Category Archives: art

The Thing About Taxes

I will preface this by saying I am not well-researched in the areas of politics, national financing, or whatever actually goes into this mess, in the United States or elsewhere.

But I think it might be worth mentioning my thoughts on a few things, based on personal experiences, and some things I’ve heard that just… don’t make a lot of sense.

Taxes aren’t inherently bad.

The word “tax” in itself has come to have largely negative connotations–if you’re being “taxed” by something, you’re being weighed down or put upon. We have classic examples of people, like the Sheriff of Nottingham from the Robin Hood stories, who abuse taxes.

In a truly ironic state of affairs, my dad is adamantly against any kind of raise in taxes, but he also works for the state of Minnesota, and part of our taxes are what pay his own wages.

But if taxes are being abused, for things like… oh, say, a giant wall, or a football stadium… then, yeah, I wholeheartedly understand the aversion.

I don’t think anyone is ever entirely sure what taxes are used for, but there’s obviously some mismanagement going on somewhere, and that’s the bad thing. Taxes themselves? They have some truly positive possibilities.

Let’s just, for the sake of imagination, pretend that a perfect world is possible. What should taxes, in a perfect world (and my opinion) be used for?

  • Protecting/conserving the environment
  • Researching and developing important new innovations in energy, transportation, and health (cure for cancer, anyone?)
  • Providing/maintaining a basic standard of health and well-being for everyone
  • Paying first responders, health professionals, and peace-keepers
  • Educating people well
  • Preserving culture by investing in arts, museums, libraries, archives, and community centers
  • Community improvements, like road construction, parks & rec, etc.
  • Providing some kind of safety net and/or rehabilitation programs for those who are  out of work and/or homeless. (This would include retirement, and being out of work due to an injury, veteran benefits, and other things of that nature, in addition to being in a bad situation for other reasons.)

Some people are really put out by the thought of providing for others. Which… I get, to some extent. At the moment, it’s hard to fathom providing for myself, let alone anyone else in the country–but that’s because a lot of things in “the system” are broken. They’re not being used the way they should.

If I had the peace of mind that came with guaranteed good health, the basic ability to learn the things I need to know without being in debt for the foreseeable future, and the reassurance that life as we know it wasn’t on its way to being toasted out of the Earth like a bad virus, I would happily give away a third or more of my income for the rest of my life.

In a perfect world, what would your taxes be used for?

What would you be willing to provide, to make your own life and the lives of others easier?

The Sketchbook Project

The Brooklyn Art Library, “a free museum where you can touch the art,” regularly offers a really cool opportunity, called the Sketchbook Project.

On a whim, I decided to participate in vol. 14. The process goes like this: purchase a sketchbook (a modest 5″x7″, my favorite size), and choose whether you would like your sketchbook to be included in the digital library (of course, yes, please). Receive your adorable, simple, blank sketchbook in the mail. Do something. Send it back by the deadline.

You can send your sketchbook back later than the deadline (vol. 14 needed to be postmarked by March 30th), but collections of the latest volume usually go on tour somewhere before arriving at their forever home in Brooklyn. Late arrivals will still be accepted at the Library, but will miss out on the tour portion of the project. Selections from the vol. 14 collection are going to cities around the U.S., including Brooklyn (of course), Boston, Providence, St. Petersburg, Washington D.C., Richmond, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

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Off to the post office! Made it on time.

Part of my motivation for participating in this project was marketing. I’m trying to pursue several blogs and other ideas, and I thought this would be a really interesting way to (potentially) draw some attention to those prospects.

But it ended up being something very different.

It became more a form of therapy than anything. When I opened it, I was faced with blank pages, and the fear of messing up, of people seeing the opposite of what I wanted. I was afraid that my ideas weren’t interesting enough, or that my art wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid that I was going to end up wasting my time and embarrassing myself.

I didn’t know how to start, but I had to do something with this book while I had it. So I did what I’ve been doing pretty much nonstop for the last four years: I started writing. Now, I hadn’t actually written consistently by hand for a long time. It had been even longer since I had written words in pencil–something smudgy and impermanent and so forgiving. I wrote before I went to sleep, random thoughts floating around in my tired brain.

The first page was unfortunate. It was clogged with anxiety and insecurities. But, as I went along, the pages became more optimistic, more reflective, more abstract. I added color, changed up the style and direction of the text. I sketched.

And then something amazing happened.

 

I completed the first full, inked composition I had done, probably since 2012 (seven years ago!) when I was at the Perpich Arts High School. I wasn’t entirely sure that I still had the know-how–but then it worked. I created another, and another.

I posted pictures of my work to a group on Facebook and got the very unambiguous reply: “do more of this.”

I want to.

Through the process of letting go and allowing myself the time and space to just do art, I rediscovered some of the self-confidence I had lost, and improved my immediate outlook on life. It was a little sad to part with the sketchbook, but I’m excited to see it again in the digital library, and for people to look at it and touch it and think about it in-person, across the country.

Toward the end of the time I had left to work on it, I traced my hand on an open page. I hope that many more people will place their hands in that outline. Maybe the page will yellow with their fingerprints.

I may have to go to New York someday to find out.

If you want to explore your own process, and share something of yourself with the world, vol. 15 is now available. 🙂

Make All the Things: 3D Printing with Thingiverse

Over the weekend, my boyfriend, Rick, described to me a population of people who call themselves “makers” — they don’t just do any one craft, he said; they do all kinds of things to make whatever they want.

To which I replied, “True story.”

To give you some background, I have been making things since I was… born? Age eight was when I first learned how to sew and embroider, but I was drawing long before then, and each additional craft I learned thereafter came pretty naturally to me. I’m not a master at anything, but if you give my hands something to do, man, they’ll do it.

Rick, in contrast, is a tech guy. He’s clever, a good storyteller, and he knows his way around just about anything that runs on electricity, but when it comes to hands-on making, he doesn’t quite have the coordination to do what he envisions. When I watch him try to draw or sculpt–or chop vegetables–I can tell he has a lot of the theoretical knowledge it takes to make things, but he hasn’t spent the majority of his life practicing.

There is no one recipe for what a maker is or does, and the level of skill they have to execute their projects varies, but they all have one thing in common: they make things. And, now that we are living in The Future, there are quite a few makers who have branched into the realm of 3D printing.

Rick loves 3D printing. His 3D printers (he has two of them now) are little robots who do his artistic bidding. Any problems with the quality of the crafts they put out can be improved by a hardware modification here, a software modification there. It’s been fun to witness his excitement and creativity.

A community of other 3D-printing-savvy makers help to keep Rick and his little robots busy, day and night, through a website called Thingiverse. Thingiverse contains not only free 3D printing files for a vast assortment of objects, but also an active community of makers ready to give each other pointers on how to use the files, and improve the ease and quality of printing.

As an example, Rick downloaded the file for a dice tower (the two of us are also nerds who play D&D 😉 ), but he noticed that there was an issue with the design: one section of the tower printed with a solid top, which isn’t particularly useful if you expect dice to drop all the way through. Other makers had noticed the same issue, and the person who originally posted the file responded to their concerns by creating and distributing an updated version of the design, which fixed the problem.

Thingiverse offers an array of files for toys, gifts, tools, containers, miscellaneous parts, printer modifications, and just about anything else you can think of, but it is an especially exciting resource for those of us who play tabletop games like D&D. The makers of Thingiverse allowed us to take a two-dimensional map with dry-erase lines and turn it into a little three-dimensional world (which will become even more detailed once we 3D print ourselves a few extra tools to make sanding and painting easier).

A lot of the scenery you see here was made with free files available on Thingiverse:
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Happy printing!

Taking Back Twerking

For many Americans, saying the word “twerk” conjures up images of rap videos where scantily-clad gyrate their hips while bent over a blinged-out Cadillac Escalade. Twerking is seen as sexual, incredibly controversial and even scandalous. Just look at the astonished reaction that Miley Cyrus’ surprise twerk session at the VMA Awards in 2013. For a lot of white Americans, this was their first encounter with what appeared to be a lewd, almost primitive form of dancing.
This is sad and frustrating to me as a native Islander. Long before white celebs like Miley hijacked it to cause a stir, the act that Americans call “twerking” was a simple form of dancing, an expression of passion, a cultural movement. Growing up in Haiti, we didn’t call it twerking — we called it dance. It wasn’t scandalous — it was just moving our bodies in celebration of all the good things of life.
I vividly remember a day after my family moved to the U.S. from Haiti. I had grown up with the beautiful dances of the islands, which I carried back with me to the states. I had been dancing as I always had in front of some American family friends. Their scornful looks of disgust still burn in my mind. “Why does such an innocent little girl like her dance like that?” they asked my parents.
To me, I see this as a conflict between cultural norms. In Afro-centric cultures like the Caribbean, we value physical freedom of expression, including moving our bodies as a means of celebration. In the U.S., there is still a puritan abhorrence of anything that can be interpreted as being overtly sexual. The rap artists who have plastered our minds with images of women twerking are partially at fault for this. They’ve taken something pure and wholesome and turned it into a precursor to sex. But that’s never what it was supposed to be — it was simply an expression of joy.
Ladies, it’s time to take back our twerking.

Make Time to Cultivate Your Hobbies

writers-block

When I was ten years old—just a nerdy girl in middle school—a substitute teacher came to cover another teacher who was on maternity leave and declared that she’d be teaching a creative writing class for a few weeks. I’d never done any sort of writing before, beyond homework and letters to distant family members, and the thought intrigued me. I jumped into it, fueled by the desire to create stories, and I’ve prided myself on being a writer ever since.

As with everything, mastering writing or any other beloved hobby doesn’t happen overnight. It requires practice and dedication, and a drive to succeed above all cost.

And as a writer, I fall short of that knowledge every day.

Continue reading Make Time to Cultivate Your Hobbies

Was Vermeer a human camera?

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the movie Tim’s Vermeera documentary about a genius inventor obsessed with creating his own Vermeer painting. Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter born in 1632 who specialized in recreating scenes of domestic life in vivid detail. The painting below is a good example of his work.

Johannes Vermeer "The Geographer"
Johannes Vermeer “The Geographer”

The subject of the film is Tim Jenison, a video graphics specialist who made a fortune as a 3D innovator. Jenison believes the photographic quality of Vermeer’s work would be impossible for a human to paint by sight alone. Instead, Jenison suggests the painter used a specialized “camera obscura” to create a mirror image of whatever he wanted to paint. Then he would blend color on the canvas until it matched the reflection.

Jenison isn’t the first to suggest Vermeer used this type of technology to assist in his paintings, but he is the first person who ever set out to prove it. Since no real documentation exists other than the paintings themselves, Jenison decided to recreate a Vermeer painting using only the technology available at the time the painter was alive. The catch? Jenison had no prior painting experience.

Jenison with the optical tools he used  (Tim's Vermeer)
Jenison with the optical tools he used (Tim’s Vermeer)

Through a painstaking process that took over two years, Jenison eventually completes a painting that looks nearly identical to the Vermeer he was imitating. While this doesn’t prove that Vermeer used this method, it certainly shows that it is possible and maybe even likely. How else could the colors and detail in his paintings be so life-like?

Rather than trying to defame or cheapen Vermeer’s work, this film does a great job of showing that art is not always what it seems. It clearly shows the blurred lines between art and invention, painter and tinkerer, and even genius and madness. The movie was directed by Teller (of Penn and Teller fame), and although it was a little dry even for a documentary, I’d still highly recommend seeing it.

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Can you tell the difference? Tim’s Vermeer, left, and actual Vermeer, right (The Music Lesson).

Revolutionary Communication: 1968 Paris Uprising Posters

Cook’s Choice- POST 5


My first sighting of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster was at Barbette in Minneapolis. I routinely peruse billboards and I don’t think I hesitated more than five seconds before I unpinned it from the cork board, rolled it up and gently tucked it under my arm. I knew I had a treasure (and besides, there was more than one). The bartender noticed and I had to do a little sweet talking, but I still have that poster, among others. Not all of the posters I’ve collected are political, but it seems that some of the best posters in history have been either musically or politically oriented. 

“Return to Normal”

  
It’s widely acknowledged that the political posters from the Paris Uprisings of 1968 greatly define the genre. I was first exposed to this period of French history through the steamy film The Dreamers, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and set before and during the uprising. The posters shown briefly in the film piqued my interest more than the NC-17 content did, yet I could only find limited information, most of which was in French. Thanks to the Arab Spring and Occupy, the history of protest and protest art seem to have gained a lot of attention lately. There are all kinds of sources on the net and also a few beautiful new books dealing specifically with the poster art of this brief period.
 

“Be Young and Shut Up”

The uprising started with a small student protest and burgeoned into a 11,000,000 worker labor strike- 22% of France’s population at the time. They shut down the country and President Charles de Gaulle’s government was dangerously close to being toppled. You will often see de Gaulle caricatured as a large-nosed figure (see poster to the left). At the end of the protests, the National Assembly was dissolved and new parliamentary elections were held. The uprising forever changed France- all in two weeks!

“A Youth Disturbed Too Often by the Future”

The posters are the product of a group of art students called the Atelier Populaire (Popular Workshop). They took over the printing studios of their own university and cranked out an impressive volume and variety of posters in a remarkably short time. They switched from lithography to silkscreen because the prior method was too slow– the group often produced over 2000 posters per night. Most of the posters are monochrome, simple in design and direct in message. Posters were chosen by vote within the group and then posted nightly for the public to see current issues every morning. I will never again complain about how much work a social media campaign can be!

Although Occupy and these students share a common root (Situationist International), there is nothing vague about the poster messages of May 1968. They express anxiety for the future and distrust of authority and the press. They warn and inform of police brutality and call for for unity of the workforce and a better quality of life. They express that merely producing and consuming goods is not a good way to live and encouraged the viewer to believe that so much more was possible. They encouraged people to fight for change.

 

Atelier Populaire Mission Statement:
“The posters produced by the Atelier Populaire are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict … in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect.”

Individual artists never took credit nor signed their work and long after these events had passed, the Popular Workshop refused to put any of the posters up for sale. I’m sure if these students had the media at the time, they would of been gods of Twitter and Facebook. Fortunately the media of the time left us a lasting and powerful record that is still relevant today. Despite the fact that the Popular Workshop would despise and discount me for a bourgeoisie, I would love to have just one of these posters prominently displayed in my collection. Ça, c’est dommage!  

To view more posters check out Art for Change.
To buy a book, see Beauty Is in the Street: A Visual Record of the May ’68 Paris Uprising