College,  Stories

Strive for Meaning

Written byCandance-Arce Lindsay

“The idea that I might be able to do something really exceptional, to be able to participate in something really extraordinary is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” shares Jon Puls, professor of Painting, Drawing and Art History at Biola University.

This expectation for excellence influences both his vocation as artist as well as professor. While working in the studio or teaching one of his classes, he works in the hope of finding some real profundity around the corner that might surprise him in each of his daily projects. This drive necessitates an intentional and constantly industrious way of living, which can prove a real challenge.

He points out that painting, like teaching, is hard work. “You’re not always struck with glorious artistic inspiration” he admits, but he persists in believing in the possibility of the extraordinary.

“Some days you’re not rewarded for that belief,” he concedes, “but sometimes you are blessed with something better than you are, something a little bit more perfect.”

Glimpses of the exceptional in everyday life have inspired Puls to strive for excellence himself.

“I remember being in church when I was a child,” he relates. “Our pastor would teach these epic sermons, and I remember occasionally in the sermon there would be some moment of real eloquence.”

Such experiences have influenced his own teaching methods. “I think that teaching is about having command of knowledge, but also hoping at some moment you’ll break through into a memorable image or a profound insight that you can share with your students,” he says.

He experienced such memorable moments during his own studies at Biola. Professor Dan Callis, who teaches drawing and abstract painting at Biola, showed him the kind of patience necessary to becoming aware of what goes on in the process of art-making, and how attentiveness to art-making can create a sacred space within which God can speak to you.

“Before Biola,” Puls recalls,” I had no idea art-making, as well as teaching, could be a deeply devotional, worshipful enterprise.”

Working towards the exceptional requires diligence. Puls admits the work can be difficult, but the struggle is well worth the result.

“Life is a lot of hard work, punctuated by moments of grace and goodness, and part of our collective jobs as Christians is to cultivate that goodness so it’s more a part of life,” he asserts. Such an attitude encourages him to live life with the hope of contributing something wonderful to somebody else.

“I think we all have that kind of contribution to make,” he states, saying, “you need to be ready for your opportunity for profundity, which really comes from the Holy Spirit working through your instrument of creativity.”

His own life is a striking example of this. He presses the importance of stepping into that moment, free of self conscious restraint. “There are so few of those opportunities, so you need to put yourself aside and say ‘At this moment I have an opportunity to do something meaningful for somebody’ and do it.’”

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