IMAGO INDEX #1 - Art is a Way of Being

Featuring Eric Hurtgen and Matthew Warren

Art is a Way of Being

The more time I spend designing the more I believe what separates good creatives from great ones is not technical skill but how you think. Over the last few years I've obsessed about discovering how the best artists and designers think about their creative process, and while there are some gems out there, the truth is that it's almost impossible to talk about art and creativity on a deeper level than technical practice. There are a million how-to books and YouTube tutorials on how to get certain effects in Photoshop or how to render accurate lighting in Blender, but there are few good resources for how to come up with a great concept or idea.

This is one of the reasons I started this newsletter in the first place - to capture the work of great artists and designers to hopefully glean something that we can apply to our own practice, especially in the church. It is my goal to help elevate the quality of creative that's produced by artists in and around the church. If we capture something applicable from those who have achieved a deeper level of creative thought, maybe the overall level of art in the church can raised.

This month I'm reading The Creative Act: A Way of Being by current meme celebrity Rick Rubin, arguably one of the greatest music producers of all time. Skim his Wikipedia page for a quick overview of the art he's started or contributed to. Rubin is controversial in music circles, with some artists loving his production methods and some hating them, but his discography is undeniable.

The book is a series of short mini-essays, really just longer thoughts loosely connected. So far one of the most impactful pieces is called "Awareness," which describes the artist's ability to really notice what's going on around and inside ourselves:

The gift of awareness allows us to notice what's going on around and inside ourselves in the present moment. And to do so without attachment or involvement. We may observe bodily sensations, passing thoughts and feelings, sounds and visual cues, smells and tastes.

Rick Rubin, "The Creative Act: A Way of Being"

Part of this act of noticing is being aware of the spiritual realm (though he is not talking in a Christian sense as far as I know):

Without the spiritual component, the artist works with a crucial disadvantage. The spiritual world provides a sense of wonder and a degree of open-mindedness not always found within the confines of science. The world of reason can be narrow and filled with dead ends, while a spiritual viewpoint is limitless and invites fantastic possibilities. The unseen world is boundless.

Rick Rubin, "The Creative Act: A Way of Being"

And then, in the section on "Practice," Rubin echoes previous creatives when describing how these more vague, philosophical notions of creativity can be practiced in our daily work routines:

A practice is the embodiment of an approach to a concept. This can support us in bringing about a desired state of mind. When we repeat the exercise of opening our senses to what is, we move closer to living in a continually open state. We build a habit. One where expanded awareness is our default way of being in the world.

Rick Rubin, "The Creative Act: A Way of Being"

All of this is points toward creativity, or art itself, as a way of being rather than a product we produce. We are all creators as we are made in the image of the original Creator, but those of us who work as creative professionals need to embody a way of life that cultivates deeper thinking and awareness if we want to move from "creating content" to crafting meaningful art.

Eric Hurtgen, Quiet Genius

Eric's work stuck out to me as a perfect example of this thoughtful, almost meditative approach to design. I've often wondered why he doesn't have a larger social media following - it feels like an insult to art that his work doesn't blow up on Instagram - but then I have to remember that social follower numbers in no way correlate with the quality of your work. Anyway, Eric seems to be doing just fine.

Church-focused creatives will likely be most familiar with his long-time collaboration with John Mark McMillan, whose musical innovation is often matched by the quality of visual artists he works with - Eric of course, but also filmmaker Jared Hogan and multidisciplinary artist Jakub Blank.

But Eric has also worked with many big names outside the church, including Sting, Shaggy, and Christian Scott, as well as (relatively) smaller artists like Silicone Boone and Andy Squyres. His art for Andy has made a huge impact on me. As I (with the Choirgirl crew) have done a lot of work with Andy in the past couple years, the more we work with the overall direction for Poet Priest established by Eric, the more I appreciate its simplicity - a strong red paint streak across a black and white image.

Matthew Warren, Multi-Threat

Watching Matthew Warren's rise has been wild. I first heard about him after King Kaleidoscope's "Baptized Imagination" dropped and I spent a bunch of time digging up who took the photo. Since then he's continued producing a ton of varied and interesting work, from merch to photography to full art direction, with KK, Citizens Music, and now as creative director at NHIM Apparel.

As someone who gravitates toward toward the hard contrasts of black and white (or at least more subdued colors) in my own work, I always love following creatives who really go after bright saturated color - Eric's work above is an example of this as well. All of the images below work with large, bright palettes, focusing and amplifying the full spectrum of visible light. Additionally, Warren's work is much less focused on type than mine or others; if design is the combination of type and image, image almost always dominates owing to his background in photography.

Noted Work

Some images and work that stuck out to me this month.

Easter work from Shaider Divina, photographer and creative director at Hope City Church:

Love this merch by Devin Cooper for Grateful Apparel:

Nathaniel Redekop is the creative genius behind a lot of Hillsong United's recent work. He's been posting a lot of personal 3D explorations for a while, which has now spread into a major driver of UNITED's Are We There Yet? expanded version visual rollout:

Mary Caroline Russell is one of the best music and portrait photographers in the game right now, having worked with a huge number of artists in and out of the church world. This photo of Colony House at the Shaky Knees fest recently won Monster Children's 2022 Photo Competition:

That's all for this month. Make sure to subscribe to get next month's post in your inbox and share with your friends so good work gets seen.


Submit Good Work

Know some good work that needs more eyes on it? Send it to me at [email protected] with as many details (especially the artists involved for proper credit) and images as possible. Please don't submit your own work, that's gross. Shout out your friends.