Category Archives: Culture

Turn up your speakers!


There has never been and may never be anyone quite like Freddie Mercury:

But Miss Piggy comes close!

This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is Q. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.

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A Crazy Wednesday Idea


Stephen MacInnes, at Painter’s Progress, has been doing weekly experiments involving art.  One of his experiments involved drawing the word “DRAW”, and then leaving it in an encyclopedia or dictionary.  I liked this idea and thought that I would play along. You can read Stephen’s minimalist directions here, and you will find links to other artists who have done this in the comments.

I have no formal art training but I’ve always been interested in art.  However, I’ve always felt that I couldn’t draw, that I had no talent to be nurtured in this area.  But, as I’ve taken up photography recently, I’ve learned to have more confidence in my creative abilities and perspectives.  Maybe I could draw, I thought.  So, once I found some paper and pencils, and a chunk of time, I thought I’d give it a try.

As I doodled on paper, trying to figure out how I wanted to draw “DRAW”, I could hear my sixth-grade art teacher telling me that I wasn’t a very good artist.   I remember as if it were yesterday, though nearly 40 years ago, having an assignment where we were suppose to “draw” what we heard while she played a piece of music.   Having already had my confidence shattered — and not really having a clue how to interpret a piece of music into a mood, much less an image — I drew what I felt that I could depict reasonably:  a sun setting over an ocean.  Her comment was succinct:  “A sunset?  That’s something pretty, but you were suppose to draw a storm.”   Why didn’t she just tell us that?

I vaguely recall another art assignment, perhaps with another teacher, that required us to draw a word, making it look like what the word represented while still being abstract.  I failed at that too.   I had been assigned the word “SAIL” and not knowing much about sailing, I drew anchors and, since this was the 70’s, I drew several Jonathan Livingston Seagulls.  Neither of these things, my teacher, informed me, had to do with SAIL.  Anchors were for the harbors, as were the birds.   And that pretty much made up my formal art training.  With that type of experience, why would I try?

I had to laugh, though, as I thought of these two art assignments from my childhood.  I could write extensively about how wrong these were, but I think that anyone who has ever had any exposure to any sort of education can see that point.  While I might have been convinced that I had no artistic talent, inept teachers never stopped me from enjoying art museums and galleries around the world.  I was determined, with this experiment, that I was going to get beyond the negative “you can’t draw” barrage of memories.

Perhaps because I wanted to do this “right”, I spent a lot of time on this, redoing it three times.  The first was easy to crumble into a ball of paper, but I realized my mistake and started again with a fresh piece of velum.  I completed the second one, but once done, I thought of ways that I could have done it better.  I simply put too much into the finished work and thought that the end result was rather cluttered, a little sloppy, and a bit pretentious in trying to drive home a “meaning”.   The third piece may still be a bit cluttered, but I feel that it is more subtle and yet still accomplish all that  I intended:  1) include the word, 2) include some sort of word play, 3) give homage to artists and the art world, 4) imply that all of us are part of that world, whether we are artists or not.

The design of the word “DRAW” was definitely influenced by some of the graffiti that I have photographed recently.  I wanted to make it look like the word was being drawn off the edge of the paper, so I slanted the “A” and “W”.  The dyslexic D was both a design consideration as well as to help underscore that “art” doesn’t have to be perfect.  Some of us get things backwards at times.

In thinking about how one “tags” graffiti,  I thought of incorporating names of artists, but I decided that there were too many to include to have different signatures or fonts.  So, I decided to write all names (mostly surnames, except where the first name needed to be included for clarity) in lower case.  In my first draft, I intentionally rotated the paper every time that I wrote another name so that the placement would be random.   As I started writing names, I looked through a book I have 501 Great Artists to help jog my memory.  I turned through many pages before I came upon the name of a woman.  Without much thought, I picked up a different color of pencil to write the female names. As I looked through the book, I decided that I would not use the name of any artist with whom I was not familiar.  But, I realized that I was mostly familiar with the men, so I included all of the women after reading their brief bios in the book.   Only 10% of the 501 artists in this book were women, with most of them predominantly being 20th/21st century artists. Because I wanted to include some photographers and a few other women artists whose work I know, I added a few that were not in this book.

Originally the artists’ names were in silver  (men) and gold (women), but I didn’t like the way that the colors looked on the paper.  They were hard to distinguish, difficult to read.   So, in my third iteration, I decided to go with the traditional blue for males, pink for females.  In retrospect, I wish I had broken with convention and used blue for females, pink for males.  But, the point was to make a visible difference and I think that this accomplishes that.  Since many of the women were associated with better known male artists, I decided in my third version to place the male names, slightly smaller, next to the women artists that they worked with or shared influence and inspiration.  (The influence, it seems was mutual, and not necessarily the better known artist mentoring or influencing the lesser known one.) Although these relationships were apparent when I added the women’s names, as I added the rest of the male artists, I used up most of the white space and the relationships are lost to the larger design.

For my word play, I played with the exhortation to DRAW SOME THING and a made up word combo of DRAW + AWESOME — “DRAWSOME”.   You can see this on each of the letters of DRAW.

Lastly, to emphasize that art is for all of us, I placed the following words prominently along the perimeter of the piece:  EVERYONE, US, YOU, ME, HIM, HER.  Although you can’t tell in the scan, EVERYONE and US are in a flourescent orange, the other words in a deep brown that contrasts well with the blues and pinks of the artists’ names.

I’ll make a trip to the library in the next few days.   I don’t think that many people use general  encyclopedias these days, so I am going to look for a work on artists to slip this in between pages.  Maybe it will even be a copy of 501 Great Artists.  I see from looking through the comments on Stephen’s blog, that Zorgor did exactly this, finding an art encyclopedia for his DRAW work.  Zorgor, I’ll be going to a different branch than you, but if the same person finds both of them, they may think that something radical is happening to our library system!

I hope that someone finds this and it makes them think.  I hope, too, that it makes them smile!  Here is a not so clear scanned image of my “DRAW” piece, which I have titled:  Drawsome:  62 women artists and some guys.

Drawsome: 62 women artists and some guys

Thanks, Stephen for this idea. I had so much fun doing this!

Its got a good beat & you can dance to it


Scene: Dick Clark, any day, the mid-60’s through the mid-70’s. You could have found me watching American Bandstand. I would sit in front of the TV, watching teens dance, observing their actions, studying their clothes, listening to the music, hoping to imbibe whatever it was that made one “cool”, something so unobtainable to me that I didn’t even know how to describe it. I suppose it is still that way: like jazz or pornography, you know it when you see it. But I can’t define it.

Rate-a-record was my favorite part of Bandstand. Two selected kids would listen to a record and then rate it. It was the part I was afraid to leave the room during commercial for fear that I would not return in time.

“Its got a good beat and you can dance to it”.

Yet, Rate-A-Record always disappointed on some level because I did not understand the opinions. In seeking “coolness”, I wanted to have the clues so that I too could rate records and know whether they were good or not, if they were worthy of some unknown-to-me, yet still subscribed to, teenage rating system. “It has a beat….”

I never learned to dance.

Sometimes, I think I feel the same way about performances that I attend. Last night, husband and I went to a chamber music concert. T knows far more about music than I would ever care to know. Yet, I enjoy going to hear music performed. After the first piece, he asked me whether I liked it. He went on to comment about how unusual a portion of the piece was for that type of music — let’s just say it was an adagio, or something like that, because it would have made as much sense if he used the word fettucini. My response could only be some equivalent of “It had a beat and …” I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders.

At intermission, we stopped to talk to a professor I have known since I was 19. Frequently, we see him at this particular concert series, and we often exchange stories of what musical or theatrical events we have seen recently. Since this was the first concert of the season, it was the first time we had seen Bill since we went to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances in NYC last summer. “What did you think about the plays?” he asked. “I loved them” was my husband’s exuberant reply. But he quickly followed up with this: “But what do I know? I’m not a critic.”

In many ways, his response was much like mine was to him earlier regarding the violinist. But, whereas I simply said that I couldn’t discuss the music using his critical tools, it seemed to me, in retrospect, that he may have been apologizing for not having the equivalent theatrical and literary tools with which to assess. I could be wrong — we did not discuss it afterwards — but today I’m thinking about how often, as an audience member, it is easy to fall into a trap where we either only give the unsupported “I liked it” or we don’t comment at all because our experience seems less meaningful than that of a “real” critic.

How do you rate something if not on some internal continuum ranging from “Hate it” to “Love it”? I’m not talking about critical analysis but rather viewer — or listener — analysis. How do you talk about books, or theatre, or music, or art if it isn’t on how you respond to it?

I had intended to write about the plays I saw in New York last summer, but each time that I began to write, I felt that I couldn’t describe the experience in appropriate terms. I think what was stopping me was that I felt that I needed to do a critique of the performances. And I lacked the vocabulary and the expertise to do that. Besides, of the seven plays I saw, only two of them were not in their closing weeks. What was the point? It wasn’t as if I would be recommending these to someone who might choose to attend.

But maybe the point should be something else. It isn’t like the critics always review things in ways that are meaningful to me as an audience participant. Before we went to the RSC plays, we read several of the reviews. One that stands out was that King Lear was described as being a pretty good Lear for someone who hadn’t seen it before. What does that mean? Would I expect something different if I had seen Lear three or four times? Lear was the one play in the series I didn’t see. I knew when he returned from the theatre, because we had joked about the review, T would say that it was pretty good…for a beginner. The reality was that he still didn’t know what that reviewer had meant, but he did enjoy the performance. Likewise, I enjoyed the four RSC plays that I saw (Romeo & Juliet, As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Ceasar), and although I can tell you which was my least favorite was Julius Ceasar and that Romeo was my favorite — even though as a play I like As You Like It better — I don’t know that I can tell you why in any sort of way that isn’t outside of my experience. Maybe I can tell you something more that “Its got a good beat…” but, like any theatrical performance, it would be up to each person who sees it to know whether she can dance to it.

Engaging Conversation


On a whim, while traveling a few weeks ago, I forwarded to my husband a notice about a public conversation at Goose the Market, one of our favorite speciality grocers in Indianapolis. I was in a hurry and didn’t look closely at the details of the event or even when it was. It was one of those moments where I thought that if I didn’t respond then, I wouldn’t get back to it while tickets were still available, so I told T to “buy them if you think it will be interesting”. I should be more cautious about those spur of the moment decisions, especially when it involves not consulting a calendar. (There is a story about a opera and a graduation conflict that I’ll keep for another time. Anyone want to buy tickets to The Ring cycle?) In this case, however, there were no conflicts and I’m glad that it worked out because it was a fun and engaging evening.

“Chew on This: Moonshine and Morality” was sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council. A group of 12 gathered at Goose, to chat about the issues presented in Ken Burns’ recent series “Prohibition“. There were similar groups that met at several other venues around the city.

What a great idea! One of the things that I liked the best about this is that it was a random group of people. Other than my spouse, I didn’t know anybody. We discussed Prohibition — the rise of the movement, the failure of the law, and the repeal of the amendment — and what government restrictions on individual freedoms mean when there are differing views of “morality”. Mostly we talked about this in terms of illegal drugs, underage drinking laws, smoking and prostitution. But we touched on other issues too: Who gets to decide on liberties? Can some liberties be restricted? Where does the ‘slippery slope’ begin? What happens when groups don’t compromise and discuss? This last issue, and a wider discussion on single issue politics, as suggested by Burns’ film would be an interesting topic to focus on in a similar venue — and something that could be talked about for a long time.

I liked this format and would certainly consider participating in another “Chew on This” chat in the future. It’s what diverse communities should do frequently: hold civilized discourse on issues.

Once the government begins forbidding things, then someone will come along and say, “I got it. Step around the corner” from Prohibition, a film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick

>Local, Organic, Food (Part 1)


>I don’t know about you, but I’m still digesting a hearty, caloric, too-high carbohydrated, Thanksgiving meal. So one would think it would be unlikely that I would again be writing about food today. But, here I am, posting about food again, even though I’m not too interested in eating much of anything now.

Late in the summer, we received word about a benefit dinner, sponsored by Slow Food Indy, for local chefs who were planning on attending the biennial Terre Madre conference in Italy. We attending two of these dinners, one at a one of our favorite restaurants (R Bistro locally owned, local foods, great chef) and one at a farm in a nearby community where dinner was served in the barn. At both of these events we were treated to wonderful, locally grown, in season food.

I think that one would have to have been living (or eating) under a rock if one were either a foodie, or environmentally oriented, not to at least have an inkling of an idea about the local foods movement. But, as a consumer, one is bombarded by terms like organic, local, natural when at the grocery store and sorting out the marketing bandwagon hype from the local movement can be slightly daunting.

I don’t think that I had really taken any time to educate myself about why locally grown is a good thing until this summer. I’m not an expert, by any means, but I have learned much in the last few months. For the last several spring/summer seasons, we’ve frequented the local farmers’ markets. There is now one within walking distance from me, although I usually buy at a larger one that is in the same area as other places I go while making the rounds for my usual Saturday morning tasks. This year, there is a Winter market that I’ll try, and there is small market stand that sells local produce in season that will be open this winter. There isn’t much local produce one can buy in the winter months in the Midwest, but I want to see this place survive — and Florida oranges are Florida oranges whether I buy them here or at the big-chain market — so I’ll continue to go there.

On top of the pile of books I’ve started and have been meaning to complete are Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

But, the event that I’m looking forward to most immediately, is a lecture next week by Alice Waters, chef at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, local-food, slow food guru, and originator of the Edible Schoolyard project. Waters is speaking at the Indianapolis Musuem of Art. The IMA’s blog has posted a portion of an interview with Waters (here). I particularly liked what she had to say about working with artists:

The reason I’m interested in working with artists is to take food out of that ‘foody’ place and put it into the beauty of culture. Food is a universal language.

I’ll be posting about the lecture soon.

>Olympic Ceremony in Real Time


>Go to www.cyclingfans.com and scroll down for the second link to NRK. I think this is in Danish. My info on the language may be wrong, but it doesn’t matter because I can’t understand it. However, there are some things that are universal: “anti-doping”, “conflict Dafur”, “basketball”, “dream team”.

More importantly universal: the smiles on the faces of the atheletes. Very cool!

Why is there someone from the UAE in the parade speaking on his cell phone? (He smiled too when he realized he was on camera!)

>live blogging Obama


>Obama isn’t on stage yet. Thousands of people standing in Indianapolis in American Legion Mall — IN THE RAIN. And Stevie Wonder is singing !!!!!

AWESOME!!!!!!!!!

Updated: I can’t say I saw Senator Obama, but I could hear him! Local news stations are estimated that there were 21,000 people in the Mall, a park in downtown Indianapolis about 2 blocks long (1/4 mile long) & 1 block wide.



I think this little guy had one of the best seats in the house.

Well worth standing for 2 hours & walking 1.35 miles in queue to get into the park area about 500 feet from our car! Everybody in Indiana & North Carolina: GO VOTE TOMORROW.

>Fireworks


>Indianapolis boasts of the largest Children’s Museum in the world. While this is true, I find no value in its size; I dislike self-reported claims of being the biggest, tallest, largest anything, because these terms have nothing to do with quality. But, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a worthwhile place, with great quality learning experiences for kids and their adult guides. It is a fantastic environment for children, one that presents learning experiences in a fun way.

Several years ago, when my son was in grade school, we went to an exhibit of Alexander Calder works at the Children’s Museum. I loved this idea of bringing art to a place dedicated to children. Not only did Calder’s whimsical works seem at home in the exhibit space, but the way in which the artist’s work was presented — on the level of a child and in a hands-on way — was outstanding. The words “Hands-on” and “art” used together may frighten a curator with visions of chocolate and peanut-butter hand prints leaving greasy marks on once priceless, now ruined canvas. But hands-on for this exhibit meant activities like jumping under a mobile to generate air currents to set the sculpture in motion, or being given the materials to make one’s own mobile inspired by Calder’s work. Over the years other exhibits dealing with art have been at the museum. A few years ago, for example, there was an exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings and his Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. Incorporating child’s play with art is something that isn’t done often enough.

Then, last year, the museum did something else: the installation of a 43-foot glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly in the main staircase of the museum. The sculpture, Fireworks of Glass is playful. It is composed of thousands of pieces of primary-colored glass curlicues. It sits upon a glass ceiling.

I visited the museum recently and saw Fireworks of Glass for the first time. This was not the first Chihuly exhibit I had seen; in fact, I’ve seen several previously. While his glass chandeliers that I have seen (like this one at the V&A in London) are composed of translucent glass that catch the light, the sculpture at the Childrens’ Museum is made up of opaque pieces of glass. The pieces of glass seem to swirl around the main column, as if caught in a vortex by tornadic winds. The tower is capped by a starburst. Looking at it from either the top or bottom floors of the museum, it does resemble a fireworks explosion, suspending in air, just before the burning embers tumble towards the ground and disappear as they cool. The tower is in the middle of an enormous staircase — a ramp system actually — that takes the visitor to each of the 5 floors of the museum. The piece seems to fit so perfectly in the space, you would think that the ramp was designed around the sculpture. Despite all of the times that I have been to the Children’s Museum over the years, I cannot tell you anything about the central staircase before the glass tower was added. The sculpture not only fills the space, but it defines it as well.

Visitors to the museum can sit under the sculpture, on the basement floor, and look upwards through the glass ceiling to the sculpture. The museum is currently featuring a short movie about the artist and there are hands-on exhibits for children to learn about the art of glassmaking. Very cool. There is even a rotating bench that you can sit upon, reclining slightly, to look up through the ceiling at the sculpture and the lights sparkling off of it. When I was last at the museum, I was there for a benefit. Dressed in formal wear, I couldn’t bring myself to recline on the bench and look up at the tower. Nor did I see anyone else doing that. An evening dress and heels are not exactly conducive to rotating reclining benches. Plus, I wasn’t certain that I would have been able to return to a vertical position after sitting on that bench — at least not in any sort of graceful manner.

Later I realized how sad this was that we didn’t say ‘screw decorum’, sit upon the bench and gaze up in child-like wonder. After all, isn’t art suppose to spur you to think and to feel? Ah, apparently only if you let it take its full effect.

>More on Thomas Paine – Paine and Religion


>No wonder Thomas Paine was controversial. And ignored by those who blindly believe that all of our “founding fathers” were supportive of a “Christian” nation.

From Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man

Throughout this work, various and numerous as the subjects are, which I have taken up and investigated, there is only a single paragraph upon religion, viz. “that every religion is good that teaches man to be good”

I have carefully avoided to enlarge upon the subject, because I am inclined to believe, that what is called the present ministry, wish to see contentions about religion kept up, to prevent the nation turning its attention to subjects of government. It is, as if they were to say, “Look that way, or any way, but this.”

But as religion is very improperly made a political machine, and the reality of it is thereby destroyed, I will conclude this work with stating in what light religion appears to me.

If we suppose a large family of children, who, on any particular day, or particular circumstance, made it a custom to present to their parents some token of their affection and gratitude, each of them would make a different offering, and most probably in a different manner. Some would pay their congratulations in themes of verse and prose, by some little devises, as their genius dedicated, or according to what they thought would please; and, perhaps, the least of all, not able to do any of those things, would ramble into the garden, or the field, and gather what it thought the prettiest flower it could find, though, perhaps, it might be but a simple weed. The parent would be more gratified by such a variety, than if the whole of them had acted on a concerted plan, and each had made exactly the same offering. This would have the cold appearance of contrivance, or the harsh one of control. But of all unwelcome things, nothing could more afflict the parent than to know, that the whole of them had afterwards gotten together by the ears, boys and girls, fighting, scratching, reviling, and abusing each other about which was the best or the worst present.

Why may we not suppose, that the great Father of all is pleased with a variety of devotion; and that the greatest offence we can act, is that by which we seek to torment and render each other miserable? For my own part, I am fully satisfied that what I am now doing, with an endeavor to conciliate mankind, to render their condition happy, to unite nations that have hitherto been enemies, and to extirpate the horrid practice of war, and break the chains of slavery and oppression is acceptable in his sight, and being the best service I can perform, I act it chearfully.

I do not believe that any two men, on what are called doctrinal points, think alike who think at all. It is only those who have not thought that appear to agree.

(Common Sense and Other Writings, p250-251)

Paine lays out a more elaborate argument against organized religion, specifically Christianity, and supportive of Deism, in The Age of Reason. I don’t agree with many of his arguments in The Age of Reason, but as an indictment of some organized religious institutions, I think this is on target. In some ways, it seems that Paine was doing 200+ yrs ago, what some vocal atheists are doing today (Dawkins, etc.). That is, attacking the organization as if it were the same as the faith. That said, he has a point about the bickering, the belief in the superiority of one faith over another, and the unwanted and ill-advised mixture of politics and organized religion. It’s as true today as it was when Paine wrote.

>Election Day Reading


>I sat down this evening to read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, but instead, read Paine’s Rights of Man (1791, 92).

Paine’s arguments for the right to choose one’s government, 215 years later, seem self-evident, so obvious as to make one wonder how society did not universally accept the natural rights of man. Yet, it wasn’t universally accepted in Paine’s time. The purpose of Paine’s work was a defense of the necessity of the French Revolution as an assertion of those natural rights. In his work he called for the establishment of a British constitution, an act that lead to his being tried, in absentia, for treason.

From Paine’s Rights of Man:

When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.

We have not to review the governments which arise out of society, in contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest.

It has been thought a considerable advance towards establishing the principles of Freedom to say that Government is a compact between those who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because it is putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist no governors to form such a compact with.

The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.

The news tonight claimed an ‘surprise upset’ and a ‘landslide’ in local election. I didn’t vote for the victor, and I don’t understand his campaign which was more ‘against’ a specific situation than ‘for’ anything. But, how I feel is irrelevant now that the election is over.

I arrived at my precinct polling place 50 minutes before the polls closed. The electronic voting machine indicated that I was the 288th voter today. I don’t know how many people are in my precinct, but I suspect it is far more than 288. Aren’t those who abdicate their right by not voting allowing themselves to be ‘knaves and fools’? Aren’t they truly the fools, rather than those only thought to be by those who usurp power? By putting your trust in the voting process, you are part of the process of constituting a government, a process that people were willing to die for, a right that people elsewhere are denied.