Art and Spiritual Excellence

The News Magazine of HBU

By Michael Roque Collins

Since 1998, it has been a pleasure and honor to teach, research and provide service at Houston Baptist University. I currently hold the positions of Senior Artist in Residence in painting and Professor of Art.

After a planned departure from HBU in 2002 to work with other universities that maintain Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs in studio visual arts, it was a pleasure and an honor to return to HBU in 2006 to help build a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and a terminal MFA program in studio visual arts on our campus. The decision to turn a tenure offer down at a big 12 university and return to HBU was made very easy by the announcement that Dr. Robert Sloan would be our president after many years of dedicated and excellent leadership and service at Baylor University. Baylor has long been one of the finer BFA studio visual arts programs in Texas. It had always been my prayer and goal, within a Christian university, to build strong enduring studio visual arts programs and returning to HBU enabled me to build these programs that are now thriving at HBU.

A question might be, why develop and maintain studio visual arts programs at a Christian university? The answer is one that my creative life has long considered and is held close to my heart. Art heals and art engages love. It does so by very direct processes that may be found through classical studio training.

As Rilke, the German Christian poet once wrote, and I am paraphrasing: one learns disciplines through creative efforts that heighten the state of love, gestation and perseverance, through one’s art and the surrounding and encompassing faith-filled life we chose to lead. Our studio practice teaches us to examine and meditate on nature’s rhythms that are indeed God’s handiwork. This fine arts training encourages all to see the larger picture prior to plugging in the details. The expression that God is in the details is amplified by the knowledge that one accomplishes a higher degree of resolution in any art form allowing the initial errors of any project to be consumed by deeper and further reflections on nature as God’s thumbprint. In painting as well as other visual art expressions, it is commonly held that one’s creative process progresses from expressive and loose beginnings through multiple destructions and redevelopments of an idea to eventually reveal a more resolute form hopefully worthy of regard. It is this very battle that disciplines an art student to the sensitivities needed for polishing an art form or expressing creativity. In visual art, we equate this ebb and flow of how form evolves in a work of art to our Christian beliefs of cycles of birth, life, death and resurrection for all who accept Jesus Christ as savior.

The patience and sense of perseverance that the practice of studio visual art develops in each student are palpable and life-affirming and underscores the beauty and power of the universe, which our Lord has created for our benefit and well-being. When one humbles themselves to record God’s creation as best seen initially as a priority for young artists through the classical study of people, places and things, their appreciation for the majesty and complexity of God’s ultimate creation intensifies. One might equate the importance of what I have just described through the sensations of standing in a cold rushing river and being still within the moment of God’s majesty where one sees all around them, through the rushing water, the luminous sky, the fish alive and only partially visible. The very grandness that God creates before us through the power of his nature always leaves me praying and thankful for the emersion, even if fish are not caught. The practice of studio visual arts leaves students grateful, more disciplined, respectful of things that are at first not easily comprehended or mastered and above all more conscious of God’s rhythms in nature that surround us all.

This sense of needed gestation is one of the grandest elements of humility and an attribute which I have been most grateful for, as it discourages me from passing premature or limiting judgments and encourages a thoughtful meditation on complex creative issues and processes as well as the profundity of the human condition we share. The new world of digital and internet connectivity and fast-paced consumption is an excellent example as to why a slower form of creativity and gestation of complex processes is so desperately needed. The balance of the two states is indeed invaluable.

Additionally, the realm and study of illumination as a powerful force for spiritual energy is long held in the history of art and though challenged by darker contemporary forces and complications is needed now more than ever. The study of light is one of the core sensibilities developed in beginning classical-oriented studio drawing and painting courses. The knowledge that light and shadow are fully engaged when we observe and interact with the natural world is a hugely profound concept. The idea that God’s light shines down on a parched and cracked earth was suggested to me in an art essay that our former HBU colleague, Jim Edwards, wrote about my art so long ago, though it is as true today as it was in 1993 when first written.

Another powerful reason for maintaining our studio visual arts offerings is the healing attribute found in the sense of patience that is always developed when one engages in a studio practice. Patience in art and the acceptance this practice provides leads one to a realization regarding the idea that judgment of others is not ours to deliver. Love is what is mandated by our shared faith. Even for students exposed to art appreciation or visiting our fine arts museum with hands-on experimentation, the varied processes inherent in this exposure initiates a deeper understanding of the creative history we share as a civilization. At least the Socratic methodology one employs when viewing visual subject matter heightens creative sensibilities that are so valuable for negotiating the complexities of our current era. How we approach everyday lives in a creative and innovative manner often is stimulated by the study of studio visual arts and art history.

The art of higher Christian education is to stimulate in each student and faculty passion for creativity, learning and believing. To have learning adventures that honor our shared faith in Jesus Christ as savior is the focus of our endeavors. I am proud of the 60-plus years that HBU has offered a platform for this sort of spiritual and intellectual growth and am grateful that studio visual art remains part of the core of HBU’s arch towards greater academic and professional excellence.

About Michael Roque Collins

Michael Roqué Collins has served as a Visiting Professor of Art in 1998 and now holds the rank of Senior Artist in Residence- Painting and is a Professor of Art at HBU. In addition, he is the Senior Director of the department of Studio Visual Arts. He earned a BFA in Art from the University of Houston and was a Meadows Fellow and Teaching Assistant during his MFA period of study in Studio Art from Southern Methodist University. His teaching focus is on introducing college students to the field of art and to social and creative thinking within a Christian context.