Category Archives: Art

Book Review: Portrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World for Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles, by Julia L. Kay

Portrait RevolutionPortrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World for Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles by Julia L. Kay is a beautiful and inspiring journey into the what, why, and how of portrait making through the mind’s eye of artists around the world. Wonderfully organized according to media, style, and theme, most of the book presents portrait samples of the same person as rendered by different artists. Every portrait includes subject, artist, medium, and size (when applicable), but many include notes by the artist—a brief explanation of the image or insight into method. The book concludes with featured artists and a helpful collage of quotes by included artists on portrait making.

While many may stumble upon this up at a bookstore, flip through its pages to see what he or she does and does not like, and then put it down—let’s be honest, not all of the included portraits are going to be aesthetically pleasing to all—Kay has included text for a reason. Read it! While I did not enjoy a great many of the portraits, I did enjoy hearing from the artists themselves, which caused me to think more deeply about how I might interpret a portrait in different ways. I learned.

Kudos to Kay and all contributors. I’ve been inspired to do more portraits and, perhaps, even look into finding interest from other artists in my area who may want to start up our own “portrait party.”


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: The Inkblots: Hermann Rorshach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing, by Damion Searls

The InkblotsDamion Searls’ The Inkblots: Hermann Rorshach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing is a beautiful work of narrative non-fiction about which the title makes quite clear. This is Searls’ first book of this type and it is fabulous. Well-researched and well-written, I found it both intellectually and artistically engaging.

The first half of the book is primarily biographical, through which we discover the development and true intent of Rorshach’s famous (or infamous, as some may perceive it) inkblots test. The latter half chronicles further development and use (or misuse) of the test from the Swiss doctor’s death in 1922 to present day, a fantastic journey of controversy that had me questioning, evaluating, and empathizing with both testers and test-takers throughout. The reader will eventually discover that the real take away from this book is, again, right there in the title: the power of seeing. We all perceive differently, and Rorshach, being both an artist and doctor, tapped into the possibilities of what we may discover about others and ourselves based on perceptions of just ten cards of symmetrical inkblots. One can only speculate what Rorshach could and would have further done with it had he not tragically died at such an early age.

Aesthetically, two sections of glossy pages that include photos of Rorashach, family, and artwork are welcomed and helpful additions. Kudos to Elena Giavaldi for the striking dust jacket that will surely catch both eye and hand of many potential readers.


I highly recommend this book, especially for those the least bit interested in art and/or psychology. It will not disappoint.


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering, by Makoto Fujimura

Silence and BeautyWith a mix of exposition, critique, biography, and memoir, Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering wrestles with Shusako Endo’s 1969 novel, Silence, providing empathetic insight into the past, present, and hopeful future of Japanese culture. Though many may disagree with and even criticize both Endo’s and Fujimura’s theological perspectives regarding Catholicism and authentic Christian faith in Japan both past and present, one need neither agree nor disagree in order to benefit from taking this journey with Fujimura. Yes, there may be times when one questions the validity of arguments and perspectives expressed in Silence and Beauty, but the reality of shumi-e culture still exists in varied forms, and Fujimura encourages us to see both tragedy and beauty in the brokenness. One may be left with more questions in the end, but they are questions worth asking and wrestling with.

For those who have not yet read Endo’s novel, Fujimura provides a synopsis at the end of the book (Appendix 3). There’s also a glossary of Japanese terms and definitions since they are not all defined in the text. I recommend reading all three appendices and the glossary before taking the journey. This will only take a few minutes and will serve you well.

Further resources may be found at


*I received a temporary digital copy for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: Understanding Exposure (4th Edition): How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera, by Bryan Peterson

Understanding Exposure, 4th EditionUnderstanding Exposure (4th Edition): How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson aptly and engagingly unlocks the mysteries of what Peterson refers to as the photographic triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) in order to capture the correct exposure for any image. Multiple shots of the same scene are provided with specific settings in order to see the differences these can make as Peterson educates the reader. I’ve needed a book like this for a long time, and am glad it’s found a home in my library, sure to be referenced time and again. (I’ve not read any of the three previous editions, so I can’t speak to the updates in this one [there has been significant progress in the world of digital photography since the third edition, so it’s probably worth the update].)

His first piece of advice is to find the manual setting (as opposed to the myriad of automatic settings) on your camera, set it, leave it there, and then throw away the manual for the camera. Of course, most people buy cameras specifically for automatic settings, and Peterson explains why that’s (basically) stupid when it’s so easy to capture the desired image with a little bit of knowledge and practice. So, for those seriously interested in photography and taking great pictures, perhaps getting a camera sans auto settings would be the best route.

A few points I particularly appreciate:

  1. A creatively correct exposure rather than just a correct exposure. Granted, this is going to be in the eye of the artist, but it helps to understand how to tweak the settings to the best among a number of potentially correct exposures.
  2. Aperture can help tell a story with depth of focus.
  3. Implied motion can be obtained through shutter speed.
  4. Light meters assume 18% light reflectance, which can really be thrown off when trying to capture an image with stark contrasts between black and white, which reflect light very differently in the same shot.

I only have one real critique: Peterson downplays white balance, stating that he leaves his “set to Sunlight 99 percent of the time when shooting in natural light” because most of what he does is outdoors (p.19). This is fine, and what I will likely find myself doing, but those looking for some advice on more indoor shooting may find the book a bit lacking, although there are still some great tips.


*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: Sense and Spirituality: The Arts and Spiritual Formation, by James McCullough

Sense and SpiritualityJames McCullough recently received his PhD from St. Andrews, and Sense and Spirituality: The Arts and Spiritual Formation comes out of his dissertation (“Aesthesis and Ascesis: The Relationship between the Arts and Spiritual Formation,” 2013). The notes, “This book began its life as a doctoral dissertation, and … has undergone extensive editing and rewriting in order to make it readable and indeed palatable for a general audience” (xvii); however, McCullough states that this work “submits itself for approval and approbation…first and foremost, to the growing body of scholars and practitioners in the field of theological aesthetics” and “[s]econdly…to those in practical theology” (xv). I’m not certain that it has indeed been reworked for a “general audience”; it maintains the form, function, and readability of an academic thesis, not something one would generally pick up at a bookstore if interested in the arts and spiritual formation. However, not having read the actual dissertation, I am unable to compare and contrast notable differences and distinctions that may prove beneficial in determining which may be the most helpful for the intended theologian reader: the dissertation or Sense and Spirituality. For what it’s worth, given the brevity and lack of depth in “Part II: Practical Application,” it is my assumption that the dissertation would be the better route.

Part I: Theoretical Framework
McCullough simplifies “aesthesis and ascesis” into “sense and spirituality,” stating that his agenda is “to explore how skills in sensory perception with those related to ascetical development or spiritual formation, and how this dialectical relationship can be mediated, enhanced, or catalyzed through encounters with the arts” (9). The thesis is belabored and restated a number of times (academic filler material), but this is an important discussion to be had. How does art catalyze sense and spirituality “aimed toward progressive spiritual growth” (45)? McCullough takes roughly fifty pages to get to the point of trying to define art (craft, content, and context [Figure 03, p. 43]) and stating—in my own oversimplification—something that is quite well-known: the more one understands art, the more one may appreciate art, as well as the more one may gain from art. In this context, the gain intended is spiritual growth.

Part II: Practical Application
McCullough provides three examples in an attempt to demonstrate a practical application of his thesis: poetry (Four Quartets, T. S, Eliot), painting (The Four Holy Gospels, Makoto Fujimura), and music (Seven Last Words from the Cross, James MacMillan). Each of these is briefly discussed according to its craft, content, and context. The author writes, “I do not wish to write full-blown commentaries on these works, but something more akin to liner notes for a record album” (62), which is a shame because they do not, in my opinion, provide adequate commentary to qualify as examples of practical application of the original thesis (the chapter on Eliot provides only a hint of spirituality and does not appear to connect the reader with enough evidence to support its inclusion, though the subject matter itself certainly would if given greater attention; Fujimura’s is the most connected of the three, providing decent commentary on the purpose, method, and meaning behind the project, though the black and white images in a paperback do not help the reader; and MacMillan’s is, I believe, a poor example to use because of the tradition within which the music is composed, already easily recognized as “sacred” music intended for spiritual growth, meaning that the example appears to be stating the obvious). His conclusion, with which I concur: “Art is an irreducible amalgam of what is said and how it is said, to the point that they are inseparable” (101, emphasis original).

Part III: Conclusion
This “Part” is only five pages, restating and concluding in the tradition of this type of writing.


Truthfully, there’s some helpful material here despite its redundancy and what has already been noted concerning its practical application; however, much more work needs to be done in order to make it more accessible for a general audience. I’m now more interested in what the dissertation may have to offer.