Learning to See

Learning to See

Pretending I Play PoolIt’s been about 10 years since I took Black & White Photography at Watkins. I feel like I was fairly decent at it, or at least got more and more decent as the weeks went on. We had to take 2 rolls’ worth of shots each week, focusing on a given mission (low light shots, motion shots, etc.), and then we had to do the whole dark room / contact sheet / hand-print while standing over a bin of water thing in the lab. It was probably one of my favorite classes at Watkins, since it basically consisted of running around taking pictures and standing around in a mad scientist apron chatting with classmates. I had an eye for unsettling ways of cropping a picture, and I tended to go more for photography projects that mainly served to document bits of performance art, like dancing in odd places. (I also love performance art, and you should not start telling me how silly and pretentious that is unless you want to hear me try to convince you otherwise for an hour and then try to loan you some books.) My photography teacher briefly tried to get me to switch majors, but she and I both knew that I was not cut out for a life of photographing weddings and children and it’s terribly hard to pay for a house with oddly-cropped pictures of people staging their own deaths.

Not that the graphic design thing worked out much better, but the web development thing certainly did, and the market wouldn’t have had a chance to tell me I needed to build web sites instead of designing them if I hadn’t tried to design them and found out I wasn’t as good at it as my classmates. Graphic design sits in this weird space where there are SO MANY rules and yet you’re still expected to creatively solve a problem. It’s like…stealth rules. I would rather my rules be obvious. When I break the rules, I want Visual Studio to yell at me in the form of a squiggley red line or start throwing exceptions.

But so much development makes one’s brain so rulesy. Eventually, you start wanting to break rules. Do crazy shit. Take oddly-cropped pictures staging your own death. Take pictures that a lot of people would think are weird and shitty but that others find weird and interesting. Or maybe just some pictures that only YOU find interesting. Who cares. The ability to pay for my house does not depend on me taking pretty pictures, so I’m freed up to take strange, creepy, sometimes sucky ones. But I want them to be intentionally weird, not just a weird as a side effect of not actually knowing what I’m doing, so some review and learning is going to have to happen as I’ve forgotten almost everything.

Like my mom used to say, you have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can stage your own death. OK, maybe she only said part of that, but you get the idea. That’s why I’m using my Martin Luther King Day holiday (we get this day off! work is awesome!) to review concepts like f-stop and ISO setting. To start memorizing which shutter speeds give which effects. To read the manual for my new camera and learn how to really use it.

If you want a job done weirdly, you have to do it yourself, and you should never trust anyone to stage your death for you.

Audience Participation: Shape of a Heart

I recently had a conversation in which someone gave me a rather detailed description of the workings of his chest cavity. What he described was pictured in my head as a Steampunky array of brass gears. In hearing this description, I realized that the way I’d always pictured the working of my own chest cavity wasn’t necessarily the way everybody pictured theirs. You’d think that would be obvious, but it’s one of those things you don’t really consider. My brain is usually full of other stuff; the things that haven’t gotten any thought just get rounded off.

I’ve always pictured my heart as a sort of Jello-like mass, thumping away in its own rhythm. Of COURSE the thing powering my blood is a dessert item. I’m a misplaced pixie, kicked out of the woods for cursing, dick jokes and complaining about sun exposure and a lack of air conditioning. My heart doesn’t squeeze-thump like a real heart. It internally vibrates, like quartz; modern medicine doesn’t understand this and just thinks I have a heart murmur. My heart is not shaped like a real heart or a Valentine heart; it doesn’t really have any shape at all. It extends diagonally and up, ending behind my right shoulder blade, but the extension only makes itself known when it hurts. It’s a sort of orangey-red, glowing and warm, like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

That warmth isn’t necessarily “warmth,” mind you. I’m not exactly one of those touchy-feely, call everybody honey, Paula Deen sort of people. I’ve been told that I’m scary and icy. In truth, I’m just really socially awkward. It’s not that I dislike you; it’s that I have no idea what to do with you. This would all go much more smoothly if you could all become cats, but you’re people. People are weird, mercurial, difficult and they have a lot of weird social subtexts.

The warmth in my chest is more like an internal fire. It times of pain, I have sat and wished that the fire would just fucking die. Sitting, wishing that the damn thing would just go cold and let me be. I could stop caring about everything, go numb, and lie in bed watching reruns of The George Lopez Show. I keep waiting for someone or something to finally freeze the damn thing, but it (like the rest of me) is stubborn. I’m slowly realizing that I’m never going to get an “out.” I’m never going to learn to not care. It’s terribly inconvenient, but it keeps the Jello thumping. You kill the fire, you kill the heart.

Given this, I want to know what your hearts look like. Sit down and think about it (if you haven’t already) and post a comment. I’m terribly curious. Maybe we can put together a coffee table book or something. At the very least, I could make your heart and make it your birthday present. Or just hang it in my house, as though I’ve captured it, mwahaha.

“What’s up with that painting?”
“Oh, that’s ______’s heart.”

Sun Maid Raisins: pandering to the cyborg demographic.

As design becomes more aand more computerized, corporations (in their “slower than molasses” way) have been shaking the dust from their old logos and moving into “LOGO 2.0!”

Days Inn changed their old-school 70s sun to a “rays and gradients” affair which will probably eventually look as dated as…well, the old-school 70s sun. Still, a fake reflection or a sun ray never gave anyone nightmares. It’s not like they gave the sun a face and rendered it in CGI or anything.

Exhibit A: Sun Maid Raisins’ packaging from 1915, featuring a drawing of an actual person (her name was Lorraine Collett).

A couple more revisions took place in 1923, 1956; she’s starting to look a little demonic…

…but Sun Maid pulled their butts out of the “I make raisins, but also kind of want to eat your brains” fire in 1970, when they pur forth the maid that most of us know:

Does she look a little like a Geisha on Wellbutrin? Well, yeah, but the only thing that’s a bit freaky and 70s is that sun in the background. But wait! I promised you unsettling CGI nightmare monsters, and I intend to keep my promises. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Sun Maid 2K! She has a freakishly large mouth! Arms made of plastic! Boobs from Soul Calibur!

She’s doing yoga, for Christ’s sake. Yoga in a BONNET. She’s even made her way into a commercial which, from the looks of the mouth modeling, is either a cut scene from Fable or a final project of someone who went to Nossi.

Friday LOL: Kung-Fu Hillbilly, Joel Bauer

Holy hell, it’s a twofer! Little bit off frontbutt, little bit of douchenozzle. I does what I can.

Props for the first vid go to Jay. Props for the second vid go to DrawAndQuarter.

(Click here if you can’t see the first one.)

(Click here if you can’t see the second one.)

Art School Is Not A Wank

The other day, there was a discussion about unusual turn-offs on a message board that I frequent. Almost everyone listed “education” as a turn-on, but then someone countered with “but if you met a guy who was really smart and read a lot but hadn’t gone to college, would you date him?” This got me thinking about my two different college experiences and what I’d learned from each of them.

I don’t think I really learned much in Music Business school. I learned a lot about sound recording techniques, analog vs. digital, and compression levels, but (aside from being able to hook up your stereo and emasculate your boyfriend) I don’t find that I use that in my everyday life. The “business” part of that degree taught me little outside of the realm of how to write a paper, and maybe a little something about the importance of showing up on time and meeting a deadline. Seeing as how my high school English teachers were all Nazis and my parents have never been late for anything in their lives, I pretty much already knew that stuff. After college, I wasn’t prepared to do anything but wave my degree around and type, so I took my 64 thousand dollar degree and went into data entry. Maybe I’d have made that money back if I hadn’t abandoned sound engineering, but still.

After a couple years in data entry, I went back to school. My time at Watkins cost me half at much as my time at Belmont, but it was so much more worth it. A lot of people think that design school is just about learning a bunch of software. That IS part of it, but there’s a lot more. Shall we?

1. Sit down, verbalize, and visualize abstract ideas.
You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know how to do this. You start thinking about feelings or abstract concepts and your brain just locks up and you end up with a tidal wave of crazy. In art school, you have to be able to sit down and summarize why you did the piece that you did. In English. You have to be able to defend and explain your work to people.

2. Be OK with you.
So much of one’s art comes from one’s own experiences. If you spend all of your time indicting yourself for things you can’t change, you’re never going to get anywhere. You learn that everything that you do, everything that happens to you, makes you who you are. You learn from your mistakes, and that makes you better and unique. You could be saner, prettier, richer, whatever-er, but then you’d be someone else, producing completely different work. Sometimes the only original thing that you can be is you because everybody else is already doing “not you.”

3. Failure is sometimes the most important thing you can do.
Failure, and learning how and why you failed, is how you learn. Success is great, but success is just the payoff. It’s the reward that makes the trip worth the trouble. Nobody ever evolved as a human from always being told that they’re wonderful.

4. Taking criticism is important (long as it’s valid criticism)
Though one former employer would disagree with me, I’m actually pretty good at taking constructive criticism (note the use of the word “constructive”). My editor at ReGen told me this when he disagreed with one of my reviews. I countered with “well, here’s why I think that…” when he was apparently expecting “fuck you!” We can disagree all day long and that’s fine, but when you don’t listen or try to take away my voice, you truly meet the (evil) side.

5. Pay attention.
A lot of people cruise through life not thinking very hard about anything. While that apparently works for those people (who are usually really happy), you can’t get away with that in art school. In order to have inspiration, you have to pay attention, which may be why artists are always so pissy. As a fortune cookie fortune on my fridge says, “discontent is the first step of a man or a nation.” When I stop being mad, that’s when I’ve truly given up. As long as I’m still pissed, that means I still think the situation can be fixed. Rage is good! (Don’t tell my shrink I said that.)

6. Very few situations have a “right” answer.
In business school it’s all about knowing the question and spewing forth the right answer. People need to believe that right and wrong are black and white because shades of gray are a lot hard to encapsulate into a sound bite. The trouble is that reality IS grayscale. Even Hitler had at least ONE good point. Art school is like boot camp for this kind of thought, and oversimplification usually gets called out pretty quickly.

7. Sometimes an F is the best grade.
If you’ve heard your teacher’s criticism, but you still feel like you’ve made your point the best way, sometimes you have to say “I believe in this…if the ship goes down, I’ll go with it.” It’s not about selling out what you think just to get a better grade. At the end of the day, your portfolio is YOURS and you have to be willing to defend it, and “I did that cause the teacher told me to” isn’t going to cut it.

See? It’s not just about wanking around and drawing pretty pictures. It’s hard. Business school was just about memorizing things and taking notes, but art school was about really thinking. That is not “wanking around.”

Against the Dying of the Light

Well, it appears that the jury is in on yesterday: that shit wasn’t funny, and you (or at least some of you) watched it anyway. So, thanks. Teh Intarnetz have surprised me again, showing me that somebody’s watching youTube for something other than the “I Like Turtles” kid and Spaghetti Cat. Those of you who made it through all nine minutes of that shizz seem to have gotten the point. Also, you kind of enjoy the realness that comes from a bit of crawling. This is good, as there will probably be more crawling. On-camera lack of makeup. On-camera glasses. On-camera crying. I’m working up to it. There’s so little realness anymore.

I learned the “you’re pretty when you cry” lesson from watching America’s Next Top Model. No, really…hear me out on this. For those of you who don’t watch the show (and why aren’t you? it’s awesome), Tyra’s forever telling the women that a pretty picture is good but a real picture is better. Pretty is remarkably easy, but it takes real balls to let the camera see all the way into your eyes, to let it see inside you, to let go, drop the walls, and jump in with both feet. The models who manage this come out with better work, and the ones who are content to just suck it their cheekbones and posture usually end up getting sent home.

I could write you a whole rant about how the value of reality tv is in what you take away from it, and not just what is on the screen, but I’ll spare you. I’ve totally been Captain Wordington lately, and I’m trying to cut back.

Also, that bit about the flashing red light seems to have hit home with you guys. Good. If I have to see that light flashing in my face all the time, you should too, and maybe it’ll make all of us less complacent. I’m so tired of seeing my friends grow up and abandon all the wonderful creative ideas that they have in favor of going through the daily grind and coming home to watch sitcoms. Little by little, people walk away from the creative things that make them who they are in favor of getting married and having kids. Don’t get me wrong: if you have a marriage and kids, those things should be your top priorities…but it wouldn’t hurt to teach those kids to play instruments and Partridge Family it out. Some of my best family memories involve mom, dad and sis playing guitars and me playing along on keyboard. Dad’s desire to have sis and me sing harmony was a bit ill-fated, but nobody’s perfect. More and more I’m realizing that potential boyfriends need to be someone who will be artsy with me. Otherwise, they’re just big time sucks and I’ll eventually be resenting them for taking me away from the stuff I did before I met them. Like, instead of dinner and a movie, let’s have dinner and a craft night.

(e)tv: Statement of Purpose, Sorta.

As promised, here’s my video about why I’m doing video. I know, it’s 9 minutes long, which is an eternity on Teh Intarnetz, but I swear I’m going somewhere with this.

(Click here if you can’t see the embed.)

One of the goth friends told me that the last video was creepy. Is it wrong to feel like creeping out the goth folk was kind of an accomplishment?

Badasses Abound (January 2009 Art Crawl)

For those of you who aren’t part of the Watkins Art Mafia, there’s an art crawl that takes place in the 200 block of 5th Ave N on the first weekend of every month. There’s a few galleries on 5th Ave and a few in the Arcade. I like to go from time to time for inspiration/motivation. As I so eloquently put it to Emily:

“You gotta go and see some cool shit so you can feel shitty enough about yourself to get off your ass and make your own cool shit.”

My English teachers would be so proud. Anyway, there was an abundance of awesomeness this time around, and I thought I’d share with you guys so you can sit around and with that you had $10,000 to spend on a heavily-varnished tasty.

Jordan Eagles uses blood, varnish, and sometimes copper to make multi-layered, glossy, graphic pieces. The pictures on his site don’t even begin to do the pieces justice. You really, really should drag your butts down to The Rymer Gallery to take a look at them. They. Are. Awesome.

Jeff Hand uses faux fur and heavy doses of whimsy to make fluffy anatomy drawings, portraits, and…throw pillows shaped like anti-depressant pills! I want the furry black heart, and a Valium pillow. (Also at The Rymer Gallery)

I want to be Steven Knudson‘s art groupie. His work is like a combination of Edward Gorey, Tim Burton, and those old covers from Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. In other words, as I told Jeff’s friend Thomas “this is goth as fuck.” (Side bar: artist himself looks rather whimsical and I would like to date him so we can be pocket people together. Just sayin.)