Join a collective!

Because work, school and life aren’t busy enough, as evident by a complete lack of activity on your blog, you should join a collective. No seriously, trust me – I joined one and it has been great!

Continental Shelf is a writers’ collective formed by some feisty University of Victoria undergraduate writing students.  Why that name? Because we’re on the edge; the edge of our writing careers, the edge of academia, the edge of western Canada, and also because of books!

Last night at Solstice Cafe, Continental Shelf orchestrated its first public event, and it was a fabulous time.

Sean Michaels from Said The Gramophone read two excerpts from his debut novel Us Conductors. Jo, from the collective, led a fantastic interview, touching on what drives one to write and the phase shift form writer to novelist. Munro’s was there selling copies of the beautiful book, and Sean got busy writing inscriptions. Lastly theremin art-pop band Cleopatra & the Nile finished off the night with a performance encompassing a backdrop of black and white films, projected off a reel, while the duo channelled haunting theremin and synth sounds.

Also don’t be fooled by Solstice Cafe’s website – they’re licensed for more than just beer!

For me the highlight of the night, other than camaraderie of course, was Sean’s commentary, and yes I’m paraphrasing, on the cacophony of thematic interrelationships that drove the creation of Us Conductors. For me it was a glimpse into the magic actions, and interactions, that engenders something greater than the whole, pulsing electricity, that overcomes the many barriers and ultimately creates art.


TO-FU’s 29 Ways to Stay Creative

Despite this stylish illustrated video being online for about 8 months, being fantastic, and already earning a lot of praise from like minded people I had not seen it before.

I’m pleased to report that I already do most of these things. Even so, I shall be more diligent about ensuring I practice them and cross them off my list. The following three from the list of 29 are definitely the outliers in terms of my lack of adoption.

7 – Sing in the shower

I’m pretty noisy in the shower… it may be possible to classify it as some sort of gregorian chant but that might be pushing the boundaries a little… I must do better.

21 – Break the rules

I tend to be a rule follower most of the time. However I did do that video mashup of Sabrina and Lord of the Rings… maybe that counts?

23 – Read a Page of the Dictionary

This is an excellent idea. I’m going to read one page of the dictionary every night before bed.

Are you doing any of these things? Any ones you are not currently doing that you are brave enough to try?

This is a fantastic video, thank you TO-FU.

Quotes and Truisms

So I have to concede Art 150 one thing…  It does expose the students to a wide array of artists and artist’s practices.

For instance I didn’t know anything about Jenny Holzer and her work with truisms when I offered up the creative challenge of create a quote.  And the two things are clearly similar… so here’s another one:

“People in places of power are commonly contemptuous.”

I have been remiss with my proposed schedule here at I was desperately trying to meet my own grade expectations with ART 150, which in hindsight may have been a futile endeavour – Alas! The good news is that the last assignment is due December 1st, so I’ll be able to get back into my regular cadence soon.

A Tribe Called Red

If your into the Canadian underground electronic scene then this is probably old news for you… but I hadn’t seen it before we were shown it in Visual Arts 150 last Tuesday… and I found it extremely interesting…

Here’s the best write up I could find on A Tribe Called Red:

A Tribe Called Red are a collective of 3 Native American DJ’s who are remixing tribal sounds and re-apporpriating western imagery of their people… In one way it’s very cool to see creative fusion like this, in another way I’m sure members of their culture, Elders in particular might not be happy about it… the term that might come up is sacrilegious… In addition I can’t help but feel concern about retransmitting imagery full of bigotry… like the uncomfortable feeling you get with Mickey Rooney’s part in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Alas the world of art has always been strewn with politics, power struggles, and angry stakeholders. Despite the fireworks of thoughts regarding what it all means, I have to say, I like it. It has a hypnotic beat, and the mashup is satisfyingly solid.

If you like it too check out their Facebook page and their Soundcloud page.

How Does Visual Art Work?

Sorry for the silence last week, I was trying madly to increase my mastery of the material in Visual Arts 150: Contemporary Practice: Theory & Criticism so that I wouldn’t suffer another B on the second assignment. Hopefully the effort will pay off!

A guest at dinner Saturday night had a skeptical view of Art works’ narrative power… I wasn’t quite prepared to get into it at the time, however I do feel like it is a superb monologue topic to explore here on

If a picture says a thousand words, how many words does a painting say? Well, as in most things, the correct answer is it depends! What does it depend on? As usual, a number of factors… Here’s my thinking on the high order bits concerning both visual art’s narrative power and how it works.

Visual primitivity 

If the point you are trying to make is of a narrative nature why create a painting rather than write an essay or manifesto? I believe there are two related and important reasons. Visual signals are more primitive, more base, than language signals. We could (generally true for individuals as well as our species) see before we had language to speak. Language has evolved to help us describe the things we see, either in our minds eye or our actual eyes. Yet despite the great redundancy embedded in our languages there is an inevitable loss of fidelity. The words you use to represent something are never precisely it, sometimes they mean more than what you intend, sometimes they mean less. The Platonic ideal is never quite achieved. In addition to the loss of fidelity, the use of language insulates the reader, listener, thinker, from the subject matter… grammar, syntax, definition, connotation all insulate receivers of the message from the fundamental subject matter. Loss of fidelity combined with insulation via language mechanics creates a barrier to impact… it protects the receiver of the message from a base response, a protection that visual art can strip away.

Viewer engagement

Humans have a natural tendency to try and explain or understand things… understanding things to a certain degree must have had a survival benefit. Even when confronted with a red square many gallery goers will still attempt to find meaning in it, which may indeed be a futile endeavour. There are many ways that both the context of a work, and the presentation methods within the work can deliver meaning to a viewer. The viewer’s tendency to want to understand things, the visual primitivity characteristic of a piece of visual art, and the viewer’s non-language based super-concious conspire to create meaning in the beholders mind. Jung would have described this as symbolism, some of these symbols are intentional, some are unintentional, some are on the surface and some, perhaps, are buried too deep for the conscious mind to retrieve. This interaction, viewer engagement, can be near mystical in nature, for without practice, discipline and study much of it happens off the stage of consciousness… but it does happen and it has the potential to bring with it much good from the murky depths of the mind.

The representation to nonrepresentational continuum

Some works of art are purely formal… that is “Red Square Study 2403356 (1933)” could just be about a red square… this is the far extreme of the nonrepresentational on our continuum. It represents nothing other than what it depicts, and that which is depicted is literally what it is, in this case we are presuming a red square. The opposite side of our spectrum is a painting that is so representational it almost looks like a photograph. No expression of the artist is discernible except for the subject matter choices, lighting and other nearly photographic presentational factors… somewhere in the middle, perhaps closer to the non-representational extreme, are abstract works with an incomplete narrative meaning… the same red square named, “Two Couples, Four Sides (1969)” has a very different implied meaning… which touches on context, which also has an influence on how a viewer receives and interprets a piece of visual art.

Transparency of a work, hand of the artist

The majority of works, regardless of where it lies on the representation nonrepresentational continuum, have some element that can be ascribed to the artist’s “hand”. Even in a photograph, elements such as what the artist has chosen to depict, the lighting, the focus, the focal point, that which is in the centre of the frame, can all be attributed in part to the artists hand. In painting add to this list the types of brush strokes, the realism, what has been distorted, how the scene has been abstracted, chosen symbols and many other elements. The degree to which a piece of visual art is opaque (opposite to transparent) is the degree to which the artists intent can be read from the completed work. How the red square is painted may have some influence on how we interpret the work in connection with the title and other pieces of its context. If it is a complete formalist work, Square Study 42, than we may not prescribe any mean to elements we can ascribe to the artists hand.

The way visual art works on an audience is complex, however the primitivity of the visual signal allows a viewer to engage with it on a level which is different, more base, than how they interact with the written, spoken or thought word. Though not all works carry a narrative or meaning they certainly have the power to, even many of those far along the continuum towards the nonrepresentational.

Artist I Admire: Bill Cunningham

Okay, so I realize this confirms that I have been living under a rock. Also I realize the fact that I don’t have cable or satellite television is no excuse, as Bill Cunningham is a newspaper man, but alas I must admit I’d never heard of him until I saw Bill Cunningham: New York (great film!) on iTunes the other night.

Here is the trailer:

As discerned from the film here’s what makes Bill so admirable, in no particular order:

  1. He wouldn’t even consider himself an “artist”
  2. He is abashedly eccentric
  3. He is completely devoted to his craft
  4. He isn’t in it for the money, in fact he turns it down as he feels it would cost him his freedom
  5. He has been practicing his craft for years
  6. His photos are beautiful (IMO)
  7. He is using old school technology
  8. His attention to detail, ownership and passion of the whole process from the subject material to the photographs to the the page layouts is inspiring

Lastly what makes him truly admirable is that he’s a poet and philosopher on many levels, fashion, politics, photography, culture; He had a great quote in the movie “It is as true today as it has ever been; He who seeks beauty will find it”.

What is art?

Given the trajectory of this blog, I knew that I was going to have to tackle this philosophical question sometime soon. Interestingly the question also played a starring role in the first two weeks of Visual Arts 150: Contemporary Practice: Theory & Criticism… what I’ve learned from class is that there is no shared answer, only many individual answers, so here’s mine.

In order for something to be art it must:

Be a product of a creative process. This is a subjective principle, and it also introduces a duality, a single object may or may not be considered art depending on the process by which it was made. Additionally a creative process is a many varied thing, some are long, some are short, but they all at some point envelop an idea in the broadest sense of the word (not necessarily a big idea).

Be evocative… maybe it makes you wonder what it is, maybe it makes you contemplate the universe, maybe it makes you uncomfortable, happy or sad, maybe it reminds you of summers past, but it must be able to stir something inside an audience even if it is only simple ambivalence. This is also a subjective principle, what is or isn’t evocative in this broad sense is debatable, and personal.

Have a self-aware audience. If the product was to be viewed, tasted, heard, experienced, the audience must be aware that it is participating in this dynamic. A theatre production that is snuck into everyday life is no longer art, because although lines are scripted and the story is plotted, the audience is unaware that this isn’t just people interacting through the course of daily life.

Be man made. By this I mean not nature, not happenstance, I don’t want to use the word intentional because some artists claim not to know where a piece is going… they just do… Although nature is beautiful, and we can stumble upon beautiful serendipitous moments throughout life, they are not art.