Friday, June 7, 2013

So You Want to be an Artist?: An Interview With Poet and Visual Artist Mary Dixon

Greetings Scribblers and Book Bandits,

Recently I was honored and blessed to interview Regent University professor Mary Marie Dixon. She is both a poet and an artist with degrees in both fields (and in theology to boot. Smart cookie!). If you want a succinct description of her many qualifications, click here. After you read her interview below, you can check the bottom of this page for links to her work.

1.) “Professor Dixon, you studied in several disciplines. Why did you choose to study Theology, Creative Writing, English, Art and Teaching?”

·         “I was a naturally curious person! I’ve always done visual art, and I earned a Bachelor's in Education to teach it in elementary school. As I wrote poetry, my writing was naturally spiritual, so I wanted to ground it in theological study. So I studied Theology in order to understand my own writing.”

2.) “Wow! So when did you know you wanted to be a poet? Artist?”

·         “I knew I wanted to be an artist from a young age. I liked writing poetry in high school, but I just dabbled back then. I recognized early on that poetry is a kind of cleansing and healing process. It’s both expression, relief, and a method of sharing.  I was a preschool teacher for twenty years and finally went back to school for my Master’s Degree and began writing.”

3.) “You pair together some of your poetry and art. Is that usually a conscious decision, or does your work naturally begin to flow like that?“

·         “When I started at Notre Dame, I intentionally created some of my pieces together. Later on, some it naturally meshed with my poetry, but most often it is by design.”*

*Scribblers and Book Bandits, this is an interesting point by Dixon. Sometimes inspiration will hit us, but usually we must purposefully design our work for a certain effect.

4.) “I'm sure any of the readers looking at your art will wonder about your medium. What is it and how did you start using it?”

·         “Wallpaper primarily. In college, I liked to paint with watercolors, but after my twenty year break, I lost some of that skill. That was frustrating. I would like to get back to it, but I just don’t have the time right now. So instead of painting, I picked up some wallpaper scraps that were going to waste and started making pictures with my preschoolers. It was so much fun and I liked what I could do with it. Then I ran across this book about ‘scherenschnitte,’ which is German paper-cutting. That inspired my own work.”

5.) “How do you actually create your art?”

·         “I just use scissors to cut it out. I sketch a design first, then trace and cut it out, often making lots of mistakes and having to redo it. I kept working at paper cutting originally because it was easy to get materials. I just have to have paper, basically, but painting takes a lot of equipment and set up. It’s very time-consuming."

6.) “How did you first get published and for how many years did you write before you were?”

·         “When I was first in college, I published one thing in an anthology. When I went back to school in 2003, my professors told me I had a gift, so I started thinking ‘Well, maybe I should try publishing.’ My professors told me to keep working at getting published: ‘You can be an excellent writer, but if you don’t put in enough effort to get published, you won’t.’  I understand, now, why they said that. Getting published takes a lot of effort! If you don’t work at it, you won’t get published. My advice on the matter is that if you write a significant piece you think is publishable, keep sending it out there and eventually you will find someone to publish it. It’s about diligence. There are lots of great writers out there better than me (Yeah, right Professor Dixon! You’re awesome.) who aren’t published because they aren’t as diligent at submitting pieces.”

7.) “Your writings are often so spiritual. How do you find places to publish them?”

·         “I subscribe to Duotrope Newsletter*, which is very cheap and helpful, and I scour their listings once a month. They send out a huge list of publishers who are looking for themed work. They’ll say they need something on beauty and I’ll know I’ll have something, etc. There’s a lot of newer, obscure or fledging publications that provide good ways to get your feet under you. I have published a lot of stuff because of Duotrope. It’s worth the fee. It used to be very difficult to find journals that would publish overtly religious work, but it’s gotten easier. As far as overtly religious journals, one is “Relief.” Oh- and “Rock and Stream.” But you don’t have to be blatantly spiritual to be a minister. Not everyone is religious, but many wonder about religion. I believe that poetry and art are ministries of beauty- people aren’t always ready for it, but God ministers through beauty. We should use these talents that God gives us. I feel like publishing is something I have to do, though not everyone has that drive. I always have trepidation in sharing my work because, like most writers, I wonder, “Is this relevant to another person?”

*Scribs and Bandits, charges $5 by month, or $4.17 per month if you buy a full year subscription. You can also follow the site on Twitter for some free info.

8.) “Do you have an opinion about self-publishing?”

·         “I know some people who self-publish. The thing is, it can cost a lot of money. There are a few places that you can do it cheaply- Smashwords, Createspace, etc. But, then, it takes a whole new level of energy. You have to do all the marketing yourself, and that’s a lot of work. Still, ‘self-publishing’ isn’t such a negative term anymore. I belong to the Nebraska Writer’s Guild, and I recently heard a speaker on it there. People used to call it ‘Vanity Publishing,’ and there are still Vanity presses, but there are also legitimate self-publishers and self-published authors.”

9.) “Who are your influences or favorite artists? Authors?”

·         “My favorite art is impressionism because of the combination of colors and vibrancy. I love how the sweeping color makes an image. Monet is one of my favorites, but I like Michaelangelo, classic art, and women’s art. The shapes of Monet and the woman form from Greek and Roman sculpture inspire me. I like the nobility in women’s features. As for poetry, I love Emily Dickinson and David Jones. Jones is kind of difficult to read, but it’s very deep theological material. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hildegard of Bingen and Theresa of Avila also influence my work.”

10.) “Your influences show in your sophisticated poetic language. It holds up to several rereadings. How did you develop this style?”

·         “When I write, I have a purposeful approach. Sometimes I read poetry to get inspired, then I start freewriting, like stream of consciousness. Then I go back and think on it, and most of the time I’ve written some kind of spiritual perspective to pick out and develop. I usually layer more into the poem. The imagery I use in the beginning is usually set, and the spiritual emphasis comes after that. Sometimes my direction completely changes because revelation is part of poetry. It’s a spiritual exercise for me. It can take me years to finish a piece of poetry!”

11.) “Your work also reflects some agricultural influence.”

·         “Yes, I grew up on a farm picking and plucking and planting and harvesting everything you can think of. In the morning we milked the cows, then we harvested and did chores. The ecology of farm life is very important to me. Work ethic and spirituality come together in my poetry. When I wrote “Odysseus,”* my professor at Notre Dame thought it was weird that I combined those two elements. There is a disconnect, today, for most people about the food they buy from grocery store shelves and how it gets there.”

*Scribs and Bandits, “Odysseus” is one of my favorite poems by Dixon. You can check out the link below these questions!

12.) “What does a typical work day look like for you?” 

·         “I answer all my email, teach my classes, grade papers, and I might have a little time to think about planning for the next day.”

13.) “What would an ideal work day look like for you?”

·         “I would have time to think about my own self-expression. I would also have a little more time for giving feedback to students and planning for the next day. It would be nice if I had a job where I could work in these things. I like to do research—I’m doing research for a paper right now—but during the school year, I don’t have time.”

Don't forget to thank Mary Dixon in the comments section or on her Facebook page, where you can also see some of her gorgeous artwork.

Here are the promised links to her work:

-The Oklahoma Review published her nonfiction piece called "Virtue."
-The Blackbird online journal of literature and the arts published her poem, "Cinnamon Dreams," in Fall 2004.
-A Prairie Journal published her poem "Prairie Dogsology" in 2008.
-Pirene’s Fountain published her poem "Odysseus," my personal favorite, in May 2009.
-Heavy Bear published her poem "Planting Tubers" in 2010.
-Eclectica poetry published her poem "If You Are Western" in 2012.

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