2010 marks the 10th anniversary of Piquant Editions (www.piquanteditions.com), a small U.K.-based Christian publisher with a vibrant vision for arts publishing.
An interview with founders Elria and Pieter Kwant
Tell us about how this publishing company got started, and why.
We started at the beginning of the new millennium when Pieter left his employment as a director of STL [a Christian book distributor] and managing director of Paternoster Press. He had committed himself to publishing Anneke Kaai’s Psalms book with Paternoster, but as they were axing the arts list we decided to put it to press for her. I had been working as a freelance editor for five years at that stage. At the same time we were contacted by Paul Hattaway about publishing his big mission resource, Operation China. We felt God had given us these two projects and they defined the two main lists of Piquant Editions: arts and missions. Of course, at that stage the combination of arts and missions was perceived both to be unwise (diverse markets) and to have little overlap—but it was prophetic, it now appears, with arts today being a very firm partner of missions.
About what percentage of your books are arts-related?
In our catalogue we have 30 arts titles and 26 other titles—so if you treat the Rookmaaker works as one title, about 50-50.
Describe some of these projects and why you believed they were important works to offer to the world.
Early on we published the Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker. We spent a year at the Dutch L’Abri in 1986 where we became aware of the wide scope and the depth of HRR’s teachings. With so much in print from Francis Schaeffer, we felt it was a pity that HRR’s work was not better known, especially as he was often misrepresented. It continues to be, we believe, a foundational set for any organization, individual, or academic library as it contains something on almost any topic you can imagine! It gives Christians a starting point into so many directions.
We also consider Betty Spackman’s A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch to be our most important book, because as the arts are harnessed more and more for missions and worship, the danger is always there to settle for the easy “one-liners” of kitsch. This book is special because it is also an image diary for artists and has a very perceptive questionnaire at the back to launch people into thinking about the objects and images they use on a daily basis. It does not just criticize kitsch but teases out why it is so prevalent—the author herself calls it “the stuff I love to hate and hate to love”! But while showing situations in which kitsch is the best one can come up with, she presses the artist who is able to produce something more oblique, more true, not to settle for a simple formula because it is easy to mass-produce for commercial purposes. Why? Because if all we do and say reflects our Lord, then settling for a lie like that, even if it is a sweet and cute one, is like swearing.
We are also very proud of the four books we have produced in the Visibilia series. These introduce the work of four living artists and show that it is not the style or the medium or even the subject they choose to represent that makes their work “Christian,” but the way they SEE—as reflected in what they created—shows an alternative vision of reality to that shown in the work of artists who create without the hope of glory.
What is your vision for promoting the arts at Piquant?
Our vision is to help bridge the gap between ordinary church folk and fine artists. We hope we have been able to produce a few books that help ordinary folk understand visual language better. We hope to have honored a small number of living artists.
What kind of projects do you look for, and what impact do you hope these books will have on readers or on the culture?
We have a definite hope that the visual books we have produced will be a) a small testimony to the existence in our time of a number of serious, gifted, hard-working artists who are not represented in the mainline galleries, often because of their worldview, but are neither finding a home in the church, because they refuse to communicate through kitsch-like images; b) we do think that artists need to make themselves vulnerable and talk about the process and how their ideas have changed during working on a project to help their viewers “get” it—that is the only way to bridge the divide. We have tried to let artists do that in these books.
Is publishing books on faith & the arts an economically risky venture?
It is very risky because people simply do not buy color books, which are expensive, and especially so when you try and achieve high-quality reproduction, which is something we have worked very hard at. In fact, we are now having a big sale on our arts books and are cutting down our production of these.
We have taken the risk as far as we are able to do it because it has been a calling for us. Actually, Hans Rookmaaker, who was interred as a POW during WWII in a Nazi camp as a young Dutch officer in the navy (he was studying to be a marine engineer at the time), when the war finished, decided to go back to university to study art history! The reason—because he identified that the technological progress during the war would lead to a very different life in the new period to come, namely one where people will have previously undreamt-of access to leisure, both time and technology—color television at that stage. But, he asked, and this became a passionate crusade for him for the rest of his life, where do churches teach believers how to use their leisure time and what to make of the flood of materials to watch and read . . . maybe a question well worth pursuing today still?
What are some of your upcoming books related to the arts that you are particularly excited about?
We are working with a brilliant artist and arts mentor on a resource for young artists who are Christians setting out in their professional careers. Beyond Air Guitar is due in Spring 2011.
Piquant Editions is offering a 10th-anniversary sale on its complete aesthetics library, as well as other special offers. See the Piquant website for more details.