Greg Constantine
Photo: Greg Constantine
We asked Professor Greg Constantine, former Chair of the Andrews University Art Department, about his work and his passion for the visual arts.

inSpire - Professor Greg, I think of you as one of my most significant teachers in college. As a student at Andrews University, I took painting and several other art courses from you that I thoroughly enjoyed. Then, and now, music and art speak to me powerfully. I am profoundly influenced by them. Of course there are many schools of thought in the art world; many motivations that inspire artists to what they do. What drives you to make art? What is your mission--as an artist?

Constantine - I'm happy you enjoyed your art experience in my classes. I have always acknowledged that I am obsessed with putting the ideas that "come to me" into some kind of material form, whether it be paintings, drawings, or "objects." Ideas do worm their way into my brain as a result of observing the world around me. Much of my 40 years of production has originated with images from the history of art (I taught art history classes for 35 years) although I altered these images so they have become my own. I have also been interested in the lives of several famous artists from the past (Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo and Picasso) resulting in three 80 page books of drawings. These were published and exhibited in the early 1980's in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Frankfurt Germany. Just before that I created hundreds of objects called "artist licenses" and exhibited those too in great venues.

inSpire - It seems like I remember you doing a fair amount of abstract art. How do you integrate your faith into your pieces of art, especially those that are abstract? Can spirituality be connected with art even though "religious" objects are not being depicted.

Constantine - Au contrair mon ami! My work RARELY if ever focuses on abstraction. It is secular only to the extent that it may appear that way. However, I must say that I agree with Wassily Kandinsky, the artist, when he stated in his 1913 book "on the spiritual in art" that music (without words) has a huge advantage over figurative art in that it can commune directly from the spirit of a human being (composer and/or performer) to the spirit of another human.

This spirituality doesn't necessarily involve the overt "religious" images one may immediately think of. It refers to the overwhelming 'feelings' one gets when a piece of music MOVES one, and this is inexplicable with words. In fact if you can put this experience into words, it was not of the spirit. so, some music, some views of grandeur (eg, Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls) some art (without recognizable subject matter--therefore abstract) can be truly spiritual. If you can describe it, it is concrete and analytical.

The only creations of mine that may at first appear to be abstract are the "borealis" paintings done within the past 3 years. But they are expressions of the Aurora Borealis which I think are so gloriously other-worldly and miraculous. I am in awe of them. I used the word "moved" above. this may sound emotional (emotions cannot be fully explained either) but i say moved because we will have been moved from where we were before this experience to where we are after the event. We will be a changed person; and that is spiritual. Everything else is analytical or intellectual.

You may have noticed that I take the trouble to find galleries to EXHIBIT my work. This is very important, but it is merely the act of SHARING my ideas. Not really much different than a parent sharing their new creation, a newborn baby. Also, not much different than sharing the GOOD NEWS about God's wonderful forgiveness of our sin. That gives me the assurance I enjoy and need to operate with confidence in my world. I have been called an evangelist/ambassador of art (by some in the art world.) I have not been self-conscious about it, but in retrospect, I realize I have been a kind of missionary to a particular public not reached by anyone else that I am aware of in our denomination.

I acknowledge that the successes of my exhibits and books have been beyond my true expectations, but not my dreams, and I owe it all to my Creator who gave me the capacity to make connections and discoveries and then the opportunity to share my work. God provided these opportunities but he also depends on my ambition to present my work in venues that are harsh to the uninvited. After all, New York art dealers and publishers don't come to Berrien Springs to search for talent. Sure I prayed for success, but several times my prayers were answered before I uttered them. However, I must give my Creator at least half the credit (Tim Tebow notwithstanding). But I also remember being amazed whenever Muhammad Ali won a fight, the first thing out of his mouth was praise to God/Allah. Were my successes Cinderella stories, or good fortune? Not exactly. I choose to attribute it to Providence (a power outside of myself).

During my teaching career I developed a course titled Christ in Music and Art. It was about those great artists in history who rendered the life of Jesus in visual terms for their generation in the attempt to help relate to and understand Him. I felt very profoundly that this class was a pivotal opportunity to connect with students. Also as a result of this relationship with my students, I produced 70 drawings that I hoped could become published as a book titled "Jesus of New York" (about a 19 year old Jesus in today's New York City). Sadly, I never found a publisher, but the drawings were exhibited in many places.

inSpire - As you well know, it is hard for artists to make money at their craft. Seems like it always has been. Do you have any advice for artists who want to pursue art full-time?

Constantine - I don't recommend it to anyone,

UNLESS---you have rich parents who will tolerate being you patrons. It is one very long steep road.

UNLESS---you have a job to support your family and buy materials.

UNLESS---you have a body of mature artworks.

UNLESS---you have somehow come up with some unique concept (idea) that will knock the socks off of the art world.

UNLESS---you have mastered the appropriate techniques to render those ideas into visual terms.

UNLESS---you have very thick skin and can overcome the rejection that is sure to come.

UNLESS---you realize that everything is possible (if Christ is for me who can be against me)

inSpire - In your view, is there anything the Adventist Church can, or should do, to encourage or support the use of art as a vehicle for ministry?

Constantine - I really don't have anything to say about this except that I have worked for the church for 43 years and have had good support from the various administrations that have come and gone.

inSpire - Thank you for sharing your thoughts and art with us.

Visit Greg Constantine online

This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 Click here for content usage information.