Friday, May 19, 2017

Pantones, Skintones

More than I can remember, people are separating themselves into groups based on identity. It becomes both a comfort and a defense, solidifying some and alienating others. But we have so much more in common as human beings. We may have millions of channels, cable, websites to choose from, but we all share the same emotions. From the set of Pantone postcards I had, I gathered the colors resembling skin tones, wrote some haiku poems, and printed layered imagery on the cards. Rather than keep the cards separate, I wanted to bind us all together, so I chose what could be best described as a sushi mat binding: it was used for Chinese stick scrolls, and it can work as a Jacob's ladder (although that is not necessary here). It opens across the living room floor to ten feet wide. The box is wrapped in lovely gold patterned Japanese book cloth. On the backs I carved another poem in a linoleum block: one word at a time, then carved it out: a reduction print that is also an erasure of itself. Everything is temporary.

We Are All Four Inches by Six Inches is the new one-of-a-kind book in a box made from the Pantone cards. I finished it a few weeks ago. I waited to post because I scanned the individual cards, hoping to make an affordable print-on-demand edition, but was not happy with the results, so that extension of the project is now on the back burner. I've got something else coming up very soon, though. Stay tuned! I'm still here. Somewhere, anyway.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tidying Your Mindfulness

Just before the end of the semester, a colleague of mine had her composition class read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. As an assignment, they were to tidy their room and write about it. She pointed out that most of them would be moving, so it seemed like the right moment. Even though it was a bestseller when it was published in 2015, I hadn't heard of it, so I requested it from the library and got it over the weekend.

Yes, it is the last week of the semester, so perhaps I was ready for the book or already thinking in this direction. By Monday I had taken three garbage bags to Goodwill and the used toner cartridges to Office Depot. Two boxes of books await the used bookstore. I dusted for the first time in (I'm not going to say). The book gave me a way to look at my stuff: handle each item. If it doesn't "spark joy," then as you discard it, thank it for the good times it gave you. I was surprised to find many things I didn't really need or want anymore. Thanking each gave me permission to let it go and reflect that I did like it once, it may have brought me joy once, but it is okay that it doesn't anymore. What the book really offers is connection to your life and mindfulness in your home.

Outside: a different kind of mindfulness. I had already been weeding the terrible plants that grow spiral burrs, sitting close to the ground with my bucket and tools. Sitting in one place for an hour at a time means the world comes to you, if you notice it. This past week's sitting outside in the yard gave me experiences, stories that my neighbors brought me that I can now incorporate into fictional stories of my own. I watched crows have a meeting, and tiny birds watched me. I discovered something interesting about my letter carrier. I was aware of all the different bugs and worms I don't often see. While I did not thank the weeds for these events, maybe I should.

The cleaning and weeding reminded me that I needed to make more space for the physical world. I have been tending to create computer-based projects lately, tending blogs and websites, editing digital photographs. Not nearly as much time as I used to spend handling objects. Marie Kondo, the book's author, writes that when you tidy, you find out what is important to you, and you may even discover your life's work by what you keep. The tidying helped to clear my mind. Just like the book promised. It sounds too good to be true, but I'm hopeful. We'll see what's next.

Just outside the classroom door.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Poem in Your Pocket Day 2017

When April circles back again, I'm always happy to promote National Poetry Month.

On April 1 the librarians in Albany had a little box that said "free brownies with nuts," in which said box had some Brown Es and little metal nuts from the hardware store. For Poetry Month, they have an awesome display.

Known to me as "erasure text" the librarians here (and possibly the Poet Laureate of our little one-square-mile city of Albany) are calling them "blackout poems." I absolutely applaud the activity for the general public, but have a little trouble with one more black Sharpie erasure poem, which, as editor, I frequently see as submissions to Star 82 Review. If you want to go beyond the basics, you can do more interesting things with layers and create deeper meaning when you add imagery or color to an erasure poem. (Previous blog post here.)

But wait, there's more! Check out the "book spine poems." These are terrific activities to get people to engage with books, texts, poetry, writing, and creativity and to make them smile.

Poem in Your Pocket Day in the United States this year is April 27. I've been listing links to some short poems on the Star 82 Review Facebook page. Print one out and carry it around! Read to a friend! Read to someone at the bus stop / train station / grocery store! Write your own! Or, do as this neighbor did: create a PoeTree.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Introverts and Extraverts as Artists

I recently read the well-written and highly interesting biography of Hermann Rorschach called The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing by Damion Searls. (A nice article that gives a good summary is here.) First, the book stood out because it was written as a story rather than a necklace of facts. Second, Rorschach was a painter as well as a doctor, someone who merged science and art. Third, he was an introvert, someone who enjoyed socializing and people, but needed down time, quiet time to think and recharge. 

Psychiatry and the concepts of introversion and extraversion (also written extroversion) were developing during Rorschach's time, which was also the time of Freud and Jung. In 1922, Rorschach noted that "'Again and again we run into the fact that introverts cannot understand how extraverts think and behave, and vice versa. And they don't even realize that they are dealing with a different type of person'" (154). Knowing how introverts and extravert think and behave are important to teachers and educational institutions as well. And it should be noted that a person is rarely all one or the other, but a mix that varies proportionally, person to person. Rorschach wrote that the relationship between one's introversion and extraversion does not change, but it can shift over one's life (127).

While I wish I could blame the political climate in the U.S. for the push toward social interaction and political action, I think our society has been extraverted and outward- looking for a while. The art school where I teach used to focus on solitary work: becoming a gallery artist. Having one's work exhibited in prestigious places and around the world, not just locally, was considered the ultimate goal. The often-introverted gallery artist of yesteryear worked primarily alone, but had to socialize as part of the business: schmooze at gallery openings and interact with the public. This model has its own drawbacks (the hustle, for example) but it can be acceptable to introverts, as it balances inward facing and outward facing work. (Of course, there are extraverted gallery artists as well.)

While the ideal of "gallery artist" still seems to be true in art school today, there is an added component; collaboration, installation, and community outreach are even more highly valued. This totally outward facing art may also be part of the "deskilling" that I've mentioned before in this post: artists as facilitators or curators rather than as highly skilled makers. With the emphasis placed on outreach, those who are extraverts have the advantage. Social practice is valuable, but it cannot be the only goal for everyone. If the only value is placed on collaboration and partnering with other institutions (such as grade schools, adult care facilities, mental health organizations, etc.) then the introvert is left alone on the island of his/her/their own making. And there I stress not just the word "alone" but also "making."

Extraverts thrive on being with people and continued stimulation out in the world; it is how they work best and are happiest. Introverts like social interaction on a more limited scale and thrive on quiet alone time. It isn't just a matter of preference; they need more thinking time to recharge and survive. Making art for an introvert happens in this solitary time. It is much more difficult for an introvert to make things in a group situation. Collaborating in real time can be anxiety producing. The introverted artist can make change in his/her/their own way (see this post). For an art institution to push community based art does not acknowledge different ways of working, which is something absolutely fundamental to teaching. You must meet students where they are and guide them toward becoming a better them, not a better extension of an institution. This means acknowledging that all artists are different and can have an impact in their own ways.

In her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain shows just when extraverts became the ideal in the U.S.. After the 1920s and the rise of Dale Carnegie, self-help books began focussing on qualities that were quite different from previous aspirations. Instead of qualities that you had real control over, that were primarily moral issues, advertising emphasized how you would be more popular, more attractive, have more friends if you used, say, a particular kind of soap. A study by cultural historian Warren Susman found that words such as: duty, work, honor, manners, and integrity came up more frequently prior to 1920 and these words came up after: magnetic, fascinating, attractive, forceful, energetic (23). Action was traded for surface  treatments. Self-improvement turned from working on inner qualities to perfecting outer ones. Susman noted we had shifted our attention from the "culture of character" to  the "culture of personality."

So, while there has been a trend for a hundred years towards pushing people to be extraverts, it seems strange to do so in an art school. When the focus is outward toward the public, and by stressing community projects and collaboration, private art school will actually be pushing the introverted artists aside, ignoring them. It is possible that art education may still remain alive in public institutions, where funding comes from multiple sources and enrollment remains possible due to the lower costs to students (at least currently). But with deskilling and community practice more and more the norm, the introverted artist may end up feeling anxious and alone. In her book, Cain includes a quote from Anaïs Nin (264) from In Favor of the Sensitive Man, and Other Essays (1976): "Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again."

Lost: Center.