Arts Department spotlight: Greg Lookerse

For the rest of the semester, The Anchor will be interviewing different professors from the arts departments on campus, highlighting the unique and impactful faculty we are privileged to learn from. Greg Lookerse is an Assistant Professor of Art, and he teaches Design and upper-level studio classes, as well as Time Based Art and 3D design classes. He described his own art practice as interdisciplinary, using “[…] whatever field necessary to achieve what the artwork necessitates.” He shared about his own creative journey, why he came to Hope, and advice for discernment. 

Greg Lookerse faculty photo.

How did your creative journey begin? 

I remember there was one Christmas, I must have been four or five years old, and my grandma gave me this strange art set thing and I remember it was red and I remember that it allowed for tracing in some manner. I didn’t know what it was, and my cousin (who was the same age) received something similar. When the Christmas festivities were over, we were sitting there saying “I didn’t ask for this” and I got in trouble and had to apologize for saying that. It is one of the only Christmas gifts that I actually remember, and I remember playing with it the next day, and [being] fascinated.  And that was my first realization that I liked drawing, which stemmed from drawing video game characters, Nintendo, comics books and a bit of that, like normal little boy interests in the 90s that led me through being creative. 

I also had a fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Williams, who integrated the arts into her classes. I think that all of my family members had her, and she really encouraged the arts, particularly in myself and my brother, who is also creative. 

Jumping ahead a little bit, what did you study in college?

I went to a school called Biola University, and I thought I was going to be a pastor and be a Bible major.  But I found out [that] to become a pastor you have to get a master’s degree, usually in divinity, but to get into seminary you just need any undergraduate degree. So I decided I was going to be an art major because I had done art all throughout high school. 

Going to college my goal was seminary and so [I decided] to do what I wanted in college, which was to study art. Through a series of processes, it became very apparent that seminary was not right for me. And I just got enraptured by what art classes have to offer, and how you can talk about amazingly big ideas while talking about incredibly small things on canvas or paper. It enchanted me. 

What kind of college student were you? 

I think many of us have difficulties in college, but even just getting to college was difficult for me. My family did not have very much money, and on the day of my high school graduation my grandfather died. My mom was not able to attend my graduation because she was literally going to the hospital while I was walking across the stage. The crazy thing about that was that we were probably not going to be able to afford going to college, but because we were able to get money from selling his possessions and whatnot, they still had to take out loans but were able to afford sending me to college. 

I skipped one class in all of college when I wasn’t sick. I also had a job and was in some intense programs. So I was very cognizant of the fact that college was an extreme luxury that I didn’t expect to be able to have. In the worst semester, I charted how much free time I had a week, and it came out to a half an hour of time when I wasn’t eating, sleeping, in class, doing homework, or working. I literally had 30 minutes of time in that week. I was weird. I didn’t have much of a social life, and, in many ways, it was an extreme benefit, and, in a lot of ways, it wasn’t the best thing to undergo, but here I am. 

Once you graduated college, how did you know which direction to take? What were your guiding principles? 

I graduated in a really difficult time, I was a graphic design major and I was going into the graphic design field. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and if I wanted to commit to graphic design all the way, but I lost track of how many applications and resumes I sent out after counting 300. I was unemployed for a year and a half after graduating because of the economic crisis. So I was interviewing for the same entry-level position as one guy who had been working in the industry for 40 years.

Really what guided me was the skills I acquired and opportunities that presented themselves, and the principles that guided me were founded in my faith. I think that the Lord guided me and my wife significantly into areas where suddenly things would work out.

I think that so many students have this picture that you have to have this plan, and that plan will come to fruition. I always say that you have to have a direction, and I think it is really good to have one thing planned after graduation, that could be a trip that could be a job, or whatever, but as long as you have one thing planned, and then after that a direction. You have to try something and then be willing to adjust when it fails. So you have your principles and they are guiding you and pointing you in a direction, and then you just start taking the opportunities that present themselves and you never know where you might end up. 

Did you always know you wanted to teach? 

I think that’s what a lot of my drive to be a pastor was actually teaching and mentoring. I kind of knew from my first college art course, which was an observational drawing class. On the first day, we were looking at some forms and the professor was talking about how if we can see these objects adequately, it will help us see other things in our lives adequately. Meanwhile, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing, and then he ended with a Wendell Berry poem, which is one of my favorites. The whole experience of music, drawing, poetry and philosophy enchanted me.

What brought you to Hope? 

By and large, I think I have to say God. As in, when I flew out to interview, my wife said to me “there is no way we are moving to Michigan” and I was like “yeah I know, this is a practice interview, don’t worry about it.” But the way that Hope, at least here in the Art Department in non-COVID times does it, it is a two-day, 16-hour experience of an interview. It was crazy. I was enchanted by the building and the people. I had an amazing conversation with Dean Visser, and the idea of being able to teach the arts within a Christian context really excited me. There were some weird hurdles along the way, but altogether it was God’s leading and affirmation that was able to show me the potential of this place. 

What is making you stay? 

There are some moments that I have had here, particularly with students where I would listen to what I am saying and realize that it wasn’t me, I didn’t formulate that. Frequently I am saying things I don’t even know. That happens more often here at Hope than other schools, and it happens because I am free to pray and free to connect with the spirit and I think that love through Christ is actual love, so when we have professors who are professing Christ and trying their best to live into that love it opens up opportunities to speak to students at a level that transcends mere rationale or information delivery or skill acquisition. So there are incredibly valuable experiences that I get to witness just hanging out and being there and it has been incredibly powerful to me, enough that it makes all of the emails, the insane amount of emails, worth it. The Longest Johns have a song called Ashes, in it there is a line about tending to the flame vs. worshiping the ashes. At Hope, more than other schools, I am able to spend more time tending to the flame.

What is something you hope to instill in your students independent of art? 

I think it is this: one of the only things you really have is your attention. And so my hope is that through my classes students begin to pay attention to more important things, and that is difficult because sometimes students don’t want to pay attention to me, but sometimes I’m not the most important thing in the room. That’s why I think all of my classes are geared towards this idea of “wake up and become more aware of how your life and your body function and how that gives you more control over the one thing that is truly yours, which is ‘what do I attend to in this moment?’” 

If you are interested in hearing more from Professor Lookerse, be sure to come to a talk he is giving about how he sees art and faith coming together. It is on December 1 at 3 pm in the Martha Miller Fried Hemenway Auditorium through the Continuum Scholars program. He will also be facilitating a book discussion group through Campus Ministries next semester titled Creativity and the Creator, which will be focused on art and faith.

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