Whose Opinion Matters Most?

When I make things, whether I’m scribbling a poem or finishing a painting, I struggle with two different standards: mine and everyone else’s. I think this is a major struggle for artists of any kind. I often say I am content with calling a work finished and beautiful so long as I like it. However, this is much harder to do in practice than to say it. When I started making artwork, I measured my success by the standards of others, much as we do with everything we learn. How do you know you are good at something or if you are doing it right at all? You ask someone else, most often someone who has done it and is known for being good at it. So I’ve learned almost everything I know about art in this way: I make things, and I ask others along the way if I’m doing well and how I can make my things better. At what point, then, do we as the artist become the judge of our own work? When are we “good enough” at what we do to decide for ourselves if our work has value? When we graduate? When we receive validation from professors? When we sell our first work?
My artwork might not be understood by everyone, but if it looks the way I had envisioned and it speaks to me, is it good enough? I would like to think that yes, it is. Obviously, I am not an expert, but I resonant with innumerable poems and works of art that are not widely known and that many other people dislike. When I see something or hear something that reminds me of my life, of my emotions, of me, I see value in the person and the work that could convey that shared experience to me. I like to think that my work has value as long as one other person can look at it and say, “Yes, that makes perfect sense to me. I know exactly how you’re feeling.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that I will be successful as an artist. Unfortunately, selling one piece of art or one book to the ideal person does not an artist make.
The question that follows is what does success look like for you? Is it enough to just put yourself out there and sell a few things to the people that really understand and appreciate them, or do you want validation by the broader public that you are doing well at what you do? It might seem simple that this is the base question that you should ask yourself when judging your own work, but it’s a question worth thinking about. My opinions and my answers change with what I’m working on, and they have changed a lot over the years. With my answers, my work has also changed. When I let go of some of the expectations I knew other people held me to, I discovered new perspectives and techniques that I hadn’t dared to discover before. In that sense, I think everyone needs to set up a time when they decide that good enough for them is good enough. However, I think the question of what success is can help you decide who you’re working for and answer my original question: whose opinion matters most to you?

Samantha Grody, Opus Art Editor

Treasuring Opportunities

Last Friday (and last night, because I’m overindulgent and quite smitten with the performance) I was able to attend the Hope College Dance Department’s production of Dance 42. One of the best parts about being a college student is the countless amount of opportunities that exist to attend such a broad range of events. As an artist in constant search of inspiration, I feel wildly fortunate to have it right in front of me almost anytime I go looking. With dance, specifically, it is really neat to see ideas that I am constantly wrestling with in my own art, come to life in such a fresh and singular way. Since the subject of most art is humanity (that is to say, an attempt to capture what makes us human), an encounter with the body as a medium is a really wonderful element to bring into your work. Some dances made a statement about social justice issues, while others captured the stages of growth, but each dance, regardless of genre or statement, was an equally poignant praise for the body and a true pleasure to witness. I left the performance (both nights) full of appreciation and energy that I could not wait to transfer to the pages of my sketchbook and the lines of my poems.
One of the primary purposes for art is to engage in conversation. When you get an opportunity to foster that conversation, it is so important and rewarding to take it. This blog post turned into a bit of a shout out for Dance 42, but whether your preferred event is a dance performance or a discussion on economics, try and treasure your opportunities as a student!
Have a weekend full of peace and adventure and remember to keep your head up – only one more week until Spring Break!
Grace Hulderman
Poetry Editor

Movie Weekend: Writing

Hey all you writers and cinephiles!!! It’s Sam, the Opus Art Editor. Want to know what a really great writer thinks? What life as a writer might be like? Just want some writing inspiration? Check out these 10 movies about writing, supposed to be some of the best writing movies ever created!


AdaptationNicolas Cage is Charlie Kaufman, a confused L.A. screenwriter overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, sexual frustration, self-loathing, and by the screenwriting ambitions of his freeloading twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage). While struggling to adapt “The Orchid Thief,” by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep), Kaufman’s life spins from pathetic to bizarre. The lives of Kaufman, Orlean’s book, become strangely intertwined as each one’s search for passion collides with the others’.


MiseryAfter a serious car crash, novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be his biggest fan. Annie brings him to her remote cabin to recover, where her obsession takes a dark turn when she discovers Sheldon is killing off her favorite character from his novels. As Sheldon devises plans for escape, Annie grows increasingly controlling, even violent, as she forces the author to shape his writing to suit her twisted fantasies.


CapoteReading of the murder of a Kansas family, New York City novelist Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decides to cover the story himself, and travels to the small town with his childhood friend, aspiring novelist Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). When Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) are arrested and charged, Capote forms an emotional bond with Smith during his jailhouse interviews despite the young criminal’s apparent guilt.


ReprisePhillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman Høiner) have been best friends since childhood. Both young men share a passion for the works of reclusive novelist Sten Egil Dahl, and both harbor literary ambitions. However, fate deals differently with the friends as each strives to make his dream come true.


The Ghost WriterWhen a successful ghostwriter, the Ghost (Ewan McGregor), agrees to finish the memoirs of Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), England’s former prime minister, his publisher assures him it’s the chance of a lifetime. Instead, he begins to uncover evidence that suggests his late predecessor knew a dark secret about Lang and may have been murdered to prevent it from coming to light.


The Diving Bell and the ButterflyJean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor-in-chief of French fashion bible Elle magazine, has a devastating stroke at age 43. The damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome, with which he is almost completely paralyzed and only able to communicate by blinking an eye. Bauby painstakingly dictates his memoir via the only means of expression left to him.


Barton FinkSet in 1941, an intellectual New York playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro) accepts an offer to write movie scripts in L.A. He finds himself with writer’s block when required to do a B-movie script. His neighbor tries to help, but he continues to struggle as a bizarre sequence of events distracts him.


An Angel at My TableBased on the autobiographical work of New Zealand writer Janet Frame, this production depicts the author at various stage of her life. Afflicted with mental and emotional issues, Frame grows up in an impoverished family and experiences numerous tragedies while still in her youth, including the deaths of two of her siblings. Portrayed as an adult by Kerry Fox, Frame finds acclaim for her writing while still in a mental institution, and her success helps her move on with her life.


Wonder BoysGrady (Michael Douglas) is a 50-ish English professor who hasn’t had a thing published in years — not since he wrote his award winning “Great American Novel” 7 years ago. This weekend proves even worse than he could imagine as he finds himself reeling from one misadventure to another in the company of a new wonder boy author.


The ShiningJack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.

Friendly Encouragement (or how to survive as an artist).

   As artists, we often need encouragement when we work. I’m not talking about having a team of cheerleaders beside us, screaming our names as we feverishly type or slash brushstrokes across the canvas, though that might help the more extroverted artists among us. I’m talking about the kind of encouragement that inspires us to keep slugging through those drafts even when we feel that there’s no hope for our piece.
            I stumbled on advicetowriters.com a few months back. A man named Jon Winokur took his time compiling quotations from famous writers about writing. These quotations come in the form of inspiration, admonishments, and warnings. It might be just the resource for those of us who need a reminder that writing is hard, that we won’t get it right every time—but, despite this, the most important thing is that we keep trying. Jon Winokur updates the site with a new quotation every day so that, when you inevitably scroll passed the first few quotations and find yourself digging for a solution to your terrible writing in the dredges of the site, fear not—tomorrow, there will be another quotation to inspire you.
            For example, a quote of the day by Wallace Stegner: “If you have to urge a writing student to ‘gain experience with life,’ he is probably never going to be a writer. Any life will provide the material for writing, if it is attended to.” See what I mean? You have what it takes already, in case you needed a reminder.
            Here’s another quotation for the would-be writer who just can’t get that first draft done because it isn’t perfect—this one by Syd Field: “Write from your heart and don’t be afraid to write shitty pages. You can’t change something from nothing. Get it down on paper first, no matter what it looks like.”
            So, unless you’re one of the few among us doesn’t need the occasional pick-me-up advice, give advicetowriters.com a try. I often check out the quote of the day before each of my writing sessions, just so I know I’m not alone in the universe of creative writing.
            A final thought from Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now.” 

The Family Cow: Erasure Poetry and Exploration

Hey guys!

You know what’s weird? Erasure poems. I’m a pretty skeptical person, and not easily persuaded to let that go. So when Rob, my English 355 professor, pulled out paint and paintbrushes for class my eyebrows raised. The class began to individually paint over words in books we brought to create what are known as erasure poems. This is the book I brought:Displaying 20160218_222746.jpgDisplaying 20160218_222746.jpg




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Yes…it is a book on how to raise your own personal cow, complete with diagrams of utters and intestines. My first attempt at the poems was a bit rough. I felt a little cheesy painting in class and trying to form words out of it. Eventually, I got over that feeling as I began to really focus on the words and how I could deconstruct the page to become what I wanted it to become. Admittedly, these are not great pieces of art, but I think they show how I began to have fun with the book and work with it’s weird format:

 

 

The purpose of this blog is not to show you this cool new exercise I learned, but instead to encourage you to try something new and see where it leads you. I don’t think the erasure poems are wonderful things worth publishing, but they’ve helped me slow down and take time to really notice words and how they can fit together. I’ve begun doing them outside of class because it’s a kinetic and focused exercise that makes my brain work differently than it normally does. For you, achieving that space may look like a different exercise–explore new things to find what works for you! It may just be erasure poems in strange books you find in your basement.
Yours always,
Abby Klett, co-editor

Netflix: A Guide to Creativity

Hey, everyone! It’s Sadina here, one of the co-editors of Opus.

Let’s talk about Netflix. 

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What could be more addictive, more beautiful, and more destructive for students? Well actually, I did some research. I was sitting here, watching Gossip Girl instead of homework, feeling guilty. Then, I found that Netflix can actually make for better writers and artists. Let me clarify — this is completely outside of the Netflix and Chill culture — that’s something entirely different.
However, I do think there’s validation in what Netflix can do for creative writing. As literature students, we learn how to read and write like writers. Netflix shows us the story arcs that we can trace, series prolonged, stories stretched over multiple conflicts, inciting incidents, and yearnings. We learn to see gaps in the stories. Inspiration can be drawn from watching Netflix, whether it’s a movie or a series (even a short), because there’s a wide range of options of what to watch. One could watch The Constant Gardener, getting a touch of politics and love. Perhaps A Single Man which contemplates what makes life worthy and what can fuel a man after experiencing heartbreak. Or you could watch an animated film — the choices are endless. If you ever run out of ideas of what to create, scroll through the HUNDREDS of options and recognize that no story can’t be told. All you need is a twist, an original and compelling change that can turn a story upside down.
It also serves as a break for us. As students, and yes I’m going there, we are scheduled to burn out fast. Hope students seem to be going and going and going. When I’m not working on Opus, I’m a Resident Assistant, and one of the major things we speak about during training is to stop the glorification of busy. Students tackle so much between jobs, extracurricular activities, studies, family life, personal life, the list goes on. START THE GLORIFICATION OF NETFLIX! This is the exciting time where we can watching something to take a break using (but not abusing) Hope’s wifi. We can diffuse, reimagine, reassess.
Here a couple links for articles that talk about this. Even if you don’t buy the arguments, can we all agree that Netflix is at least good for background noise as you paint, write, sculpt, whatever?
Thanks for reading, and remember to keep creating! Have a great weekend!
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Defying Categories is Punk-Rock

Hello Hope College!
I hope all of you are keeping sane and staying alive (just remember, you’ve made it four weeks). Today, I want to talk about defying categories. During the college years, as we struggle to define ourselves and find our place, it is easy to feel confined by set boundaries. For example, if you begin to define yourself as a “sports person,” yet happen to also feel passionately about, say, writing poetry, it can often feel like some outside force (or your peers) are forcing you to choose between one or the other. I know this topic may seem a bit high school, and I’m sure we’d all like to think we are very much past this, yet surprisingly, even amongst middle-aged adults, this mindset is pervasive.
This is something I feel pressed to discuss largely because I personally am constantly struggling to cultivate myself as an individual while also trying to find where I fit in on a larger scale. Assimilation into a group often happens naturally, and in the beginning, can even be incredibly encouraging of growth. For example, in high school, when I first stumbled upon alternative/punk-rock music, I was quite genuinely enthralled by its surrounding culture and began defining every aspect of myself with this lens. If any of you are familiar with this culture, you can picture the skinny jeans, graphic t-shirts, beanies, and comb over bangs (only slightly in my case, thank god). After awhile, I found myself interested by other things – it started with music taste. While I still enjoyed alternative music, I started to also explore a softer, heartier sound: indie, folk, bluegrass, etc. As my music taste shifted, I began to grow in other ways as well. My style was evolving, as were my interests, my opinions, etc. However, each transition I made was met with inner conflict over what I thought were contradictory identities/people groups/cultures. Although it began with a genuine passion, my identity as “punk-rock girl” wound up constricting me because I believed that every aspect of my life had to be done in a “punk-rock girl” way.
As I evolved, I began to realize that I did not need to fit into categories – that I could like punk-rock music and bluegrass at the same, wear a bright dress one day and a baggy t-shirt with dark skinny jeans the next. This is all to say that people don’t naturally fit into categories. By nature, as individuals, we are each wildly unique. As much as it can feel wonderful to commune with others about a shared interest, I encourage you not to let yourself be restrained by that. Develop a friend-group with a wide range of interests; explore different types of music, food, areas of study, etc. You are allowed to like whatever you like, whether it falls in or outside of your “category.” Become defined as yourself. In my case, my category is Grace. That means I listen to punk-rock music, as well as folk, bluegrass, indie, rap, instrumental, etc. It is impossible to contradict yourself, so embrace your variety.
With peace,
Grace Hulderman
Opus Poetry Editor

How to Distinguish Yourself as an Artist

I recently came across a quote from Chuck Wendig. “The easiest way to separate yourself from

the unformed mass of “aspiring” writers,” he says, “ is to a) actually write and b) actually finish.

That’s how easy it is to clamber up the ladder to the second echelon.”

If you think about the amount of people who aspire to write—or commit to any work of art,

really—there are far fewer people who actually finish what they start. That’s what Wendig gets

at with his idea. Just finish what you start. Okay, so it’s that easy to transcend the plane of

“aspiring” writers to the heavenly domain of artists who complete their work. Then why can’t

most people achieve their goal?

According to Steven Pressfield, there’s a whole host of reasons why people fail to achieve their

artistic endeavors, which he outlines in his book, The War of Art. Pressfield identifies Resistance

as the number one inhibitor of creative activity; it’s the force that whispers in your head, “I’ll

have more time for this tomorrow,” and “My art will never be good enough,” and “I don’t feel

well, I can’t work on this now.” All of which are invalid excuses for someone who wants to

complete an artistic work. If you, aspirer, are anything like me, you know that “tomorrow” you

won’t have the time. If I don’t write now, I never will.

If you struggle to find the motivation to fulfill your artistic endeavors, check out The War of Art.

It’s inspiration at its finest.

All this is to say: Pick up that pen, that paintbrush, or that camera. If you’re going to finish your

art, you have to start it first.

Making the Everyday Extraordinary

Disclaimer: this is one person’s opinion, and is not intended to offend anyone.

In art, there is little that is considered cliché. Drawing on past artists’ work is expected and celebrated, and using well-known objects for their connotations is common and generally received well. To be fair, this has not always been the case. Art is still divided into craft, kitsch, fine, indigenous, etc, and pop art images of soup cans had to fight their way into the world of fine art. However, in writing the line between “earning the cliché” and sounding cheesy can be much more difficult to identify. There are published writers, and there are unpublished writers. There is work that is ready and work that needs… Well, needs work. Using clichés is almost a guarantee that you will be considered as the latter: the unprepared, unpublished author. How do we reclaim these clichés? Own them and weave them, earn them, in our work? Essentially, how can we make the everyday language and stories exceptional?

Again, I return to art, where changing the surroundings, scale, or level of distortion can draw attention to and celebrate the everyday. However, simply placing a cliché in a new context is often not enough to make a piece of writing acceptable. Scale, though different here, can help though. Make your writing a soundscape. In the words of Gabe Lewis (for you Office fans), “imagine one instant of a song, expanded to be the size of the universe.” Imagine the minutiae of your cliché and make them important. Take your cliché and dig so far into that person or that feeling that your audience feels and sees what you feel when you hear that cliché. Details, bodily sensations, imagery. When I see successful use of clichés, the line seems like an inevitable following to a superb description of that cliché; it serves as the bow on an already beautifully wrapped gift.

I am sure there are many other ways to make successful writing with clichés, but this is a short description of an important frame of mind I believe can lead to such a success. So this blog can serve as a challenge to you. Show us how you can take clichés and common subject matter and make them important, relevant, and new!


Writing Crap: The Beauty in Really Bad Poetry

Hello again everyone! I’m so excited to write my first Opus blog post for the semester. As co-editor, I feel a certain pressure to start out our blog posts on a strong topic…I’m not sure this topic lives up to that, but bear with me. In preparation of submitting work to Opus by JANUARY 29TH, I want to encourage everyone to write crappy poetry. “Wait, what? Does she think Opus has crappy writing and art in it? Does she want me to not try my best while writing?” I think a lot of crazy things, but not those crazy things. The writing and artwork presented in Opus is beautiful and important. But here’s the thing, a lot of what you read in any publication started out as really crappy poetry (or prose or art). This semester I’m taking intermediate poetry with Rob Kenagy and he’s making us write a poem a day for fifteen days. As someone who likes to spend a ridiculous amount of time choosing a word, it’s been difficult for me to just dash off poetry without having thought long and hard about the topic and word choice (and it’s only the second day of fifteen. Help.) However, I’ve realized that even though the poems my poor professor has to read might really be pretty bad they have potential to become something much better through revision–even if I end up throwing out ninety percent of the poem to just use one phrase. Yesterday I wrote a really silly poem about a gnome sleeping in my closet. Now, you may think I’m weird for coming up with that idea, but really the weird part is that I have an actual plaster gnome hanging in my closet. What started out being a ridiculous poem ended up making me think about objects in my life that remain in their place as my life changes around them–perhaps a much better idea for a poem. I’ll just have to keep writing crappy poetry to find out. And I encourage you to write crappy poetry. It may be awkward, embarrassing, and downright silly at times, you might be surprised at the material you generate for revision. And then send that revised poetry (or prose or art) straight in to us at opus@hope.edu.

I’m so so excited for this semester. I’m so so excited for you to explore your creativity. And I’m so so excited to receive your submissions.

Cheers,
Abby Klett (Co-editor)

I’m giving up a spot for a traditional funny meme for this fabulous Bowie picture because my heart is a little broken this week.

But I can’t not leave you with a George Washington meme as a bonus.