April 5: Handmade, Homemade, Selfmade, Craft?

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Welcome to my last entry for my Canadian art class!  It’s been a good run.  I hope this journal has helped me to be more interpretive with art and art forms.  I think it has been very useful for my reflections, so hopefully that is a good sign of my abilities to work with art in a productive manner.  In our last class, we tackled the homemade and handmade.  These works are used with methods such as sewing, spinning, knitting or cross stitching.  Typically, these activities are seen as women’s work or handicrafts from long ago.  I must say, I could hardly see my friends and I sitting around knitting or embroidering for an evening.  We’d much rather be out dancing, bowling, playing pool or at the very least, sitting at home and playing cards.  I don’t even know if any of us know how to knit.  I know it’s something I am always meaning to learn, yet never seem to have the time to actually try.  The reintroduction of craft into the fine art world is something that I think is wonderful.  Creating work with string and thread must take just as long as it does to sculpt or carve or paint something.  I also think it has opened up many avenues for reinterpretation of what art truly is.

Sewing and knitting and cloth seem so much more tactile to me, almost more friendly and inviting than a painting.  Concepts like knitting or embroidery are things everyone understands, even if it is just from some old cushions in your grandmother’s living room.  I think that often, embroidery and other things such as this can be more fun and playful than paintings, yet they can also be extremely beautiful, and really quite exquisite pieces.  To imagine that some people do not consider it art is ridiculous to me.  Have they never heard of the Bayeaux Tapestry?  This work is not an actual tapestry, but rather an embroidered cloth.  It has established itself within the canon as an important and relevant work of the early medieval period, not just for art history, but as a document of history in general.  Embroidery is simply another medium for creating work.

Halley's Comet in the Bayeaux Tapestry

For the last time, that’s all!

Brit

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March 31st: Cartoons and Comics

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Ahoy, ahoy!

We’ve entered the last week of classes at Mount Allison!  It should be spring, but of course, we had to be hit with a freak snowstorm on April Fool’s Day.  So it looks like we’ve backtracked a bit into winter, when really it should be spring.  Last Thursday we began discussing comic strips and cartooning.  Often, a cartoonist will not be labelled as an artist, and it’s taken a while for cartooning to become recognized as a legitimate art form.  I think you might still be hardpressed to find people who would willingly accept cartoons and comics as a form of art.  It is unfortunate that comic strip artists and illustrators are often branded as practitioners of a “lower” art form.  Just because their art is often not found within a gallery, does not mean it is a lesser form of art.

I think that so often, drawing gets classified as the “jumping off point” for sculptures, paintings, installations.  I remember having to do a preliminary sketch or series of sketches for each work we wanted to do in my high school art classes.  Very rarely was drawing the medium that the final work would take.  We didn’t even have a unit on cartooning or illustrating in the whole three years of art classes that I took.  These were ventures that would be encouraged for you to take on yourself, outside of class time.  However, despite this somewhat negative association, comics and illustrations are the mediums by which I personally believe the majority of the Western population experiences art.  Comic strips appear in each daily paper, often running for years at a time.  My personal favourite comic is Calvin and Hobbes, which ran from November 1985 to December 1995.  That’s ten years of fresh ideas, every day of the week!  I think everyone has a favourite comic, or can at least name one that they find funny.

A "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip

Additionally, part of being a comic artist is being able to come up with characters and storylines that are able to be expressed with a correct balance of text and drawing.  Comics take on a different style and feel that is often reflective of the comic artist, and more often than not, a comic artist’s self will be reflected in their characters.  I think that being a cartoonist is being an artist, it’s just a more accessible form of art to everyone.  So often, people unfamiliar with art will either claim to find it boring or they will feel embarrassed about not knowing too much about it.  Comics are an art form that everyone has access to and can enjoy on their own or with other people.

That’s all!

Brit

March 29: Monuments

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Ahoy, ahoy!

In our last class we had a guest lecture by Leah Garnett, who teaches drawing and sculpture in the Fine Arts department here at Mount Allison.  In her lecture she spoke of many different ideas and concepts pertaining to installation art as well as sculpture.  However, one thing that she did mention was the concept of monuments.  Monuments are all around us, every day.  Usually, a monument is erected or commissioned as a piece that is in memoriam of someone, or a group of someones, to recognize a great act, deed or sacrifice.  Here at Mount Allison, we have memorial plaques in the student centre that commemorate and recognize students who attended the institution, but gave their lives to fighting for Canada in various wars.  Almost every town or city will have some sort of war memorial, whether it is extravagant or simple, where wreaths are placed each year on Remembrance Day.  And yet, the interesting thing to me, is that I have never questioned or wondered who exactly designs all of these memorials.

One of the simplest forms of monument that people are likely to be familiar with is that of a headstone.  Though in modern Western society these are personal monuments for loved ones, they are still recognizable as a structure that is meant to stand as a lasting reminder that this person, did indeed exist.  Of course, headstones and grave markers have not always been simple, nor do they remain simple today.  Ancient Egyptians had intricate pyramids for their most honoured dead, while ancient Greeks and Romans had necropoleis, literally “cities of the dead” where the deceased were left to rest in replicas of houses.

This practice of remembering those who have passed on through monument lives on in such a similar fashion.  The wealthy dead will have masoleums or memorial statues, while the less wealthy may have just a simple head marker.  If you sacrificed yourself or were an important personage in the country or city you grew up in, a monument may be erected for you, in the form of a plaque, building or statue.  Now, companies design the basic tombstones for “everyday” deceased people, but people of significance will be rewarded with something more.  This something more will likely be commissioned by a branch of government and designed by an artist.  However, the concept of the monument itself is what interests me the most.  Why do we feel the urge to commemorate people through monuments?  I suppose it may be related to an idea of creating something physical that be a visual reminder to people.  After all, the proverb does go “out of sight is out of mind”.  Perhaps human nature demands a visible presence in order for remembrance and respect to be dutifully paid to these honourable dead.

That’s all!

Brit

March 24: Installation and Conceptual Art

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Conceptual art,as well as installation art, can be confusing for some people. Heck, even I find it confusing sometimes.  This is one of the reasons why I find this youtube video both hilarious and thought provoking:

The idea of adding false labels to everyday objects within a museum setting makes me smile, but it also encourages me to think about what exactly is being presented to us?  Is the intent of the false labelling to encourage us to reflect on what we believe conceptual art is to be?  Is it making a mockery of conceptual art?  Or is it presenting an idea of guerilla art, the idea of putting false art into a museum to see if people believe and accept it a credible work, solely based on the presence of a label?  Evidently the artists here see this as a project, not a prank, and they carry out this work at more than one museum worldwide.  The work is credited to an artist or a group of artists called Tiny Arrow.  I searched on the Internet for more information about their work but couldn’t find any.  However, the video in itself does a pretty good job on its own.  In a sense, this installation or alteration or addition of existing work was also a performance.  We see the artists intervening with the surroundings in order to place the false labels, we see the reactions of people around them.It is also largely based on conceptual art, so beginning with the MoMA seems natural to me.

The first piece at the MoMA is a drinking fountain.  This appealed to me especially because I visited the MoMA this past November.  While we were there, a student from the Mount Allison group broke a sink.  The first thing I asked my classmate who delivered this bit of gossip to me?

“Wait, so was the sink a display or in the bathroom?”

And of course, because it’s the MoMA, the sink had been on display in part of an installation about Tupperware and the American kitchen.

That’s all!

Brit

March 22: The Journey to Answers

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I can hardly believe the semester is coming to a close so quickly… I have really loved writing this blog, it’s been such a great learning and growing experience.  Who knows, maybe I will continue writing it in the future!

Yesterday, I attended an artist’s talk by Andrea Mortson at the Owens.  While the talk was interesting and entertaining, upon further discussion with my roommate, she remarked that she found Andrea had not answered many questions about her work and that the talk was very open ended.  What do we do when the people we turn to for answers about specific ideas or concepts seem to be drawing as much of a blank as we are?  This brings me back to a problem I had in my Globalization class earlier this term.  We all had to present our ideas and concepts for a massive research paper that we were to be working on all term.  When it came my turn to present, I expressed my frustration at being incapable of establishing a concrete answer to my research question.  My professor, who can be rather cryptic sometimes, merely remarked that “sometimes, the journey of trying to find an answer is as important as the answer that you are trying to find” or something along those poetic lines.

To me, this concept of the journey toward an answer was what Andrea’s works were.  Some of her works, she felt incapable of describing, yet also expressed that what we thought about the work could not be wrong.  She did not have a “right” answer, and maybe she never would.  Why does an answer matter so much to us?  Why do we always have to have concrete examples or structures or concepts behind everything?  While Andreas work is not abstract, perhaps the concepts behind it are.  In a sense, our own personal journey towards answering “what does this mean” can be just as important as finding a concrete answer to that question.  For some questions, there are concrete answers, quantifiable answers, empirical answers.  For some questions, the theoretical answers will be woven out of a personal journey and account of the effects something may have on a person.  Often, we make assumptions and classifications about the meanings behind the work of deceased artists, so I think it is understandable that we may be shocked at the inability of a living artist to express a clear cut, well executed answer about what exactly is being represented or expressed in their work.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked.

That’s all!

Brit

March 17: Installations and Controversies

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On Friday, we had snow, freezing rain, hail, incredibly highspeed wind, and lots of sunshine.  All of that in one day!  Welcome to spring in New Brunswick?  On Thursday we entered the realm of installation art, and in addition to this, controversies in art.  I was especially interested in this because for a different art history class, we have to make a piece of art inspired by a movement between the 1940s and 1970s.  So I’m going to spoil the surprise for any readers who go to Mount Allison.  On Monday, March 21, there is going to be an installation piece on campus!  It’s called “Rubbish in Bloom” and will be set up the night before (stealthily) by myself and my friend Emily-Jean.  However, because Mount Allison has so many eco-conscious people, we are worried that the interpretation of our work may be negative.  We are planning to clean it up afterwards, but we know that some people may initially be unimpressed.

I suppose that is a risk you have to take with your work.  If you tried to ensure that everything you ever created didn’t offend people, then art would not exist.  There will always be people who do not like what you have created for whatever reason.  It is impossible to be universally liked.  But there are some works that result in being more controversial than others.  Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic by Jana Sterbak was a piece like this.  I found this piece interesting because I had heard of another meat dress before this class, and it caused the same type of controversy.  Lady Gaga wore a dress made of beef to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.

Meat Dress with Steak Headpiece

The designer of this dress (with matching shoes that look like roasts?) is Frank Fernandez.  His design was called hideous and offensive by people everywhere, and Lady Gaga, who is known for her unique fashion choices was seen as finally taking her outfits one step too far.  When I first saw the pictures of Gaga’s meat dress online, my initial reaction was “oh for heaven’s sake…”  Because of her history of odd clothing choices, I interpreted as her just trying to shock people.  However, like anything that shocks people or takes them by surprise, the reasons for Gaga’s dress were more indepth than her just trying to make a scene or try to get attention.  When she went on the Ellen DeGeneres show after the awards show, she explained some of the reasons behind her choice of the meat dress.  While not everyone liked the meat dress, explaining the inspiration and reasons behind it certainly helped people to at least attempt to understand the why behind this fashion choice.  I wonder if Fernandez was inspired by Sterbak?

That’s all!

Brit

March 15: Art All Around Us?

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Ahoy, ahoy!

In class the other day, we began discussing sculpture in Canada.  Two different pieces by well-known sculptors are on the Mount Allison campus and we discussed how the sculpture interacts with it’s surroundings and how sometimes, a commissioned sculpture interacts and plays off of it’s surroundings.  This got me thinking about sculpture in our everyday lives.  Certainly, art surrounds everyone to some extent, whether they realize it or not.  Formal family photos in frames, your great-grandmothers hand painted china, even handcrafted bracelets and earrings can all be considered art in their own unique way.  Sculpture, however, I found was more pressing to find examples of in our everyday life.  And then I remembered our neighbours who lived at the end of our street when I was growing up.  They have lots of money (as in they own a helicopter and a Jaguar sports car.  This type of dinero is extremely out of place with Terrace, BC).  And their yard, in the summer, was filled to bursting with lawn decorations.  I wish I could post pictures of this yard.  I recall counting over 30 plastic gnomes in their front yard alone, along with countless other frogs, lizards, a family of deer, you name it.  It was actually ridiculous.  And their house was quite nice, but their yard was just cluttered with these mass produced, rubber/plastic animals and decorations.

Why do people choose to adorn their gardens and yards with mass produced pseudo sculpture?  The more I think of it, the more examples I can come up with.  I’ve seen another house that has a hideous fountain of a mermaid and a dolphin in it.  Or even “rustic” decoration like stone birdbaths or sundials.  Why do people choose to put these features into their yards?  They are almost always mass produced pieces, and I believe are supposed to be there for the aesthetic of the garden, not to serve any real purpose.  However, gardens and yards with these objects in them are usually quite far from being appealing.  Though I do not deny that there is some form of artistic merit here.  Don Featherstone invented the pink flamingo, which is one of the most recognizably tacky lawn ornaments.  He was awarded the 1996 Nobel Art Prize for his design!

Though I don’t have any photos of my own, here are a few choice ones pulled from Flickr and Google Image search.

Pink flamingoes everywhere!

Lawn gnome overload

We can stop looking for Ogopogo now....

What do you think about lawn decor?  Good, bad, ugly?  Let me know in comments!

That’s all!

Brit

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