Welcome, Members of Parliament

Welcome, Members of Parliament. This blog is designed to act as a student forum for anyone enrolled in my classes at a Dallas-area proprietary college, former students, and/or others who find our conversations interesting. The Parliament will be moderated to ensure civility and relevance. The directions we take, the paths we follow, and the concerns we address are all up to you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Caravaggio at the Kimbell

Art History 2/History of Art & Design II students might be interested in the Kimbell Art Museum's new blockbuster show, Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome, which started yesterday.

Caravaggio was an absolute master at manipulating light and shadow, as well as creating the most dramatic of all possible interpretations of any biblical passage that inspired him--such as the Sacrifice of Isaac, above (1594-96), now usually housed in Florence's Uffizi Gallery.

For a review of the exhibition, see Scott Cantrell's article in the Dallas Morning News from last Sunday.

The upcoming formal analysis essay assignment provides as good an excuse as any to head to Fort Worth for this chance to see Caravaggio's work, and that of his contemporaries. His enormous influence is well represented in this show.Link

Monday, October 3, 2011

Paleolithic Children's Art

n my way home from work during the break, I heard about this cave, and these "finger flutings" on PRI's The World. Marco Werman interviewed an archaeologist (Jessica Cooney) who's been working in the "Cave of the Hundred Mammoths" in Rouffignac, Dordogne region, France--in the same general area as Lascaux Cave.

One of the things old folks like me actually enjoy is learning stuff we don't already know--and this was certainly a new one on me! I had never heard of Rouffignac, let alone the Mammoth drawings--nor anything called finger flutings (trailing fingers in damp clay to make designs).

I'll be bringing this up in the Art & Design I and Art History I classes this week, but thought some of you who are already beyond these classes might also enjoy learning something new.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Illumination and Mythography

Former student and app-designer extraordinaire, Alex Antonio, sent this link--having remembered, no doubt, what fun he had illuminating a manuscript for me: Art Student Hand-Illuminates, Binds a Copy of Tolkien’s Silmarillion. I'm not posting an image for copyright reasons, but the link takes you to the article. Make is a terrific magazine (in print or digital form), anyway--well worth noting for many reasons. I'm always happy to plug stuff I love to read.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Drawing Lessons

During my daily noodle through the New York Times, I ran across a terrific series in their Opinionator segment. It's called "Line By Line," written by James McMullan, and is "about rediscovering the lost skill and singular pleasure of drawing."

The first installment, "Getting Back to the Phantom Skill" (September 10, 2010) discusses why he embarked on the twelve-part series, and introduces his plan. Scattered throughout the columns are examples from art history that show how skills develop and how artists have used them in the past. The series ended last December with "The Road to the Ten Unknowns," about McMullan's creation of a theater poster.

This is about the best informal art course I've seen since I came across John Ruskin's Elements of Drawing a few years back, and has reminded me to reorder it (an overly enthusiastic student apparently couldn't resist the temptation and pinched my copy). Ruskin was not only an art critic and supporter of both Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but taught drawing at the school he founded at Oxford in 1841.

The Ashmolean Museum houses his teaching collection, and has a website devoted to The Elements of Drawing. The materials are vast (they include a video drawing lesson based on Ruskin's principles) and of interest to anybody who wants to learn to draw--or to draw better.

The book costs less than $10 in paperback; the only thing cheaper and that good is the McMullan series.

Image notes: The painting is John Ruskin in His Study at Brantwood, by William Collingwood (1881); the self portrait is watercolor touched with bodycolour over pencil, 1861. Both from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Endangered Alphabets

As many of you already know, I'm a lover of the word. Words, books, alphabets, languages--all aspects of reading and writing as a human cultural/technological activity fall under my owlish gaze.

So when I saw a review of Tim Brookes's Endangered Alphabets project, I was immediately intrigued, and got on board (a really awful pun, if you think about it).

Lovers of type and typography would do well to take a look at this, and contribute if you have any spare cash on hand. I've ordered the book and will share it with everyone when it comes.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

News, Newsreels, and Uncle News

For no particular reason, other than the fact that I'd been going through old photographs yesterday, it occurred to me to do a bit of research on an old family friend, Newsreel Wong.

Wong made a name for himself in the late '30s for a photograph he took (and possibly staged to some extent) of a baby on a Shanghai train platform.

What I didn't know was that he had been in New York City on July 28, 1945, when a disoriented pilot flew his Boeing B-25 Mitchell Bomber into the Empire State Building. Visiting the Hearst Metrotone offices early that morning, Newsreel Wong had been the only one in an office when the phone rang, and he answered it. He ended up commandeering a camera and headed to the site, where he was able not only to shoot the exterior of the building but got in to get film of the offices that were affected. The only other person who managed to gain access was Max Markman, who posed as a doctor, and shot the footage of the event included in this British Pathé newsreel.

A less sensationalized version of the coverage can also be found on YouTube, but I thought this highly edited bit was interesting for its embellishments. Since I'll be teaching the Visual Anthropology course in the Fall, this could provide some talking points about the role of the observer in the interpretation of events, and the impact editing has on the reception of information.

I don't know what happened to Wong's footage, but locating this particular event during an innocent search for a character from my past (he was known to my brother and me as "Uncle News" and lived near us on Yang Ming Shan outside of Taipei) amounts to a bit of the kind of synchronicity we've been talking about in the Myth class. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 nears, this incident resonates eerily with more recent events.

One of the best blogs about media history I've ever found on the web is Amanda Emily's Feeding the News Beast: A Century of Tales from Behind the Lens. Her post on this event is the source of much of my information, and one on Wong himself explains how he got his nickname. Digital Video and Photography students ought to bookmark her site, because it's an endlessly informative record of visual news coverage.

Note: I'm posting this entry on both the Cabinet and The Owls' Parliament, due to its potential interest for a variety of audiences.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tidying Up Art

In this week's History of Art & Design II class, I mentioned Ursus Wehrli's book, Tidying Up Art as a commercial example of parody. One of my students (sorry; can't remember who) said that he'd seen a TED talk by Wehrli, so I looked it up, and here it is.

Just in case you have a few minutes to spare, or need a break from studying for midterms.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Design and Stuff

For my first Summer quarter post, I was inspired by an article in Good about whether or not it's possible for designers to save the world without creating more stuff. Material objects are, after all, the focus of our design programs at AiDallas. What would to design mean if we weren't focused on creating objects?

One of the major revelations to come out of my first week of classes (and I don't know why this hadn't occurred to me before) was that in the ancient world, people made things carefully because they couldn't just go down to their local Buy More and get a replacement when something broke. There probably wasn't much garbage to pick up, because early economies weren't based on disposable objects. Everything was designed with its purpose in mind, and the designs (as we learn from Uhlmeyer's Rule of Technological Development #312) endured when technologies changed. That's why the early ceramic jugs in neolithic Turkey looked just like the baskets they had replaced as water carriers.

In our art & design history discussions during these first two weeks of classes, we've talked about the notion of "art for art's sake"--the nineteenth-century idea that "fine" art was qualitatively better than "applied" art because it was made for no purpose other than its beauty. But the Greeks and Romans made beautiful things that all had uses: funerary or heroic statues, painted pottery for drinking wine, temples for worshiping gods, etc. The words they used for art (techne and ars) both contained the idea that the objects be well-crafted, skillfully wrought.

Archaeologists love ancient dumps (middens) because they contain clues about the people who occupied the sites under study. But those dumps rarely contain objects discarded whole--only broken bits of things. Acoma Pueblo native Americans actually gather old potsherds to add to new pots made using traditional techniques, wasting nothing. In fact, the reason Indiana Jones isn't a believable archaeologist is that he just takes whole objects out of context--something no reputable scientist would ever do. The real guys in the safari hats get their kicks out of finding bits and pieces that can be put back together to give us an idea about what they originally looked like and what they were used for. Just about the only time we find collections of intact artifacts is when they've been buried by some disaster, like the eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius or Thera.

I hadn't realized before this week that the archaeology exercise my humanities students do (figuring out what random objects in a box might "mean") is more realistic than I'd imagined, because the stuff in the boxes is all twenty-first century junk: miscellaneous bits of useless crap randomly put together, just like what future archaeologists are going to find in our landfills. Cheesy little toys from Happy Meals, broken crayons, miscellaneous buttons, and junky jewelry are going to tell our story more potently than a museum full of art works.

In the opening photograph, all of the items pictured could be recycled; instead some idiot (or idiots) left them in a pine forest somewhere. The plastics will be there just about forever--and somebody designed every one of these objects.

So here's the question: how do fashion, interior, web, graphic, and other designers create without just adding more junk to the growing mounds of waste on this planet?

Image credit: Photo by Michelangelo-36, via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spring Quarter Miscellany

Due to major lack of interest on my students' part, as well as lack of time on my own, I've neglected the Parliament for the entire quarter. Sudden needs for bonus points have emerged, however, and so to accommodate those who've been suddenly inspired to enhance their final grades, I'm offering up a couple of newsy bits that might be useful to some of you.

An old friend of my art and design history and humanities courses, Maggie Macnab (Macnab Design) recently presented a TEDx talk in Albuquerque, called "The Nature of Symbols." This should be interesting to anyone involved in design, advertising, branding, and any number of artistic pursuits.

I've frequently recommended Macnab's book, Decoding Design, to instructors and students alike, and her newest effort, Design By Nature, will be published later this year.

Here's one that goes to show you that taking art history classes might not be a complete waste of time. The Morgan Library & Museum in New York has launched an exhibit called Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands, and the New York Times review of the show includes a nifty slide show with images from the featured manuscripts. Karen Rosenberg, who wrote the review notes that it "will teach you to scrutinize centuries-old manuscripts as you would a style magazine." For fashion history students, this approach seems made in heaven; not only can you find out what people wore when, but you might also be struck with inspiration for new and unusual designs based on centuries-old models. Aspiring rock singers could out-gaga Lady Gaga with information like this!

For further inspiration, try perusing the manuscript illumination images on Wikimedia Commons, where I found the image of Queen Isabelle of France at left. It's a 15th century painting by a guy known as "the Boethius Master" for the Froissart Chronicles.

This will undoubtedly be my last (as well as first) post for the quarter, so I hope everyone has a splendid summer vacation. I think we all deserve a bit of time off after having slogged through 22 weeks with only a seven-day break in the middle, and a couple of holidays that may have done more harm than good. Be careful out there!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

This Just In

As I mentioned in a couple of classes last week, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has not fared quite as well during and after the recent revolution as I reported a while back.

Rather, significant looting seems to have taken place, not only at the museum itself, but in storehouses elsewhere. The editorial by the president of the Archaeological Institute of America in this month's issue of Archaeology includes a plea for public support in helping to recover lost items. The heretofore indomitable Zahi Hawass has resigned in protest over the incidents.

Some of the objects seem to have been returned, as reported by the Huffington Post and other sources, so perhaps the publicity is doing some good. The article also refers to Hawass as having been re-appointed.

By all means visit the Archaeology website, especially if you're enrolled in my Humanities class this quarter, and check out the piece on Diving Ice Age Mexico. We'll be talking about the Maya later in the quarter, and this article contains some interesting material.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Geometry, Art, Pi, and Pie

Now that the faithful are hung over from Mardi Gras, and walking around with ashes on their foreheads, I thought I might introduce another holiday that won't require breaking any Lenten Fasts: Pi day, March 14 (3.14). Here's hoping you haven't given up pie for Lent.

I'm fond of pimping general studies classes of any variety, not just my own, so I pay attention to my monthly newsletters from the Annenberg folks (the ones who bring us Invitation to World Literature and Art Through Time). They have a nifty website on math in the real world: Math in Daily Life, with interactive pages designed for school-age kids. Let's face it, though; most of us have forgotten what we learned about math anyway--even if you managed to squeak through College Algebra or Creative Geometry just last quarter. If you're unclear on the notion of pi, check out the page on that. There's even a segment on math and interior decorating and another on cooking.

If you think math is essentially irrelevant to artists, consider the importance of geometry in art and architecture, explored in this unit from a course on the topic at Dartmouth: The Circle, The Wheel of Fortune, and the Rose Window. The image that opens this post is the south transept Rose Window from St. Denis (via Wikimedia Commons). Some of you may remember (depending on how you spent Fat Tuesday) that we've recently visited St. Denis in History of Art & Design I.

Google even gets in on the fun (this is from last year):

If you still don't believe me, and won't until you see actual proof that such a holiday exists, there is also a Wikipedia page.

I especially love this tee-shirt I pinched from Wikimedia Commons; you can find it and other appropriate festive attire at Thinkgeek.com.

Unfortunately, Pi Day falls on a Monday this year (I'm not on campus Mondays), so I won't be bringing pie to class. You'll have to wait for cookies on finals day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder

Time to check in on TED to see what's coming up at the annual conference that started yesterday. The focus this year is on wonder, which--as anybody who's ever sat in any of my classes for more than five minutes knows--is the beginning of philosophy. But it's also the beginning of creativity, because curiosity is one of the primary characteristics of creative people. The blurb on the site offers a preview:

For 2011, we are assembling a cast of characters capable of stirring the imagination as never before. Explorers, storytellers, photographers, scientific pioneers, visionaries and provocateurs from all parts of the globe. And we won’t be forgetting the other, harder-edged meaning of wonder -- where “I wonder” equals “I ponder.” We’ll be adding in strong servings of thoughtful insight, so that the possibilities we dream of are anchored in reality.

Not many of us have the 500 smackeroos it costs to "attend" the conference online, but a peek at the schedule will give you an idea of what we can look forward to over the next couple of years, since the annual conferences are where the posted videos come from.

The talks are arranged by sub-topic ("Worlds Imagined," "Beauty, Imagination, Enchantment," "If Only, If Only"), and include speakers who're identified (among many others) as physicists, artists, filmmakers, photographers, bone diggers, and (my favorite) a "wrongologist."

Kathryn Shulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (she has blog, too: The Wrong Stuff), will be one of the speakers. As will Bill Gates, Julie Taymor, film critic Roger Ebert, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and singer Bobby McFerrin.

Shulz is particularly interesting to me because I'm a faithful practitioner of the art of being wrong. I absolutely love it when I get it wrong. Maybe not so much as when I occasionally get things spot on, but I've always preached that one should embrace the process rather than the product. Being wrong leads us toward getting it right in the end, and stirs up our creative juices like like a shot of jalapeno juice in a fruit smoothie.

Not that simply trying is enough. I certainly don't fall into the "it's the effort that counts" camp. Rather, being wrong means you've not only tried, but that you've gotten somewhere. Maybe not where you wanted to get--but to a place from where you can begin to map out a new path. The first solution isn't always the best, but you learn from doing the work to get to it. That's why I like to call projects for my classes "problems," because all the possibilities aren't always apparent when you start, and there is seldom only one solution that works.

May I take this opportunity to request, however, that when you embark on said projects, that you take the time to read the instructions carefully, and design a plan of attack. That way, you can direct your energy toward potentially fruitful outcomes. Even if your plans don't work out exactly as you expect them to, you may be pleasantly surprised in the end. Not only that, but you'll have something suitable to turn in week 10.

Image credit: I hope this is legal. I pinched it from the "photos" section of the TED site. It depicts some of the featured speakers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Here's Your Chance to Have a Say

The Daily Good for February 15 (otherwise known as Half Price Chocolate Day) offers students the opportunity to speak up on the future of education: Hey, Young People: Arne Duncan Wants to Answer Your Education Questions.

For those of you who don't already know this, Arne Duncan is the U. S. Secretary of Education. And since you folks are the ones to suffer and/or benefit from changes currently being discussed and implemented, it might be a good idea for you to weigh in. It's mostly about K12, rather than higher education, but most of you aren't that far removed from those glory days--and some of you will be having children that will be affected by policies developed over the next few years.

I also wanted to alert you to the video I've been showing in some classes this week, given by Sir Ken Robinson and animated by RSAnimation: Changing Education Paradigms. The link will take you to other Robinson videos and others by RSAnimation--and/or go there to see a larger screen; I had to reduce this one to fit my snazzy new blog design.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Design Web News

Yet another snow day has found me on the web, and fooling around with blog design. The initial "Watermark" template was only meant to be temporary, but I haven't until today had time to sit down and work on changing it. I'd appreciate some feedback, since this will always be a work in progress. If you think it needs more tweaking, let me know, and we can work on it together.

While I was messing about in my e-mail this morning, I found some stuff you folks might find interesting. The first item came to me via Good magazine, which featured an article on a blog called 10Answers, founded by Rebecca Silver who writes and designs in (where else?) New York City. The concept is simple. Every post consists of a series of ten questions Silver asks of fellow creative people, such as yesterday's interview with graffiti artist/muralist Caleb Neelon. Categories include almost every kind of art and/or design, so there's something here for everyone. I'm thinking of adapting her format for my student information sheets--since the answers are much more interesting than what I usually ask for.

From the venerable New York Times section on the Arts came a short article on an exhibit at Milan's La Triennale Design Museum, Celebrating a Graphic World. Oddly enough, there are more images available on my iPad version of the Times online--but the primary interest of the article lies in its discussion of changes in how we view the field of graphic design and its relationship to advertising.

And just in case you haven't heard about this yet, Google's latest wizardry involves applying its street-view technology to museums. Go to the Google Art Project to visit some important museums around the world, and use its features to explore significant works of art really close-up. Ever wanted to put your nose right up to Van Gogh's Starry Night? You can do it here--just go to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, and zoom in.

As usual, I leaped over to Wikimedia Commons when I was looking for an image to illustrate this post. I wanted to see if there was anything available that had at least something to do with graphic design (since all of the stuff related the articles I mentioned is copyrighted). With my usual serendipitous luck, I found a work by the British poster artist, Tom Eckersley which reminded me of the snow outside my window, of the Pont du Garde aqueduct in Nimes, France (featured in this week's History of Art & Design I lecture), and Henri Matisse's cut paper works. You can see an online collection from his long career at the Visual Arts Data Service.

And if all the above isn't enough to keep you from getting bored (if, of course you're already finished with whatever I've assigned for the week), take a look at this site full of Free Images from generous folk who, like those who contribute to Wikimedia Commons, don't mind not making a buck off of everything they do.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Days

By now you lot are probably either sick of the weather or rejoicing that you've got extra time to get assignments completed before midterms. This week's adventures in education have included three full days of canceled classes (including today) and a pretty flimsy attempt to get things on track yesterday. When I got to school for my afternoon class (having spent over an hour to drive 30 miles), I met Dr. Frisbee in the hall, who'd had one student make his morning class--out of about 23. Other instructors reported similar statistics.

For my 1 pm History of Art & Design II class, eight (count 'em) intrepid souls showed up. But because exams are scheduled for next week, I decided to construct them around the first three weeks, and try to catch up a bit afterward. So, Be Here Warned: exams for HAD I and II will cover material from weeks 1-3, and will take about 2 hours. After that, don't expect to be able to head out to the bars, because any lectures and/or workshops will be held in the second half of class. That includes the Friday night people, too. Updated schedules are available on the course pages linked to Owldroppings.

If anyone's interested, I showed the film, Mr. Bing, L'Art Nouveau to those devoted folk who attended Thursday afternoon. They will be rewarded accordingly. The video is available in the Library for anyone interested in seeing it, and is well worth the effort. Please watch it in a viewing room, however, since I'd rather it not leave the building.

One of the highlights of the day was the wonderful coincidence of winter knit hats that led to the following photo, for which Katie and Donna obligingly posed.

In case folks don't get it, my hauling them into the library for the shot was inspired by this poem, composed by Edward Lear, the first verse of which goes like this:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

and the second:

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

Since we didn't have a piggy hat, I'll leave out the last verse--but you can go to the link for the rest. And since Katie and Donna don't even know each other, concentrate on the hats!

I suppose I made the connection not only because of all the owl silliness that surrounds my name, but because I've been listening to Natalie Merchant's terrific new album, Leave Your Sleep, which contains a song based on a poem by Edward Lear, Calico Pie.

Now, I can't possibly leave this teaching moment at this stage, because this album is a prime example of the connection between art, creativity, and scholarship. Merchant has gathered together a large selection of poems, mostly written for children, but which lack the usual syrupy sentiment associated with kids. The poems themselves are clever, witty, disturbing, sad, inspiring, funny, and thought-provoking--sometimes all at once. And I can't even begin to say enough about the music. The arrangements run stylistically from Jewish klezmer to Gypsy to Cajun to New Orleans jazz and beyond, with wonderful instrumental accompaniment by outstanding artists. It took her five years to arrange the whole thing, and it's totally worth the effort.

You can get samples from her website (linked above), or try this TED lecture, which features one of my favorite cuts, The Sleepy Giant:

This is just the thing to snuggle up to with your iPad or computer on a cold snowy day. Enjoy your weekend, and the Super Bowl if you're into that sort of thing (Go Steelers!). Get some rest, and show up next week ready and eager for your exams.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sense Amidst Nonsense

As many of you know, I'm pretty convinced that violence is seldom the answer to any problem, even though it seems to inevitable in troubled times. Thus it comes as no surprise to me that the political unrest in Egypt (after the government shut down all manner of social media) has escalated to mob violence of the kind that can precede either true reform or a descent into absolute chaos. We'll have to wait and see what happens here.

Despite all the turmoil, however, Egyptians worried about the possibility that mobs bent on destruction would target the Egyptian Museum, formed a human shield around the building as announced in The Daily Good. From Ireland, The Journal.ie reports that the army and students cordoned off the museum after marauders had already destroyed two mummies.

The Egyptian Museum is, of course, the home of the (in)famous funerary mask of Tutankhamen, along with innumerable other treasures. The official home page is inaccessible because of the internet block, but an alternative is available here--with several pages of photos.

It's good to know that a country as old as Egypt hasn't forgotten the value of its past, even as it struggles to determine the shape of its future. Lets hope that the sane prevail over the insane as Egyptians locate a path toward more reasonable governance--and more reasoned protest.

Update 2 February: Whilst we're snug in our homes and flats waiting for the ice to clear so we can get back to school, Egyptian students are now busy protecting their libraries, as reported in today's Daily Good. The importance of institutions like museums and libraries is sometimes lost in the heat of battle for basic rights, but the priorities of the protesting students seem spot on, if they want to ensure the success of whatever future government they manage to construct.

Intellectual history (and thinking in general) is frequently sacrificed at the altar of political expedience by well-meaning but oddly motivated politicians--like some of those sitting on the Texas State Board of Education (see my related posts on The Owl of Athena). But when those fomenting revolutions against repressive governments make significant efforts to preserve their cultural heritage, it speaks well of the possibility of real reform. We won't know the outcome for weeks, months, or even years. But at least these folks are showing that the mobs aren't just out there to rain destruction on Egyptian culture.

Image credit: Façade of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, taken by Fajor in 2002, via Wikimedia Commons.