Friday, April 28, 2023

The Internship

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Busy is good, and I've been busy. I've been busy enough that I haven't plopped down here on Blogger for months to crank out the latest drivel; busy enough that a foot surgery and its subsequent recovery put the screws to an already busy schedule; busy enough that my client waiting list is now two years long and is toying with three. I've certainly been blessed with work, so it's strange that, through a series of disjointed factors, I'm about to intentionally make things even more busy by beginning a new endeavor – The Riojas Internship.

Three students, Phoebe Burfeind, Ellen Egger, and Kaylin Ware have already committed themselves to this internship, which will inaugurate this coming August for the 2023-24 academic year. Those three students represent the full roster our house can accommodate. Before I totally spill the beans, however, a little backstory is needed.

This past summer, my wife, Mary, and I finally became empty-nesters. We live in a rambling, old farmhouse that, among other things, suffered through a hideous 1970s remodel. When our youngest son, Samuel, still lived at home, his bedroom was given a total makeover with the help of his brothers.

The end result was nice. Very nice. It included new electrical, new drywall, new flooring, new doors, and a tasteful paint scheme.

It was so nice that, when the nest was officially empty, the remodel rebooted on an adjacent bedroom, then spread to a third room, with sights put on the final room of the second floor.

No, we weren't attempting to make the house sellable and ride the crazy waves of the housing market. We simply wanted better studio spaces for artwork and perhaps a nice guest room. Then things went a little sideways.

While delivering two panels to All Saints Lutheran Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mary and I were chatting with Alysha Ware, the wife of Rev. Jeffrey Ware, and their daughter, Kaylin, who has considerable art skills. Kaylin had been homeschooled and would soon be facing the prospect of furthering her education at the college level. The specter of iffy art programs, however, dominated the horizon of collegiate choices. The question of 'What do we do?' was brought up. Something like a fleeting glimpse of an idea shot across my brain. What had been pleasant conversation turned a corner into a semi-gelatinous germ of an idea. And it wouldn't let go.

That was in mid-October. Less than two months later, the idea was solidifying and I was emailing Pr. Ware, his wife, and daughter, while seeking the advice of wise Lutherans who had connections within the workings of synod and education. Mostly, I was seeking their advice on my sanity, but I was also trying to gauge feasibility and reality. In the end, I simply could not find an excuse to do otherwise, so I pushed forward with the concept of an internship.

But why? Why do this? Why now? Why, at this time of my life, should I add more to my schedule and essentially create more work when others my age were easing into retirement? The reasons were compelling.

For starters, we need more confessional Lutheran artists. I'm tired of feeling like the Lone Ranger of artists when there is plenty of work out there for others. The landscape is also desperate for art that doesn't hale from the 1970s, doesn't insist on being Mid-century Modern, and confesses more than "feeling groovy." Adding three hopeful artists to the roster may not seem like much, but it's a good start.

Secondly, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that college programs in general and art programs in particular are in a sordid state. Wishing them otherwise isn't enough. Too often, young, impressionable minds are forced to tinker with worldly trends, broken philosophies, and fetid rubbish in the pursuit of tolerance, acceptance, and social awareness. No trade school inculcates such stupidity, and neither should an art education.

Once upon a time, an artist learned his craft – and I use that term in the loftiest sense – as if his life and livelihood depended upon it. Because it did. At the very least, one should learn the rules well before attempting to break them. But now an idiot can tape a banana to a gallery wall and call it "art." Calling it thus, however, does not make it so.

It may certainly be argued that I'm a curmudgeon; that I'm an anachronism; that I'm ignorant. I will accept those labels and proudly wear them. What, then, do we do with the parental responses of the three interns – the tear-filled declarations that this internship is an answer to prayers? Those humbling admissions alone bear witness to the state of art education and the dire need to change it.

Unlike other internships, I will not use the students to clean my studio or do my work or make me lattes. (On second thought, there may be lattes.) That does not mean they will avoid work. On the contrary, they all understand that my teaching methods will be based on experiences with favorite teachers – you know, the ones that did not coddle or pull punches; the ones that expected far more of students than anyone dared, including the students themselves. Interns will work on pieces for their own portfolios, so that pastors, churches, and various institutions can immediately see those things of which the interns are capable.. The interns will learn business practices. They will learn how to handle – sometimes with kid gloves – churchly art commissions. They will be taught the theological underpinnings of sacred art. Above all, they will learn why this vocation is at all worthy and, when done rightly, is truly a high calling.

Thus, I am beginning this private endeavor with the blessing of my wife, the interns, and their parents. May The Lord also truly bless this endeavor, to His glory!