natural growth

I stopped shaving my armpits a few months ago. At first it wasn’t to make a statement. I was just curious how it would feel to keep it.

It happened when I got really sick for about a month. I felt so horrible I could not care less about shaving any part of my body. When I got better, I looked under my arms ready to mow down the short black tuft that had grown and realized it had never been this long before. To shave or not to shave never felt like a choice that was given to me. It was presented to me, by a combination of social pressure from other women and Seventeen Magazine (a garbage publication btw), as if it were a plain fact of being a woman.

Since I realized I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have a choice in the matter, I stopped. I trim it once in a while but for now I’m not shaving it anymore. I get the occasional glance of curiosity or subtle surprised look from people when I lift my arm in front of them. I’ve actually grown to like the feeling of it. I feel more me.

So I decided to make a series of six drawings about body hair. Each of the ~unsightly haired areas~ are replaced with native California plants, which are all also classified as weeds (likely by anxiety-ridden suburbanites or OCD gardeners). Like body hair, weeds are purely a matter of taste. It’s all about what you think other people care about, what they assume about you, and all the random social stigmas that come from tedious norms.

You can see them as ugly and problematic, or you can see them as beautiful and interesting.

 

butt_flowers


shoulder_mustard

 

 

stomach_clovers

 

cracking open my creative blocks

Last weekend I went to the final meeting of my 6-month art class. It was an intense experience, and the best, most challenging instruction on creativity and visual art I’ve ever had.

I went into the class pretty lost about what my motivations were for making art, and how I’d find my style and voice in the craft. Going to art classes all throughout high school and college, it always felt like I was being pushed to make things look more realistic. Whatever personal flavor happened to manifest in the final works sorta felt accidental. After a while, I realized that making things look accurate was a waste of time given how you can use any number of digital tools to do it for you. I loved getting sucked into a project, but the objective of art—which seemed to coming at me suggestively from all sides socially—to make cool, somewhat realistic looking shit, began to feel hallow and stupid.

Anyway, this class really helped to drag me out of this rut. More than anything, it gave me the tools to experiment so I could continue to explore what my aesthetic voice is. I’m really excited to use these new methods and try it on some other kinds of media besides charcoal on newsprint.

I thought these three drawings from the last session do a good job of reflecting my evolving approach to and thinking around my visual aesthetics. Each one was made in < 7 minutes.

final_class_I

 

final_class_II

 

final_class_III

exploration of aesthetic judgment

So I’m taking this art class in my neighborhood involving a lot of intense concentration on the craft, feeling, and experience of making visual art. We’re now in the middle of the term, and we’ve only just started being allowed to look at the page we’re drawing on.

These are the some results from last night’s exercises. None of these feel complete, but there are parts of each I like. The first two were drawn just by me, and the latter two collaboratively, each with five other classmates. The first one is the one I started, andothers built on top. The last one is the one I finished after four others.

There are way more parts I don’t like than like so I’m just gonna point out the latter.

Parts I like: the fleshy middle curve of the folded thigh, the weightiness of the hand on the right, the zig-zag of the inner fold lines (is that what they’re called?) of the arm on the right.

alone_charcoal_1

 

Parts I like: How the face looks doubled, the weightiness of the foot on the right, the breadth of the shoulders, the scribbly outline. 

alone_charcoal_2

 

 

Parts I like: The ghostliness of the whole thing, the fullness of both thighs and butt, the random fire explosion coming out of the shoulder.  collab_charcoal_2

 

Parts I like: the white outline around the nipple, the squiggly happy trail line, the shadow of the arm over the abdomen, the curve of the waist, and the motion lines.

collab_charcoal_1

taking apart creativity

so far I’ve been making good ~strides~ on my art making, largely due to the way-more-than figure drawing class I’ve been going to. Besides the intense, weekly three-hour classes that involve a lot of mark making and discussion about expression, reaction, and the meaning of creativity, the instructor has been asking us to do weekly “homeplay.”
The writing component of this homeplay has been really rewarding so far, and has been a great counterweight to the loose, reactive approach to drawing that we do during class. It’s forced me to reflect upon what I find valuable about art and  being creative–actually, much more than reflect, but to define it, put it out in front of me, examine it, and take apart the pieces. As someone who has long had a strained love affair of sorts with art making, it’s felt like therapy. He calls on us to ask ourselves: What does creativity even mean, and why is it important to us?
So far, these have been some of my answers below, followed by questions that I posed myself upon reflecting on my answer to those initial questions:
I understand creativity as an ability that allows a person to be free to experiment in what they make or do, given any number of constraints. There’s an element of unpredictability or resourcefulness that the word connotes, and that usually seems to be related to some kind limitation, such as the available materials, existing rules and expectations (like an aesthetic), or the amount of time given for the activity.

For me creativity‘s importance lies in both its experimentation and resourcefulness, but also that it can occur within almost everything I do. I’m being creative when I whip up a meal from the random assortment of ingredients I happen to have in my kitchen. I’m being creative when I write a blog post for my job and choose the words and type of sentences I use to explain something. What I love about these regular activities is how I get to express myself in them, that I get to exercise my intuition, judgment, taste, and mood. Creativity is valuable because it’s fun, even when I use it for my day-to-day survival.

~
Does creativity have to be so calculated and backed by intent, or can it be raw and expressive? Does it have to be either/or? Can it lie on various points of the spectrum of these things and be still feel good and fulfilling?

What are my limitations at any given point?

And what are my resources?

How can I learn to play with both?

The way I described creativity and my value of it feels uncomfortably self-indulgent and ego driven. It didn’t capture how much I enjoy collaborating with others or acknowledging how I am influenced by others, whether directly or indirectly. All my judgments, my feelings, and the ideas and resources that affect my work has not come out of thin air and I don’t want to act like they appear in a vacuum. So how do I approach creativity and my artmaking practice as one that’s more of an dialogue with others, rather than as a solitary, egocentric experience?

 

 

I've made a six-month commitment to artmaking

There’s one resolution that I’ve kept on declaring new year after new year: create/draw/paint more. And year after year, I’d largely neglect it. Every time I tried, I’d freeze up, get terrified, and end up torturing myself to make something. The judgey asshole side of my brain made all of it seem too forced, pointless, and lost. I couldn’t escape the grip of it every time. While I managed to sign up for two art classes in the 8 years since taking one in college, drawing/painting had turned into something like taking a shit while constipated. But even though I started to dread that feeling, I kept having an itch to make visual work. It was a ceaseless, awful nagging.

So I finally signed up for a new class. Not just any class. This is, according to the instructor, a “creativity” class. For the next six months, we are going to draw as if our life, the essence and meaning of it, depended on it. It’s all going to happen within the bounds of one subject, a model, and three materials: compressed charcoal and a white eraser on newsprint paper. The instructor has been teaching this class in his home for the last 24 years, and he is intense about shedding and kicking away creative barriers.

I cannot be more excited. >_<

Below are the highlights from my first class from today. All of these poses were less than 30 seconds long and were told not to care at all what ended up on the page.

chacoal_sitting

 

charcoal_facedaway

 

charcoal_crucified

charcoal_butt

tablet drawing practice.

I got to spend some time this weekend practicin’ my digital drawing skills. My buddy Yana and I had talked about drawing together, so we finally met up and spent a lil while getting our hands more in tune with our wacom tablets. We both love drawing but never make the time to do it, and having to wipe the dust collected on our tools certainly made this neglect ever more glaring.

We went online and found a super simple exercise to train our brains to deal with the separation between the “pen” and the values and objects captured on the screen. It was to draw squiggles—consistently formed, evenly spaced out squiggles. These are some of my scratch documents that I saved since it ended up looking sort of cool by the end.

doodles_2

To change it up, I then made each squiggle a different color. OoOOooo, rainbowwww~

color_doodles

So we did that for a while until we got bored and started working on drawing from photographs we’d each taken. I just finished mine, which is a photo of Lake Merritt at dusk that my friend Susan took. (It’s a pretty big image and it might look better if you click to expand).

Lake_Merritt_Drawing_fnl

I’m happy how it turned out. I wanted to spend more time on making the water reflection better and putting more details on the buildings but… whateva.

Review: Escape from Tomorrow

Escape_from_Tmrw

I finally saw this film, which I’d heard about earlier this year after a bit of controversy and positive critical hype that led to a buzz of intrigue by indie-movie fans. I’d read it was a funny/creepy/groundbreaking movie, that was filmed entirely at Disney World and Disney Land, covertly, without the permission of the park. Which led to some speculation about whether Mickey Corp. would come after Randy Moore, the creator and writer of Escape. So far the litigious company hasn’t made a single peep about the film.

Anyway I saw it at an independent theater last night (although it happens to be available on Amazon) and agreed that it was all of those things I’d heard. It had some pretty awkwardly funny moments and was pretty disturbing throughout. And while I don’t know if I actually LIKED it and could watch it over and over again, it was still undeniably groundbreaking. It was one of the best pieces of cultural critique that I’ve seen in a long while.

Before I go any further: In case you do want to see it, I’m going to drop some spoilers here so I’d stop reading if you wanted to go in without me tainting your opinion.

The very short, non-spoiling summary: Escape is about a father, Jim, who gets fired from his job and slowly loses his mind at a theme park that he’s visiting with his family. While he’s there, things start to get really…weird. For an extremely spoilery description of the story check out its Wikipedia page.

The tagline is “Bad things happen everywhere,” so clearly, Moore is every bit deliberate in subverting the theme park’s brand as the “happiest place on earth.” The film is unflinchingly critical of modern life and the endless pursuit of fulfilling our insatiable desires. It shows the disgusting and very real underbelly of our society convinced by the idea that contentment is always just beyond our fingertips. Media, advertising, and the whole structure of consumerism is built upon convincing everyone that you just aren’t happy enough. You need to go here. You need this thing. You need this lifestyle. Our insecurities about being adequate is what drives consumerism.

I don’t know how intentional Moore was in this respect, but what added so much to the film was how thrillingly taboo the whole thing feels, just because we know that it was filmed at these Disney locations in secret. Which brings me to the main reason I found it so novel: the way that it portrays privatized, inaccessible culture, and how horrifying that can be.

I think the thrilling feeling you have knowing that Moore did this without the permission of Disney, plays on our almost unconscious understanding that some of our experiences are not really owned by us. Sure, the memories of riding rides, exploring the park, watching the shows would obviously remain in our heads. But those experiences are untouchable to us. We’re extremely limited in our ability to truly interact with it, change it, or even express it.

At least in the U.S. we have the power of fair use to protect works like Escape, that allow us to criticize these trademarked, copyrighted things. But we need to make sure to protect and even expand our right to comment and interact with culture. The images, songs, slogans and stories that surround us are locked up, and may even get locked up even more due to increasingly insane intellectual property rules.

Which is why it’s so perfect that this film was made at Disney: the company is one of the main proponents of maximizing “intellectual property” rights to keep culture controlled, while working its darnedest to make their content visible and likeable. Their business model is based on having creative monopolies that make it ever more profitable for them to be the sole gatekeepers of those works.

I think Escape perfectly encapsulates this tension in our culture. It captures the current awkward and precarious stage of dealing with inaccessible, over-privatized culture, and the creeping chilling effect this already has on people. My hope is that these kinds of cultural exchanges become less and less exclusionary and one-sided. Someday, I hope we’ll look at this movie and be able to marvel at it as a work of art from a bygone era.

fun with anigifs.

I went to an anigif festival in the Mission last night, where hundreds of animated gifs were projected onto the floor, walls, and buildings next to the patio where the party was. It inspired me to try to make my own, frame-by-frame ones.

Below is my first ever GIF from scratch (!):

Firstone

Aaaand another one, using a random photo I found of myself.

looking_mai

Yay for learning new things. I’m excited to do more experimenting with elaborate drawings.

Signed up for a drawing class.

It took over 50 times of telling myself “this is going weekend when I’m finally going to spend at least 3 hours to sit and draw,” and the same number of times realizing that Sunday night has crept up on me and I again hadn’t made the time to do it. I can easily blame it on the fact that it’s hard to get shit done when you don’t have any set deadlines. Or that it’s difficult to be creative when you don’t have any sort of limitation to narrow the scope of the project.

It’s also that I have these stupid insecurity demons that are doing a good job of paralyzing me from getting back into it on my own. When I realized this, I knew I had to take a class if I wanted to make art again. Deadlines and lesson assignments are helpful, but what I really need is the hand-holding. That, in addition to thoughtful criticism…Not much makes me feel like my work is being valued than when it’s being criticized.

image(2)Colored pencil drawing from 2005 (approx. 2 ft x 1.5 ft)

In high school I was an art freak. I painted or danced every day after school, inhaled my Art History readings, and spent many weekends flipping through pages of art books at a 24-hour bookstore. In awe of Cézanne’s luscious colors, the expressive tones of Titian, or the trippy monsters of Hieronymus Bosch’s hell. Art was my refuge. I believed being an artist was the most courageous, honest, and beautiful way of living and I wanted to embody it. For various reasons though, I ended up becoming disillusioned by the idea and value of Art and decided I needed to understand the world better if I’m ever able to make things that are honest and bold. So… I threw myself into studying politics and working on social justice.

But my thinking about it starting to shift again and I now want to try pairing these disciplines together. It’s finally time.

"The Great Swindle": the Self-Perpetuating art of fakery

I just read this incredible thought-provoking piece by Roger Scruton, an English philosopher and writer, whom I’d never heard of before. It’s a long piece breaking down the modern obsession with what he calls “fakery” and kitsch. He describes it as a cultural ouroboros, where artists, their critics, and the public, are trapped in an endless delusional cycle of attempts to reject, and then embrace, the value of cliché.

It touches on a lot of issues I’ve been having with the post-modern art movement (or whatever the fuck we call it now). So much of the “art” and “culture” that I feel force fed on me, through museums, but even radio, magazines, and mainstream movie theatres, feel empty and contrived. In varying ways, they tend make me feel inadequate.

One example of this is a modern art exhibit. When I go to them, I usually feel as though the museum is trying to explain an inside joke to me. Those walls written with an explanation for why you should think that particular collection is important, might give me a history of those works, why it may have been groundbreaking, or maybe what it’s supposed to say about the society that I live in. If I don’t understand, or even if I do understand but don’t find it meaningful, there’s this underlying message of these statements that seem to say, “Well, you had to have been there.” Maybe that constant feeling of inadequacy has something to do with the lack of agency I feel in determining what is or isn’t culturally valuable, and how so often it’s not based on anything but a commercially-driven motive.

It’s late and I’m starting to feel like I’m talking in circles. Anyway, I took out a bunch of excerpts that I liked and compiled them below, mostly for my own personal keeping.

UPDATE: A twitter friend pointed out to me that this Scruton fellow faced a bit of controversy himself 10 years ago, when he wrote a seemingly objective, independent report on the impact of tobacco on health while receiving money from the industry itself. While I agree that’s definitely ironic, given that he lambasts “fakery” this entire piece, I don’t think that undermines it one bit.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The kitsch work of art is not a response to the real world, but a fabrication designed to replace it. Yet both producer and consumer conspire to persuade each other that what they feel in and through the kitsch work of art is something deep, important and real.

The fake intellectual invites you to conspire in his own self-deception, to join in creating a fantasy world. He is the teacher of genius, you the brilliant pupil. Faking is a social activity in which people act together to draw a veil over unwanted realities and encourage each other in the exercise of their illusory powers. The arrival of fake thought and fake scholarship in our universities should not therefore be attributed to any explicit desire to deceive. It has come about through the complicit opening of territory to the propagation of nonsense.

To gain the status of an original artist is not easy, but in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. There is, therefore, an incentive to fake it, to produce a complicit circle; the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.

…beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s urinal and passing through Andy Warhol’s silk screen portraits and Brillo boxes to the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case, the critics gathered like clucking hens around the new, inscrutable egg, and the fake was projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing.

….

Real emotion allows no substitutes, and is never the subject of a bargain or an exchange. Fake emotion seeks to discard the cost of feeling while receiving the benefit. It is therefore always ready to exchange its present object for a better one. The sentimental lover who enjoys the warm feelings of self-approval that accompany his love is also the one who moves quickly to another object should the present one prove too arduous — perhaps because he or she has developed some debilitating illness, or has grown old, weary and unattractive.

Kitsch art, by contrast, is designed to put emotion on sale: it works as advertisements work, creating a fantasy world in which everything, love included, can be purchased, and in which every emotion is simply one item in an infinite line of substitutes. The clichéd kiss, the doe-eyed smile, the Christmas-card sentiments: all advertise what cannot be advertised without ceasing to be. They commit the salesman to nothing. They can be bought and sold without emotional hardship, since the emotion, being a fantasy product, no longer exists in its committed form.

Fear of kitsch led to the routinisation of modernism. By posing as a modernist, the artist gives an easily perceivable sign of his authenticity. But the result is cliché of another kind. This is one reason for the emergence of a wholly new artistic enterprise that some call ‘postmodernism’ but which might be better described as ‘pre-emptive kitsch’.

In the place of modernist severity comes a kind of institutionalised fakery. Public galleries and big collections fill with the pre-digested clutter of modern life. Such art eschews subtlety, allusion and implication, and in place of imagined ideals in gilded frames it offers real junk in quotation marks. It is indistinguishable in the end from advertising — with the sole qualification that it has no product to sell except itself.

Perhaps the destiny of culture is to induct us all into a Disneyland dream whenever the dangerous lust for realities sweeps across us. When you look at the cultural institutions in democracies today, you might well be tempted to think that faking is their purpose, and that it is a purpose pursued for the good of us all.

Yet culture is important. Without it we remain emotionally uneducated. There are consequences of fake culture that are comparable to the consequences of corruption in politics. In a world of fakes, the public interest is constantly sacrificed to private fantasy, and the truths on which we depend for our rescue are left unexamined and unknown.

 

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