Friday, June 23, 2017

Mind the Gap, Little Leaps, Book Art & Teju Cole's Blind Spot

When we read, we carry memories of what came before. To make sense of the book, we hold onto its information as we go. At the same time, we compare what we are reading to what we already know. If the book has both words and images, we search for a relationship between them, based on what the author gives us coupled with our own personal observations. The moment in time while we are searching is a little leap, like the gap between steppingstones. The reader doesn't give up after one stone, but keeps going, sensing a longer path ahead. This gap can occur between picture and title, or between image and text. We are primed to make connections. This is how we learn.

On one page (46) we have a paragraph about a secret mass murder; facing it we have a photo of a garage partly open with a covered object. We fill in one gap, assuming the covered object is a car. We fill in another one metaphorically by connecting the covered/masked/muted car with the words, "We are advised not to say." The cover itself becomes a shroud, representing the dead, the mass murder. On another page (36) we have a photo of a man in a wheelchair and a shadowed man, standing; on its facing page we have a musing on how we leave "echoes" everywhere. Each man is an unnoticed echo of the other. These are two examples from Teju Cole's newest book Blind Spot, where his photographs have a conversation with his writings. The tension between the words and the images is exactly what I think happens in the best artists' books.


In the foreword, Siri Hustvedt illuminates this very issue, trying to explain it to those who might want literal representations of the words in the pictures (which these pictures are not). Perhaps without realizing it, she is talking about a marvelous event that book artists understand, but is often too rare. Hustvedt writes:
Some of the mental "ties" are apparent, others are veiled or masked—there to be found if one cares to look, but if one doesn't look and doesn't read closely, if one doesn't take the time to uncover what lies in, between, and beyond the words and pictures, one will be blind to their meanings (xii).
You might notice in some book art that either the images are abstracted or the words speak abstractly. The maker is reckoning with that tension, the gap that will occur, eventually resolving it by emphasizing either the images or the words. The more specific of the two becomes the foreground, and by default, the more important. Even so, this method creates a kind of harmony: both images and words working together toward a common mood or feeling. 

Sometimes one of Cole's images appears abstract, but the subject comes into focus as you look again, read the text,  re-read the text, and look at the photograph again. What looks like lines of color is really a curtain on a track, the separation between it and the wall above. The gap between this image and the text, which contains the phrases, "Faraway wave seen from the deck of the ship" and "A presence made of absence," fills in slowly as you spend more time with the parts (71). Sometimes describing the picture out loud to yourself will provide the connection. Ask questions of what you are seeing: What is it? What is the mood? What else do you see? What is the light doing? What verbs would you use to describe its action? How do you feel about it? How does this relate to what you already know?

Teju Cole also takes the connecting process a step further, deeper, wider. Here, the photos and the texts are equals. Each can stand alone and needs no further explanation. Together, they spark and create a kind of poetry, another meaning. He asks you to step in, and sometimes he waits for the other shoe to drop, for the realization to occur, for you to see the transformation.  There is more here than what you see and what you might think. And once you read and look through the 332-page book carefully, you will understand his viewpoint, voice, and vision, what he is interested in, what he finds compelling and important and funny and heartbreaking, and how he engages with his memories and what he's read as he travels all over the world. 


---

It may be helpful to read Known and Strange Things: Essays first. Then bring your memory of the essays to Blind Spot to help sketch in the gaps. 


More about Teju Cole and his book Open City: A Novel from a previous post here.

Teju Cole website

Monday, June 19, 2017

Star 82 Review Issue 5.2 Is Now Live Online & Print

Star 82 Review, the art and literary magazine I founded and publish, now in its fifth year, has just seen the release of the eighteenth regular issue! This particular collection has moving work: we are looking to be transported to places inside and outside, both familiar and fresh, on the road and in the home as residents, tourists, and immigrants. The pages include a mini comic, "Clueless Tourists: Tokyo, Japan," by Angela Seon Young Lee, a concrete poem made from wood type and printed letterpress by giovanni singleton, and two heartfelt prose poems from Hugh Behm-Steinberg alongside many other wonderful works.

Online: http://www.star82review.com/5.2/contents.html
In Print: https://www.createspace.com/7159325
Subscriptions at nevermindtheart
And follow the news on Facebook!

Contributors
C.B. Auder
Hugh Behm-Steinberg
Krys Malcolm Belc
CL Bledsoe
Micki Blenkush
Thomas Gillaspy
F.I. Goldhaber
Jessica Goodfellow
Thomas Griffin
Jamie Haddox
Nancy Hathaway
Jenna Heller
Matthew Hittinger
Stanley Horowitz
Jacqueline Jules
Angela Seon Young Lee
Alex MacConochie
Jessica Mehta
Tracy Mishkin
Leah Oates
Sergio A. Ortiz
Grant Price
Ron Riekki
Bradley Samore
Penelope Scambly Schott
giovanni singleton
Radhika Subramaniam
Sarah Summerson
Diana Vazquez
Vivian Wagner


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Intensive Journals & Connective Threads

Every time we pick up a book to read, we inadvertently choose a path or take up a thread. We may be choosing consciously or we may not even realize what we are doing. From that one book we may be propelled to another. From Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, a quote by Anaïs Nin lead me to read the book, In Favor of the Sensitive Man, and Other Essays, in which Nin reviewed Ira Progoff's At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Creative Ability, which I am reading now. In turn, that book took me back to books by Judith Tannenbaum that I had read previously.

Nin's book review of Progoff's book was written in 1975, when it was first published. (It should be noted that she had already published half a dozen of her own journals by then.) I'm sure part of what attracted her to the book was the repetition of the process of sitting still, being quiet, taking deep breaths, and letting words, events, and images flow without judgment or editing. This is the way to get into the creative zone, familiar to many of us now. In her essays, Nin writes frequently about the extraverted world, and how this inner stillness is needed. She also seems glad that Progoff "begins by eliminating the idea of the journal as a literary achievement" (98). Right there, the focus changes from something that sounds unattainable to something part of everyday life. As we proceed through Progoff's method, "every life acquires a value, a richness." With Progoff's book we move back and forth between what we consciously remember and what appears to us in that quiet stillness. Through some of the exercises, our conscious thoughts and feelings are woven with our subconscious images and feelings.

I wondered what other of his methods had already been absorbed into psychological work, into creative society, and/or what I would recognize from my own practice. Progoff suggests reading what you wrote aloud, which is standard advice in writing classes today. In addition to the quiet and stillness, he also talks about "the well" where each of us goes to find our own meaning. Progoff expands the metaphor, adding that if we go deep enough within our own wells, we can find the underground spring that we all share. We can connect to the universal via the personal. But Progoff goes deeper than that. We can do good work in society, empathize, and understand other people better if we are connected to ourselves.

If we each have a well within us, we must dive down to see what is there. This reminded me of something I had read before, but still decades after Progoff published his methods. "Diving" as a concept first came up for me in Judith Tannenbaum's 2000 book, Disguised As A Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San QuentinSpoon Jackson, an inmate, uses it as the term for accessing something deep inside and learning. It later becomes an activity they do together. "Diving" is the title of Jackson's chapter six in the 2010 book they wrote, By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two LivesHe writes that in these two-person diving sessions, "I discovered the importance of questions" (65). Questions can direct our attention, allow us to notice without telling us what to think. Jackson was able to make personal discoveries with the help of Tannenbaum's questions. Progoff also makes very good use of questions to get us thinking for ourselves. In Disguised as a Poem, Tannenbaum uses the idea of depth for creative work this way: "in meditation I let pictures and sounds come and go, while when writing a poem I keep my gaze on them steady and words arise and I write the words down" (143). Being still and then both diving down and letting words and images bubble up from the well is alive today into creative culture; these words echo back at me as I continue to read through Progoff's book. 

As you do the exercises you may be taken to buried territory. Progoff's questions about an image or memory may stir up new emotions as you view them with today's eyes and how they connect to today's you. Some of his questions are: "What do you recall of the feelings you had about yourself at that time?" "Did you have any particular beliefs about your personal destiny, favorable or unfavorable, fortunate or unfortunate?" (95). At first, I felt impatient and a little annoyed, partly because I am resistant to other people's assignments, but after reading a while, I began embracing the methods to see what I could learn. Just being reminded of something we may have already known or thought is useful in itself.

What makes Progoff's journal method appealing for some people is that you keep separate pages for separate kinds of thoughts and approaches, but work back and forth among them. There is a system and some limitations, which can free you from certain kinds of choices. The point is not to make an artistic or literary masterpiece at the end that is separate from you, the point is integrating yourself, finding your story and discovering what is really important to you at whatever point you are in your life. He talks about finding the "connective threads." Progoff writes, "We work day by day as much as possible to keep ourselves in an ongoing relationship with whatever is taking place within ourselves" (65). It's a process, and it is fluid. We can change where we look at and how we approach what is happening in our life story every day.

At a Journal Workshop seems long, but the length is due to quite a bit of repetition. The point I think is to try to create a way to experience the Intensive Journal practice on your own. In a workshop or classroom setting, the teacher must often repeat something new several times before the students can absorb it. The repetition in the book provides that learning situation.

Nin writes about the process, "evaluation is creative, judgment is not" (103). Judgment is useful in certain situations (don't pet the alligator), but not necessary when doing exploratory creative work. Editing and judging your thoughts and feelings before you can explore them can lead to a creative block. While it is possible to read through the book and lightly do some of the exercises, I think it is ultimately more helpful and more fulfilling to dive in and engage with them. Being open to new experiences helps. So does trusting that we can spin the assignments in whatever way works for us. Even the light work I've done with the book has already sharpened my vision and changed my approach, letting me work with the raw material that is given to me as is, without judgment.




Thursday, June 8, 2017

Stories that Fly and the SF Bay Osprey Cam

As if I need one more thing to attach me to my screen, I've been watching the SF Bay Osprey cam on and off for the past few weeks. It's nice company while I am making things. A friend alerted me to this nest on the bay where eggs were going to be hatched. Although I missed the egg-to-chick transition, I've been attentively watching the chicks' growth since then. These are screenshots from the cam.



There is always much feeding.



The family scene, several hours later. Richmond is in the front. He is
a little smaller than Rosie and his chest is all white. She has a little spotted necklace.


More interesting is the daily story. There are some dedicated folks who comment in the live chat section so that when you step away from the cam you can find out what happened in the soap opera that is birds. How many fish and what kind did Richmond bring in to Rosie and the chicks, Whirley and Rivet. Are the chicks fighting? What sort of home improvements has Rosie made today? You, too, can view eating, pooping, mating, and sleeping.

Then, there is the inexplicable collecting habit of Richie. I was poised to take a picture of Richie bringing in the next fish (often a striped bass), but I caught this instead.


The chat folk were calling it "red duct tape." He has apparently brought in a variety of red objects. Eventually, Rosie sends them over the edge. Nope. Not having it.

Once, Rosie was cheeping, hungry. Richie flew in with something, I think just a portion of the tail of a fish  (the camera is infrared at sundown, so nighttime viewing is in black and white). He stood on the tail. She sidled up closer, eyeing it. "What? This is all you brought me? You certainly took quite a bit for yourself, didn't you?" He stood down. She gobbled it up. Those beaks can really tear up a fish.


Cut grass, weeds, twigs, and lichen-covered sticks are looking less like random things on the sidewalk and more like nesting material every day. I've started watching for red objects, too. They can keep the fish, though.



The birds' names reflect their location; they are on top of an abandoned whirley crane in Richmond, California, next to the SS Red Oak Victory Ship. We visited the ship, in the wind by the water, from fog to sun, wandering about for close to two hours.



You can see the edges of the nest and barely see Richmond on the rail (on the left, the dot under the camera).



The nest and ship overlook Brooks Island, acquired as a park in 1968, and reached only by special reservation. It was home for thousands of years to Ohlone Indians.


It was nice to confirm that yes, they do exist in real life. Slowing down, taking time in one place, watching for an extended period of time: these will bring in the stories like fish to the chicks, right out of the air.

The SF Bay osprey camera, run by the Golden Gate Audubon Society, is here.
The SS Red Oak Victory Ship info is here.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Piece-Quilt-Bind—Water & Power: Ripples

I've been making quilts on and off for years, more intensely in the past two. While I admire the attention to detail and the intense labor and craft and obvious love put into the making of the quilts on view in craft fairs today, my quilts are not those.

My approach to quiltmaking is probably informed by my approach to bookmaking and by my interest in and study of a variety of art forms. Some primary formal concepts are: materials and meaning; background and foreground; uses of color; and line and shape. The basic premise after formal concerns is: what do I want to say or express? Every quilt (and book) ends up being different because I am looking at it from a different angle and asking a new question each time.

I had made one quilt with old pants before (Pipeline, see this post), and I knew I wanted to make another with jeans and continue thinking about water and power. How you can only get clean water if you have some kind of power. Extending that outward to all the things we can only get and maintain if we have power.

For my recently finished quilt, Water & Power: Ripples, I wondered what can this material do that another cannot? What can I do with this material that I haven't seen before? What can I do with this material to make it look like only I could have made it? This quilt uses jeans worn by family members. I've letterpress printed on the cloth with photopolymer plates of photos I took that are water-related: watering cans, gutter drain, and amaryllis (since it takes water to grow). Jeans take quite a lot of water to make in the first place, so all the materials point toward a common theme. I made it my own by using my own photos, and by printing on the cloth myself.


After I cut up the jeans, I noticed all the variations in the cloth: the crease lines at the back of the knees, the sun faded patches, the worn areas. The process of piecing them was a soothing, mostly intuitive, experience with shape and color and texture. I was making the background, although I hadn't realized it quite yet.

When it came time to quilt it, I didn't want to just use a straight running stitch or pick stitch across, although I love the look of the plain dotted line. I thought more about the theme of water and power, I knew what I wanted to do. Sewing concentric circles echoed the action of raindrops hitting standing water. The circles emanate outward, sometimes touching and overlapping. I liked the metaphor of ripples for our actions in the world: how your one drop can affect others' lives. I chose a limited palette of thread colors: blues, black, light yellows, as if light were hitting the circles. The lines of the quilting became an important part of the content.


The backing is from a worn flannel sheet. The binding is standard commercial quilt binding. The borders are from an old tablecloth, with one additional piece of leftover black cotton from Water & Power: Pipeline, another quilt, last finished a year ago May. It measures half a twin-size comforter, and it's as heavy as a lead apron.

For this summer, I'm continuing my explorations with printing on cloth. My adjunct position in the Printmaking Program at CCA has ended after twelve years, since they hired three new tenure-track professors and told several longtime-adjuncts that because of this we were no longer needed. So, the cloth is a comfort.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Dispensing with the Short Story in Boston

On May 26, I received a text from my wanderer in Boston of just this image. No explanation.


What?? Free short stories on the corner? How was this possible? I found an article about it here. Originally developed by a start-up in France, the machines contain thousands of stories in the one-, three-, and five-minute category. Bringing the stories to the people was the idea. Currently, all the stories in Boston are translations from the French stories, but stories written originally in English will come next.

I pressed my wanderer for details, to find out the user experience. After pressing all of the buttons, it was decided that the stories, sadly, were not very interesting. The stories issue out on a long scroll like toilet paper, the five-minute stories yielding a long galley, indeed. They were genre-specific: romance and sci-fi were two of the samples. These were stories voted on by readers, so they were popular in some circles. Maybe the stories got lost in the translation. Or perhaps novelty is the point. 

While it is neat to "Put a story where the people are," with the people bringing internet access everywhere, the better thing to do would be to steer those that wish it toward e-books, library access, and quality online literary magazines. Ahem. ; )

But WriteBoston, a youth writing program, is looking into this more carefully and hoping to partner with Short Edition, the French company, and contribute stories by students. Now, that's a cool idea!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Day of Book Art Shows in San Francisco

I'm a usually "one day, one thing" sort of person, whenever possible. One hour anywhere is most often stimulating enough for me, but a friend and I wanted to catch a couple of book art exhibitions before they closed, and they weren't that far from one another. We were out all day.

First, we visited Seager Gray Gallery in Mill Valley for the Annual Art of the Book Exhibition.  Now in its the twelfth year, the show has evolved from a show of books that have sculptural and visual components to primarily sculptures and imagery that use books as their source material. I can enjoy art in most forms but was happy that there were still books to read as well.


Susan Porteous, Derivations, 2007
altered book, linen thread, wood
The caterpillar binding makes this book seem alive.


Ximena Perez Grobet, Words, 2016
This is a lively use of an accordion structure with the lines of poetry 
printed on the back in rows.
Each of the pages inside is devoted to a single letter and 
where it occurs in the Wallace Stevens poem. The poem includes
the phrases, "The reader became the book" and "The words were spoken
as if there were no book/Except that the reader leaned above the page." A wonderful
example of the connection between form and content.

Charles Hobson, The Mermaid, 2016
A story from the Salish (First Nations/Native American) people of the Pacific Northwest, imagined and realized by Hobson as a book/box with text on the mirrors and his beautiful monotypes. I've been familiar with Charles' work from the very beginning, and this one
reminds me of the impulses that he had from the start: a book as an
experience, a way to expand from something small to something grand.
This is a grand book, indeed!

Jody Alexander, Book No. 1 (from KEEP Modern Library)
Sewn together from discarded library book pages.
Always interested in tactility, Jody keeps looking for and finding
new ways of working with discarded library books (she's also a librarian).
The color and textures and composition are so nice here,
creating a joyful piece to look at and touch.

Islam Aly, Unleash, 2017
First, the angel seems trapped by the words, then moves up
the page, displacing the letters as it goes, until it has
flown up and out. 
Islam Aly is most interested in historical structures 
like the Coptic binding he has used here. It works
well to give the subject a timeless feel, connecting 
new technology (laser cutter for the images and text) 
with the old (Coptic binding).


Valérie Buess, Blue, 2012
Buess creates sculptures from paper taken from old books and rolled and attached. 
Here, she's used only blue pages. 
I couldn't resist trying to take a picture inside the larger entry hole. 
The light moves through it really nicely. 

Lisa Kokin, Not Like, 2017
Lisa miraculously moves from body of work to body of work and always dives deeply and totally commits to her process. Her work is meticulous and labor-intensive, and that intense practice shows. This piece is made with sewing and shredded money. She begins with the message and the materials, raising the question of what she wants to say with the materials and how. Together the threads and currency here form the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus (written in 1883) that is attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty. A phrase from the poem is "Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss to me." The letters start out whole and gradually fracture until the words are illegible. 

As if these weren't enough riches, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge (I'm waiting for the bill for my toll) to the Legion of Honor. First, we encountered the wonderful sculptures of Urs Fischer in the exhibition of The Public & the Private. This was one of many others. We didn't even get to the ones scattered throughout the interior of the building.


It will be on view until July 2, as will the book exhibit in the small gallery, 
Letter & Image.

Ward Schumaker, Respite (Markandaya), 2006
Acrylic and hand-cut paper collage.
The story, which seemed related to the Bhagavad-Gita,  came to Schumaker in a dream:
a little boy emerging from the mouth of a whale and talking to him.
The combination of the marks on the pages with the sharp edges of the letters 
is absolutely beautiful.

Xu Bing, Square Word Calligraphy
Here, he makes English writing look like Chinese writing.
He has always been interested in language, first making Book from the Sky, made of invented characters, which no one could read, then creating Book from the Ground: from point to point, made from symbols and icons, which anyone can read.
Really, you just have to browse his website.

Claire Van Vliet, Tumbling Blocks for Pris and Bruce
Described as a book with "two spines" that opens in a "spiral," this book I believe is made from offcuts from another of her works and appears to be a version of a one-sheet book. The elegant paper box is apparently made from two pieces of paper that hold each other in place, something not obvious from a distance. Van Vliet has been making books since 1955. 
She is a papermaker and designer of book structures as well as a MacArthur Fellow (something every book artist envies).
Amazingly, this 1996 book is still available from Abecedarian Gallery.

And if even this weren't enough, we still had Monet: The Early Years exhibition to see! (It ends May 29.) Monet's colors and skill were breathtaking in the paintings, which were primarily of snowscapes and seascapes, with some of his model-turned-wife Camille Doncieux. Not a waterlily or a haystack in sight (those are later paintings). This exhibit, which gathers paintings from a variety of museums, demonstrates how Monet worked out his process. His depictions of water and snow are exquisite. Of everything I saw that day, I was surprised at how the paintings of lapping waves and ones with multicolored whites of the snow made the biggest impression on me. I know they did, because they made me want to paint.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Creative Arts Process Cards

Having spent quite a bit of time thinking about instructions, particularly for books about bookmaking, I've been wondering how to continue that work, but in a different way. During all the time I've been teaching, the most frequent complaint is that students don't know what to do for content. This blog has partly been an exploration of that content. My daily walks always are and provide inspiration for my photographs. I wondered if there might be a way to share my practice, and the way I approach my subjects.

First, I thought maybe I'd design a print-on-demand booklet. Working with standard publishers in the standard model has gotten harder as publishers appear to take fewer risks and tighten up terms for authors. So being one's own publisher has a sense of freedom to it. But a book that listed exercises didn't seem dynamic enough to me. I wanted it to be interactive.

I found an online playing card company that is essentially print-on-demand for people who want to customize their own cards. It doesn't limit the designer to just the backs: I could print different things on different cards. I began sorting through these blog posts for activities and methods, scrolling through thousands of my daily photos for images, and was able to pair ideas and images to create a set of 52 Creative Arts Process Cards.

They are now available at nevermindtheart!



The deck includes 52 cards: Title card (1); Play cards with instructions (4); Reading card with book suggestions (1); #1 Notice cards (14); #2 Practice cards (14); #3 Realize cards (14); Exchange cards (4), all housed in an accessible clear acrylic two-piece box.


Draw three cards at random from each of the three numbered sets: Notice, Practice, and Realize, and follow the suggested process. Notice cards give you a starting point, an action to undertake in the physical world where you gather notes and sketches. The Practice cards guide you to experiment with the content you collected and are a bridge between your notes and the Realize cards, which suggest a final shape or form.



Additionally, you may opt to choose an Exchange card that gives you permission to exchange zero, one, two, or three cards or use it to decide which one of the numbered cards to exchange. Try using the deck in a class or group and see how one draw can inspire a variety of projects to emerge. The deck provides endless combinations and possibilities for work and play.

The creative process can be difficult, but sometimes the best way to access content is by focusing on just one thing at a time. The creative process is never easy, but I hope that using the Creative Arts Process Cards will ease you onto an exciting new path.



Order a set of Creative Arts Process Cards here.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Pantones, Skintones

More than I can remember, people are separating themselves into groups based on identity. It becomes both a comfort and a defense, solidifying some and alienating others. But we have so much more in common as human beings. We may have millions of channels, cable, websites to choose from, but we all share the same emotions. From the set of Pantone postcards I had, I gathered the colors resembling skin tones, wrote some haiku poems, and printed layered imagery on the cards. Rather than keep the cards separate, I wanted to bind us all together, so I chose what could be best described as a sushi mat binding: it was used for Chinese stick scrolls, and it can work as a Jacob's ladder (although that is not necessary here). It opens across the living room floor to ten feet wide. The box is wrapped in lovely gold patterned Japanese book cloth. On the backs I carved another poem in a linoleum block: one word at a time, then carved it out: a reduction print that is also an erasure of itself. Everything is temporary.

We Are All Four Inches by Six Inches is the new one-of-a-kind book in a box made from the Pantone cards. I finished it a few weeks ago. I waited to post because I scanned the individual cards, hoping to make an affordable print-on-demand edition, but was not happy with the results, so that extension of the project is now on the back burner. I've got something else coming up very soon, though. Stay tuned! I'm still here. Somewhere, anyway.














Monday, May 1, 2017

Tidying Your Mindfulness

Just before the end of the semester, a colleague of mine had her composition class read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. As an assignment, they were to tidy their room and write about it. She pointed out that most of them would be moving, so it seemed like the right moment. Even though it was a bestseller when it was published in 2015, I hadn't heard of it, so I requested it from the library and got it over the weekend.

Yes, it is the last week of the semester, so perhaps I was ready for the book or already thinking in this direction. By Monday I had taken three garbage bags to Goodwill and the used toner cartridges to Office Depot. Two boxes of books await the used bookstore. I dusted for the first time in (I'm not going to say). The book gave me a way to look at my stuff: handle each item. If it doesn't "spark joy," then as you discard it, thank it for the good times it gave you. I was surprised to find many things I didn't really need or want anymore. Thanking each gave me permission to let it go and reflect that I did like it once, it may have brought me joy once, but it is okay that it doesn't anymore. What the book really offers is connection to your life and mindfulness in your home.

Outside: a different kind of mindfulness. I had already been weeding the terrible plants that grow spiral burrs, sitting close to the ground with my bucket and tools. Sitting in one place for an hour at a time means the world comes to you, if you notice it. This past week's sitting outside in the yard gave me experiences, stories that my neighbors brought me that I can now incorporate into fictional stories of my own. I watched crows have a meeting, and tiny birds watched me. I discovered something interesting about my letter carrier. I was aware of all the different bugs and worms I don't often see. While I did not thank the weeds for these events, maybe I should.

The cleaning and weeding reminded me that I needed to make more space for the physical world. I have been tending to create computer-based projects lately, tending blogs and websites, editing digital photographs. Not nearly as much time as I used to spend handling objects. Marie Kondo, the book's author, writes that when you tidy, you find out what is important to you, and you may even discover your life's work by what you keep. The tidying helped to clear my mind. Just like the book promised. It sounds too good to be true, but I'm hopeful. We'll see what's next.



Just outside the classroom door.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2017

When April circles back again, I'm always happy to promote National Poetry Month.



On April 1 the librarians in Albany had a little box that said "free brownies with nuts," in which said box had some Brown Es and little metal nuts from the hardware store. For Poetry Month, they have an awesome display.



Known to me as "erasure text" the librarians here (and possibly the Poet Laureate of our little one-square-mile city of Albany) are calling them "blackout poems." I absolutely applaud the activity for the general public, but have a little trouble with one more black Sharpie erasure poem, which, as editor, I frequently see as submissions to Star 82 Review. If you want to go beyond the basics, you can do more interesting things with layers and create deeper meaning when you add imagery or color to an erasure poem. (Previous blog post here.)



But wait, there's more! Check out the "book spine poems." These are terrific activities to get people to engage with books, texts, poetry, writing, and creativity and to make them smile.




Poem in Your Pocket Day in the United States this year is April 27. I've been listing links to some short poems on the Star 82 Review Facebook page. Print one out and carry it around! Read to a friend! Read to someone at the bus stop / train station / grocery store! Write your own! Or, do as this neighbor did: create a PoeTree.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Introverts and Extraverts as Artists

I recently read the well-written and highly interesting biography of Hermann Rorschach called The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls. (A nice article that gives a good summary is here.) First, the book stood out because it was written as a story rather than a necklace of facts. Second, Rorschach was a painter as well as a doctor, someone who merged science and art. Third, he was an introvert, someone who enjoyed socializing and people, but needed down time, quiet time to think and recharge. 

Psychiatry and the concepts of introversion and extraversion (also written extroversion) were developing during Rorschach's time, which was also the time of Freud and Jung. In 1922, Rorschach noted that "'Again and again we run into the fact that introverts cannot understand how extraverts think and behave, and vice versa. And they don't even realize that they are dealing with a different type of person'" (154). Knowing how introverts and extraverts think and behave are important to teachers and educational institutions as well. And it should be noted that a person is rarely all one or the other, but a mix that varies proportionally, person to person. Rorschach wrote that the relationship between one's introversion and extraversion does not change, but it can shift over one's life (127).

While I wish I could blame the political climate in the U.S. for the push toward social interaction and political action, I think our society has been extraverted and outward- looking for a while. The art school where I teach used to focus on solitary work: becoming a gallery artist. Having one's work exhibited in prestigious places and around the world, not just locally, was considered the ultimate goal. The often-introverted gallery artist of yesteryear worked primarily alone, but had to socialize as part of the business: schmooze at gallery openings and interact with the public. This model has its own drawbacks (the hustle, for example) but it can be acceptable to introverts, as it balances inward facing and outward facing work. (Of course, there are extraverted gallery artists as well.)

While the ideal of "gallery artist" still seems to be true in art school today, there is an added component; collaboration, installation, and community outreach are even more highly valued. This totally outward facing art may also be part of the "deskilling" that I've mentioned before in this post: artists as facilitators or curators rather than as highly skilled makers. With the emphasis placed on outreach, those who are extraverts have the advantage. Social practice is valuable, but it cannot be the only goal for everyone. If the only value is placed on collaboration and partnering with other institutions (such as grade schools, adult care facilities, mental health organizations, etc.) then the introvert is left alone on the island of his/her/their own making. And there I stress not just the word "alone" but also "making."

Extraverts thrive on being with people and continued stimulation out in the world; it is how they work best and are happiest. Introverts like social interaction on a more limited scale and thrive on quiet alone time. It isn't just a matter of preference; they need more thinking time to recharge and survive. Making art for an introvert happens in this solitary time. It is much more difficult for an introvert to make things in a group situation. Collaborating in real time can be anxiety producing. The introverted artist can make change in his/her/their own way (see this post). For an art institution to push community based art does not acknowledge different ways of working, which is something absolutely fundamental to teaching. You must meet students where they are and guide them toward becoming a better them, not a better extension of an institution. This means acknowledging that all artists are different and can have an impact in their own ways.

In her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain shows just when extraverts became the ideal in the U.S.. After the 1920s and the rise of Dale Carnegie, self-help books began focussing on qualities that were quite different from previous aspirations. Instead of qualities that you had real control over, that were primarily moral issues, advertising emphasized how you would be more popular, more attractive, have more friends if you used, say, a particular kind of soap. A study by cultural historian Warren Susman found that words such as: duty, work, honor, manners, and integrity came up more frequently prior to 1920 and these words came up after: magnetic, fascinating, attractive, forceful, energetic (23). Action was traded for surface  treatments. Self-improvement turned from working on inner qualities to perfecting outer ones. Susman noted we had shifted our attention from the "culture of character" to  the "culture of personality."

So, while there has been a trend for a hundred years towards pushing people to be extraverts, it seems strange to do so in an art school. When the focus is outward toward the public, and by stressing community projects and collaboration, private art school will actually be pushing the introverted artists aside, ignoring them. It is possible that art education may still remain alive in public institutions, where funding comes from multiple sources and enrollment remains possible due to the lower costs to students (at least currently). But with deskilling and community practice more and more the norm, the introverted artist may end up feeling anxious and alone. In her book, Cain includes a quote from Anaïs Nin (264) from In Favor of the Sensitive Man, and Other Essays (1976): "Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again."




Lost: Center. 
Reward.