March 1st: Photography’s Stories

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Reading break is over and March in Sackville has come in like a lion with another vicious dump of snow last night…I find it hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for five months now!  I feel like I have learned so much about my own ability to reflect on artists, movements and pieces.  I hope my entries have shown steady improvement in both content and clarification for my readers!

Today we’ve moved into photography.  I always love looking at photography that came before digital.  You can really tell that these artists had to work hard at their craft in order to perfect it.  I took a photography class once and I remember how difficult of a time I had getting my images to turn out just right in the wash.  I remember the frustration I would feel after unclipping several dried prints and examining them in the light only to realize that one was too dark, the other too light.  Sometimes I had not timed the exposure properly, other times there were fatal cross processed images.  Sometimes the film itself was the problem, and my apertures were set incorrectly.  And then it would be back to the drawing board, to pore over scribbled notes about how I went about developing and processing the first time around, in order to identify the mistake.  However, I had a lot of fun in that class and learned so much with that old camera of my dad’s.  But, at the end of the day, it seemed so much easier to just use a digital camera and then fix my mistakes later on the computer.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think digital photography can be art.  Not by any means.  I know people who are digital photographers, and there is immense amounts of work involved.  it’s just a different kind of work.  I think that these two types of photography are very different, and both ought to be respected equally.  However, when I see old professional photographs, I can’t help but want to stare at them for much longer than digital prints.  They are often more beautiful to me than digital work, and usually more intriguing.  I find that most of my encounters with digital photography are focused on landscape.  Digital is an amazing way to capture blazing orange sunsets and the crystal perfection of the sea in the Mediterannean.  But black and white photography like Michel Lambeth and George Zimbel’s works seem to be more about stories and ideas, rather than the image itself.

That’s all!



November 23rd: Guest Lecture

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I know, I’ve been terrible with updates lately.  This weekend, I owe you two posts!  Schoolwork always begins to pile up around this time of year, but I cannot neglect my lovely blog followers now, can I?

On Tuesday we had the pleasure of having Chris, a guest lecturer come into class.  I really appreciate and value when professors incorporate guest lectures into the curriculum.  Your knowledge of a topic or an idea can be expanded on so much by a guest lecture, or it can even cause you to begin thinking in an incredibly new and different way.  The lecture I enjoyed the most by an artist this year was the opening of Feed, an exhibit by Tonia DiRosio.  This exhibit was all about her experiences with video and learning to cook from Italian relatives and friends.  I think the reason why I liked this talk so much, is because it had so much to do with the artist’s attempt at reconnecting with her own family history and heritage.  It was mostly film that was produced from this project, and the whole exhibit is being wrapped up tonight with a big pasta supper at the Legion.  I know that many people would not necessarily correlate the concept of recipes and learning to cook with art, but the way the work was presented was what made it interesting.

The exhibition was not just about cooking pasta, it was about far more than that.  It was about the traditions that go into cooking an Italian meal, who cooks it, when do they cook it, and how.  What ingredients are used?  Is a recipe followed?  How do these women know what to cook?  Through film and photography, DiRosio explored these and other themes of an Italian household.  Enjoying the meal afterward with family and friends was another part of her study.  I enjoyed her talk and exhibit so much.  It was almost like a visual ethnography project about the concept of cooking practices in Italy.  Her films are for the most part, unaltered, so you are able to view them much like you would a documentary.

Italian cooking may not seem like a very “Canadian” topic, but that is what I think is one of the most interesting things about art in both Canada and the United States of America.  Because these two countries really make up the “new” West, there really is just an unimagineable amount of influence coming at artists from every direction.  In DiRosio’s case, she is influenced by her Italian heritage.  In her work, heritage meets present day and manifests itself through her films and photography.  I always find it interesting how those living in North America of European descent are so interested in their roots.  I find that often, if you ask someone from Canada about their nationality, they are quite likely to define themselves as Dutch, German, French, English, Scottish, Hungarian…a myriad of different associations with European countries, where the only real connection is that this is what they’ve been told by their parents or grandparents.  Seeing someone actively seek out their European heritage is an interesting connection to Canadian art, as so many of us living here are of European descent!

Thats all!


October 5: Photography Disputes/The Importance of Research

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Ahoy ahoy lovely readers of the blogosphere!  I am back with another post, though this time it is a somewhat guilty one as I thought we didn’t have to post about last Thursday’s lecture, as it was a library session and I figured “Everyone knows how to use a library, I’m sure I don’t have any divine wisdom to impart on this topic.”  But Gemey seems to think we (as a class) do!  Result: a rather long entry today, but a good one! (I hope)

So lecture on the 5th.  We began looking at photography influencing the art of oil paintings and landscape paintings and were faced with the concept of photography being an art or photography being a science.  This whole concept always somewhat amuses me.  People still argue over whether or not photography books ought to belong in the science section of a library or should it belong to the art section?  To me, the whole idea of creating art is a science.  In nature, I would say that many things are seen as aesthetically pleasing.  Mountains, rivers, trees, even the way people and animals move and are shaped– we see these things as being visually pleasant, at least most of the time.  In order for an artist who is painting a landscape in the sense of a traditional landscape painting, is also trying to create something visually pleasant, whether it is the view of a forest or a canyon ridge, whatever.  So in order to do this, the painter or sketcher must attempt to recreate images from nature onto a 2 dimensional surface.  A landscape is almost always three dimensional and in order to make something properly function as three-dimensional, you have to have at least some concept of how mathematical proportions and geometry function.

I don’t think people look at math and call it art.

This is not to say that artists sit around working out math equations all day long.  But I am saying that I believe artists learn a particular, geometric and mathematical way of thinking that gets translated into the success of their works on a 2 dimensional surface.  Furthering the connection of science and art, when a science textbook demands a detailed, in-depth reproduction of a work, do they turn to a photographer or an artist?  To complete an illustration of a cell, it is only natural that an artist would first look at a microscopic photograph before attempting to sketch it out.  Photography, like art, serves many different purposes aside from just being decorative.

Another idea that could factor into the concept of what classes as a science and what classes an art is the idea of graphic art.  Graphic art is created on a computer, and it definitely requires a knowledge of how to use a computer, which is considered a scientific machine, much like many would argue with the camera and the processes that were originally used to develop film.  Now we have programs like photoshop and digital photography so anyone can make the colours of their sunsets more vibrant or eradicate wrinkles from the face of an ageing woman.  Is someone who works with digital art not an artist?  Is their work any less authenticated as art than someone who uses paper and a pencil?  So how can one say that photography is either one or the other when it is so clearly both?  This divide between science and art is such a Western concept and it applies throughout the comparison of science to many other studies as well, such as sociology, music and a variety of other schools of learning.

Our lecture on September 30 was more of a library based session about different research methods available to us as Mount Allison students.  Now, as a student, I can say that research is an integral part of our day to day lives.  For our upcoming essay in Canadian Art we’re invited to use a variety of sources in order to complete our essay.  In the digital age we have access to so many different sources of information.  Entire books can be found online and downloaded, along with countless journal articles, old newspapers, visual images…the list really goes on and on.  But who are these resources created for?  The Wikipedia page about Emily Carr is a very different information source than a scholarly article written about Emily Carr.  A collection of her works, bound in a coffee-table book, is yet again information aimed at a different audience.  A Wikipedia entry can be used as a jumping off point for research, yet because it can be edited it can also act as a forum for people to share what they know.

So often, as a student, you get your information from a secondary source, you research someone else’s research.  This entire concept sometimes seems so bizarre to me, especially when it comes to analyzing works of art.  Is it okay for me to just think for myself and make my own interpretations?  Does background information about an artist intercede with my own personal feelings about a particular piece, or will it help me to understand if I find myself confused?  This is especially difficult when that artist is deceased because we have to rely entirely on interpretations from others.  Research can sometimes produce even more questions than it answers!

Well that’s enough on that subject.  In other news of art and art history, my roommate Liz and I have decided to do a collaborative art project for our Modern Art class.  We’re using a bunch of different media on paper, ie pastel, ink, pencil, paint etc and doing a series of automatic drawings and writings.  She or I will start the piece, and the other will finish or we will both add to it until we feel it is complete.  I’m really excited!

That’s all for now!


September 21: First Nations Art

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Hello!  Today our lecture began with First Nations art.  Our beginning topic was a continuation of examining the photos taken by American photographer, Edward S. Curtis.  These photographs examine the idea of romancing the concept of the First Nations person and emulate the idea of capturing a “dying race”.  One thing I feel is important when looking at works like Curtis’s and also of the Canadian painter Paul Kane, is to remember when these photographs and paintings were excuted and what purpose they would have served.  People have a natural curiousity, and the “New World” would have likely have been of special interest to Europeans back home.  The Curtis photos present a dilemma.  On one side, they are helpful in examining how this culture existed at one point, as it does not exist like this today.  On the other hand, we know that Curtis did not always portray things exactly as they were.  Curtis was constantly searching to portray the “ethnically pure Indian” which is a stereotype that I feel even exists today.  People of non-First nations descent still see the culture of First Nations people as being interesting, fascinating.  Traditions within these cultures have been revived over the past few decades, and now we, as viewers, can see dances performed, with all the traditional elements of masks and costumes revived.  It is certainly quite different to see cultural items in use, rather than being displayed, which I think can be somewhat readily applied across all cultural studies done in different places throughout the world.  I think this is why newer anthropology and ethnography studies seek to authenticate themselves more through direct communication with members of groups, rather than relying solely on observation and interpretation from an outside perspective.  This new way of studying cultures attempts to challenge the view that one culture cannot effectively describe another.  When we were speaking in class about the romanticized view of the Indian, I was reminded of a clip from the Disney movie, Pocahontas.

This clip, I have to say, was a favourite of mine as a child, and as a Disney fan, I still enjoy the movie Pocahontas today!  However, this clip in particular reminds me of what Curtis was after in his portrayals.  People who were one with nature, who had a different, exotic way of life that was completely foreign to a European way of living and thinking.  I think Curtis would have likely have been quite satisified that this clip from Pocahontas would supply an image of a noble savage to the viewer.

We also talked today about how there has been a revival among First Nations communities in terms of the practice of First Nations artistry.  I’d like to just add a link in here to the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art.  This school is the first of it’s kind, where it focuses on First Nations traditional art, and then developing these art skills into fine art.  It exists in my own hometown of Terrace BC!  It is a recently developed program in partnership with Northwest Community College and it is on it’s way to developing a degree program in First Nations Fine Art.  They’ve got some fantastic instructors and a gallery of student work up online.

Well that’s all for now!  I’d love to hear feedback, comments, anything!  Look out for another post coming this week!