Damn Everything but the Circus

The book that immediately caught my attention was titled “Damn Everything but the Circus” written by Sister Corita Kent in 1970. I had previously viewed this book online, but in person, it’s almost as if the photos online did it no justice. Not only did the title grab my attention for obvious reasons, but the book itself was very bright and intriguing. The artwork displayed throughout and on the cover page involved very large text in very eye-catching fluorescent colors. I was expecting to see rather old and battered-looking books, but this book looked as though it could’ve been published yesterday. 

Cover of the book

The book itself was surprisingly a very thin and large hardback with typical binding. I thought it was interesting that the book almost presented itself as a children’s book. The large, hardback appearance with colorful features along with the very large font would lead anyone to assume that this book was created for a younger audience. Of course, the bold title, inspired by the quote “Damn, everything but the Circus” by E.E. Cummings, clearly is a statement that this book is to be read by an older audience and that it holds important meanings inside. 

As I stated previously, the book looked as though it could’ve been recently published. The book was in very good condition and I hope it stays that way. The pages were still very smooth, the colors very bright and no fading was apparent. These bright colors, of course, are what drew me to the book in the first place. As soon as I began flipping through the book I knew I had made the right choice to open it in the first place. The pages were filled with fun colors and large text that included the entire alphabet as the book went on.

Photo shows the imperfect nature of the prints

The huge letters appeared as though they were stenciled on, which created a very interesting effect. The format of the alphabet, for the most part, was that one letter was presented on every other page; this left the page to the left to be filled with what appeared to be poetry. The poetry is alluring, but the silkscreen printing of the large alphabet letters is truly fascinating. The positioning of the grayscale poetry next to the extravagant art seemed very deliberate. The combination of colors and the use of overlapping of different prints was truly hypnotizing. The silkscreen prints were not perfect but to me, the imperfection made the art appear more personal and powerful. 

Photo shows the poetry alongside the bright artwork

It is apparent right off that bat that the artwork is there to represent the ideas of the poetry that it is presented next to. Not only is the poetry thought-provoking, but it is interesting because it seems as if there is no rhyme or reason as to the way the actual text is positioned on the page. Many times the words appear to be all over the place as if there’s not a common justification or alignment. To some, this may appear messy, but I believe that this just adds to the chaotic energy that Corita Kent was going for.  

The first thing that comes to mind when considering why this book is important enough to be collected is the title. I know that most people would claim that it is the bold and brilliant artwork, but I will touch on that later. Back to the title, after doing further research, I discovered that Corita Kent was an American Roman Catholic religious sister, hence the name Sister Corita Kent. I think this is interesting to note this, considering how bold the title and the text inside the book is. A book titled “Damn Everything but the Circus” is not necessarily something you’d expect to be published from a practicing member of the church, especially at the time, which definitely increases the value of her work. 

The 60s and 70s were full of controversial ideas and feelings. When people think of Sister Corita Kent, she is remembered for being a huge advocate for poverty, racism, and injustice. Through her work, she was able to express her concerns and passions about these political and societal problems. Her images and expressions of peace and love were very fitting for the 70s. She repeatedly challenged society and used her voice which is very inspiring to think about, especially as a woman in society. As a practicing nun and woman in society, her efforts at the time were likely viewed as very controversial, which makes her intentions all but more notable. These issues were as prominent then as they unfortunately still are now, which is why I believe her work has maintained a lasting impact.

Of course, her positive influence is notable, but the artwork itself is also grounds for her book being collected by Special Collections or by a bibliophile. For the time, her artwork was incredibly remarkable and well done. Through different sources, I have come to the understanding that Corita Kent actually drew a lot of her inspiration from Andy Warhol, who was an extremely influential pop-artist at the time.

 Although it is clear to see the similarities between her and Warhol’s work, Kent truly took the idea and made it her own. Kent took it a step further by using her own innovative methods to push the limits of the two-dimensional artwork that was very typical at the time. These innovational methods helped form the grounds for graphic design for years to come. Her techniques have stood the test of time; overlaying and overlapping artwork is still one of the most popular graphic design approaches to this day. 


It is very obvious why Sister Corita Kent’s book has so much significance to this day, but it is challenging to find an abundance of information on both her and her creations. Kent’s earlier work was primarily religious-based and her later work, which was significantly more contentious, such as “Damn Everything but the Circus” tends to be her more recognized work. Nevertheless, her captivating creations still intrigue numerous people and her legacy of advocation towards major societal issues is still an inspiration to many. 




Cascone, Sarah. “Sister Corita Kent, the Pop Art Nun Who Combined Warhol With Social Justice, Is Getting Her Own Dedicated Art Center in LA.” Artnet News, 31 May 2019, news.artnet.com/art-world/corita-kent-museum-los-angeles-1560016.