Meet Corita Kent, Trailblazing Catholic Artist
There’s no question that the desire to create is an innate part of our humanity. Whenever we form a friendship, cook a meal, write an email or text, we are creating. Even when we take a step, we are creating movement. Each moment of our lives is an opportunity for creativity and the intentional use of our gifts.
Who are the most creative people you know? Who inspires you to see the world in new ways? For me, one of those people is Corita Kent. “Life is a succession of moments — to live each one is a way of succeeding,” she wrote in her piece titled, “succeeding, 1979.”
Who was Corita Kent?
Shortly after Corita Kent graduated from high school, she entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent in Los Angeles, California. Her given name was Frances Elizabeth — when she entered her religious community, she took on the name, Mary Corita. Her new name called to mind the Spanish word for heart, corazón, and the diminutive ita, meaning little — “little heart.”
Throughout her life, Corita Kent had an interest in art and education, and she was particularly intrigued in how the two meshed together. Over time, she became the head of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’s art department. Though she eventually left her religious community, Corita continued to spend her life teaching, traveling, and developing her iconic style of art.
At the heart of her creations, she intertwined her faith with bold colors, powerful language, and her passion for social justice. She often iterated upon the words of authors, philosophers, and theologians, such as Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She also used company logos and slogans, such as the General Mills “G,” and crafted them into interesting prints, often transforming them into subjects of love, life lessons, and social justice efforts.
Kent used watercolor to create her pieces, but her main medium was serigraph, which is also known as silk screening. Serigraph combines the use of a stencil and ink to transfer a design onto a canvas or paper. This style is commonly attributed to Andy Warhol, Kent’s most famous contemporary artist. Her most famous design is the love stamp, which she created for the U.S. Postal Service in 1983.
Put a “little heart” into it
Corita Kent strove to help people “use their whole selves better,” and her designs, prints, and words reflect this mission. She put a “little heart” into everything she created, and we can see that she truly believed in the opportunity for good in each moment. Kent understood that we often look up at a piece of art to appreciate the creator and their creation, just as we do with our Creator and the world around us. One of Corita Kent’s prints reads, “To understand is to stand under, which is to look up, which is a good way to understand” (mad for each other, 1967).
An appreciative “moment” — the 1977 collection
One of my favorite Corita Kent collections is from 1977 that speaks of “moments.” Its color scheme consists of bright colors echoing Kent’s simple yet empowering words enfolded in the prints. The separate pieces work together to create what she calls the “alchemy of the moment” — yet alone, they are still perplexing and beautiful. This collection of art provides us with a simple message to live by: we must live boldly, as the colors do, and fully accept each moment for the gift that it is. Just read the text transcriptions from four of the Kent prints from this 1977 collection:
love the moment and the energy of that moment will spread beyond all boundaries (love the moment, 1977)
this moment contains the fullness of all moments nothing else is needed (this moment, 1977)
the empty moment is the full moment is (the empty moment is, 1977)
accept the moment as a friend it is (accept the moment, 1977)
Corita Kent showed us that each moment of life is a moment to create. Through putting “a little heart” into each of her passions — faith, art, language, social justice — she made a big difference and left a lasting impact. Dive into the beautiful, digitized collection of Corita Kent’s work at the Corita Art Center site.