Art in Abstraction

Two large sheets of white paper cover the coffee table of the Kurzen family home. Andy and Jordán's children each clutch crayons in their hands. Three-year-old Harper draws a family portrait while her 1-year-old brother Judah tries to sneak a taste of the yellow then red then black colors.

This is a typical evening for the Kurzens. Art is their life, and they are trying to share that love with their children.

"I like to color people," little Harper said as she sat on the couch with a book. Jordán, now a stay-at-home mom, intentionally picks books from their favorite illustrators so that they can enjoy the art as well as the story.

"Harper will ask, 'What is this artwork?' It's cool to see her thinking about that," Jordán said. "I do feel like she's my little, tiny art class."

For seven years, Jordán taught middle school art in Lizton, Ind., while Andy stayed home with Harper while taking on freelance graphic design and illustration work on the side. When Judah came along, their roles switched.

"He loved being home with Harper, and I love my students, my art room and my school," Jordán said. But the demands of parenthood and freelancing became too great.

In late spring, the family moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., where Andy took a job as the layout and production manager for Frost Illustrated, an African-American publication serving the region.

"On one hand, it's really different and new, but in another respect, it's really similar to a job I had (before at a newspaper)," Andy said. "It's a really small group at this point, but it's really interesting. … It's definitely opened my eyes to a lot of racial inequalities that are still prevalent."

The arts have always been a strong part of Andy and Jordán's lives. As a homeschool child, Andy's mother always stressed the arts in his studies. For Jordán, art was a way of life.

Jordán grew up with two parents who were artists and teachers. They had a printshop in their home, and there was never a shortage of sketchbooks for any of the children.

"All four of us Hopper kids ended up in the arts," said Jordán, daughter of Professor Ken Hopper, associate professor of art at Huntington University. "I don't think we really had a choice."

So, when it came to deciding on a college to attend, both Andy and Jordán chose HU.

"I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I decided in high school that graphic design was the best way to make a living," said Andy, a 2002 graphic design graduate, adding that he chose art because of the influence of his high school art teacher, Brian Robinson. He called him "a major factor in my choosing an art major and career."

Jordán, a 2003 graduate, also started in the graphic design program but soon changed to art education after she discovered a love of working with children.
It wasn't until later, though, that these two found a love for one another.

Jordán's dad always likes to take credit for their marriage. But Jordán jokingly says that it might have happened even sooner if he wouldn't have said anything.

"Everyone who comes into the art department is interviewed. My dad came home one day and he said, 'Jordán, I just interviewed the guy you are going to marry,'" Jordán described. But she shrugged it off as her dad being a "dad."
Once on campus, Andy and Jordán started a wonderful friendship that was fueled by attending classes together. It wasn't until senior year that romance entered the equation.

"I just really figured out my senior year that I was in love with him," Jordán said. "You don't generally see art people together because they are too similar. … We both wanted to do things in the arts, but our personalities are different. I think we're just different enough."

In 2003, the couple was married, and two days after the honeymoon, Jordán started her job as a teacher.

"It's cool to see how God was lining things up. I don't think we could have done it any other way," she said.

From family to career, Andy and Jordán have made the arts an integral part of their lives.

Research has shown that the study of the arts teaches students "to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, to make critical judgments and justify such judgments," according to Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, authors and two of the principal investigators on Project Zero, a research project to study the effects of the arts on students.

"Just as there are musicians, orators, scientists, businessmen and teachers in our society, there are artists who play a role in making our culture the rich tapestry that it is," said Professor Ken Hopper. "No matter what the discipline, students need a time of growth through directed instruction to help the seed of their individual talents grow to maturity. The study of art at an institution like Huntington University helps dedicated art students reach maturity sooner and with confidence to enter the competitive world of fine arts and design."

At HU, students can study fine arts or studio art, such as drawing, design, painting, ceramics, sculpture or photography, as well as graphic design and art education. The Department of Visual Arts prepares students to be professionals who creatively connect with their communities.

"Our students are taught to be creative problem solvers with a thoughtful, responsible, open mind capable of generating multiple solutions to contemporary visual challenges," said Professor Rebecca Coffman, professor of art. "We believe it is essential that students learn to make art that is relevant to our visual culture, seeks out beauty, celebrates individuality and engages in the community."

On campus, Together: The Campaign for Huntington University has made strides to create more opportunities for students through the arts by building a new Studio Art Center.

The complex is comprised of the 2-D art building (the former "Art Annex") and a new 3-D building. The 3,000-square-foot building, which opened in February, features overhead directional lighting and a large studio space for drawing, figure drawing and painting. There is also a photography light studio.

"The Studio Art Center … provides a high-quality and well-equipped studio space for drawing and painting," Coffman said. "We have a commitment to continually maintain and update all technology and equipment so that we may continue to provide professional quality art facilities for the program."

Changes in the curriculum in recent years have helped to advance the program and provide a broader arts foundation for students.

"The Department of Visual Arts has ongoing assessments of student performance as well as each degree program in order to maintain and improve the standard of education that is provided," Coffman said, adding that critiques, individual portfolios, internships and public exhibitions are an essential part of a student's education.

Judah, Andy and Jordán's youngest, is still too small for finger paints, but they hope to start him on that soon. And they fully expect that when Harper picks up a paintbrush that she will be amazing, but for now, the crayons will do.

Andy and Jordán also remain committed to their own art. While working as a full-time graphic designer, Andy continues to freelance, illustrating books and designing logos, T-shirts and signage. He has also developed complete artwork packages for three different games, all published by Stratus Games.

Jordán still teaches art, but now to her two little children. She also finds time for freelancing opportunities, including a recent mural for West Park Reception Center in Huntington as well as several other murals for nurseries, churches and homes.

The Kurzens say these opportunities allow them to keep doing what they love while raising their young family.

"You parent and then you do your art and then you work it all together," Jordán said.