The Vis­iting Writers Program of the Department of English, directed by asso­ciate pro­fessor of English John Somerville, is hosting a special two-day event Oct. 20 and 21. The event honors Greg Wolfe, class of ’80, pub­lisher and editor of Image journal, and director of the Center for Reli­gious Humanism and director of the MFA in cre­ative writing program at Seattle Pacific Uni­versity, and cel­e­brates the twenty-fifth anniversary of Image. Monday, Oct. 20, Andrew Hudgins, poet and human­ities dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of English at the Ohio State Uni­versity, and Erin McGraw, nov­elist and pro­fessor of English at OSU will read from their work at 4 p.m. in the Dow Lead­ership Center rooms A and B. That evening at 8 p.m. in the Sage Center for the Arts Markel Audi­torium, band Over the Rhine will perform. Tickets may be reserved through the Sage box office. Tuesday, Oct. 21, Wolfe will lead a panel dis­cussion titled “Faith and the Arts” in the Dow center at 4 p.m. That evening, at 8 p.m., Wolfe will deliver a talk, “Con­ser­vatism and the Arts: A Lover’s Quarrel.” The event is also spon­sored by the american studies program, the christian studies program, the department of English, the department of music, and the office of the president.

—Micah Mead­ow­croft, Arts Editor

A con­ver­sation with Greg Wolfe:

Gregory Wolfe grad­uated from Hillsdale College in 1980 and went on to earn a M.A. in English Lit­er­ature from Oxford Uni­versity. He has been pub­lished in journals such as National Review, Modern Age, Chron­icles, and Crisis. In addition, Wolfe is the author of several books, including Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel, Intruding Upon the Timeless: Med­i­ta­tions on Art, Faith, and Mystery, and most recently Beauty Will Save the World: Recov­ering the Human in an Ide­o­logical Age. He is cur­rently the editor of Image, a national journal of art, faith, and mystery, which he founded in 1989. — Interview con­ducted and biog­raphy com­piled by Chris McCaffery, student columnist

What impact has Image journal had on our artistic culture in its 25 years? What’s dif­ferent, and what does the future look like for reli­gious art and Christian Humanism?

You put me in a dif­ficult position. It’s always tricky trying to take credit for cul­tural change! One thing I’ve come to realize is that Image has been part of a larger social phe­nomenon: a reaction against what I would call “mil­itant sec­u­larism.” Since the late 1980s there has been a gradual decrease in the cen­sorship of the reli­gious imag­i­nation by cul­tural gate­keepers (think the New York Times, etc.).

Our purpose in founding Image was to showcase the work we sus­pected was still being created: world-class lit­er­ature and art that grappled hon­estly with the ancient faith tra­di­tions of the West. The irony is that when we began many reli­gious folk as well as secular intel­lec­tuals agreed that such work was a thing of the past.

We made a con­scious effort to put up our shingle on the public square and not do what many con­ser­v­ative efforts have done — withdraw into a fortress and blast away at “decadance.” That means we created a journal that could take its place side by side with the New Yorker and Paris Review. We went to the con­fer­ences and con­ven­tions. And we were not only accepted but welcomed.

The more dra­matic impact we’ve had is within the com­munity of believers. When we began many of the faithful put all their stock in apolo­getics and pol­itics. We have con­sis­tently argued that this is an imbalance: that reason must be bal­anced by imagination.

What was your aca­demic career like at Hillsdale? What was your expe­rience with pub­lishing and art on campus?

In the late 1970s Hillsdale had only begun to transform from a sleepy, provincial college to the pow­er­house it is today. But I took full advantage of the good things that had become available, such as taking classes with vis­iting pro­fessors like Russell Kirk and Gerhart Niemeyer. I also loved the CCA sem­inars and drove many speakers to and from the airport in Detroit, giving me valuable exposure to major thinkers.

I wrote op-eds for the Col­legian and edited the Tower Light. I even started a national quar­terly called the Hillsdale Review when I was a sophomore. It was founded to publish writing by young, tra­di­tion­alist con­ser­v­a­tives. Even­tually we got over a thousand sub­scribers. The HR lasted about eight years.

Does a deep appre­ci­ation for and under­standing of clas­sical lit­er­ature pre­clude a full embrace of modern and post­modern art? How does art pro­duced by a secular culture touch on Christian orthodoxy?

Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite. T.S. Eliot and Flannery O’Connor, both pro­foundly con­ser­v­ative, wrote unself­con­sciously in highly modern styles. Unlike mere reac­tionaries, who think we can turn back the clock, con­ser­v­a­tives have always known that change is the nature of human life and that outward forms can and must change to pre­serve ancient truths. Eliot argued that unless we fully engage with the art of our own time we actually begin to lose a full sense of the clas­sical tra­dition — which is another way of saying that without a living tra­dition, the past becomes dis­torted and distant.

What advice do you have for Hillsdale stu­dents who come out of school sim­i­larly dis­il­lu­sioned with ide­o­logical con­ser­vatism? How can aca­demic and artistic endeavors influence the political climate?

Never let political and eco­nomic expe­diency cause you to go along with rhetoric and ide­ology which you feel to be dan­gerous and harmful to the public good. If you cannot find orga­ni­za­tions and pub­li­ca­tions that speak for the deeper meaning of con­ser­vatism, then create your own. Power, wealth, and fame are temp­ta­tions for con­ser­v­a­tives, just like anyone else. Be willing to defend truths that are more subtle and nuanced than the ide­o­logical sim­pli­fi­ca­tions espoused by others, even if doing so leaves you finan­cially poorer and feeling mar­gin­alized. If your vision is honest and true, others will be attracted to it and your witness will have an impact.

You devote a lot of space in Beauty Will Save the World to Catholicism and its influence on the art of the 20th century. What has been the Protestant con­tri­bution to American Christian art over the last century? 

To be fair, of the thirteen artists and writers I discuss at length in that book in sep­arate chapters, seven of them are not Catholic!

In the last half-century, American Protes­tants have expe­ri­enced a sense of renewal and re-engagement with lit­er­ature and the arts. The evan­gelical com­munity in par­ticular — at least the more intel­lectual end of it — has undergone some­thing of a rev­o­lution in this regard. Evan­gel­icals have been and remain one of the most active con­stituencies in the Image com­munity and many evan­gelical insti­tu­tions, such as Wheaton, Calvin, Messiah, and Gordon Col­leges (to name a few) have made sig­nif­icant con­tri­bu­tions to schol­arship and activism in the arts.

One only has to look at a list of writers like the fol­lowing to see many first-rate writers from a Protestant back­ground in our time: Mar­i­lynne Robinson, Fred­erick Buechner, Christian Wiman, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, Jeremy Begbie, Bret Lott, and Jeanne Murray Walker.

– Com­piled by Chris McCaffery, Student Columnist