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"Henna Hands," by Shauna Lange

Some say the best art is always ornamental: self-reflective, purely for the sake of art and nothing more. While I think rules shouldn’t limit meaning and content of art, much of it obviously exists purely for joyful expression, for beautification by design, color, imagination and whatever else an artist desires. Nor is there a necessarily a need for messages, realistic likeness, political hints or philosophical symbols. Art ex-nihilo, you could say.

Shauna Lange is one of these types of artists. I won’t say she isn’t a serious artist, just that her path wasn’t a traditional one. She isn’t making political statements or profound indictments or bloody, pornographic displays – which is rather refreshing for a change.

Lange makes artists’ books, illustrated journals (visual diaries) religious cards and other images. She often inserts a message, poem or a line from the Bible. Lange notes that “personal geographies and women’s empowerment” are her particular passions, as well as the subject of communication in art.

Her images have an almost naive, lighthearted look in keeping with the informal presentation from scrapbooks or sketchpads. They aren’t so elegantly or ornately bound as some artists’ books, whose work is extremely technical or sculptural in that regard. For these, the physical presentation of their book is more important than content, and they may express a story by shape or pictures alone.

Lange’s work is far more orientated to her personal communication and thought, which is the original intent of most books anyway. It has the aura of a daydreaming art student who doodles elaborate fantasies and messages about what is important to her on paper she has laying about, while doing something else.

There’s been a new interest in this medium in the last decade or so, although the craft harks back through millennia. Before Gutenberg’s press, artists crafted elaborate, hand-illustrated prayer books and Bibles for wealthy patrons. Lange’s work reflects these ancient texts in some of her themes, though not in style.

When I questioned Lange about a relation between her art and faith, she answered very honestly, “This is probably the most difficult to talk about.”

She describes making a conscious effort to maintain a relationship with Jesus: “To combat that doubting Thomas disbelief I have to ‘act as if.’ I once heard Billy Graham say that he made a decision early in his life to live as if the Bible were true, even if it were not and that he preferred to err on the side of righteousness.”

Still Lange relates a “deep faith,” which has sustained her through several trials and tragic life events. Inspired by different types of Christian messages and music, she explains how they speak to her, moving her to tears at times, even though she may be “joyful and happy.” This often happens when she attends church. While in this “transformative state” of joy, listening to great preachers or moving gospel music, she creates much of her Christian-oriented art.

In spite of personal faith, Lange hasn’t rushed out to exhibit many religious works for a few different reasons. As an art marketer, she observes that although the great artists were from the church in the past, something “feels hodgepodge-ish” in our modern environment and market. That may be from splintering of church denominations and the resulting different takes and perceptions about the place of art in the church and theology.

“I rarely show my Christian pieces in any of the exhibitions I participate in nationally,” Lange explains, because they may “elicit negative or controversial responses” she isn’t quite steeled yet to fight.

As many Christian artists and cultural experts have noted, the mainstream art world can be brutal to religious people, particularly Christians.

I certainly don’t judge her in this and am personally acquainted with the nastiness of some art groups and gallery owners. It is much easier to show religious work where you know it will be appreciated and understood. And there is that statement by Jesus about casting “pearls before swine,” although that may not extend to paintings – or could it?

"Independence Day," by Shauna Lange

Lange began her journey toward art via the unlikely route of military service, specifically the Navy. Thankfully, she was based in Sicily, where she could indulge a love of water, travel and adventure and be surrounded by an abundance of art everywhere to balance days spent training as an air-traffic controller and data programmer.

Shauna worked more than 20 years for the military and federal government while making art and raising a family. Later she applied skills mined from military and government experience to another interest, art administration. In 2006 she began to coordinate art groups, becoming an administrator as well as a contributing artist herself.

Lange spreads herself thin by involving herself with causes such as “Creative Art Consultants International Network.” Realizing there was no central place for art consultants to share industry practices, she founded and owns the group. Here over 3,700 members with a wide array of titles discuss marketing, the political nature of art and relationships with galleries and curators in her Linkedin moderated group.

An energetic and disciplined woman, Lange still works for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity while she is involved in a new church-career network, teaches, researches and markets art. How does she carve time from a paltry 24-hour day to make art herself?

Lange answers simply, “Turning off the TV, a strong work ethic (inherited from my father) and bordering on workaholism – I am extremely conscious of time.”

The artist cautions us not to “let the art run dry,” as inspiration and creative energy is much harder to start up again.

“I make a concerted effort to try to do something artistic and creative each and every day,” she says.

With her list of responsibilities, that must be an intensely concerted effort.

The future of her art advisory agency excites Lange, as it branches out to incorporate “social media visual curation.” This is an exciting, untapped field with little precedence that art professionals will probably need to master, just as they did Facebook and Twitter in the dark ages. Lange, unlike many of us, seems totally unperturbed and raring to fly headfirst for the next level in electronic media communications.

Shauna Lange and family

She has a great attitude about changes herself, describing how at age 43 with a daughter just out of college, she dreamed of exotic vacations but along came shocking news: “You know what they say about how God laughs at the plans we make? We now have a son who’ll be five in June.”

To check out discussions and events at Lange’s art professionals group, see Creative Art Consultants International Network here.

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