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Podcast | 24 Minutes

Ned Bustard on Beauty and His Work for Veritas

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
Ned Bustard on Beauty and His Work for Veritas

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Does it really matter to expose young children to great works of art? Do the art and decor choices in churches reveal something about their beliefs? Today we talk all about aesthetics with artist and illustrator, Ned Bustard. Plus, we reveal how Ned helped shape the look and feel of many resources within the Veritas Press curriculum!

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again and welcome to Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today, of course, Laurie is with me. And that's because of the guest we have today that we know so well. And many of you will know his name from curriculum, projects and many other things. Welcome, Ned Bustard.

Ned Bustard:

Good to be here, friends!

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. Ned, tell us a little bit about your family and how you got into the world of esthetics and art.

Ned Bustard:

My family, I've got three daughters, Carrie, Maggie and Elsbeth, and, my wife, Lesley. We homeschooled for most of that time, that they were growing up. They're all grown now, off in the world. And, as far as getting into art, my mom was an artist when I was growing up, and, she would say that she wasn't a good artist.

But, that was just because she grew up in a family that didn't really appreciate art, but she saw a talent in me and sent me to art classes, and, was always encouraging that in me. I also grew up going to a Christian school, and, the school I grew up in didn't really have a strong art program, so I was kind of like the token artist in in my school.

So if you needed, posters made or bookmarks or bulletin covers for programs, things I was the artist and, so that became kind of formed in my identity, growing up. And then, I was going to take over my dad's business after college and, found out how much math you had to do to be a business major.So I said, that's not God's will. And so I went with art instead!

Marlin Detweiler:

Tell us a little bit about Leslie, too. Of course, it wasn't long ago that, she, And you dealt with the tough providence of losing her to cancer.

Ned Bustard:

Yeah. She, passed over to glory, a year ago. And, my wife Leslie, folks might know her as well. She's written a lot, and she just came out with a book, of her essays and poetry that came out, a couple months ago called Tiny Thoughts That I've Been Thinking.

Laurie Detweiler:

You will want to read her poetry!

Ned Bustard:

Oh, yeah, it's like poetry about real things and real experiences and God's grace. And it it really is. Yeah. If you don't like poetry, you'll still like her poetry.

Laurie Detweiler:

That's true.

Ned Bustard:

I fell in love with her in college, and, she did not fall in love with me until after college. And, we got married soon, after I graduated. After she graduated. And then, for 30 years, 32 years, we were, working together to add beauty to the world.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, I remember our first experience with your family was in 1995.

Laurie Detweiler:

Okay, that was a long time ago!

Marlin Detweiler:

Or maybe ‘96 where Laurie and I were at a church in Lancaster. We had not yet moved there. We were planning to that May, May of 96, and we were there talking about classical Christian education while we were starting a school there, Veritas Academy. And Leslie came up to me after that and said, “You've got to meet Ned, my husband. He wasn't able to be here tonight, but he will really want to work with you all and help build, what you're doing.”

Well, at that point, Veritas Press was still yet to be born in its infancy. But it was some of you were talking about and quite honestly, the response that I had to myself was, “Yeah, right!” Because everybody's got a husband that's the greatest talent. And and of course, that's what wives are supposed to do.

Ned Bustard:

Amen, Amen.

Marlin Detweiler:

What I didn't realize was she knew what she was talking about. Ned has been, you have been responsible for really creating the Veritas brand. The look and feel, the esthetic. Tell us what has– tell our audience what has gone into that as you have done that, what really helped you help us shape things?

Ned Bustard:

Well, I do remember the first time that we met. I remember sitting down with Laurie or, like, kind of accosting you and saying, “All right, I've got this whole vision for what, this school should look like.” And, that was because Leslie and I had been reading, Douglas Wilson. And Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning and all that.

So we were primed for this kind of thing. We'd both gone to Christian school, and we knew we loved that, but we also knew what the problems were with that approach. So we were very excited about being part of all of that. And I think as far as the, the esthetic that I brought, I mean, the one thing that I remember when we started working on Veritas Press stuff was I was excited with the history flashcards, is that art was part of it because, again, growing up in a Christian school, esthetics, really not high on the list. Not on lists at all.

We had we had an art class, but that was about it. so I was really excited about that. And talking to Laurie about kind of why is this happening– that it really surprised me, that there was art at all.

I mean, just it sounds funny to say that. Why would it be so exciting that there's just a picture involved? But, then it wasn't, I also think you have to understand that with my background, my grandmother developed this extensive, like, 4 to 6 week summer Bible school program, that she did at my grandfather's church.

And there was a lot of art work involved in that with flash cards to help with memory. So but they were all things that she had clipped out of, like Cosmopolitan Magazine or, you know, like, whatever. There's a picture of a dog she had clipped out of something. So it was, as pragmatic and functional as it needed to be, to just say, okay, “This is a dog,” and I so I was used to that approach to kind of learning and to find someone who saw value in, more of a fine art kind of approach was just really, really refreshing.

Laurie Detweiler:

I remember this I don't know if you remember this, but I remember telling you, “I am so tired of children's readers and all these different things where they have a dumb drawing of a dog. If I'm going to look at a dog, why can't I go look at a painting of a beautiful dog and see art?”

Or if it's going to be a pig? I remember when we did the phonics flashcards for pig and that pig down at the with these, and it's like, I want to, I want a cool pig. So why not teach children if they're going to look at something, I want them to look at beautiful art when they're little, not when they're 40. For the first time, I want it to be when they're toddlers, when they're learning to get excited.

Marlin Detweiler:

But it was it was. And we could talk a lot about it. But what you brought to us was not just art. It was also a graphic design that integrated with ideas of good, true and beautiful and really created for us what Veritas looks like.

Laurie Detweiler:

I mean, people used to collect, I think they still do, actually the catalogs. They would literally frame them. So it was like a really odd idea at the time to take a piece of fine art and put it on our catalog, and everybody would every year, and they still do. What's the artwork this year?

Ned Bustard:

Yeah.

Laurie Detweiler:

Yeah. I don't know when this will come out –.

Marlin Detweiler:

Doesn't do any good to tease because dates are irrelevant and you're talking about what we're doing.

Laurie Detweiler:

But we have a really cool catalog coming this year. It's fun!

Ned Bustard:

I think that was one of the things. As far as me and my graphic design aesthetic, well, I mean, I grew up loving fairy tales and Narnia, and so I've got this very medieval love. So I think that kind of frames it a little bit.

Also, when I was doing getting into graphic design in the early 90s, there was a lot of, interest in, it's an approach called maximalism, where you basically throw as much different kinds of information in as possible, and it's kind of a jumbled, more is more and rather than less is more. And I thought that that was probably a pretty much anti-Christian way to do this.

Laurie Detweiler:

I believe filling up on a page.

Ned Bustard:

Well, exactly, exactly. and back in the early 80s or. Yeah, mid 80s when I was learning graphic design, that was when, if you remember, like AT&T s logo was like the Death Star and it was just in these lines and, and I remember saying to my professor, I'm like, “I want things to mean things like, I don't understand why we're making these, these logos and things that have no content to them.” Because I believe that everything has meaning. Everything is a teachable moment, as it were.

Marlin Detweiler:

A comprehensive integration credit where memory is concerned.




Ned Bustard:

Yeah. So I mean for me that that's important that they that there's this that all, all these things have meaning that it's not just well does that look cool right now or is that, you know, hip but does it communicate goodness, beauty and truth?

Laurie Detweiler:

And then we just worked so well together. I mean, I'll tell everybody a fun fact here. I've said it a few times before, but I call it the shoe box. And, so when Ned and I first started working together, I couldn't use a computer, back then. And so because I didn't have a Mac, now I have a Mac. Now life is good. But anyway, so literally, I would have scribbled notes on a shoe box, and nobody besides dad could ever figure out what I was talking about.

Marlin Detweiler:

In the shoe box.

Ned Bustard:

Yeah, not on the shoe box.

Laurie Detweiler:

No, no explanation needed. I could just take the shoe box, hand it to Ned, and he and I just from the very, very beginning, that was understood each other's language...

Ned Bustard:

Yeah, that's that was what was kind of amazing about our work process is that, that you and I communicate. I don't know, you can't Jerry rig that. It's just we get each other, and we had a similar vision and the things you loved were the things I loved. And that really helped move the move the game forward.

Laurie Detweiler:

That was so true in Omnibus, I mean, yeah, beautiful books. They're just beautiful. Yeah.

Marlin Detweiler:

For the audience's sake, Ned was the layout and design talent on all six of the Omnibus texts, and they've been well received. The beauty of it is very notable when you pick up a book. They're pretty substantial, too, because of their page count, but the beauty within them is really something that many people have commented on.

Ned Bustard:

Well, can I go back to what you were talking about? The P is for pig painting. And I think for me that that's an important thing to bring up is that Leslie and I would talk about this, and this is a soapbox of hers is that, we're always forming the imagination of our children, and there's no, there's no neutral, thing that everything you're doing is shaping your child.

I go to a Presbyterian church, so it's a big white box. And I always tell the folks that I'm like, you are making a theological statement by this big white box that now, whether it's a good statement or bad statement, that can be debated. But I think there's this idea that if it's if there's something that's not there, then that doesn't really communicate something.

So like a blank wall doesn't really say anything. No it does, it just might not say the thing that you're wanting to say. And so the idea of giving our children fine art at, at the level of phonics level is not that they're going to necessarily remember that painting or specific painting, but they are going to have their minds and their hearts shaped by that early exposure to beauty.

And Leslie would say that, that it's it's that shaping of beauty that prepares us really for Christ.

Marlin Detweiler:

Absolutely. Unpack that a little bit more. How does, attention to beauty at a young age follow us into an understanding of the world in which you live, and the truth.

Laurie Detweiler:

And who God is.

Ned Bustard:

Well, I would say not. And, you know, not even at a young age, I would say that we as adults tend to, impoverish ourselves forcefully by not attending to beauty. Laurie mentioned Leslie's poetry. Leslie's poetry is just about attention to beauty. It's stopping and looking at a leaf and that we as as people are conditioned in our culture.

You know, busyness is the highest good, you know? How are you doing? Well. I'm busy. Well, that must be a good thing. Well, it might be. Or it might be that you're you're missing all of what God has set out in front of you, because a busy person can't stop and look at a leaf and find, you know, a ladybug crawling up it.

As far as how it relates to our understanding of God, I think that when you think about God is as maker. You know, the first thing we find out in Genesis is God made things and he evaluates them. He says it's good and so we talk about goodness, truth and beauty. You know, these these, transcendental and that they're all coming from God and they're leading us to God as the maker.

And I would say that with beauty, it is it is such a shaping thing when we talk about, you know, how music moves us or art, these things are things that get beyond our defensive. One of the great lines,Ty Fischer, the headmaster at Veritas Academy, said in, my book Teaching Beauty, he talks about how the bridges from truth to our society are burned like we can't get to society through truth.

You can't get there through goodness because our society just has said that's not applicable anymore, but beauty. We can still cross that bridge and talk to our neighbors because they don't have defenses for that.

In his book, it was called Making Art to the Glory of God, Tim Keller talks about why we need artists in the church. He says it's because you can't get to these things without art. He used his example of sinners in the hands of an angry God. Well, here, you know, Edwards is saying it talks about the fire and the spider in the fire, and, you know, you're dangling over the fire and you'd say, well, that's that's a visual. He's giving you this visual. So that you can then get to this understanding. And, so in that way, I think, beauty is effective. I mean, I would hate to say to reduce our pursuit of beauty to the usefulness of it, but it forms us and it makes it possible for us to turn and see God.

Laurie Detweiler:

Yeah. And I would say, let me say this one thing here, but, you know, as Leslie went through cancer treatments and, you know, she would post on Caring Bridge, a woman that I know in Lancaster who doesn't even know Leslie but knew of you because of Veritas, got on her page. And one of the things that she said that she couldn't believe as she was going in, you know, to get chemo or whatever it might be, as she's talking about a painting on the wall, and she would talk about a new painting every time.

And it was the door that opened up a conversation for the gospel for me that I would never have had with this woman. And it was the most bizarre thing we're talking about– most of us, when we're in that position or are looking at the IVs and all this and how horrible it is. And your sweet wife was talking about the painting and what God had given her that day.

And that is just a case of where beauty, something that she was talking about, opened up a door for me to have a conversation. So you're right. It does!

Ned Bustard:

Yeah. And then, you know, there again, it's a lifelong pursuit of beauty that prepares you for that kind of thing. Right? You don't just, you know, hit cancer, and you say, oh, well, now is the time that I'm going to stop and really see what God is doing right now. You have to be you have to be doing that.

Laurie Detweiler:

Intentionally.

Ned Bustard:

Intentionally. And that's why we we're giving our little kids, you know, fine art in kindergarten. Right?

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, obviously God created beauty and the idea of beauty being important to us has been lost sometimes in certain Christian circles. And one of the things that we have wanted to do with you so much is to help people understand that as we're trying to recover a way of educating, that beauty is not just a nice thing to have with it. It's not just a good thing to have with it. It's an essential thing to have with it. Right? Because goodness, truth and beauty collectively are what God created. Yeah.

Ned Bustard:

Right. Right.

Laurie Detweiler:

Schools should be full of– I remember, you know, when we were first doing Geneva and Veritas and one of the things that was so important is that we had art. Real art. I'm not talking about posters that come from an educational store, but I'm talking about real art, you know? And the one thing I found is when a school appreciates and gets into that artist or even willing to donate their things because they love so much that, you know, anybody cares, that students are seeing art, that they're willing to do that.

But it's important for children. So if you're homeschooling your home or, you know, if you're not, if you're in a school that children are exposed to art on a daily basis.

Ned Bustard:

Yeah, there's a value placed on that. Yeah. because I think that we're so money-driven in our culture that we evaluate everything based on dollars and cents. And I think that that is to our impoverishment, talking about hanging art in the schools, one of the things I did that was really fun with, Veritas Academy is I have an art gallery downtown here in Lancaster, and I organized and invitational, where I invited six different artists to each paint a picture based on one of the books in the Omnibus. And so each each, I did it for three years. And each each year I did a different book because the Omnibus are divided between ancient, medieval and contemporary. And, and it was great. And we had if, there was a winner and that was then the school bought that, but then other some of the other artists, they just ended up, giving their artwork.

So now Veritas Academy has all this contemporary art hanging in their hallways. And these are like, large 20 by 30 paintings that are rooted in these classic, you know, pieces of literature so that you've got art in, you know, just the esthetic of it. But then you also have it saying, well, the the books we are reading in Omnibus actually are able to speak in a contemporary way and are impacting the ideas of the art that these artists are making.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. What a great, what a great process. And to involve students in watching that happen. Yeah, really to help them imbibe what, what you're talking about.

Ned Bustard:

And helping them see differently. I mean, Ty's wife Emily teaches Pilgrim's Progress. And there's this giant painting of giant despair that she takes him to every year. And she says it's the best thing because they've been reading these books and or this book and they've got these ideas. And she said, now let's look at how the artists interprets this, and it just generates a lot of, good conversation. And then helps the students see the book in a different way than –

Laurie Detweiler:

Somebody else might have seen it. Yeah.

Ned Bustard:

Right.

Marlin Detweiler:

Your work is taking you into other areas that are helping people. It really, I guess, focused on the Christian and beauty. Is that a fair assessment?

Ned Bustard:

Well, if it's not, I still will agree with it because it sounds like something I'd want to do. I've got, my book publishing company, Square Halo Books. We have a lot of books on art and faith. and I've got a new book, came out like a year ago called Naming the Animals:

An invitation to Creativity.

That is basically to help people kind of enter into the history of art program I did for you all for the same reason, to help people be able to understand art and to engage with art. I think a lot of times we were joking about Leslie's poetry and people liking it.

I think that that's the same problem with art, as a lot of people are just intimidated because they don't know the language. The art history friend, art historian friend, James Jermaine, he talks about having a Dick and Jane level visual literacy. What he means is that we grow up reading, see Dick run, see, you know, see Jane hop or whatever. And we kind of stop there visually so that when we enter a museum, we don't know what to do because we've not been given the vocabulary. And I think that that's an important thing to kind of give – I mean, that's one of the reasons my gallery exists to help, folks engage with artwork and give them vocabulary for processing bigger ideas.

Marlin Detweiler:

So what does success look like in your calling, then? If you were to continue doing what you're doing and have them expand and diversify a bit for another 20 years or so, what would you say made it successful if you were looking back on it then? But speculating today.

Ned Bustard:

Yeah, there's a video by a film company called Cursive Films, and they did of me. It's like a little, little documentary called Making Good. And in that video, I talk about this idea of success because, like I said I was going to take over my dad's business when I was younger. And for me, success was making more money. I mean, that's how a business works. If you're not making more money, you're not successful. And I realized that that presupposition didn't really help me when it came to my calling as an artist in the church. And I realized that I, my ideas of success couldn't be linked to, my bank account. Because if it was, that was not really true measure, because the work that I'm doing as an artist and a Christian is to add beauty to the world.

It's hard to put a number on that. Like, people don't want to pay for beauty. People are resistant to beauty. And so for me, success is, helping, you know, the people who God given me, my people in place, to love God and love beauty. So I've done a book, a series of books called Every Moment Holy.

Laurie Detweiler:

I was just having that in my head. That's exactly where I was going to go next. Yeah.

Ned Bustard:

So Every Moment Holy is three books. They’re books that are contemporary liturgies. And I designed them and I did illustrations for them, and I did them because I grew up in an Anglican background. I saw the importance of written prayers. But I also went to a Baptist school, and I knew that written prayers were of the devil because that, you know, you can't have prayers written down because then you're not really allowing the spirit to move.

So I knew that something like this needed to exist, but I didn't know anyone else would. So I always tell people I didn't think anyone would buy this book because they're contemporary prayers. So if you grew up Anglican, you know that Anglicans are like, we've got a prayer book. We never need any others added to this because it's like it came down from Moses or Cranmer, and it's the same thing.

Or you've got folks who are like, well, I, you know, I don't want to read, you know, so there was no place for it. Turns out everyone has loved these books and there's like, I don't know, 200, 300, 400,000 of these books out there. And so you'd say, oh, well, Ned you're now successful. And I'm like, well, I guess, but for me it's I'm making good things for my people in my place.

The fact that people in California are appreciating it. Well praise God! Solo Deo Gloria, but in my thinking, I can't really base it on, you know, whether there are people over there. WIth what I do, how many likes I get on Instagram is important because I'm a visual artist. So do I judge how I'm doing based on how many likes I got? Well, you could say that. And as a visual artist, that that would be an important thing. But I don't think it really is. I think that, I talk about, you know, for several years I would just make coloring pages for my church so that the kids would be able to engage with the sermon. I don't make any money off of that.

Is that, you know, is that a successful thing? Well, I don't make any money off of it. So therefore it's not. Or, yes, it is, because I am impacting the kingdom of God and, you know, training up the children who God has given me to train.

Laurie Detweiler:

So, how many children? You know, I can't tell you how many times I see posted on Facebook where kids have made, you know, Bede’s History of Me. And we've got our ball of yarn with googly eyes.

Ned Bustard:

Adorable.

Laurie Detweiler:

You know, so adorable that you came up with that. Who in the world would have come up with that? And yet, that has made more little people like history because they've related to this red ball of yarn that turns into a timeline. I mean, it's just like, who thinks of, you know, so the impact of all the children out there or all the children that have learned to read, I mean, that for me with phonics, and you and I did so much of that together, it's like there are kids reading the Bible because of this.

Ned Bustard:

And so yeah, yeah, it blew my mind the first time someone came up to me, and they were like a 23-year-old and they're like, would you sign my copy of Pan in The Man Man? And I'm like, “Yes, I guess, but this is for your daughter, right?” They're like, “No, no, I read this as a child.” I'm like, no, that's impossible. Then I’d be an old person if that was the case.

Laurie Detweiler:

We wre old.

Ned Bustard:

Crazy. Yeah, it's it's amazing to think that that you can have that kind of, long term impact. And I think that that's, I mean, talking about homeschooling, I think that's something for homeschool parents should to really embrace because it it's such a small work that you're doing, you know, daily, like just a couple people and you're trying to get them to do this Pharoh’s crown craft, but long term, you’re building the kingdom of God and the ramifications, the ripples from what you're doing is incalculable.

Laurie Detweiler:

Think of Carrie. I mean, all your daughters are doing good things. I don't mean that. But, you know, I just– in talking to her a couple years ago, and she now teaches at a classical Christian school in Manhattan.

Ned Bustard:

And the only classical Christian school in New York, and the only Christian school in New York, let it be said.

Laurie Detweiler:

And, you know, she'll say so much of who I am as a teacher is from my mom and my dad, and I know that's true. You know.

Ned Bustard:

So she I mean, she didn't go to she went to school, to college, but she didn't go for education. Everything is just drawn from her classical home schooling.

Laurie Detweiler:

Exactly.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. We see that, in spades. Yeah. Well, it's been it's been great, visiting with you and reminiscing a little bit. I'd be remiss if I didn't, remind us of some of the all nighters we pulled to meet the catalog deadline.

When Laurie and I slept on your floor while you were working on the computer, waking us up to look at things to finalize. You worked all night, and we slept intermittently.

Ned Bustard:

Back when we were young we could do crazy things.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, I don't want to do any more.

Laurie Detweiler:

I think we could do that. But I remember the donut run in the morning because we had to feed all the kids.

Ned Bustard:

Well, my kids remember you guys coming over and just, Laurie, you always having sweet little fun things for Carrie and Maggie, and they always took your loving, loving generosity to heart. And so, Yeah, those were fun times. I and I look back, not only did we have fun and laugh a lot, you know, I take great joy. And just thinking about how we made something from nothing. And it was a beautiful thing. And that gives you great pride.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah. Well, thanks for being a part of that. And thanks for joining us today, folks. Thank you for joining us on Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Hope to see you next time. Thanks, Ned.

Ned Bustard:

Thank you. This is fun.