Art in Service

Students working on a painting

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

By Lance Schwartz (’86) – Bethany Magazine, Winter 2023

The path that led Associate Professor of Art Jason Jaspersen to Bethany Lutheran College seems almost unbelievable—perhaps even scripted.

Jaspersen was in the 8th grade, and like many teens found himself wondering about his future occupation. Art was on his mind, fueled by an intense interest in comic books—particularly comic book artwork.

“My dream job was drawing for a Batman or Spiderman comic book series. I put a lot of time, energy, and money into researching that field and developing the necessary skills. For a few years I would hang out at the local comic shop, purchase about 10 issues a month, and work with a friend to develop our own storylines. He would write, I would draw. I hunted for any book or class that could help me with my dream.”

Key in an opportunity to feed Jaspersen’s comic book artist dream through an invitation to an event at Bethany Lutheran College. Bethany art professor Bill Bukowski and his artist cousin Peter Poplaski were offering an opportunity for students to experience the artistic process firsthand at the Young Michelangelo Art Camp.

“I had never heard of Bethany Lutheran College, but the camp description mentioned cartooning so I was interested,” said Jaspersen.

The weeklong dive into the possibilities that art offered piqued Jaspersen’s interest, and the seemingly unlikely story was set in motion.

“[At camp] I learned drawing techniques for comics. I was thrilled to know that there were adults who took my dream seriously. But I also learned about oil painting, traditional drawing tools and techniques, and art history. After four years of art camp my dreams expanded. I wanted to be a painter and I wanted to learn at Bethany.”

The wide breadth of artistic projects that Jaspersen was exposed to throughout his years of attending the Young Michelangelo Camp inspired him to enroll at Bethany where he majored in studio art.

Fast forward 20-some years and today Jaspersen reflects with wonder about how God’s hand led and directed his life’s course as a professional artist and educator—although it wasn’t always that obvious.

“Art training was essentially non-existent in my grade school and high school education, and throughout my 20-plus years teaching high school and college art courses, I’ve seen other young people who are similarly created to create,” said Jaspersen.

“Now, in my teaching, my aim has been to design classroom cultures that value creative gifts. God has allowed me to provide artistic training that I so craved in my youth.”

– Jason Jaspersen
Associate Professor of Art

It’s that life experience that is now inspiring Jaspersen to encourage not only those exploring their creative talents, but also the next generation of professional, Christian artists, through a new creative undertaking at Bethany called The Art Service.

Members of the Art Service working on a painting project

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

Members of The Art Service worked on a project for Living Hope Lutheran Church in Shakopee, Minnesota.

Jason Jasperson and a woman posing with the "Christus Paradox" painting

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

This “Christus Paradox” painting recently settled into its home at Bloomington (Minnesota) Living Hope Lutheran Church. Bethany Studio Art students created this hand-painted copy of the original by Jason Jaspersen.

The Art Service, which involves Jaspersen and a half-dozen Bethany students who mostly are majoring in studio art, works with a mission to help Confessional Lutheran churches and religious organizations to visualize Christian artwork in their sanctuaries and facilities. Jaspersen based the venture on a similar model that served Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School (MVL) during his seventeen years of teaching there. At MVL, his students worked together as the school’s Art Club to create artwork used for special events at the school.

“The Art Club produced a custom-designed artwork for each Christmas and Easter concert. We also produced other artworks for various events and installations around campus. I always insisted that anyone could walk into an Art Club session and we would find a way for them to contribute,” explained Jaspersen.

Today, the Bethany Art Service primarily enlists students who intend to make art their life’s vocation, and while a relatively new group on campus, it has proven to be very active already. Jaspersen leads the small group of students in producing contracted work for ministries with members paid by commission profits.

“We’re just a few months into it, but theoretically this arrangement holds benefits for students, ministries, Bethany, and me. Studio art majors gain access to project-based, professional, vocationally relevant work situations in a way that is similar to other programs on campus. The Art Service is intended to provide ministries with a resource for affordable and appropriate visual expressions of Lutheran concepts. As demand for my work in that market has steadily increased, the Art Service provides me with competent assistance in fulfilling these commissions. The Art Service fits Bethany’s mission and exemplifies the personal mentoring that we value.”

Students working on a painting of a lamb

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

Students worked on a commission for St. John Lutheran School in Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

The finished painting of a lamb on display

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

The finished work for St. John Lutheran on display at the Bethany Fall Semester Campus Art Show.

And while God was guiding Jaspersen to a place where he’d be able to inspire young creatives, he finds himself just a bit surprised how it came to fruition.

“It’s important to note that I never intended to be an educator. My focus throughout my education was investing in my creative studio practice. I trained to be an artist and I have nurtured that part of my life with over 100 commissions in various formats including public monuments, paintings, illustrations, and animations. In the course of that journey, I made a decision to find ways to blend my creativity with my Christian faith, explained Jaspersen.

He continued, “In some ways the role of the Christian artist is the same as the role of any other Christian vocation—that is to be a good steward of one’s time, talent, and treasures. If someone has discovered in themselves a creative skill or urge, ignoring that can lead to deep frustration. Christian artists should fulfill their part to the best of their God-given abilities. To me that means investing time and energy into developing one’s mind and methods. God calls us all through our various strengths to function as members of “The Body of Christ.”

Students working on paintings

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

The nine circular paintings displayed in Honsey Hall

Photo courtesy of Jason Jasperson

Lots of hands went into a project to display nine separate circular works that were on display in Trinity Chapel for Christmas at Bethany 2021, and later moved to Honsey Hall.

Bethany’s Studio Art Department has been distributing promotional material that employs the phrase, “Discover What God Has Given You.”

Jaspersen explains the meaning behind the slogan, “First, it acknowledges that God gives us our abilities. Not only that, but consider how much God gives us in our daily bread, and our eternal salvation. Second, it hints that you may not know what your abilities are. You may need to discover what you’re made of. If God continues to extend our time of grace on earth, it seems wise to explore our potential. As soon as we think we know something it can feel resolved in our mind. ‘Knowing’ can result in a sort of mental auto-pilot. However when we stay curious we can see so many unexplored possibilities. ‘Discovering’ can activate life. Problems open up into thousands of solutions and blessings become evident. I advise a stance in life that’s less about knowing and more about discovering God’s abundance. We are more than we know.”