Art You Can Believe In: Image Editor Gregory Wolfe

By Frykholm, Amy | The Christian Century, April 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

Art You Can Believe In: Image Editor Gregory Wolfe


Frykholm, Amy, The Christian Century


IN DECEMBER, the arts-and-faith journal Image published its 20th-anniversary edition, showcasing the work of poets, short-story writers, theologians and essayists as well as visual artists. Under the direction of Gregory Wolfe, Image has become one of the top-ten best-selling literary journals in the U.S. The quarterly is published by the Center for Religious Humanism, based at Seattle Pacific University.

Wolfe also hosts a summer workshop for writers and artists and directs a master's in fine arts program for aspiring writers. Wolfe is the author of Intruding Upon the Timeless, Malcom Muggeridge: A Biography, The New Religious Humanists: A Reader and Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel, among other works. He is currently researching a book about Erasmus. A collection of his essays, tentatively titled Beauty Will Save the World, will be published this year.

How did Image get started?

Twenty years ago, conversations my wife, Suzanne, and I were having with like-minded friends, including cofounder Harold Fickett, revolved around the ways that Christians were interacting--or not interacting--with culture. By 1989 the culture wars had been raging for nearly a decade.

As we surveyed the cultural landscape, we noted the irony that large numbers of both secularists and religious believers shared an identical notion: great art and literature inspired by faith could no longer be created. Secularists, leaning on Freud, thought that because religion was fantasy and great art was about reality, never the twain should meet. The pious had an almost Gnostic attitude: they believed we lived in an era when art was utterly corrupt, so that nothing good could come from the realm of high art.

To set down our countervision, we wrote what I can only call a charmingly utopian prospectus. It sketched out a sprawling array of programs, including not only a quarterly journal but a summer workshop, postgraduate fellowships for artists and writers, an MFA program--even an artists' colony. We stepped back and realized we couldn't possible tackle all that. But I knew something about publishing, so a journal seemed the best way to connect people far and wide, to establish community and the sort of cross-fertilization that a publication can foster.

Slowly, over the years, we continued to add elements from that prospectus. Now we have most of those programs in place--the Glen Workshop, the Milton Center Fellowship, the Seattle Pacific University MFA in Creative Writing. The artists' colony, I suspect, may be a few years away.

What is Image's mission and who is its audience?

To showcase fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, art, music and other works of art that engage, at some level, with the ancient tradition that Walker Percy once summarized as the "God Jews Jesus Church." From the beginning we were convinced that Image should give primacy to original creative work. There were innumerable journals dominated by political and critical discourse; the creative voice was being drowned out.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Another important element of our vision was that we wanted to freely mingle artists and writers who were at home with creed, church and synagogue with those who felt they were on the outside looking in but who nonetheless seriously grappled with matters of faith.

The goal was to produce a publication that could hold its own with the Paris Review and the New Yorker--to take its place on the public square. We don't believe that art informed by faith is the only art worth engaging, but at the same time we feel that that most ancient of connections remains alive and well, even in an allegedly post-Christian world. Image exists to demonstrate this.

How is the business of the magazine going--that is, how is it going financially and in terms of circulation? What are the challenges of a literary and art journal in the current economic environment? …

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