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I’m an artist and an art teacher in NYC, working at a k-4 charter school operating in a high-needs area. My philosophy is one that believes even the youngest student has the ability to understand complicated ideas through repetition and a diverse and creative presentation of the concept. And so I try to avoid crafts, and instead introduce these kids to artists and their ideas, then give them process-driven projects that are open enough for them to explore the idea and concept in their own way. This blog is a record of my teaching, and I hope visitors will enjoy not just the posts, but also download the lesson plans, try them on their own students, then share their experience. I look forward to hearing from you!

Carmgdbie Utiisvnrey did a study taht porevd that as lnog as the fisrt and lsat ltetres of a wrod are trehe, you can slamcrbe the mdilde of a word in any fahison and the wrod will still rdea as the oaringil wrod.

What I find interesting about this is the idea of perception and how our minds automatically form narratives, or make sense of the nonsensical. It’s impossible for us to accept something in the abstract, we are always trying to fit ourselves into the situation, mentally, in order to understand what our senses are perceiving. In regards to the Cambridge study, we are applying known truths (i.e. definable, recognizable words) to nonsense. In regards to art, it allows the obscure and abstract to become more accessible.

In INLAND EMPIRE, the director David Lynch toys with the idea of traditional narrative. He wrote the movie script on a day-by-day basis, handing the actors a freshly written page in the morning and filming the movie without knowing what the plot would be, framing ideas within scenes and trusting that everything would fit together in the end. The result is an intimidatingly long movie that is so convoluted that it is difficult to sit though. During my viewing, a quarter of the theater got up and left during the middle. However, as confused as you may be, once you relax and trust in David Lynch, the movie reads on the same level as a poem. Each scene tantalizing in it’s own right, single lines that force contemplation long after they have been uttered. INLAND EMPIRE is the most mentally agile film I have ever seen. It forces active audience participation because of it’s lack of cohesive narrative, both during the film and after. You, as an audience member, struggle throughout the movie to form a narrative, and each scene forces you to reevaluate the narrative you had settled upon during the previous scene. The plot is constantly shifting because you are struggling to find a plot. You need a story, and the lack of a specific story, or at least a traditional arc, only creates a more tantalizing puzzle.

I admire this ability of people to piece together a narrative, whether, as in the Cambridge study, from known absolutes, or as in INLAND EMPIRE, simply as a way to process and comprehend unrecognizable stimuli. Paul Broks, author of Into the Silent Land posits that what we think of ourselves, what we define as our being, is a story. We imagine ourselves as something, re-form our memories to reflect this, and act accordingly. Life is nothing but a story.

“…That there could be art without beauty is preposterous. The artists who imagine that they can accept or reject beauty have obviously never known the power that beauty wields.” -Jed Perl, The Beauty Trap

Beauty is a touchy subject these days. Make something beautiful, and its integrity is questioned. It is only when art shuns beauty and traditional aesthetics that it is hailed as worthy. Let me back off for a moment and admit that, perhaps, I am being too critical. Artists have some appreciation of craft. But it isn’t embraced; it is an option. Craft, for an artist, should not be optional. It should be a necessity. I applaud concepts and am interested in ideas, but I am more interested in beauty. My favorite artists are the ones who move me emotionally, and on a level that is not able to be picked apart and deciphered, at least not completely. There is always something within their pieces that I cannot describe or completely understand. And I get the sense that the artist was wrestling with something within herself, she was making art to discover something about herself, not to communicate something explicit and one-dimensional.

Looking at the variety of other art forms that exist, it appears that visual art is the only form where bad equals good. Within writing, authors are judged by their ability to manipulate words and juggle sentences, where no matter how modern the writing appears, basic craft and beauty is a priority. Nobody wants to read writing that isn’t beautiful, even if it is only beautiful in an ugly way. Music is the same. Talent is defined by a musician’s ability to handle an instrument, to piece together chords and generate something new, exciting, and pleasing.

I am not railing against the usage of ideas and the illustration of concepts. I am simply asking that artists consider utilizing their artistic talent and creating something that is visually stunning to draw in the viewer. Then, by all means, caress the intellect and whisper ideas and philosophies, but do it gently. Prettily. Pleasingly. The result is much more layered and lasting than an artist’s statement could ever convey.

Summer Evening

Australian aboriginals have a concept which is dubbed ‘dream-time’. Boiled down to it’s essential and most telling elements, Dream-time refers to a time period beyond human memory when the Australian’s ancestors wandered the earth in the guise of both humans and animals, forming it into it’s current terrain.

Additionally there is dreaming–as it sounds, night images–descriptions of which indicate a certain type of belief structure. (ex.: Rabbit dreaming could be akin to Christianity while Turtle Dreaming could be similar to Judaism.) Dreaming is beyond regular time, basically beyond any conception of time that we and they (the tribes) are physically familiar with. (Sort of like Heaven–for believers it just is, even if it can’t really be explained logically or with any specific physicality). They describe dreaming as ‘all-at-once’, because they believe the experience is the past, present, and future co-existing. A person exists eternally in dreaming.

Amazingly, copyright then comes into play.

Each of the tribes have their own stories. To begin with, these stories are only supposed to be told within the tribe, and are the express property of the tribe. They are passed on from generation to generation and are understood as intellectual property. If they are used–whether in a retelling or in a painting–without permission, it is considered stolen property. Certain stories within the tribes are also protected. Some tales are to be told only at certain times, or only to certain people. For example,let’s presume there is a coming-of-age story that is told during a boy’s initiation into manhood. If he is told this story before it is the appropriate time, or if a girl is told this story, it is considered a serious breach of law and the orator could be punished with death.

The Australian Aboriginals are merely a mirror of our own culture. American copyrights were originally set up to protect the creator’s creation, not to restrict the idea or to insist that the discussion and concept remain tied to the specific, original piece. The problem is, inspiration comes from other artists, so artists are constantly utilizing other’s ideas. (The ideas themselves originating long before anyone alive). In the United States, with art, copyright is automatic. You don’t have to register it, registration simply ties a paper trail to it. (In case of legal battles down the road.) You can specify that something is copyrighted under creative commons, which has numerous facets, but essentially tells people that the piece is in the public domain. (Free for inspiring and using parts of to make other, unique pieces.) The concept of protecting ideas seems obviously counter-productive to a thriving culture, but what is interesting is how shaky the sturdy foundation of this particular sect of laws has become. With the advent of the internet, it is becoming nearly impossible to protect ideas and non-solid works (i.e. music and digital photos).

While, admittedly, the majority of the downloads and sharing is simply done to snag a tune or get a photo for that powerpoint presentation, there is a good amount of creative appropriation happening. Music cut up and re-formed with a new twist and new vision, images altered or spliced to illustrate a new concept, or sentences lifted and placed into another’s story. The internet is suddenly making it really easy to get what you need to make what you want. And you can do it with complete anonymity. Given, if you want to do the gallery thing you better make sure that you are within the frameworks of the law (or at least the idea/image is convoluted enough for nobody to notice), but if you are posting on some blog under a pseudonym, by all means use Mickey and Minney Mouse as porn-stars in your animated film commenting on sexuality and materialism in modern-day America. You can. Nobody can catch you. And that is what is infuriating authorities. They literally can’t do anything. This is looking to be the first digital revolt–a movement spurned on because, more or less, people want free music.

Pregnant

Body Worlds is an exhibit of corpses–flayed, then posed in ways that showcase a menagerie of muscles and innards. The disconcerting thing about the display is the manner in which the bodies have been preserved, plastination. Invented in the late 70’s and perfected on deceased inmates and mental patients (without consent), the process dehydrates the body, then replaces the fluids with a liquid plastic which eventually hardens. The bodies can be positioned in various stances before they set, which allows muscle movement to be studied. The visual result of the process resembles a hard plastic GI Joe, not a dead person. As the viewer walks through the exhibit, it is uncomfortably easy to forget that these are dead bodies rather than a plastic approximation. Stiff and ultimately un-lifelike, subtle reminders occasionally crop up to jar your sensibilities. When I was there, a child accidentally hitting the glass caused a scrotum to leisurely wave back and forth.

There is strained line between art and science that the inventor, Gunther von Hagens, toes. The website states that they want to present a comprehensive view of the various systems of the body. Yet, the first posed body upon entry is directly inspired by a 16th century print by Gaspar Becerra. Science or art? Presumably, it was assumed that viewing these ‘specimens’ from a scientific viewpoint would offend less easily than using dead people for aesthetic gain. But, the obvious inclination of Hagens to treat the bodies as a sort of sculpture is still present, even hiding under a legitimate veil of science.

Gaspar BecerraBody Worlds-Holding Skin

Encased in the exhibit was a breathtaking series of body parts whose nerves had been filled with bright red plastic. The outer coating had been removed, leaving a stunningly delicate sketch of the form’s contours. The sequence lost the shock and grandeur of the full-fledged bodies, but retained a strange simplicity of form that was instinctively appealing. Both the beauty and the intellectual interest that these pieces generated acted in the same way that a great piece of art does, transcending itself and appealing not to the mind first, but to the stomach with an unsettlingly intriguing energy. It generated that clammy interest that signals an attraction, and doesn’t disappoint with it’s concept. Science, art….whatever. This show, for all it’s flaws and ego, is managing to uncover a concept and idea that is fascinating and possibly groundbreaking. Additionally, how it is developed and then received by the public is going to be as interesting as the work itself.

#one

 

Babies

 

Standing Outside House

 

Dolls

 

 

 

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Camera LucidaHidden in the shadows of posh antique stores lurk secondhand shops. These overlooked treasures are bursting with both history and small remnants of human life–reminders of those that have flitted in and out of this world leaving behind nothing but a stack of photos or a selective record collection. You walk through the doors, your fingerprints joining the other smudges on the doors glass window. Dank and musty smelling, walking room is limited to a six inch space between the chipped china and the basket of ripped stuffed animals. Stuck in the back, there is inevitably two or three large bins filled with photographs. Subjects range from traditional family portraits to spontaneous snapshots on the family hike. A certain sadness encompasses this area of the store. The bins hold the lives and memorials of more people than a small cemetery. As you idly flip through the photos, nothing arrests you. You toss aside the remnants of hundreds of people’s lives with barely a second thought. And then, one grabs you.

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