Anna Kocher is an artist in the greater Philadelphia area whose work has been displayed at her alma mater, Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, the Center Art Gallery at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Church of the Good Samaritan, where she and her family attend.

In this interview with Elrena Evans, Anna talks about what it means to be a Christian and an artist, and how motherhood has impacted her work.

Where do your faith and your art intersect?

My faith and my art have both been a part of who I am as far back as I can remember. I always believed; I always drew. Both have changed and matured and gone through times of drought and times of abundance.

In high school and early college, I had this feeling that I should do something practical …. But when I decided to pursue art in college, I had this rare moment of clarity and knew that it was the right thing for me to do. I've been grateful for that moment of insight and find myself clinging to the memory when I start to feel like maybe I should have been an accountant or something. (For anyone who knows me, the idea of me as an accountant is laughable.)

You write on your website, "We live in a society obsessed with the material and ideal but terrified of true, gritty physicality." It strikes me that motherhood - pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and just the day-to-day experience of raising small children - is steeped in "gritty physicality."

[M]otherhood … strips away the facade in so many different areas. I always had a sense that life was fragile, though I don't think I dwelt on it much. People always talk about how miraculous infants are, which I always took to mean something about how amazing and precious they are. After actually having an infant (two, as a matter of fact), I would say that the miracle is that they stay alive at all. It seems to defy reason that this tiny, helpless creature with sporadic, phlegmy breathing who spews up strange substances and seems, at times, intent on refusing everything that would help it sustain itself (sleep, milk, socks) would grow and flourish and become an individual with thoughts and opinions (strong, strong opinions).

Motherhood also strips away illusions you hold about yourself. Physically, you get to know your own body in a very different way. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's not always pretty. It is also very revealing in less tangible ways. You find yourself coming face to face with the deepest parts of yourself, which, again, are not always pleasant …. Somehow being a mother manages to be so much more joyful and beautiful than I could have imagined before, but also more painful and difficult than I could have anticipated. It's humbling to realize how one-dimensional my understanding of motherhood was before having children, and instructive to apply that insight to issues of faith and truth.

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What is the role of a Christian artist? One of your paintings, for instance, shows a man sitting on a toilet - is there anything fundamentally Christian about that piece?

I think the role of the Christian artist is the same as that of a secular artist: to make the best artwork possible …. My work is inherently Christian because I am a Christian and my work comes out of who I am. I don't think the highest calling for the Christian artist is to use his or her art as a platform for opinions, convictions, or beliefs. If art is to be anything other than preaching, illustrating, decorating (all of which have their place), it has to transcend what you, as an artist, are trying to say and actually become a living thing in its own right.

My Awakening series (of which the infamous man-on-toilet painting is one) was actually one of my more intentionally Christian projects. I might even call it allegorical. In doing those seven paintings, I was thinking about spiritual transformation and how you expect it to happen in the blink of an eye but it often happens incrementally. For me, going from being asleep to being awake and ready to face the day is a process … and involves lots of elaborate routines (revolving mostly around hot beverages). This relates to the process of going from spiritual deadness, stagnation, and denial to being spiritually awake and ready to face life or whatever you are presented with …. Discipline, or routine even, plays a role in this. You go through these small, seemingly insignificant processes and find yourself changed at the end without being able to see the exact moment when the change occurred.

[I'm] disappointed that my Awakening series is probably among the least likely of my projects to be displayed in a church or Christian setting, in spite of the fact that it was more consciously influenced by my faith than much of my other work. I think that art has a much higher capacity for being influential, in a positive way, in the church, but we have to be less afraid of incorporating things that we may not completely understand or be able to define.

Much of your work feels very intimate. There's an intimacy to a painting of people sleeping, and an intimacy to your depictions of the Stations of the Cross, but very different sorts of intimacy.

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We have these bodies that are beautiful, miraculous, luminous, but are also teeming with bacteria, so fragile that they can be destroyed in a moment, and capable of moments of such embarrassing ungainliness. We have a tendency to want to idealize, to airbrush over the blemishes and wrinkles, both literally and figuratively.

But the truth has to encompass both sides of the dichotomy, not just the parts that are pleasant to look at. My tendency to gravitate toward this sometimes uncomfortable intimacy is motivated by my pursuit of truth.

What's your advice for Christian women (and men) aspiring to be artists?

The biggest thing I would say, based on my experience to date, is that you have to work. It's easy to decide to be an artist, to have art-related conversations and think a lot about other people's art, to spend a lot of time planning your next project and amassing all of the necessary supplies. But actually sitting down, facing that daunting blank canvas over and over, and making something out of it will eventually allow you to find your artistic voice.

As far as being a Christian artist, I would just say that if you pursue your faith and your art wholeheartedly, but independently of one another, they will naturally come together in a more organic, authentic way than if you just say to yourself, "How could I go about making art that is 'Christian'?" Be an authentic, passionate Christian, and make good art.