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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

1feb2015

Happy February, everyone! Here in the midwest we're having our first major snowstorm of the season, and I'm rather enjoying the 10 plus inches we're expected to receive. Of course, I don't have to drive anywhere in it, so there's that.

What I ought to be doing is working up samples for actual commissions (hi customers!) or at the very least, making art of some kind—guild challenges, painting with acrylics, etc—but since I'm not, I figured I could at least come up with a blog post. Not to mention some etsy listings! So here's a couple of sweet little heart-themed wall hangings. I'm featuring them now because Valentine's is coming up, but if you're not into rotating your house furnishings, they could certainly hang around (heh) year around. Both pieces are small, about 8x10.5 inches, with a warm tan and rich pink color scheme, for the very reasonable price of $25 each.

For those of you for whom this blog is all beads all the time, well, I have a post featuring some heart-shaped beads as well:)

31jan2015

Our local libraries annually pick books for the patrons to read, and then in February bring in the author (or somebody related) to talk about the book; along with reading groups in the like. This year's choice is a novel, which is kind of unusual, but it appealed to me because two of the protagonists were Japanese; plus, I like the idea of participating in a community reading program.

Most of the reviews focus on the 16 year old narrator, a Japanese girl who lived in the US long enough to feel very alienated when her folks move back to Japan after the dot-com crash; or her marvellous and delightful 104 year old great grandmother, Juku, a buddhist nun in Ruth Ozeki's For the Time Being. Compelling as their voices are I actually ended identifying with Ruth, who is more of a framing character, and her husband (who are indeed the author and her husband.)

The whole book plays with these blurring boundaries, as you are pretty much informed on the first page, when the narrator, via her diary (cleverly disguised as an old copy of Proust's In Search of Lost Time, which should give you a clue) explains this buddhist concept of a ‘time being’. She herself is such, via the diary she's put in a hello kitty lunchbox; whales are; her great grandmother is...you the reader (and the author who finds this diary) are. The stories—the girl's, and the author's—move in tandem.

The book is chock full of delightful constructions (like the diary); stuff about Buddhism (the author is Buddhist), the great gyres (SN just this month had an article about these giant oceans of trash) the isolated island to which the author has retreated with her ill spouse, who recovers his health amongst nature, even as she comes to feel more isolated, cut off from New York City, and its creative vitality.

The protag, meanwhile, details the joys of being bullied and shunned in Japanese high school, losing her US friends, watching her formerly successful dad try (and fail) to get a job, try (and fail) to commit suicide via train, while referencing the akihibara and harajuku districts of Tokyo (which we visited last summer) not to mention f2tY's high school, in which it was very clear her classmates were thrilled to see their American classmate again. Also, we rode trains all over the country, and yes, one was delayed (probably) because of ‘human intervention’ —the euphemism for suicide or attempted suicide by jumping off the platform. So these synchronicities or not-quite-shared-experiences were kind of disorienting in that sense, because I knew just enough for this to intersect with my reality.

But for all that, it was the middle-aged protagonist with whom I most identified, the author|character who feels herself something of a failure, whose not written any novels for over a decade, and whose memoir of that time, taking care of her dying mother, is a mess. She's spinning her wheels, in effect. Meanwhile, as I was reading this, our comics librarian, who is awesome, had a new book by Inio Asano, Solanin. I was deeply impressed by Nijigahara Holograph (which btw is also about bullying in Japanese schools and possibly the most intricately plotted thing I've ever read) so I was happy to read this straightforward earlier work, about a bunch of rather aimless, artsy 20 somethings, particularly Meiko Inoue, who takes up the guitar to master the eponymous song of the title, as well.

Oddly enough, both the middle-aged Ruth, and 24 year old Meiko, come to much the same conclusion by the end of their books, if not at their stories: that life may not be perfect, but that it is, for the time being, good enough. That, for all its petty frustrations, they—we—I—have it pretty good. I've always understood that some books, some stories, resonate with particular readers; but the cultural milieu—modern Japan—meant that the stories, in a sense, interacted with each other: that whole ‘genre is a series of conversations’ thing Bujold likes to talk about. More: this is what culture is (and why densely packed people, and their X^2 interactions, are so important to it:)

And, oddly enough today's item goes with that pretty well: this gift is nothing special, but it was the best I was able to find.

26jan2015

Went and saw Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery (at a theatre inside an art museum, how appropriate) but at three hours, this thing is way too long. I was able to sit through it, but my companion had to get up and physically stretch her legs; the patron in front of us left, perhaps half or two-thirds of the way through. Part of the problem is that it's really two films: one, the one I (as an artist) was interested in watching about the restoration, installation and other behind-the-scenes technical aspects of running the museum.

The other strand documented people's —curators, docents, assorted museum-goers, including lovers, students, the nearly blind and a lot of middle to elderly aged men—reactions to, and interactions with, the art. Acting as sort of a transition between these two components were the discussions and planning by upper echelon museum staff, with regard to it politics, planning, and finances.

The film starts out with an earnest mid-level board member attempting to convince the director that the museum needs to be more accessible, more relatable to the average citizan, who, she says, doesn't really get why the museum or its contents are so special. The director sits politely, unconvinced, as she goes on and on and on and on. I sympathized with her because an awful lot of people do in fact, regard art museums as something ‘for rich people.’ I also wasn't terribly surprised to note that (so far as I could tell) the top two positions were filled by men; most of the mid-level employees (and all the docents except one) were women. All of the laborers were, of course, men. There were three people of color who could be said to be working; two were menials, the other (a pianist) obviously hired part-time.

At the same time, no, I don't really think art museums need to have banners advertising this or that charity, or corporation (or corp sponsoring a charity, though coming up with cute, potentially viral vids that encourage people to check out their local museum sounds great). Director Penny clearly sees as his job to conserve the museum and its traditions, and preserve the art within. Which I suppose brings me to the heart of the underlying problem: the art shown in this film is a tiny, but famous and recognizable, portion of the collections: paintings, mostly oil paintings, dating from (I wanna say) roughly 1400–1900, with an emphasis on French, Italian and British ‘big names’.

Museums, so I was informed in another quite interesting documentary, are having a difficult time competing with modern collectors with lots of money to spend, and a desire to validate their taste (and wealth) with high-status art—that is, the same big names Wiseman focuses his camera on. This annoys for two reasons: one, of course, is that it's pretty hard for the average person to see art in private collections. But the other is the reinforcing of what is “proper” art: white, western, European. One docent mentions to a group of black youths that it ‘needs to be acknowledged’ that museum was founded with money extracted from the backs of slaves. That's all very well, but the black kids already likely have a sense of that, if not the exact history; it's all the well-to-do whites that really need to be reminded of this.

To be sure, it's encouraging that some major institutions are combatting this; but the fact of the matter is, all those paintings were, for the most part, commercial art made for patrons who could pay for it; just as today, the bulk of art is commercial, one way or another (little as the so-called ‘fine art’ world cares to admit this.) One of the things I love about the internet is that fans of odd little niches can find each other (and also that what I suspect is Impression-equivalent: graffiti and other street art, or comics, are starting to get some recognition.)

The National Gallery deserves plenty of kudos for trying to make art accessible to wider audiences (such as the visually impaired) as well as the making of art (we're shown a number of non-professionals learning to draw from the nude model, which is generally not something encouraged for non-artists). There's no question that looking at really top flight stuff in museums has sharpened my critical faculties. At the same time, there's an awful lot of art made by artists who can't support themselves; and if our culture placed more value on art-making, particularly more kinds of art-making, from the get-go, then I think the need to educate people on the importance of museums would naturally disappear.

The theatre always presents us, the audience, with a review of the film, and I enjoy comparing my reactions to that of the professional reviewer. In this case, we both clearly found the parts of the documentary about restoration (and to a lesser extent interpretation in a historical context) of the paintings to be most riveting. Rembrandt, for example, decided he didn't like/couldn't sell a large canvas, so he rotated it 90 degrees, and started painting anew, without even bothering to put another ground, (probably) incorporating material from the prior piece into the new one. That's the sort of thing I'd do, and that fact, derived from careful scientific analysis, is of far greater interest to me than what a painting means, nor even the silent communion with paintings the film-maker so lovingly depicts, over and over and over.

At first, I resented that most of these admirers seemed to be middle-aged or older white men; women, youths, PoC being more likely to be shown in line, or in groups, or the like; but I finally concluded that these men were standing in for, and representing the creator himself. —Which, to be honest, was the part that really needed to be cut. Wiseman, consciously or not, attempted to direct our sympathies away from the mid-level employee and her argument about accessibility to the average person by opening the documentary with a too-long cut to open the film. But a good portion of his film, to my mind, illustrated the strength of her arguments: art needs to be accessible to everyone, not just rich white guys. And that means, we need to know museums show more than just da Vinci, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

(So, is giftwrapping ‘art’? Most people would say no, or, hell no. Internally, I'm using the same software to create it as stuff that does get labelled art. So, who knows? But that's why I find these distinctions rather baffling.)

11jan2015

My favorite online/youtube mathematician, Vi Hart, has a cool new interactive program that shows how even slight preferences cause people to segregate themselves pretty readily. (via skepchick, I think...) The accompanying article explains, moreover, how strongly these patterns persist— unless you add a rule that participants actively desire to live with others unlike them.

The town I live in readily demonstrates this: it has five districts, and during the era after the Civil War & before WWI, its black population, then the highest percentage of any city in the state & originally pretty evenly distributed, was forced into one district by covenants, which I'm very sorry to say were enforced (at least informally) well into the 50s (and probably beyond, since an adjacent neighborhood still has members who call the cops on black guys silly enough to go door to door looking for odd jobs). A century later this pattern still persists, though I didn't learn the history until a year ago, despite having resided here well over a decade, and belonging to various historical groups for much of that time. The fact that our city is mixed overall was a plus for us, but owing to ignorance about this history, we inadvertently reinforced the old, bad, pattern.

This of course is the point of the game, and what SJWs mean when they talk about “structural injustice”. What this game does is to allow ordinary folk to understand why active programs (e.g. affirmative actions) are necessary to reverse bad trends, with nice mathematical rigor. And cute shapes:)

Speaking of shapes I have another bead curtain strand, this time in ambers and greens. Enjoy.

7jan2015

So, bouncing back to the crochet (two posts ago) here's some linkies I liked for learning scrumbles specifically (part II) of a cute blue scrumble a green scrumble by the same folks, prudence mapstone (originator of the technique, I believe), plus instructables sand/shore/sea bag.

And of course, no roundup would be complete without the project that originally inspired me, LisaViolinViola's gorgeous green freeform mitts. In fact the blog has a ton of wonderful freeform examples.

Or you can look at another orange beadcurtain strand, which I suppose is also technically freeform.

6jan2015

Happy New Year/Epiphany/12th Day of Christmas/Tuesday, everyone:)

Found the most luscious pair of socks (you may need a ravelry login to see the link), so making those—or at least a simple every-other-stitch stranded two color pair is one New Year resolution. I love the way the pattern disappears into plain white, as if the toes were dug into snow.

For those of you not yet tired of winter, here are some gorgeous macrophotos of snow crystals, and along the lines of another dpreview feature is a new photographer who did a year of pix every day to learn. I'd like to start ploughing through strobist's photography 102 flash course (though if I manage one lesson a week, I'd be thrilled...). First thing—got the recommended flash, but now I need the light stand to stick it on!

Of course, I'm always still recovering from last year, this early on—just turned the heels on a pair of socks I started, um, last March, and today's feature was supposed to be delivered to the customer...in October.

Ah well, I do usually get this stuff done. Eventually.