Keeping It Real in Life and Art
“The greatest hindrance to creativity,” says painter and photographer Will Rosenberg, “is worrying what others think. If you walk into a kindergarten class and say, ‘Who here is an artist?’ every kid will raise their hand. A couple of years later the percentages go down. By the time kids get to college, nobody’s an artist, because it’s been squashed.”
Will’s parents, former hippies, encouraged his creativity. His Jewish father, Gary, had traveled around the country in a 32-foot bus to sell his handmade jewelry. His mother, Dariea, gave birth to Will at home, the natural way, in 1981 in San Diego.
Dariea, raised going to church in the South, no longer attended. Will grew up going to his paternal grandmother’s house for Passover and other Jewish holidays.
Eventually, the results of drug and alcohol use from his parents’ “experimental” days forced a radical change in the family. Dariea, who had been drinking, had a car accident—with toddler Will and his older sister, Ilana, as passengers. When they got home and Gary was picking glass out of Will’s diapers, he told Dariea that something had to change.
She took his words to heart and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. She also started attending church again. When Will was four, she began taking him and Ilana to church with her. Although pleased that Dariea was sober, Gary wasn’t wild about what his family was learning in church.
“He told my mother, ‘You can’t bring Jesus into my household!'” Will recalls. Yet Gary was not an observant Jew.
“My dad was forced to have his bar mitzvah when he was thirteen,” says Will. “He was frustrated because he was required to learn all these prayers, but he didn’t know what he was saying. The day after his bar mitzvah, he told his parents he was through with [formal] Judaism.”
But Gary’s Jewish roots were deep enough for him to react to what he saw as a “foreign” influence.
“My parents almost got divorced during that time,” Will remembers. “There was definitely tension over that.” But Dariea and the children kept going to church. When Will was nine, he received Jesus into his heart for forgiveness of sins. Soon afterwards, a Jewish woman named Eve Rule came to their door. Eve, who had been a believer in Jesus for 35 years, was looking up Jewish names in the San Diego phonebook and knocking on doors to talk about Jesus.
Through Eve, Will connected with a camp program for young Jewish believers in Jesus. “That was a fight,” Will says of his dad’s opposition, “but over the years he softened up.”
Will’s teen years in camp helped him deal with the hypocrisy he saw in high school.
“One of the teachings was about how people are always putting on masks and fake fronts,” he recalls. “Sometimes we play this religious game, whether it’s in a synagogue or a church or a Buddhist temple. I just wanted to be real and be for Jesus.”
Will wanted to “keep it real” after graduating high school.
“I think it’s funny how our society feels you’re supposed to know what you want to do with the rest of your life when you’re eighteen,” he remarks. “That’s ridiculous.”
He attended junior college for two years as he considered his options and found a new creative outlet.
“My dad had always wanted me to get into photography, but I was into sports and surfing,” he explains. “I finally took a black-and-white photography class in junior college, and I just loved it.”
He also loved to study the Scriptures and transferred to a Bible college in Southern California, where he received his BA in 2004. A resident director in the dorms told him, “Use your twenties to figure out life.” Will says, “That just lifted the burden off of me, really freed me up.”
When friends told him about a program called “Around the World in Eighty Days,” sponsored by the nonprofit Youth With a Mission (YWAM), Will jumped in.
Participants live in New Zealand for three months in community, studying the Bible and international issues. They break into teams doing volunteer work and aid relief in several countries for the next eighty days, then meet in Israel to share what they have learned.
“My twenties were awesome,” says Will. “I went around the world six times. I wouldn’t trade any of it.”
Will says that some misunderstand the motivation for his work: “They ask me, ‘So you’re religious?’ And I’ll say, ‘What does that mean?’ Because to me it’s not about being religious. It’s about a relationship with God.”
During his travels, Will took thousands of photos.
“It’s just capturing the unposed, real expressions, as my dad always put it. A lot of my shooting is from a taxi cab or walking through a city and having my camera at my side and just clicking, kind of knowing what’s in my frame but not seeing it.”
For Will, photography is about being creative.
“Artistically, I want to push the bounds,” he say. “Sometimes an over-exposed photo is better than a perfectly exposed photo.”
He likes to push the bounds in painting as well.
“In college, I remember painting a fridge in my dorm, painting on surfboards and skateboards,” he says. He was also inspired by the street art of Banksy and Shepard Fairey and the work (and words) of Andy Warhol, who said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”
Will says, “I like to paint loud and fast. If I have to get detailed and slow, that’s harder for me. One of my favorite quotes is from da Vinci: ‘Art is never finished. Only abandoned.’ You can always go back.”
But his guiding principle in art is this Scripture: “So God created mankind in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).
“I think every human being is creative,” he says. “We’re all created in the image of the Creator. My most honest time of worshiping God is when I’m just listening to music and painting. I’ve also done live painting in front of groups, and in the midst of that, I just want to worship God. It really frees me up from even noticing whether there are 50 or 500 people behind me. I want to use art to influence the world, even with just the idea of faith, the idea of ‘there’s more.’ I still see myself as a seeker. And Scripture talks about seeking and you’ll find.”
Watch Will paint!
Matt Sieger is the editor of ISSUES: A Messianic Jewish Perspective. ISSUES is our publication for Jewish people who are willing to consider the question, Who is Jesus? Matt also writes blogs, articles, and reviews for our publications and has edited the book, Stories of Jews for Jesus.