A complicated love story. This is how Mandy Berry, a senior studio art and entrepreneurship major from Nashville, Tennessee, views her relationship with her art, a medium she believes is her calling from the Lord.
“Since I was a kid, art has been my way to communicate and digest and analyze the world around me,” Berry said. “I didn’t take it seriously at first though.”
Berry originally planned on going into the medical field, so her first year and a half of school was spent studying to become a military surgeon. However, like any complex love story, she felt the pull to be an artist the entire time.
“I just feel like I’m an artist down to my bones,” Berry said. “I love every art form, every art medium; I love expressing myself. I don’t know. It’s just where I need to be, and I don’t know what that’ll look like after college, but I feel at peace now.”
Berry’s love story with her field of study doesn’t look like the typical college student’s. Berry, on track to graduate at the age of 25, spent a portion of her pursuit for higher education at an art trade school in Nashville. Because she didn’t feel at home there, she was open to the pull of her sister, who at the time was studying at Ouachita, to come visit campus.
“Everybody says the Ouachita community is their answer, but for me it really was what brought me to Arkadelphia,” Berry said. “It was refreshing to be in a place where people were like-minded as far as having spiritual resources. It was refreshingly weird to me, but in a good way.”
Having taken a longer path to college graduation, Berry believes that she has an advantage in college. She knows that year of art school was one of genuine growth and exposure into the purpose of what she’s pursuing in higher education.
“I think I have a lot more clarity than other people, because I spent a year paying bills,” Berry said. “I know why I’m here.”
As Berry has pursued her love of art at Ouachita, she’s come to understand on a deeper level the purpose of her work according to God’s Heavenly Kingdom. Berry feels passionately that her work as an artist is just as worthwhile as another’s work as a pastor.
“Every good thing is a gift from God above,” Berry said. “I think I have been preached to personally so much through just a song, a symphony, going to an art gallery…God can speak through anything, you just have to have an open heart and an open mind.”
Berry sees power in the ability art has to impact thought and experience in a life that is so political. The connotation of political parties doesn’t sit with Berry well, as she views her art and her political expression as the ability to express her views in general. She sees her art as an opportunity to share what she’s learned, regardless of topic, and learn from others.
“The most effective and moving art I’ve ever witnessed is people just painting a portrait of themselves or of their personality,” Berry said. “I just hope to do that…to convey my passions through my art. I don’t want to just want to paint pretty things, but things that call people to action. Pretty things have a purpose; I just don’t feel like that’s my calling.”
As for life starting May 10, life after college, Berry hopes to hone in on passions she already knows she has, trusting that God will lead her steps toward the gifts he gave her.
“I love teaching, I love talking with people, I love being in nature,” Berry said. “I love community things that bring us together. I’m passionate about learning. I wish I could go to school forever.”
During this season of preparation, Berry is writing letters to artists she admires. She hopes these letters will result in apprenticeships post-graduation. The majority of these artists are based in Europe. This would require faith beyond reason to go, but Berry sees these opportunities, if given to her, as answered dreams.
“I think voicing your dreams, no matter how big or scary they are, is the first step,” Berry said.
Meanwhile, Berry is taking this last year at Ouachita to bask in the blessings she has been given. Finding community within her classmates and her Tri Chi sisters, pursuing passions in her art, and enjoying the simple gifts of the outdoors, free yoga classes, and still meeting new friends, Berry is able to rest in contentment.
“I’m just trying to absorb every moment of every day and make meaningful connections,” Berry said. “That’s what ultimately makes life beautiful. I’m focusing on contentment, because in the past I’ve been motivated by discontentment, and that never got me anywhere.”
Mandy Berry, who is “just trying to absorb every moment of every day and make meaningful connections,” holds her painting supplies. (photos by Hannah Smith)
Berry glances back at one of her most recent works of art. Believing that “God can speak through anything,” Berry enjoyed creating this thought provoking piece.
By Addy Goodman, copy editor