From the Inside Looking Out: UMO Art Students View COVID-19 from a Different Perspective
MOUNT OLIVE – During the stay at home orders caused by COVID-19 people often feel trapped. Social distancing has meant social isolation for many. University of Mount Olive Art Professor Cheryl Hooks challenged the students in her Fine Arts Studio class to complete a window mediatations assigment as a means of helping them realize that although the scenery may be different from their vantage points, everyone is going through a similar situation. In the assignment, she encouraged the students to simply observe and recreate what they saw from their own windows, and more importantly she challenged them with these words, “Don’t take it personally.”
“Creativity, along with direct observation, help nurture healing and strength,” Hooks said. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt it important to spend some time clarifying our individual strengths as artists and our responsibilities to and for each other.”
Senior art major Cindy Rhodes of Princeton chose to paint and mediate on the sites from her kitchen window overlooking a beautiful old magnolia tree. Just beyond the fence separating her property from her neighbors, Rhodes observed a young boy jumping on a trampoline. She captured his image, hair flying in the wind seemingly without a care in the world. Above the drawing she wrote, “You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel when you take nothing personally.”
Rhodes admittedly misses the interactions between her professors and classmates during the isolation of COVID-19. However, as a self-professed “emotional person,” she feels this assignment has helped her build confidence in herself and in her art. “As we seek and work for enlightenment, our attitudes and behaviors improve,” she said. “I think this pandemic has caused our capacity for compassion to be revealed.”
Rhodes enjoys art because, as she says, “It allows me to do something physically constructive and ponder spiritual topics at the same time. Most of my work is actually a product of meditation, so the process of creating the work allows me time to delve as deeply into the topic as I can.”
Malana Bryant, a junior graphic design and fine arts major from Clinton said, “This project helped me find the beauty in the things around me, even with everything that’s going on.”
On the last day of meditation, Bryant pondered which window of her house she would illustrate. She chose to digitally recreate the view from the widest window in her home. “The window has no blinds, and the curtains are always open,” she described. “It reflects how I look at the world in all its beauty, with wide eyes and no distractions.”
Bryant noted that she is open to seeing new things, especially in nature. “I am always at peace as I watch the water flow and the leaves in the trees blow,” she shared. “It gives me internal peace, endless happiness, an understanding outlook, and reveals God’s blessings.”
Bryant appreciated the assignment because it reinforced how art mirrors life in so many ways. “Art shows that we can all see the same thing, but interpret it differently,” she said.
The project also gave Bryant a more positive outlook in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This assignment showed me that although it seems that my life has changed so much in the past few weeks, the nature around me hasn’t.”
Through art and meditation Professor Hooks provided her students the opportunity to focus on the positives in their lives, and not just the negatives. “That is an important lesson for anyone of any age,” she concluded.
The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has education service centers in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Forces Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, and Jacksonville. For more information, visit www.umo.edu.