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!



March 24: Installation and Conceptual Art

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Ahoy, ahoy!

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!


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!


March 3 and 8: Uninspired

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Ahoy, ahoy!

So I have a terrible dilemma.  I have been completely, and totally uninspired to write this blog for an entire week!  I owe you guys entries for last Thursday and this Tuesday, and of course I owe you one for today.  However, I am going to hold off on today’s blog because I am dedicating this blog (which accounts for two days) to trying to find some inspiration.  I’ll try to hit you all with an awesome, insightful and relevant entry this weekend about today’s class but for now, I’m going to discuss inspiration.

The concept of inspiration can be applied to almost any goal or situation anyone has.  You need inspiration for an amazing essay, inspiration to win the big game, inspiration to create a work.  I need (and lack) inspiration for this blog.  Maybe it’s the March blues…it’s too early for it to be the “ides of March” as we have all been warned about through Shakespeare’s writ.  However, regardless of what the inspiration is for, the concept of inspiration is that you are aiming to achieve something great, something even better than usual.  It’s about putting out your best work, and ultimately, a representation of your best self for all to see.

To me, inspiration cannot be forced, but you can certainly help yourself along.  I am not an artist, but I live with one.  Each project she decides to ultimately create comes from hours of thinking, not-thinking, overthinking….until eventually something clicks.  Maybe she sees a photograph she loves of one of her friends and absolutely has to paint the face.  Another time, I know she was absentmindedly unraveling a thread and that’s when genius struck.  Sometimes the idea works, other times she hates it and it’s back to square one.  I feel that this happens often in all disciplines.  After all, Oscar Wilde was the one who said “I spent the entire morning inserting a comma; I spent the whole afternoon removing it again.”

Inspiration strikes, only to be whisked away again.  The worst is when inspiration occurs in the middle of the night.  You jolt upwards, wide awake at 3:38 am or some ridiculous time such as that, smiling.  You’ve awoken and had a marvelous idea.  The creative process is over!  Content you drift back to sleep….you awake at 7 am to your alarm.  You know you had thought of something, now if you could only remember what it was….

Looking for inspiration is an ongoing quest I feel that every human being experiences in their life.  Whether they are consciously always awaiting it, unconsciously stumbling upon it, channeling it only when needed….we all experience a need or want or flash of inspiration at some point.  And what a wonderful feeling it is.  One of my best moments of inspiration actually came from an incredibly explicit song.  For an energetic group of 19 to 21 year old girls, this song was hilarious in it’s explicitness.  I think we liked it mostly because of how obscene the lyrics were, to the point where the whole thing had become a joke.  And then, one day in the library, while talking about how easy it was in the modern age to find out someone’s entire life story on the Internet, inspiration took hold in my mind.  Instead of doing my homework, I instead chose to pen a parody of this explicit song’s lyrics, but have it talk about the phenomenon known as “Facebook creeping”. I was done the lyrics in half an hour and it was amazing.  I showed my friends who knew the original lyrics and everyone agreed that these new lyrics were even better than the old ones.  The whole thing was very Weird Al Yankovic, and for whatever reason I was absurdly proud of my lyrics and of course, posted them on Facebook.  Unfortunately, I don’t have my own parody video but my brother and I absolutely loved Weird Al when we were younger, so here it my own personal fave from him, “Eat It” inspired by the King of Pop’s “Beat It”.

Now how’s that for parody art?!

That’s all for now!  I promise I’ll have something new and interesting this weekend about today’s class!


February 8th: Parody and Performance.

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Welcome back to another week of musings and posts.  Today in class, we discussed and watched a bit more performance art.  Performance art is definitely something I am relatively unfamiliar with.  In all of my art history courses, I have not run into much by way of performance art.  What is the purpose of performance art?  What does it do that other art forms cannot?  One purpose for performance art that was brought up is that it seems to have a moral responsibility.  Most of it seems to respond to social or political conditions of the day.  Certainly, I can think of why this would be so.  Because often performance art is a parody or personification of something, it would be easiest to choose a popular topic du jour, and perform a reaction to it as such.

When the topic of Youtube came up, I began reflecting on different YouTube videos I have watched and enjoyed.  I came to the conclusion that one of the most popular uses of YouTube is to create something that entertains. A YouTube video can’t be too long, or else the audience gets bored.  When it comes to videos that people have specifically created for entertainment value, often they are videos that make me laugh.  For example, this video below is entitled “How to Trick People Into Thinking You’re Goodlooking”

The girl in this video likely does not classify herself as a performance artist.  She probably came up with this idea after seeing similar tutorial style videos that are in abundance on YouTube that show you how to do your makeup like Gwenyth Paltrow at the 2011 Golden Globes or how to curl your hair like Miley Cyrus in her latest music video.  Believe it or not, videos such as that get tons of hits and some of the creators are classified as YouTube “gurus” because they are in the top  most subscribed or most featured or viewed vloggers (video-bloggers) on the website.   And I will admit to the fact that, on a Saturday night, when going to a bar in Montreal, I have willingly and faithfully followed step-by-step instructions on how to apply a glittery eye makeup look from one of these girls.  I won’t deny that they are useful for someone who is make-up challenged like myself.  But so often the videos are all about how to hide this, enhance this, shade that, highlight this.  And often, you don’t really look much like yourself at all by the end of it.  The girl who made “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Goodlooking” probably did it as a joke, but to me, it is very much like a performance piece, addressing the fact that there is so much propaganda thrown in the faces of young women about how to change themselves.

“The goal is to make yourself look nothing like yourself.”  The girl in the video says this and it more than likely makes the viewer laugh.  But in a sad sense, it is true.  I remember the first magazine my mother ever bought me.  I was in grade 6, so probably 11 or 12.  I don’t know if they make it anymore, but it was called Girl’s Life Magazine.  It was aimed at preteens and had lower level fashion tips, hair ideas, very simple makeup and gave advice about how to prove to your parents that you were mature enough to spend a night alone at home, pierce your ears, date a boy, wear makeup, extend your curfew by an hour…the whole thing was about making yourself look and act more mature.  It really seemed to be something that somewhat forced growing up on young girls.  I think it’s important to have media, even if it is a silly YouTube video, that seem to reach out and address these issues.

That’s all!


October 12: The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson

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Ahoy ahoy!  Time to talk about the Group and T-squared!

“Drumroll, please.”

This was the joke Gemey made when it came to speaking about the Group in class yesterday.  And we all laughed.  Indeed, for most people, the Group is to Canadian art what milk is to cereal.  It’s all the first thing they think of! While consequently missing out on considering other things, like, oh cereal with marshmellows, baked as a treat or cereal incorporated into Mom’s homemade bits and bites.  There are other things to be had in Canadian art, besides the Group, just like cereal can be used for things besides just a quick breakfast with milk.

I digress.  So, for all you non-Group-groupies out there here is a quick overview of all of them:

J.E.H. MacDonald, the silver fox.

Franklin Carmichael, the ankle-biter of the bunch.

Frank Johnston, blink and you’d miss his prescence

Arthur Lismer, the influential philanthropist

Frederick Varley, the plucky portrait painter

Lawren Harris, the rich playboy.

A.Y. Jackson, the stranger who came to town.

Also, the artist Tom Thompson was heavily associated with the Group, though he died a mysterious death in 1917, 3 years before the group was formed, and they often included his work in their shows.  So now that I’ve set the stage for a good HBO show with all of these different personalities, it is interesting to think that so often, people will just know “Group of Seven” and not the actual names of the artists who were a part of the group!  Even further, the Group underwent numerous revisions to their lineup, people came and went.  Frank Johnston, for instance, was really only officially a part of the group for one year!  But I have decided to list the original members for you in hopes that the interesting descriptions I’ve applied to them will encourage you to seek out more information about them.

Group of Seven has come to be an iconic symbol in Canadian culture.  People who don’t even know what a painting by a Group member looks like will know WHO they are, which is actually pretty crazy!  That’s some pretty high-status celebrity right there!  I know this was a short post, but trust me, there is going to be so much more Group info coming your way very soon!

Also, when googling “Group of Seven”, I found this Canadian indie band called Group of Seven!  They have some cute songs.  This one is called Tahiti Treat:

Thats all!


September 23rd: Painting the New Land

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Ahoy, ahoy!

In lecture today, Gemey moved us forward to art created during the “contact” era of Canada.  This was a very interesting time in Canadian history, some good and some bad.  Primarily, our focus was on landscape paintings created mostly by military men from Great Britain.  The purpose of these paintings was to send them home to Britain to show others what the new world looked like, and also, in some cases, to demonstrate that it was a civilised place, not full of heathens or savages.  In this way, the superiority of British rule and the ability of the British influence to “civilise” the natives was effectively portrayed.

One thing Gemey said in lecture really stuck with me.  She said it was strange that these first representations other people saw of Canada were created by people who did not have a true connection with what they were painting.  The painters were the “other”, the artists were the foreign ones, painting this landscape the way they would paint one of their homeland.  Even the weather and climate that would be present in England was transferred over to these landscape paintings of Canada.  The only painting we looked at that seemed to have a sense of the landscape being “home” not just a view was one by Joseph Bouchette.

There are two things about this that I find interesting.  First of all, Joseph Bouchette was a French Canadian, not an English Canadian.  Secondly, he was a surveyor and played a very active role in defining the boundary between the United States and Canada.  To me, this seems like he may have actually identified more with being part of Canada, as he took an active interest in the topography and naturalism of our country.

Is a painting more authentic when it is undertaken by a person who is Native to that area?  Would someone from Saskatchewan produce a more realistic view of a rolling wheat field than someone who is used to the craggy rockfaces and seaside cliffs of Newfoundland?  When we look at landscape pictures, it would seem that it is important to know the background of the artist, before being able to evaluate it’s effectiveness and authenticity.  Before pondering over this prospect, I have to admit that I’ve almost always been inclined to appreciate the beauty of a landscape painting or be impressed by accurate detailing, but they have never actually intrigued me as a genre of works that is actually trying to say something rather than to just depict. I like this newfound concept and hope to explore it more throughout the course.

As a last note, I came across something rather amusing in The Argosy, Mount Allison’s student run newspaper.  In the Humour section this week, there was a list entitled “Top Ten Signs You and Your Roommate Aren’t Compatible”.  Number seven was “You’re in Fine Arts, and they major in Bio-Chem”.  Now readers, I understand this is a joke article but I just think this is ironic.  Here is a picture of two of my best friends (and roommates):

The Incompatible Roommates?

On the left, you have Liz, a Fine Arts student, and on the right you have Fiona, a Bio-chem major.  Roommates and fantastic friends, I’d have to say they are the farthest I’ve ever seen from incompatible 😉

That’s all for now!