Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thinking about art and aesthetics and current times

Colin recently forwarded me an email from a friend of ours, Joe Innis, who is a very well-known modern impressionist painter. In his email, Joe talked about how young people no longer seem interested in art, which got me thinking about some patterns I've been noticing over the past two years. At the risk of stating the obvious, with each successive generation "art" means different things, and Joe's email got me thinking about what art might mean to young people now. It seems to me that drawing has re-emerged as a dominant artistic medium within the current 8 years old to 30 years old demographic in most developed countries. It seems to me that manga and comics/graphic novels are playing a large role in this trend, helped along by access to online fora where neophytes and professional cartoon artists share and comment on each other's work. The recent "Batgirl" meme on really brought home to me the sheer number of young and youngish people who spend a good deal of their time drawing professionally and/or for personal pleasure. So, is just drawing art? Not necessarily, I guess, but if we want to talk about art as a participatory medium, then we're certainly seeing that online. Flickr is a perfect example of the kind of art-for-and-by-the-masses trend I'm wanting to get at here. The accessibility of the photographic images posted to Flickr and the commentaries on popular photos that can often give viewers insights into what makes an effective photographic image and what doesn't, plus the sheer number of people who run active Flickr accounts suggests to me that aesthetic appreciation and artistic endeavour is very much alive and well. Of course, I'm not arguing that all photos are "art" in a classic sense, but it would strike me as difficult to mount an argument that works by Ivan and Snailbooty are not art.

There's a fine line between high art and participatory art, as always. Nonetheless, I'm also noticing some interesting trends towards the high art end of the spectrum with respect to art making and collecting. Designer, limited edition vinyl toys and their even more sought-after "customs" (i.e., customised versions of commercially available toys; e.g., Vinyl Pulse regularly posts images of one-of-a-kind customs) seem to be an esoteric but passionate arena, where design, art, digital image manipulation and popular culture meet and mix to form hybrid high art that is shown in galleries around the world and traded hotly on eBay (some customised figurines have sold in the tens of thousands of dollars recently). Nathan Jurvicius' Scarygirl series is a good example of the kind of thing I'm talking about here. Scarygirl began as a comic strip and evolved into a series of (sometimes limited-edition) dolls and associated artwork and other items. Nathan has had gallery showings in Australia, Canada, Japan, the US and elsewhere.

My point with all this is that it seems that a sizeable chunk of modern art is becoming more visual, more "graphic" -- in that people are producing and manipulating recognizable images, rather than deconstructing images to emphasise, say, light and shade or form etc. And much of this popular collectible art is also just plain funny. My Frank Kozik signed plaid Smorkin' Labbit just cracks me up every time I look at him. And my all-black, goth Scarygirl figurine cheers me up endlessly at work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lucky fellow

It's funny, but you just never know when those gadgets you buy on a whim just might get a chance to really kick in. Things like the wireless mouse and keyboard I paid large for, just to get a few less cables and, perhaps, some marginal extra manoeuverability around a desk or whatever. Or the voice recognition software that was gonna save me so much keying, but somehow I never got to be able to think clearly enough to just 'dictate' my best thoughts cogently to the machine.

I tend to have a bit of that kind of stuff hanging around, until recently under-utilised. But like those old British Cycle Thread nuts and bolts that come in handy when the old BSA or Triumph shakes out the bolt that holds the muffler or a footrest on, there is always the chance such things might really come into their own one day before they become obsolete.

So it happened for me, as I dictate this post to a Word doc blown up on the screen to 200% so i can read the text on the monitor I've hitched the laptop to, and that sits at the edge of my office desk here in JCU, Cairns, beside the mattress i am lying on.

And will be for much of the next few weeks. And, yes, the new edition of New Literacies is going much the same way. You know, speak a bit, use the wireless mouse and keyboard to make the corrections from the props being used to manipulate them, and save the files and so on.

It happened in Coatepec 2 weeks ago, although it took a while to get the situation responsibly sussed and to begin acting sensibly toward it. The unanticipated thing -- up a ladder painting a wall on a sturdy scaffold. Time to get a bit more paint. Shuffle along the narrow concrete ledge and step onto the ladder. Whoops. Ladder slips amd drops me 4 metres onto a large clay pot (maseta). I bounce onto the tiled courtyard and somehow get up. That's OK, I think. Hurts like hell, but life goes on.

Getting through the last two days of finishing the house off as far as may be for the meantime was hard sore work. Roberto finishes painting the wall for me, but there are still tiles to be got, furniture to be moved, cleaning up to be done, cars to be washed, debris to be cleared. The usual.

When I finally finish and get to the bus terminal the bus back to Mexico City is full. Roberto and his family and Michele have returned to Mexico City earlier by car, to do things they have to get done there. So I find a bus to Puebla, then make a midnight connection to Mexico City. Not very comfortable, mind you -- the terminal seating, the bus ... it's all the same thing ... one big ache. Next day there is packing to be done, apartment to clean, the usual. 12 kilos of coffee in the suitcase. Plus the usual suspects -- laptop, clothes, a cramped cab to airport, the 35 hour trip counting 8 hour layover in Sydney just to make really SURE of that connection. My suitcase FEELS very heavy. The flights are made almost OK by pillows under my legs to keep my backside off the seat, and some duty free headphones that cancel out noise so that Jack Daniels can wash the Tempra Forte through my system to the pain diverting joy of Doug Sahm's "Crazy Cajun" sessions, with some Donna's and Hives thrown in when extra distraction is required.

At the university folk are suggesting seeing a doctor. I decide to check out the impacted area for myself. Hold digital camera behind and point vaguely to the affected area. 30 clicks yield about 8 good photos. These become the "Blue Moon" session. Mirth aside, I don't like what I see. So for the first time in what passes for my memory I do something really rash, and listen to reason.

The doc orders X-rays. After seeing the X-rays the doc orders a scan. Eric takes me for the scan and then, next morning, back to the doc for the read out.

Two fractured vertebrae and up to 6 weeks rest, if you don't mind. The vertebrae are low ones, so long term movement won't be affected. Just very very lucky. Colleagues and friends bring food and kindness and good cheer. A week has made a big difference. A very big difference.

Meanwhile, the gadgets play a full hand.

And I find myself thinking a LOT about that beautiful Virgin of Guadalupe tile that I bought in Morelia, kept safely for several months, and then had Roberto inset into the wall between the front door of the house and the lounge window. The serene prayerful Virgin. The Virgin standing right beside where I came down.

So I give my thanks and pledge to try to do better with this life thing.

The Anti-Lessig Reader Wiki

Larry Lessig is just a treasure. Everything he does is smart. Like, real smart. And humble, and just deeply committed to enhancing what we know about the world and how we move about in it.

He's just established a wiki that's designed to collate and open up spaces for commenting on critiques of his published work (e.g., Free Culture). The purpose of the bloog, according to larry, is to "The aim of this page is to build a collection of content that criticizes my work. ... My aim is to create a simple source for "the other side of the story." (via Will Richardson's blog)

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