. But in my procrastination, I remembered something small that had been discussed at a few Opus meetings. Genre

The old genre fiction vs. literary fiction debate. You merely have to type “genre fiction vs. literary fiction” into your Google search and hit enter to find dozens of articles praising one over the other, or telling you stories of two authors battling it out in the pages of different magazines as they argued for the superior category (Arthur Krystal vs. Lev Grossman, for example). After you read through the articles explaining this battle, you will come to understand that genre fiction is typically seen as entertaining but without significance and meaning; literary fiction is called pretentious and boring by its detractors. After you feel you have a good understanding of the battle, you will then find the many articles telling you why the two really aren’t that different after all, and the two should learn lessons from each other. If you were preparing to write a blog post defending one over the other, you might read these articles and feel a little silly about your original idea. Hm. That’s me. 

So maybe the topic is a little more complicated than either-or, which is why I will take the stance of a creative writing major, stuck in classes learning about literary fiction, who just wants to steal all of the good stuff she loves from genre fiction and put it in the “literary fiction” she writes for class. Because here’s my deal: I love horror novels. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I found it comforting to read stories about people whose lives were at least a hundred times worse than mine. Sure, I got sent home from a school I love. But am I living in fear of a giant clown who hates me and is trying to kill me and my friends? No? Amazing! Sure, I don’t get to see my grandparents or my friends, or really anyone other than my immediate family. But am I currently living by myself on a spaceship with monsters that can kill me with sound? No! Thank goodness! 

My love for horror novels inspired me to do something I had never really seen before: horror poetry. This is where the mixing of genre becomes my new favorite thing. I want to see the tropes of genre worked into “literary” forms in cool ways. I want to write horror poetry (and I have; my poem “phobia pantoum” made it into this semester’s Opus), but I also want to see people writing incredibly creative genre-blended work. Can you distill what is best about a whodunit novel into a poem or flash-fiction piece? A sci-fi short story that still gets across a poignant message and teaches us something more about what it means to be human? I would fall over if we had someone submit a short story or poem that took elements of a Western. Or combine genres! A thriller with romance elements as a short story? A dystopian mystery? I would cry! 

While some people speak critically about Opus submissions that lean heavily into genre work, I can’t get enough. There is so much power in being able to harness the creativity and entertainment of genre fiction while also wrestling with the typical literary fiction questions of humanity and purpose. I would encourage everyone to dabble in combining their favorite elements of genre fiction with their “serious” creative writing work. I can’t wait to see it as an Opus submission! 

Because I can’t help myself, here are a few of my favorite horror novels. Please try one and tell me what you thought! 

HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (More emotional than blood-chillingly scary, this book made me cry. 5/10 scary, 10/10 sad) 

Feed by Mira Grant (This book is classified as horror, but it’s not horrifying in a blood-and-guts way but a “corruption is everywhere” kind of way. 3/10 scary, 10/10 suspenseful) 

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace (Yes, this one’s about a virus, but it takes place in outer space, which ramps up the tension but also makes it less like the world we’re living in. 6/10 scary) 

Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda (Space, again, but this time with monsters that kill with sound. 6/10 scary) 

And finally, #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil (This is one of the goriest books I have ever read. No kidding. It is shocking. But it is campy in the most amazing way. 10/10 blood-and-guts, 5/10 scary, 10/10 costume design). 

Revise? Resubmit? What do these words even mean?

I didn’t begin really revising and editing my work until a good year into my study of creative writing. Until that point, I don’t think it even crossed my mind that writers edited at all. I was of the “one-and-done” mindset, that once I typed the last word of a piece, suddenly that piece was no longer touchable. It was perfect, and I hardly gave it another thought. The summer after I took ENGL 253, I wrote a lot of poetry, and once I’d typed it into a Word document I hardly looked at it again. I’d spend a few hours playing with words and phrasing, but it was all in that immediate phase of production. I was still “striking while the iron is hot.” And when the iron cooled, I felt satisfied. There wasn’t anything more I could do to it. I’d exhausted my creative ability and had produced the best writing I could—onto the next masterpiece. 

To be fair, this is an understandable opinion of one’s own initial work. We are filled with creative inspiration and lack the learned discipline to reflect on and consider our art. I’m sure many of you can happily recall that period of your artist careers where the only thing on your mind was writing, painting, playing, etc. The raw construction of beauty. That first summer I’d sit for hours in cafés or in my house, by the windows that overlook the backyard, and I’d just write poem after poem after poem. There was no thought in my mind about the future of these poems, no concerns about submitting them to journals or sharing them in a workshop. I was focused on the present joy of them. I didn’t toy with ideas in my mind, didn’t weigh the belletristic merit of one concept against another, didn’t worry about which theme would resonate most with an audience. I wrote for myself. I wrote for fun. 

These were terribly god-awful, of course. I still can’t look at them without vomiting. But I do envy that worry-free mentality I used to possess, and at times I try to summon it back and use it as a muse. When I finished my junior year, I was hit with the realization that I needed to take things very seriously, as I had one year left and still very little experience legitimately writing. I had studied in Dublin the previous semester, with a group of serious like-minded writers, and we dove into the craft far more intently than I ever had before. I learned to draft poetry and stories, a practice that had been very foreign to me until that point. I was utterly stupefied when a successful Irish writer joined us for a workshop, and said she usually drafts a single story forty to sixty times. What? I thought. You can’t just put together a first draft and call it done? I also learned how to edit and revise in that semester. In my mind, the act of writing as a divinely inspired, spur-of-the-moment practice was quickly fading, and in its place came a different understanding, one with more similarities to designing a building. I began to view the end results of my writing differently as well. They slowly turned into more professional displays of my skill and hard work. Now, I usually start a poem or story with a tangible end goal in mind. Writing quickly transformed from a hobby into a career. 

With that change came quite a bit more work. The revision process can often be brutal, dull, or humbling. Sometimes, it’s an unholy combination of all three. It’s difficult to look at your own work, especially if it’s something you’re proud of, and intentionally highlight every flaw you can find. Oftentimes, I simply don’t want to acknowledge how much work needs to be done on a specific poem before it’s “submission ready.” Oftentimes I couldn’t care less whether a piece is “submission ready” or not. Editing is also risky, as too much of it can disfigure the initial inspirations that elevated the piece in the first place. How can one determine beneficial edits from harmful ones? In many cases the only way to get good editorial advice is by showing the work to peers, and this is another thing I find myself loath to do. There can be very little that is enjoyable about the editing process. That being said, it is an integral part of the artistry. If the initial creation is the heart, then revision is the sturdy body built around it. 

When we say “revise and resubmit,” we truly mean it. Nothing gives us more joy than seeing edited pieces come back to us the next semester. We grow from that experience just as the artist does. We want Opus to be less about putting some artists on a higher pedestal than others and more about helping everyone grow and advance their artistic goals. And often, the only way to accomplish this is through hard revision. We hope that, if a student’s work doesn’t get in, they consider our advice and become inspired to give their poem, story, painting, etc. a new life. We also hope that, if a student’s work does get in, they still feel inspired to bring their work to the next level. Revision isn’t a force that fades when an art piece is accredited. It is a life-long exercise. Everyone has the capability of improvement, just as everyone has a unique perspective to share with the world. We at Opus hope you will continue sharing both the improvements and the perspectives with us. To do this, simply revise and resubmit. 

The Art of the Unexpected

Being an art major and art enthusiast I’ve seen so many pieces of art… in textbooks. In my classes I’m constantly referencing pieces of work that I adore, but have never seen in person. 

This semester, though, I’ve actually been interning in New York City. As an artist this has been a dream come true and I’ve had the chance to see so many of the pieces of artwork that I’ve read about for so many years. I still haven’t visited all the museums and galleries I would like to see, but here are my first impressions with some of the greats.

Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)

I saw one of Pollock’s paintings, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), at the MET. To get to this piece I had to ascend a staircase and then round a corner. When I rounded the corner I was met with a canvas the size of the wall. I was shocked at the size of the painting. I’d seen this piece so many times in books, but I never imagined it to be that big. Perhaps this shock is my fault for neglecting to read or retain the dimensions of pieces, but it was a surprise nonetheless. As I got a closer look at the iconic paint splatters and brush strokes I realized that some of the marks were blue. Pollock is an artist that I’ve heard about since middle school and all this time I thought Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) was only neutral shades of black, white, and grey. 

Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night

When I went to the Museum of Modern Art I got the chance to see the iconic Starry Night painting. To see this piece I had to patiently wait for the crowd around it to subside so that I could make my way to the front. As I got up close I realized that the black pillar or tree in the forefront of the painting wasn’t black at all, but a dark green. Once again, from photographs I had always thought the piece consisted of blacks, blues, and yellows. As I continued to look closer, though, I realized that green was sprinkled throughout the entire composition, from the tree in the foreground to the sleepy town in the background.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh at MoMA

Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory

This piece was also at the MoMA and when I saw this staple of surrealism I was stunned to find out how small the painting actually is. (Again, when reading textbooks I almost never read the dimensions, I’m sorry). When I say this piece is a staple of surrealism I mean it is a staple. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about or referenced this piece and no offense to Dalí, but the edges of the canvas aren’t even painted! I thought for sure this painting was at least 24 by 18 inches, but it’s about half of that. In no way am I hating on Dalí, the piece is still amazing and incredibly detailed for how small it is, it just was not what I was expecting this grand piece to be.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí at MoMA

These are just a few of the major artworks I’ve seen and been surprised by. I guess I should’ve seen this coming because as an artist I can attest to the fact that a photograph is never as good as the piece in person. Being able to see artwork by so many artists I’ve grown up studying and admiring has been such a surreal experience and the factor of discovering the unexpected has made it that much more interesting. If you get the chance to see artwork do it! Whether it’s in New York City or your own neighborhood, you just never know what you’ll find. It’s the art of the unexpected.

How to be an artist

For my birthday this year my mother bought me the book How to be an Artist by Jerry Saltz. In the book, Saltz shares 63 things any artist should keep in mind. The advice ranges anywhere from “Start Now” and “Develop Forms of Practice” to “Be a Vampire, Form a Coven” and “Once a Year, Go Dancing.” As I read through the collection this past weekend, I picked up on several things I thought would be helpful to share with you, our Hope College artists. 

This first piece of advice jumped out at me because of some of the conversation we’ve had at recent Opus meetings. Number 19: “Embed Thought in Material.” 

Saltz writes, “Don’t rely on wall text to do the work! Recently I was looking at a series of ho-hum black-and-white pictures of clouds when a gallerist sidled up to inform me: ‘These are pictures of clouds over Ferguson, Missouri. They’re about protest and police violence.’ I bristled. ‘No, they’re not! They’re just pictures of clouds and have nothing to do with anything. They’re not even interesting as photos!’ A work of art cannot depend on explanation. The meaning has got to be there in the work” (42). 

I’ll repeat: “A work of art cannot depend on explanation.” For Opus, you don’t get an opportunity to share an explanation of your work until Opus Soup, but you do get one thing: a title. Now, this will surely be a controversial opinion among the Opus editors, but I don’t think we should even get a title for visual work. When I look at art in critique, I don’t want to have my reading of your work influenced by the title you gave it. When I work with my own photography, I don’t give the images titles unless I absolutely must. (This typically involves me scrambling for names right before I hit submit on my Opus submissions email.) 

We Opus editors often are prone to critique a work’s title, extrapolate meaning from it, and sometimes decide on a yes or no based on what we gleaned from the title. But shouldn’t we be focused on the work itself and what the colors, lines, shapes, form, perspective, and all the other information of the work tell us about its meaning? I certainly think so.

Allow your artwork to express thought and emotion without the need for written explanation. 

I’ll get off my soapbox now to share with you some of Saltz’s more practical advice. 

23. Clear the Studio: “It’s a way of being physical, breathing into the work, creeping up on the task at hand” (50). 

24. There are no Wasted Days: “You are your method; your life is part of your work” (51). 

34. Be Inconsistent: “Variability allows your work to breathe; it helps you to steer clear of tyrannies and find charm in the unfamiliar” (71). 

40. Don’t Define Yourself by a Single Medium: “I one heard Robert Rauschenberg describe his combine-assemblages as not ‘painting or sculpture’ but ‘poetry.’ That’s you: a material poet” (82). 

50. Make an Enemy of Envy: “[Envy] crowds your imagination with the lives of others, rather than what you need to be doing in your own work” (100). 

Saltz also provides some artistic exercises for you to do. Here are a couple of my favorites. 

Exercise: Make a Drawing Using only Erasure

“1. Cover a surface with pencil, charcoal, chalk, fabric—anything that can be removed.

  2 . Using erasers, rags, turpentine, scissors—even your fingers—make a new image by removing parts of that layer” (29). 

Exercise: Make Something in a Single Sitting

“What’s a single sitting? No less than twenty minutes; no more than three hours” (74). 

Women-directed movies you need to watch

I am a self-proclaimed rom-com lover. I was raised on my mother’s favorites of John Hughes and Nora Ephron films. It is something that has remained a constant in my life. This is one of genres where you tend to see female directors and writers. This is why it helped open my eyes to many very brilliant and prolific female directors. Now that my tastes have changed I can find female directors in every genre. Yet with each award season, I am reminded of how far we have come with diversity and inclusion in film and how far we have to go. Today I would like to list some of my favorite female-directed movies so you may enjoy some excellent films while supporting women in the arts.

1. Emma, directed by Autumn de Wilde

This movie was my favorite of 2020. It is a beautiful and faithful retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. The scenery alone is enough to make me want to drop everything and move into an English estate. I love watching this version of Emma Woodhouse grow up and fall in love. The costume designer was also praised for her accuracy of design while adapting to modern colorways. Beautifully shot, and helped by the talents of Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn. Please watch this modern masterpiece.


2. Birds Of Prey, directed by Cathy Yan

Now to take us in a very different direction. One of the few things DC movies have done right is ensuring that the stand-alone movies of female characters are directed by women. First praised by Patti Jenkins’s Wonder Woman, this was a great follow-up. Cathy Yan took Harley Quinn’s colorful persona and played with femininity and violence in a way that was super playful but poignant. The mostly female cast embodies these powerful superheroes with ease, bringing out each character’s own backstory without being too cliche or wrought with emotion. These women are wholly themselves and create a support team for each other without asking for the characters to give up their moral integrity.


3. Twilight, directed by Catherine Hardwicke

OKAY….okay… so this might not be one of my favorite movies, but it is one of my favorite topics of discussion. This was widely praised at the time for its director, Catherine Hardwicke’s, use of blue tinted film to give the movie an even cooler, more dramatic feel. It was a direction signature of Hardwicke, and though I think at times this movie is beyond campy, it was also very well shot. Hardwicke was mostly a indie filmmaker and has always promoted young female characters in her own filmmaking in a very authentic style. Now, she was wronged by the Twilight Franchise. After the debut of Twilight‘s success with young female viewers, the studio gave the next films to male directors, who promoted more action shots and less about Bella’s relationships, ignoring everything that Hardwicke had worked for in this movie. There is a reason this is the best rated Twilight film in the franchise.


4. The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang

This movie is a beautiful story of family and an exercise of cultural relativism. As the main character, Billi, learns that her family’s matriarch is dying and her family has decided not to tell her of her impending death. Billi goes back to China and learns to celebrate and mourn the things she has left behind in her childhood. This movie reflects Wang’s amazing eye and voice. She not only directed but wrote The Farewell. This piece is a beautiful encapsulation of family with the humor and drama that feels so real to life you can almost believe this is your own family.


5. Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola

This movie is both widely loved and widely hated. Many critiqued this film for its lack of political insight to the French Revolution that made Marie Antoinette so famous. To that I say, “MARIE ANTOINETTE WAS NEVER IN POLITICS.” Instead, Coppola looked to show how Marie Antoinette was literally just a teenager. She turned her eyes to look at the wild hardships of French court for this outsider point of view. The relationships between Marie and her beaus, plus the juxtaposition of modern items to the French rococo style, was smart and poignant. Along with a killer soundtrack, this movie was a masterful look into the bizarre real-life drama of royal families.


Now, I have finished my list. But I would like to include some of my other favorites:

  1. Mudbound, dir. Dee Rees
  2. Little Women, dir. Greta Gerwig
  3. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, dir. Susan Johnson
  4. Booksmart, dir. Olivia Wilde
  5. The First Cow, Dir. Kelly Reichardt
  6. 13th, dir. Ava DuVernay

Please continue to seek out work done by women, because the more you do the more you’ll notice how little there is. Always make sure to support female creatives (especially female creatives of color) so their work can be more widely shared.

How I look at submitted pieces

If you’re interested in submitting to Opus, or have previously submitted and plan to revise and resubmit, you might be wondering what exactly we look for, what specific aspects of the craft will get your piece into Hope’s literary and arts journal. I wish I could tell you exactly that, but it is a little complicated. We have six members on our editorial team, each with specific interests and strengths. Together we offer a wide range of experience and knowledge in poetry, short fiction, essay, photography, painting, sculpture, and various other mediums. Our meetings are open to any Hope students, and with every meeting our group of participants looks different. This means that with every Tuesday and Thursday meeting we have a different collective mind voting on submitted work. So I can’t tell you specifically what to do to get in. However, I can share my own list of things I look for in submissions, so you can have a better idea on what we look for. I’ll also share examples from our latest edition of Opus. 

Poetry

In poetry I look for things that surprise me, images or phrases I wasn’t expecting, like “vein pop tomato chop” from Katelynn Paluch’s dreary.” Poetry is one of the only forms in which writers can let their creativity soar limitless. It’s like the surreal paintings of the writing world, like “not an elephant – sickness is the swarm of bees in the room” from Adriana Barker’s “cancer” or “hold the holy sunlight in these hands, / But I’ll explain how it’s leaking out of my head,” from Grant McKenzie’s “Saturn, Above Her Ankle.” 

Surrealness is often overdone in poetry, but when done in a purposeful and learned way it can elevate a poem beyond what one can expect. But what is equally important are the concrete, solid images that play like a movie in your head, like “roots intertwining through waterlogged books / fish floating in the entryway” from Katelynn Paluch’s growth/decay.” 

Imagery doesn’t have to be beautiful to be effective, like in Andrew Silagi’s “Chew”: “Flog me until I have bloody welts throbbing on my back for / you to eat with a spoon.” Imagery should be vivid and strong, used to not only please us but also to disgust us or stun us, to confuse or inspire wonder as well as anger. Imagery is the fuel of poetry; without it the words will eventually lose energy. 

What can also make poetry are those unprepared for moments, those random phrases that are so well constructed they stay within your head. Think “the skeleton laid all aflower isn’t quite the only one we brought / today” from Katelynn Paluch’s grief or “carbon traces of what was and what will be” from Kathryn Chupp’s for you are dust, and to dust you will return.” 

And, of course, a poem must end with one of its strongest lines; it should not only keep you engaged throughout it’s reading but also leave you with a lasting punch. Let’s look at Kathryn Smith’s “Are you Asexual?” with the concluding line, “no, I’m not asexual. I’m just terrified” or Samuel Vega’s “The Banjo/Sitar Brotherhood,” which ends with “Let their songs climb to the Heavens / under the same enlightened tree.” 

Visual Art

I have always been more of a writer than a visual artist, but I still love to see what types of art Hope’s visual artists submit. I’m always amazed by the skill and ability present here. With photography, I enjoy seeing new and interesting angles, like the view of the windows in Kathryn Kolthoff’s “don’t look outside. Purposeful play with colors is also extremely engaging, like Kathryn Shantz’s sparse use in “A Trace of Red.” 

The choice of subject is always the heart of a photograph, and when artists are able to create a sort of dialogue in their picture through their subject, that is a phenomenal thing to see. In Parker Johnson’s untitled piece, he stands on what looks like the Eiffel Tower, yet he chooses to focus on the other photographers around him. Adriana Barker’s “Prophet and Pilgrim” is a great example of combining photography with other mediums, creating an appealing and complex hybrid of art forms. In more traditional paintings, detail is the key, like the dog’s fur in Jasper Church’s “Archer,” the jewelry in Abigail Nasari’s “Sundrops,” and the veins in Meghan Bauman’s “Perfusion.” 

Kat Henry’s “Where I Used to See Us” is a beautiful demonstration of an attractive palette and a realistic play of light, with sunlight falling across an orange couch. In pieces like this, all the components flow smoothly together, making a scene I would love to walk into. Her work “Struggle” uses the same techniques but to the opposite end, her use of red and flesh tones invoking a disturbing, violent action. 

When it comes to abstract art, bits of solid ground splicing through the piece really maximize the creativity of the abstractum. Abigail Venlet’s “before the water” is a great example of this, as she conjures images that seem to me to be heavenly clouds and other human-like figures. Kathryn Shantz’s untitled piece combined fingerprints with industrial-like marks and wove a bird-like blue through both of them, speaking to me something about the past, present, and future. 

Prose 

Prose is my specialty! We look for prose works of varying lengths and varying subjects, from short fiction to essays. 

Fara Ling’s “Tuxedo Man” is a great example of a short story told in just a few pages. She weaves an intriguing story with intriguing characters, putting less energy to building an expounded world and instead giving us just the barest glimpses of a narrative, the subtlest hint of an arc. It’s alluringly slight and leaves me tantalized. This story is built on its sparsity, which is an effective technique for Opus, as we can only fit a few short prose pieces in each edition. The mystery is exacerbated by this sparsity, both working in tandem to engage the senses and keep our eyes glued to the page. 

Ling’s essay “Quarantine” delves into the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking us on a house tour and indirectly sharing with us a myriad of her experiences and how these affected her as an individual. Ling feeds us her own story through this seemingly normal list of household objects, and with each new addition her world expands and complexes. By the end it almost feels as if we’ve lived through her quarantine experience with her and have come out better people. 

Kathryn Smith’s “The Tiger Lily Woman” is a longer form piece and works to develop a more complete and detailed world. Through the compelling narrative of Death, Smith takes us through the life of a girl from the day her mother died to the day the girl herself is the one to follow Death. Smith takes time to develop her characters and story arc, managing to flesh it out quite a bit in the handful of pages she has. She describes vivid scenes, provides large sections of dialogue, and draws us into Peggy’s life so intimately that we attach to her as her life goes on, feel the years as she ages, and feel the bittersweet relief as she accepts her end. This story is classical in its narrative style and event sequences, yet still allows for surprises and insights. I love to see stories like that. Like a short story, it chooses to focus on a snapshot in time, giving us the world-building details of a particular place, a few scenes, and two characters. Within her dialogue, everything is purposeful. She wastes no words. This is the key for prose: every word and phrase has to be intentional and has to carry its weight. When writing your prose, make use of all the space you will have, because it will not be much. 

I hope this was helpful to all you writers and artists out there! We love to see a variety of pieces submitted, and we have such a delightful time reviewing and discussing your works. We really have a creative hotbed at Hope, and we at Opus want to do everything we can to get you to that next level. If you would like to attend meetings email Opus at opus@hope.edu and see us in action! Also feel free to attend Opus Soup, which will be held towards the end of the semester. And, as always, if you do not get in this semester, we strongly encourage you to revise and resubmit. 

All written and visual art discussed in this blog post are taken from the Fall 2020 edition of Opus. If you would like to get a copy, feel free to email Opus, or look for copies around Lubbers Hall and other academic buildings. 

The all-important call to revise and resubmit

“Revise and resubmit.” 

We say this often at our meetings, when an art piece needs only minor tweaks, when a poem is just a few concrete images or capital letters away from acceptance. Sometimes the artists heed this call, and the poem reappears one or two semesters later with changes, whether slight or major. But, more often, the poems or art pieces submitted never return. 

I understand why. Want to hear a secret? I hated Opus for most of my time at Hope. Why? Because I was awful at taking constructive criticism.

When I went to a few Opus meetings freshman year, not only were all the others upperclassmen, but they were smart upperclassmen. They analyzed every line of poetry under a microscope, pointing out details of syntax and word choice that I never would have considered. There is an element of frustration to receiving a rejection letter from the Opus account, full of notes relaying your errors. To me, it didn’t just feel like a rejection. It felt like a personal blow. How dare you attack my poetry? I wrote it like that for a reason. Who are you to tell me it could be better? 

It wasn’t until sophomore year, after having gone through a creative writing workshop and developing a self-realization of the flaws in my own work, that I realized the editors of Opus didn’t give me this feedback to offend me but to help me.

A rejected poem doesn’t mean you’re not talented. In fact, I would argue that poems can’t exist without talent. Poems rely so much on surprising images and diction that they require a unique voice. Every poem is valid. The message you’re attempting to convey is important, and by giving you constructive criticism, we want to help you get that message across in the most effective way possible. The same applies to art and prose. We recognize how talented the students of Hope are, and we want to be part of the journey to becoming the best you can be. A rejected poem is never a “no,” only a “revise and resubmit.”

If you, like me, have received the call to revise and resubmit before or are worried about your work being critiqued, I would make a few suggestions: 

  1. Come to our meetings!

Fun fact: Opus meetings are open to the entire student body. In these meetings, we (the Opus staff and any students who join us) read each poem aloud, then point out what we like and what we feel could be improved. Each student, regardless of whether you’re on staff, gets to vote yes or no on each piece. We send out packets of poetry before the meetings each week, so if you see your poem, come to that meeting! Listening to the editors talk about your piece in context is much more personal, and being part of the discussion gives you the opportunity to give your own opinion. Poetry and art are subjective, meaning that everyone may have a different view of a piece, so your insight is important! 

  1. Ask for our notes on your piece. 

While we discuss each piece at meetings, one of our editors takes detailed notes of its praises and critiques. If you’d like rationale for why your piece didn’t make it in the book, please reach out to us (email us at opus@hope.edu)! We’d love to talk with you about your piece in more detail and give you any suggestions we can. 

  1. Come to our workshop night. 

In a normal, covid-free semester, Opus holds workshop nights before our submission deadline. Hopefully, these workshop nights will be reinstated in the fall, giving you a chance not only to meet the Opus staff but to get early insight into possible improvements for your piece. This way you have the opportunity to revise before submitting, giving your piece a greater chance of getting in the book. 

Ultimately we want your work to be the best it can be. So, it bears repeating, if your poem doesn’t make it in the first time, revise and resubmit! 

Is Opus important? (Yes, I think it is.)

It’s hard to believe that this semester is almost over with. In the midst of so many final projects and exams, I forgot several times this week of a very special event. And even when I remembered and marked it in my calendar, it was just an event, an obligation that might be fun. I didn’t realize it would recolor my vision or introduce new colors to my life. 

I’m writing this just after our bi-annual Opus Soup, where we celebrated the accomplishments of those artists who were recognized in this Fall 2020 edition. And it is safe to say, this has been by FAR my favorite Opus Soup I’ve experienced. To watch this event as someone who helped put it together (I say that as if I did a lot; really this was the spectacular brainchild of Morgan Brown and Violet Peschiera, our co-editors-in-chief) is something I feel so monumentally blessed to have experienced. I felt like I knew every piece so well, having spent many nights this semester peering at them during our Zoom meetings, putting on my critique mindset to objectively analyze each poem, painting, prose piece, and photograph. But tonight, there was none of that analysis, none of that judgment; it was all in love and celebration, and let me tell you that it’s the only good way to ever view a piece of art. 

Tonight I got to hear the stories behind the stories, the fragments of personality hidden in the dark brushstroke here, the line break there. Emotion wept out of the pages of my Opus edition, which I read like a Bible as each student repeated their words of truth and power. Few books seem as sacred as this one did tonight. As I read, as I watched everyone unmute themselves to snap during our Zoom call, I fell in love with this swirling beautiful mess all over again. 

I had only rediscovered my love for writing and for art at the end of my sophomore year at Hope, when I took Professor Childress’s ENGL 253 for my FA2 credit, and that love is something I now hold onto tighter than the heart beating through my hands: the fear of facing an unknown world armed only with a pen. After that class I couldn’t imagine living without writing, but now, a few years down the road, I could feel the shine wearing off a bit. I loved artistic expression, but I’d lost sight of the ingrained need, the force stronger than passion that demanded I put words on the page or, so be it, air will stop flowing through my lungs. That flame that had burned through Akhmatova and “The Stray Dog Cabaret,” through Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation. But tonight, as I teared up over a story about Death and a child, as I pondered the battle of being in-between, as I learned of the windows a high school student would look out of to predict the weather, I think I found that unambiguous glimmer. And I have to thank every single artist at Hope, who was either recognized in Opus or wasn’t, for that prophetic revelation. 

Before tonight, I felt big; I felt like the experienced, upperclassman poet who knew what he was talking about and could easily rifle off a few critiques of another student’s work, assured in his skill and ability to evaluate that skill in others. But tonight, I felt small. Tonight I listened to young artists read their work and realized, in a moment where I could almost hear God talking to me, that all these students are glorious, ever-spanning like the stars, talented and beautiful and unscalable. Yes, I felt very small indeed, and I couldn’t be more grateful. There is nothing like the love one artist can feel for another, and I just wish that everyone through Zoom could have felt the love I felt for them, for their art, for their unique view of the world, bred of obstacles, that birthed such fractured masterpieces. Everyone should feel proud of what they have done, not because it got into Opus but because it is Opus.

I was handed an amazing responsibility this semester, one I knew I would love but couldn’t predict just how much I would love. It took Opus Soup for me to understand the scope of it and just how classically futile it is. In the end, we aren’t the ones judging work; you are the ones judging your own artistry, and I hope for the love of God you realize how beautiful your projections of reality are, how real and moving and profound each idea is. You artists hold up the sky. From your hands the trees take root and from your breath the sovereign is born. I hope, if tonight did anything for you, that it reinstated how important art is and how important you are as a creator. 

I also realized that groups like Opus have a much more vital mission than simply judging your works. We are an enabler of creativity, a producer of inspiration. After tonight, the only thing I want to do is take out my writing pad and scrawl away until I run out of ink or sanity. It can be a lonely, arduous job, creating art, and often we can feel like we’re on a tiny island, aswarm in the twilit night, holding a ghostly light so we can crane over our works. The blood of our art doesn’t flow very often, and often I’ll stare at a blank page and feel every curse dance above my head. But with other writers, those curses lessen, and through friends, peers, editors, and encouragers, the blood begins to flow again. I like to think of Opus as a small outpost in a dark world, where all we can give is bread and water but we give it freely, in the hope you will find the strength to stumble to the next destination. Some may believe that Opus isn’t all that, and maybe it’s not. But a hope, a desire, ignited for the promise of tomorrow, can be kept alive at least another day. All of us have kept a hope alive tonight. Let us believe it will return in the morning. 

For those who are interested in viewing Opus Soup, here is the link to our recording of the event: https://vimeo.com/479009511.

Women in Art

Being an art major, I’ve sat through my fair share of art history lessons, and going to a liberal arts school, I’m assuming that many of you have sat through these lessons against your own will to fulfill a gen ed requirement. I apologize if this is the case and I’m hoping you’ll find this post slightly more entertaining than class. 

For those of you who have taken an art history course I’m guessing you heard a lot about artists like Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Donald Judd. Sound familiar? I thought so. Now what do all these artists have in common? They’re incredibly talented artists? They went down in history? Yes and yes, but they’re also all men. Like most genres of history, men tend to be in the spotlight of the art history world. That’s why I’m here. Welcome to your history lesson on the legendary women of the art world.

(I have to preface that all the information I’m about to share with you has been learned in Art 242 so shout out to Dr. Kraus)

Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse is a name you might have heard before. Hesse was a very famous abstract expressionist artist during the 1960s. She’s most widely known for her sculptures that explored materials and gender with their often very sensual forms.

Hesse was originally from Germany, but her family fled to New York to escape Nazi Germany. In New York her parents divorced and shortly after, Hesse’s mother commited suicide. Hesse’s difficult childhood left a deep wound that was often explored and reflected in her work. 

As if overcoming her traumatic childhood isn’t inspiring enough, what I admire most about Hesse is her journey to becoming the wildly successful sculptor she is remembered as today. Most of Hesse’s early works were not sculptures, but paintings. It took Hesse quite a while to find her niche in sculpture and as an aspiring artist I find this incredibly reassuring. Reading about all these famous artists, I think it’s easy to feel like these people really had their lives figured out. Hearing about Hesse’s struggle to find her artistic style was a breath of fresh air and a nice reassurance that it’s okay to not know what you’re doing.

Hesse’s life was incredibly short, she died at the age of 34 from a brain tumor. The amount of work Hesse created in her lifetime is just another reason to be inspired by her. I highly recommend watching the Eva Hesse documentary, if you want to learn more about Hesse’s life and her art.

Picture of Eva Hesse and a picture of her piece Untitled or Not Yet, 1966

Kara Walker

Kara Walker is an African American artist that is most widely known for her silhouette pieces that explore race and gender inequality. With a similar story to Hesse, Walker thought for the longest time that she wanted to be a painter, before finding her style with paper cut outs. Looking back, Walker believes that she was so determined to be a painter because in the art world that is what is often associated with success and power.

What I love about Walker’s art is how ironic it is. Her use of all black or white paper causes all her characters to look the same. To distinguish race or gender in her pieces, Walker emphasizes offensive and stereotypical characteristics of either a race or a gender. The way that Walker depicts African Americans can be related to how white people would offensively represent black people in minstrel shows. Walker creates her characters like this not to be offensive, but to ironically callout these stereotypes.

Though paper has become her signature medium, Walker is not one to shy away from experimentation. She’s created a monumental sphinx like women entirely made out of sugar, to comment on sugar’s not so sweet history. The giant sphinx was installed in an abandoned Domino Sugar factory that was scheduled to be demolished. Walker’s transformation of the space is jaw dropping, and definitely worth checking out.

Kara Walker’s Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, 1994

Marina Abramović

Last but not least is the incredibly gutsy Marina Abramović. Abramović is commonly referred to as the “Grandmother of Performance Art,” a title she irrefutably deserves. Abramović changed the art world for the better with her performance pieces during the 1970s and she continues to do so. 

Many of Abramović’s pieces are difficult to watch because she often physically harms herself or puts herself into danger. Her piece Rhythm 10 is just one of the many examples. She knows no bounds when it comes to art. Her bravery, perseverance, and willingness to do anything for her work is, in all honesty insane, yet admirable. 

In pieces like The Artist Is Present, Abramović put her body through such unimaginable physical strain. To be able to sit in one spot for hours and hours, day after day, sounds impossible to me. I can barely sit through a 50 minute class! Her self control and discipline is unmatched, and her ability to be so in touch with her mind and body is incredible to me. 

I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly crazy, cool, and epic this woman is. I strongly recommend watching the documentary on Abramović and her work at MOMA called Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present. This documentary was fascinating to me and in the end it had me laughing and crying. If an almost two hour documentary isn’t your style then I suggest checking out Jay-Z’s Picasso Baby music video. The video is clearly inspired by Abramović’s performance piece mentioned earlier, and she even makes an appearance in the video.

Marina Abramović during her piece Rhythm 0, 1974

These three women are only a small glimpse into the world of influential women artists and just a few of my favorites. Thank you for willingly coming to my history lesson and I hope this inspires you to dig deeper into the women of art history.