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Spread the Word: Coloring Outside the Lines

By Katie Runde

Back sometime in my early twenties on a trip to the Seattle Aquarium, I saw a cylindrical tank full of young salmon, all swimming frantically against a current that mimicked that of a river. This was part of an exhibit on the life cycle of salmon, a desperate picture of young fish driven by instinct to get upriver at all costs toward the ocean. They were swimming for their lives! Yet despite this feverish existential bent, their efforts were only enough to cancel out the force of the artificial current. Hundreds of fries were literally going nowhere fast.

This reverberated deeply with my sense of what the adult world had in store for me, an image similar to that of a bustling city street packed with people rushing to and fro in sensible black to get the job done and live another day, move one step up on a ladder as illusory as the river current that wasn’t and the promised ocean on the other side of impassable walls.

But then I noticed that one enterprising fry had stumbled upon the truth that it was fighting against nothing but a cylindrical current: it would periodically duck out towards the center and swim against traffic for a moment before looping back into the flow. Had it gamed the system? Was it playing? Either way, this little fish had managed to make the very picture of depressive despair into a thing of subversive hope.

I have always felt like that outlier fish, unconvinced by the flow. As a realist painter, I have had many the art world expert or contemporary artist colleague tell me that my work, because it is representational, ‘lacks content.’ Because I work in a traditional medium and strive after beauty instead of edge, my work doesn’t have enough ‘motion,’ or edge, or message (read: snark).

This makes about as much sense to me as the misbegotten notion that religious symbolism and story make little literal sense and are therefore untrue. But how is beauty less real than snarkiness when snark is ultimately nothing but a defensive swipe against the existential hollowness of a worldview that lacks intrinsic meaning? How are representation and meaning mutually exclusive? How are two thousand years of spiritual insight suddenly antiquated, like oil paint? Perhaps the fundamental cultural current we live and breathe in is artificial.

Theology and representational art: The more I bring these two terribly passé media together, the more people here on the ground (as opposed to the art world Powers That Be) respond not only with appreciation for my work, but with gratitude. Maybe I will never have a painting at auction at Christie’s, but I paint light as people have for hundreds of years, both literally and theologically, because the light and the Light are just as alive and relevant as ever, not to mention so frequently passed over by a culture that clings to the material, the ever-new, and celebrates the edge just for its sharpness. We need reminders of our origin in the Divine and the beauty of God’s creation, and desperately.

And what does this have to do with evangelism? Everything.

Evangelism to me is love out loud, and, more recently, I’ve realized that evangelism is really being myself out loud.

I am a quiet evangelist. I hate to force anything on anyone, and yet Christ offers us a path to wholeness in a broken world, and I do not know anyone who is not in need of love and healing. Evangelism to me is love out loud, and, more recently, I’ve realized that evangelism is really being myself out loud. Evangelism is sometimes as simple as being just another small fry, but one who knows the current is artificial and has no qualms about playing around in it – in public.

I paint light; I paint Light. Last fall, I built a pair of articulating, adult human-scale wings so that people could wear them and feel their own wild potential. I presented these wings at a local soft opening with fifty pages of poems and quotes about ascent from mystics from around the world from a whole spectrum of faith traditions. This massive 16-foot wingspan will eventually be the center of a whole body of (realist) work built around the theme of ascent, unapologetically mystical, all about the Divine.

Seven Days, the Vermont weekly, recently published a profile on me and my work (“Artist Katie Runde Embraces the Holy and the Cow”), and, as you might imagine from the title, the wonderful writer who took the project on was not shy about including the important dimension that faith and theology occupy in my work.

The response is in: If I am unafraid of sharing who I am as a follower of Christ, people are unafraid to embrace me as such. I can show through my unabashed religiosity that perhaps faith is not such a narrow thing as secular society may assume.

I realized I can link to my church on my website because our faith family, my preaching, and our open doors are an essential part of my work as a creative whole. I also linked to the community bar where I go to study, the same bar we have been in communication with about maybe giving ashes next Ash Wednesday.

Faith and community and work are all part of the same fabric, and the more we all work with this interconnectivity in mind, the more we can all play against the current that tells us otherwise.

Faith and community and work are all part of the same fabric, and the more we all work with this interconnectivity in mind, the more we can all play against the current that tells us otherwise.

Furthermore, you never know when what you have to offer is just what is needed. Because I happened to mention that I preach, one of my favorite fans of the dance band I moonlight in recently came by to hear a sermon and was able to share wholeheartedly in the love of the whole church community. Maybe he will come back for another, maybe not – that doesn’t matter as much as that for that morning, he knew how very much he is loved. Evangelism can be as simple as owning who you are as a seeker of God, a follower of Love, owning that you as a Christian are someone unafraid of swimming figure eights against the current.

Katie Runde, a free-lance artist and musician, is a member of Christ Church, Bethel, a postulant for ordination, and a member of the Green Mountain Witness Team, the evangelism outreach of The Episcopal Church in Vermont. Photo: Caleb Kenna/SEVEN DAYS


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