“It’s Real Life All The Time” – an interview with Jeremiah Enna, Founder of The Culture House Conservatory of the Arts, Olathe, KS, reflecting on the painting entitled “Holding Course”
Rosemary: This painting entitled “Holding Course” inspired me to interview you because for twenty-one years you have been “holding course” beautifully here at The Culture House.
Jeremiah: We met you right when we began in 1996. Pretty amazing!
Rosemary: And then you went from little place to big place, and have developed so much throughout the years. Does this painting speak to you about that course?
Jeremiah: First of all, I know your work, and one of the things I like about all your seascapes is that it takes me to a memory I have, a feeling like I’ve been there or it reminds me specifically of a place. For anyone who has spent time at the sea, and especially now that we don’t as much, you look at those and you think – Yes, I remember watching the seagulls, I remember sitting in the sand, I remember looking out at a scene like this “Holding Course” painting and seeing the ships, sailboats and things go by. So that’s one of the things I love about your paintings is I feel like I asked you to paint them for me.
What I do know from the little time I’ve spent on ships, is that it is an art and science, and you’re wrestling with nature, it’s so complex. When I thought about “Holding Course” and the inspiration of the painting, I thought about how real it is. It’s real life all the time. If you are working on a ship, navigating or sailing a ship, you’re having to deal with who knows what every second! And that’s very reflective of our experience growing The Culture House. You watched us and have been with us along the way. Everyday you show up and there’s something new, an idea you’ve been working on isn’t happening, and why isn’t it, and you have to assess that. And you have to assess whether it’s a bad idea or whether you need to persevere, and all of that. And that’s just like a ship. You know, the weather changes, going from a peaceful day to a difficult day, or vice versa. So holding course, if you’re going to get there, you’ve got to be skilled, you’ve got to be committed and you can’t give up. What really comes to mind looking at the painting is even though it looks so beautiful and serene, which I also appreciate about your paintings – they give me a sense of inner peace – but if I think about it, I realize there’s a lot of work going on on that sailboat, which is really the “art” of it, making it look easy and fun.
And someone once told me that if you’re way out to sea, which I have been several times, where there’s no land visible, if you don’t have your numbers right, if you don’t have your direction course set right, just a tad, and you keep going, you will end up in a very different place then you intend. So having those directions correct, having your compass correct – if you don’t have that from the beginning, you’ll end up in a disastrous place, for some people life-ending if they get off course and can’t get back. I’ve got to hold to that true course, and if I waver, it’s not going to go well. And if I waver, if life happens, if the waves hit, fine, but I’ve got to keep coming back, coming back. So that comes to mind looking at this painting – hold the true course, hold the straight and narrow way, otherwise…
So I think of that image and that idea is quite an accurate inspiration for how life really is. You have a ship, you have your life, and then where are you headed? And if you know, well, you’ve just got to dig in and hold that course. That says a lot to me of our experience, and we’ve definitely had all those experiences growing The Culture House. We have to constantly assess “Are we in the right direction?”. And we’ve had some bloopers, and go “Wow, don’t do that again”. We thought it was a solution to a problem, but it ended up not being one. We pray, we seek God’s wisdom and ask experienced people for help.
I will say this: God has been very gracious to us too. So there have been situations over the years that you realize “You know, this isn’t working out”, and God has very gently re-arranged things, and I say that NOT to sound super spiritual, but we’ve had solutions to challenges that we didn’t craft.
It applies to people and projects. Over the years we’ve had many people on staff. Many have stayed for years. For a few, this hasn’t been the right fit and they have moved on to go and find that perfect fit. Over and over, we see God’s gracious planning in making those transitions happen smoothly.
Rosemary: That’s so true. That also speaks to the fact that you were supportive of that person and he or she was able to grow and find their fit and maybe that fit was elsewhere too.
Jeremiah: True, and even with staff, we have always practiced supporting someone even if it’s not quite a fit. In other words, fulfilling our commitment and trying to support them in a way that, well, maybe it will work, maybe they just need this, kind of to the end if you will. And that has proven to be a good idea, not just some self-sacrificing thing, but I think that is God’s way – you know, second graces, third graces, and fourth graces, and it just goes on as you manage something. But a person who is whole enough and healthy enough to keep going without it being crazy, benefits, and we benefit.
Rosemary: It is the best of both worlds.
Jeremiah: That’s why I really say it’s a God thing because you can’t guarantee. But in twenty-one years, we’ve had 99.9% great experiences with our staff and with the faculty. We have faculty and staff members who have been here over 10 going on to 15 years, and a lot of people that have joined us, and whatever point they joined us, they’re still here. They found their platform.
Rosemary: Or people returning to you.
Jeremiah: Yah, people come back, who have come and gone. That’s rewarding. We have a teacher who is coming back to us now, has done a lot of their own things and wants to come back and be a part of a group again. It’s very fruitful. So we’ve had to hold course even when thinking it’s midnight and the clouds have covered the stars, and you can’t see where you’re going and you think “OK Lord, you are the True North”.
Rosemary: You think of all those nautical instruments available nowadays besides looking at the stars and the North Star. I was looking up the nautical term “holding course” and reading about what it means. And nautically speaking, when there are a couple ships that are coming close to each other, side by side, or look like they may be heading toward a collision course, there are zillions of rules to deal with that. I gather the boat that’s ahead is called the “stand-on” vessel, and the second boat further behind is called the “give-way” vessel. So there are rules about the “stand-on” vessel continuing its course and having to maintain speed so that ‘give-way’ knows what to do.
Jeremiah: That’s very interesting.
Rosemary: And the “give-way” vessel knows then to back off, or turn, or this or that.
Jeremiah: And “stand-on” is not going to change.
Rosemary: Correct, so “stand-on” keeps going. Now there may be a point where for some reason “give-way” is not responding or watching, and collision looks possible, at which point “stand-on” may blow a warning signal of 5 horn blows, and then “give-way” has to respond accordingly. And then it seems there are lots of rules for if “give-way” is totally asleep, and “stand-on” has to make avoidance maneuvers.
And when you think about being in the water, and direction, you are in the complete open. It reminds me of the scene in the “Back To The Future” movie sequel, where cars are driving in the air. How can that possibly work? Of course, in a hundred years when we’re long gone, it will work somehow.
Jeremiah: They’re going to have to develop rules like that to make it work. When I think about The Culture House, or even your painting work, there are two things that create unfortunate situations. One is insecurity. Someone else who paints seascapes can look at your work and think “Well, I’m not as good as her”, or “I’m better than her”, and that kind of thing where they have to either crush something to feel better about themselves, or debase themselves to still keep alive and be part of the conversation. Or they can say “Wow, she does beautiful work. I love seascapes too.” So there’s that – the insecurity thing and there’s also, and this is so prevalent in the capitalist American system, is competition – I’m competing with you.
But when you talk about the “stand-on” and the “give-way”, it does put a really important perspective in there because the person who is ahead has much to be learned from. That person has also gone through things that you haven’t, so they have more responsibility, more weight. So letting them hold course and then you respond, you benefit, you don’t die, you don’t crash. But you benefit from someone who’s leading ahead of you.
I have seen that here in our work, where the larger institutions here, the Ballet or the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, are so big, you don’t compete with them obviously. But you benefit greatly if you see them as the leader. And you react to them. I mean think about getting in the wake, like it’s safer, it’s smoother, like I’m just going to get in the wake of that big ship and benefit from them. So that’s very interesting and inspiring.
Rosemary: But I also thought about all those nautical rules, and how they wouldn’t work on the sea if the ships didn’t all go by the rules, or the same set of rules. And that’s where the foundation comes in – are you sharing a similar foundation in life, or are you completely at odds to begin with?
Jeremiah: And doing your own thing and causing problems you don’t even see!
Rosemary: How true.
Jeremiah: That’s a huge one…besides crashing, but causing all kinds of chaos. And you’re right, the sea is – there’s God’s law of nature – the sea does what it does no matter what you think about it. If I want to say “No, you’re not water, you’re land”, you can say it all you want, but that’s water! And it’s going to do what it does. And so all that science and all that design won’t change.
So I look at your painting and all that’s there. Nature’s there, man’s creativity and the ship is there, and the ship is created to harness nature and yet it looks like it’s easy. The painting makes it look like this is just beautiful and easy. But it’s all there, the design and the work needed to harness it for a beautiful ride.
As pictured above – “Holding Course” is available as a Framed Giclee Limited Edition reproduction, as well as Deluxe Print or Giclee Wrap at www.BegleyArt.com