Archive for the 'art' Category


Life update

Watching: A corgi in a swing. Yes, that’s what I said.

Chuckling over: The best of Craigslist. One of my favorites is “Looking for Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM.”

Being impressed by: These recipe redesigns. The use of illustrations as instructions is a recipe is nothing new (for example, Molly Katzen does it in her awesome cookbooks for preschoolers, Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes” and Salad People and More Real Recipes), but the designs here are especially nice.

Hacking:…my ramen.

Wishing: I had an extra $300 lying around. I think this project is awesome, and I really love the design of this chair.

Getting back from: The Netherlands. We were there for nearly two weeks and returned a few days ago. Once the jet lag fully wears off and I get my act together, details and photos will be forthcoming.


This looks like a dream

An artist stuck a high-speed camera out the window of a high-speed train as it passed through a crowded train station on a Saturday morning. The result is something that looks like a dream:


The filmmaker describes how he made this film here.


Seasonally appropriate

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I find myself with more reason than usual to be grateful this year.

Last month I won a contest, and my prize was some amazing artwork done by my friend Bethany. She’d held the contest to launch a new website and business venture: a design collaboration with her friend Melanie.

At the time Bethany mentioned that there was a second part to the prize, which I’d receive later. I filed this info in the back of my mind…where it promptly got lost until earlier this week, when another package arrived in the mail from her. This one contained two sets of their just-printed-so-I’m-amazed-the-ink-wasn’t-still-wet holiday cards. I’ve been on Bethany’s holiday-card list for a couple of years, and it’s always a delight to see each year’s design. Now I have my own to send out! I tried taking photos of them but couldn’t get a decent picture. So go take a look at them on their Etsy page (which is where you should be going anyway, so you can buy some for yourself).

Yesterday I received another contest prize in the mail (I’ve had a rare streak of luck lately). This one contained a VTech S9181 WiFi internet radio. With this, I can listen to over 11,000 Internet radio stations, plus good old FM stations. This item came from Frank Yang, who writes the very excellent blog Chromewaves, which contains more information about the current music scene than you can shake a stick at. Go take a look at it. You’ll probably spend hours poking around and listening to MP3s…and then start trying to figure out how you can move to Toronto so you can go to all the concerts he writes about.

I set up the radio today, and so far it is cooler than sliced bread. Yes, I’d even go so far as to say it’s all that and a bag of chips. The options are paralyzing. You can search by genre, by location, and by a number of other categories. The only station I’ve added to my Favorites list is Radio Suisse Romande*, and I’m looking for more. But I’m not sure where to begin. (I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have the time or patience to scan through 11,000 radio stations.) Suggestions? Any of you have favorite Internet radio stations that you’d like to recommend?
*I used to listen to this when I lived in Switzerland and always liked the announcement “Et pourtant elle tourne” (the words–likely apocryphal–Galileo muttered under his breath after recanting his astronomical findings before the pope) that marked the start of the noon news hour.


Life update

Geeking out: With “The DM of the Ring,” the Lord of the Rings trilogy imagined as a D&D campaign.

Reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. Finally. What an amazing book. He’s one of those writers who can make interesting the sort of information that is usually quite dull to read. Some of his turns of phrase are just amazing.

Frolicking: Through the City Museum of St. Louis, which is quite possibly the coolest place I have ever visited. Seriously. It’s sort of a cross between a four-story walk-through, interactive art installation and a playground (in the literal sense–monkey bars, slides, ball pits, and all) for grownups. It’s very difficult to describe. Here’s one picture I took of the outside area:


Yes, you can climb through/over/under all those tubes/ladders/tunnels, even into that gutted airplane over there. And yes, you are at times four stories up. (While Jan was wriggling through a wire-coil tunnel near the apex of the structure, his wallet fell out of his pocket when he was upside down. Fortunately, it landed on a table three stories below him, and a very kind person there cleaned up the debris field of credit cards and IDs and waited for Jan to get down there.)

We happened to visit this place while visiting my parents (who live in the Illinois part of the St. Louis area) for a few days. But if I didn’t have family in the area, I would actually consider a trip out there anyway. This place alone merits a trip to St. Louis–it is that cool.


Degrees of separation

In the spring of 2006, I signed up for my first secret pal swap. My goal was to make some new friends, and I’ve certainly succeeded. I’ve kept in touch with my downstream pal in that swap, Arianna, and through her have also gotten to know her very excellent sister Bethany.

Arianna and Bethany recently sent me a box of surprises: a set of notecards (with patterns!) by the Yarn Girls and a very cool little snack pouch they’d made for Sylvia out of hedgehog-print fabric. (Sylvia’s first words upon seeing it? “Can I use it right now?)

A couple of weeks ago Bethany and her friend launched a new website and asked people to vote on which logo to use. I offered my opinion and ended up winning (thanks to the random number generator) a prize! The prize arrived in the mail yesterday–and boy, is it cool. I got some art in the mail! It’s not every day I can say this, that’s for sure.


On the left you see a beautiful print (matted, even!) with “Backyard Garden” on it. (Bethany, can you tell me a bit about this?) And on the right, a banana-print card with Bethany’s note on the back, and a set of notecards.

I love it! Now I just have to figure out where to hang it!


Through the eyes of children

Via Neil Gaiman, I’ve just discovered the site of Yeondoo Jung, a photographer who takes drawings done by children and recreates them as photographs. Take a look at them—they are amazing.


More musings on art

My secret pal’s comment to my last post has had me thinking about class and art and Bourdieu and whatnot these past few days.

I’m certainly no expert on Bourdieu, so I’m sure there are all sorts of nuances that I’m missing–especially since he did gobs and gobs of writing about art and aesthetics. He spent a lot of his career trying to understand why rich people and poor people (in France, specifically, but his theories are generally applicable) have different tastes in art, music, literature, etc. One point he made in one of his most famous works, Distinction (and no, I haven’t slogged through the whole book–just bits and pieces), is that because rich people have the economic capital to own works of art, they therefore set themselves up in opposition to those who don’t. So art works to legitimize social differences: because rich people, freed from focusing on survival and the necessities of life, can pursue art that is far removed from the quotidien. A shared interest in this kind of art ( e.g., antiques, “complex” works) helps shape and reinforce an unconscious sense of class unity.

At least, that’s what I remember from grad school–and I’m fairly surprised I remember that much! I like Bourdieu–rather, I should say I like the idea of Bourdieu, since I can’t claim to have read even a small portion of his prodigious output. I like that he was thoughtful and publicly committed in a way that few academics are these days. I was very hopeful when, upon becoming prime minister, Tony Blair announced that Anthony Giddens would be one of his advisors. But then that whole relationship seemed to fall by the wayside, and after a while we saw the UK join the USA’s headlong rush into war (and tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq). Here in the USA we had John Kenneth Galbraith, but he left us last year. At least we still have Noam Chomsky!

Anyway, I don’t think Bourdieu would say that “art isn’t art unless it’s a grand bronze sculpture or oil on canvas.” I think he would say there is a distinction–made by both rich people and poor people–between grand bronze sculptures and finger drawings in the dirt, though.

I don’t pretend to have a clear definition of art–at least, not one that is generally applicable. I think of art mostly in terms of “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” and in terms of whether or not something prods my thinking in new ways. I do think there has to be some intentionality, though. So, for example, when my daughter upends the contents of her breakfast plate onto the floor, I wouldn’t say that the oatmeal-splatter marks in my dining room constitute art per se because she wasn’t intending to be creative or thought-provoking.

Some things fall under the rubric “art” because they were innovative. When Marcel Duchamp stuck a urinal on the wall and called it art, he was the first person to so something like that (and his name became forever linked to an entire movement).

When someone makes a chandelier of gummi bears (yes, that’s right), I find that pretty novel–especially when the artist is striving for some social commentary. YaYa Chou did this first, and I’m happy to call it art. But if this sort of thing became popular and widespread enough to appear in many other incarnations, well, then it seems to me less “artsy” because the initial impact is no longer there.

My brain hurts now. (Social theory tends to do that to me after a while.) I’m going back to knitting. I have a few finished objects and works in progress to chat about, but I’ll save that for another time.


Art and life

Via Craft I came across this article about a guy in San Francisco who, on one afternoon every month, sets up a sewing machine on the street and sews whatever people bring him. Sure, Michael Swaine is a performance artist. But one could also say that he’s someone who’s just trying to connect with other people. In this age of disposable everything, people who can’t sew rarely bother to mend their clothes, I think. Why pay someone money to fix a shirt when you can get a brand-spankin’ new one for only a few bucks more, right?

I also think this is one of those rare cases where art actually does touch the masses. It’s not hung up in some hoity-toity gallery, or set on a stage or concert hall for which paid tickets are mandatory. It’s right there on the street, accessible to anyone. The utilitarian nature of this project–fixing people’s stuff–makes it easier for people to engage it. Instead of trying to wrap their heads around an abstract painting or interesting wordplay or major and minor themes in a piece of music (not that those projects aren’t worthwhile, too), people can just ask someone, “Hey, can you fix this for me?” and end up having a conversation with that person.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu theorized that the production of art is one way in which the ruling class maintains its status. They have access to the material capital to produce it. A truly democratic society, he argued, should provide gobs of funding for art. (Yes, I know this summary doesn’t even begin to do justice to Bourdieu’s massive oeuvre and incredibly influential work.) We have the NEA here, but that agency funds only people who are “officially” recognized as artists. That money isn’t spread around nearly as widely as Bourdieu would have liked.

I’m not sure how much money should go to public art. I’m not sure how art should–or can–even be defined in these cases. But I do see a need for publicly supported encouragement of creativity. Having worked for two different educational publishers and one organization that was involved in educational activities, I know how state-mandated educational standards have affected what goes on in classrooms. Funding for art, music, and theater programs in elementary, middle, and high schools keeps getting cut because those subjects aren’t seen as “important” enough; that is, they aren’t generally part of the core subjects that students are tested on these days. And by “tested” I mean “taught to memorize tons of information that will be on a standardized test.” Yes, a lot of this is stuff that students ought to know. But what about standard-less creativity? What about time to draw a picture or play a song not to have it evaluated in some way but just for the sheer joy and self-expression?