Monday, July 30, 2012

Kayaks!

One of my friends told me that I should call this post "Jellyfish are Bitches" but then I thought that was less than relevant.
I really like kayaking, and the camp where I work sends campers on kayking trips throughout the summer. I went on a kayaking trip this past week, which really got me thinking about how kayaks work, and how they could be made better.
Narrower kayaks go faster than wider kayaks, but are also more wobbly. Longer kayaks go in straight lines, and are better for lakes. Shorter kayaks are better on rivers, and can turn more easily. Most of the kayaking I've done is on lakes, so I've mostly used the longer, thinner boats.
After an hour or five of kayaking, you get sore. The part that gets the most sore, for me, is my legs. I know that you're all thinking “Wait, don't you kayak with your arms?” and that's true, you use the muscles in your arms and core when you paddle. This is what your legs look like while you're kayaking.  Wet Converse are optional, of course.
You use your legs to control side to side movement in your kayak, so they need to stay bent and in contact with the edges of the boat. Most kayaks don't include any sort of thigh support. I've seen a curved sort of inflatable pillow that people use to support their thighs, but there should be a better way to do it. If you had a seat made of stretched webbing, it might be more comfortable than a plastic seat, and would allow for more adjustment of position. You could have thigh supports made of the same material, so that your legs wouldn't be working so hard to stay up and bent. One day, I will rig up some sort of thigh support system that works like that, and it will be great.
The other thing that causes problems with kayaking is paddles.  When I paddle, I get blisters on my thumbs (where you see the band-aid) and at the base of my ring finger.  With a hard metal paddle to hold onto, there's no way to avoid blisters.  However, paddles don't have to be hard and metal.  What if we put a little bit of padding on the part of the paddle you hold on to?  A little bit of foam might be enough, a quarter of an inch thick all the way around.


I would want to consider this and more, if I was building my own kayak.  This next kayak was built by one of the deans at my camp, and it's awe-inspiring.  I paddled in it for a while, and I sometimes got distracted by how pretty it is.  Sigh.
By the way, don't kayak on the ground.  That's going to scratch the bjezus out of your kayak.  When you look at something like this, it transcends sporting equipment and becomes a piece of functional art.  I like that idea, of having transportation and sporting equipment that is as beautiful as it is functional.  What other items could be like that?  A handmade bike?  A handmade surfboard?  It's inspiring, just to think about it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tour?

I've been thinking about it for a while now, and I've decided that it's going to happen.  I am going on tour.
Doesn't it sound exciting?  I'm excited.
Some time in the next year, probably from May to the beginning of June, I'll have a big hunk of free time and nothing to do.  This trip will probably take up this time.
For the trip, I'm planning on taking some form of transportation other than a car.  I like driving a whole lot, but it sometimes feels like it's taking the easy way out.  You don't have to talk to people, you don't have to stop in new places.  Also, you can't really write and drive at the same time, and I'd like to get some writing done in transit.  I'll probably write to Amtrak and Greyhound, on the off chance that they'd be willing to sponsor my trip.  If neither of them can help me out, I'll probably take the Megabus.
I'll start the trip out at home, in Grand Rapids.  From there, I'm planning to go to Chicago, where I'll spend a couple days.  In Chicago, I know that I want to go to the Art Institute of Chicago.   After that, the plans get fuzzier.  I know I want to go to Milwaukee, to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum.
What else is there to do in the world?  Is there anything in St. Louis that's fantastic?  What about everything in Minnesota?  I want to find amazing things that are related to art and design and located in the upper half of the United States.  Do you know of anything?  Let's see great stuff together, then blog about it.
One more thing: I have a huge deep love for this podcast called 99% Invisible, and they're doing a campaign on kickstarter to fund a third season of their show.  The guy who does it is Roman Mars, and he creates fantastic radio and distributes it for free.  If you'd like to support it, you can go here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Guest Post: Feminism in Art

Since I'm still off in the woods, being woodsy and singing a lot of songs, I convinced my friend Emaline to write a blog post for me.  Emaline is a quizbowl pro and she's also studying art history at BYU, so she's my go-to person for random questions about...everything.  Yep.

So, here it is!  Fun!

In 1893, the Louvre Museum purchased what they thought was  Frans Hals piece from a private seller. Upon further inspection of the signature of the painting, they discovered that the signature at the bottom of the work did not read "Frans Hals," but "J*L" (the letters J and L separated by a star). Puzzled and outraged, curators at the Louvre found that this was not a Frans Hals but a work done by contemporary Dutch artist Judith Leyster, who happens to be a woman. Needless to say, the painting lost its artistic and monetary worth.
In 1917, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the unsigned painting Portrait of Mademoiselle Charlotte du Val d'Ognes believing it to be done by famed French artist Jacques Louis-David. However, in 1951, Charles Sterling, director of the Met at the time, determined the painting to not be done by David but by one of his female students, Constance Marie Charpentier. Following the work's attribution to a woman artist, its value plunged. 
These instances raise several questions, and these questions are symptomatic of larger issues within art and art theory. Did these works lose value because they were not done by one of the Great Masters or because they were done by women? What makes a work of art great--its artist or its artistic execution?
Feminism has a long history, and its roots in art history are pretty recent. Feminist art theory really began with the publication of Linda Nochlin's Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? in 1972. With a provocative title, Nochlin sheds lights on an issue that had been ignored in art theory. She strategically published her article in a mainstream publication that was not overly academic but rather more available to a broader audience. She points out the "white male subjectivity" that is forced upon the study of art history. If the viewpoint is distorted, then it follows that the discipline must be also. The very title of her article provokes a response, an defensive outcry almost. Her audience might try to answer her by throwing out names such as Gentileschi, Morisot, or Vigee Le-Brun. However, Nochlin shows that these examples of women artists do not represent the typical struggles and concerns of an every-day woman artist; these women had connections, most of the time male connections, into the art world. There were a lot of prejudices against women. It was difficult for a female to sell her work, it was outside of her accepted social sphere, it was often times linked to selling oneself, and in a woman's case this was viewed as a form of prostitution. Nochlin realizes the potential the "woman question" had to challenge  and alter art history as a discipline; it is not a minor field that can simply be taught as something in the peripheral.
Fast forward several years and Griselda Pollock enters the scene. Pollock notes that there are still issues remaining within art history with regards to feminism, despite Nochlin's efforts to correct such errors. She points out the inclusion of the word "woman" when referring to a woman artist. Why do we feel that this is necessary when we do not do the same thing when referring to a male artist? She calls for greater integration of female artists as well as a restructuring of art theory as a whole. She champions its potential to deconstruct the methods of research, education, and thinking within art history as a disciplineFeminism challenges so many established and accepted concepts in art history, such as the artistic genius. This notion is generally accepted to be male. Certain characteristics in art, such as portraits of the human figure, were considered to be a higher, a greater art form than landscapes or still lives. However, women were denied access to art schools where students sketched the human body from nude models since it was determined to be inappropriate for them. Women were therefore forced to practice these lower art forms as their artistic abilities were handicapped; the male dominated society around them ultimately controlled their access to opportunities within the art world. Furthermore, the Canon, those legendary, famous, and eternal masterpieces accepted and studied extensively by art historians throughout the world, was created by men according to their beliefs, their opinions about what makes a work of art marvelous and timeless. (Not to mention that the large majority of the works listed on the Canon are done by male artists.) Art history's foundations are constructed from a male point of view, and feminism ultimately has the power to alter this. It's so cool, it's blowing my mind. 
Feminism is still an issue in art today. The Canon is still being taught in schools and universities around the world. Names such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, David, Monet, Picasso are dropped and these men revered. When will our horizons broaden and include the women who traced the evolution of culture and history vicariously their artistic pursuits? What truly makes a work of art great and who decides this? These are all important questions that need to be answered and addressed before our understanding of art history and theory is complete.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Threadless

On the list of companies that I admire and wish I had started, Threadless is pretty high up there.
 Now it's time for the awkward woodsy t-shirt shots!  Fun!  Woodsy!

I wear a lot of shirts by Threadless. Threadless was born of a couple guys who played a lot of photoshop ping-pong and started putting their images on t-shirts, and holding contests for t-shirt designs.  Twelve years later, anyone can submit a design and anyone can sign up to rate shirts.Their system makes it more of a "Threadless club" than just a "Company that sells shirts." Highly rated designs are printed onto shirts, and everyone buys them, and they come with free stickers.

This is crowdsourcing. Like opensourcing, but different. 
One problem, I think, is that because Threadless is crowdsourced, and because they only pay for the designs that win, it's not going to attract a lot of professional designers. I see Threadless as something for amateur designers to do, and something that professional designers could do. For fun.  Threadless pays, but they only pay for the designs that are printed.  That's a little bit like a company saying "We want a website, so how about you design a website for us, and then we might pay you." For a lot of companies, this mentality leads to inferior work because the designers don't have the chance to find what the company needs before diving in.  The same isn't quite true for t-shirts, because Threadless is always looking for a t-shirt design that people will like, it's not as complex as a website.  For the designers, contests usually cheapen the work that they do.  Contests draw a lot of designers who are willing to work for free, and they let companies assume that this kind of design work should be free; or at least very cheap.

Threadless can do this because it feels honest and fun. If Hot Topic tried to do this it would come off as fake and corporate and plastic. 

If there's anything fantastic that you know about in art and/or design, email me about it, and you'll probably see it on the blog soon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Guest Post: Useless


Hello. I am Mr Stonebender. I'm writing a post for Samantha so she can go play in the woods for a while.

Consider these: 


Awesome.
 The iPod, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Van Gogh's Starry Night. Fine examples of their craft that have affected the world in fairly significant ways all around.

Now consider this:

Not Awesome.
This shot got kicked around the internet a few weeks ago, listing every major interest I've had in my life including two I'm working on making my profession, chances willing. They're all difficult fields to enter into professionally, often requiring persistent effort, discipline and demonstrable skill to even get started. (Although I suspect architecture is on there due to economically systemic downturns in real-estate sales and all that recessiony bullshit. Not because it's generally a "bad idea".) 

But does that make them useless pursuits? Not even a little.

Yeah. I realize this could become a debate about whether you go to University at all, but let's just table that one for now, k? Let's make this a discussion about this feeling that studies and disciplines that lack a, let's call it an arithmetic trajectory are the domain of dreamers, airheads, and trust-fund kids; because those aren't real jobs that grownups do. Grownups get jobs in their field straight out of college. Grownups do work. 

And I've gotten that look, that down-pitched "ah" and a hint of piteous condescension whenever I tell people that I have cancer, when what I really told them is what I studied in school. Generally, after a beat, what comes next is "So what are you going to…" pause "…do with that?" 

Online job postings are packed with the financial side of this phenomenon, too. Companies looking for a Graphic Designer they hope to staff at ten bucks an hour without benefits; or a website/UI design ticket with a budget of $250; or, worst of all, similar freelance jobs being offered as "portfolio experience" for anyone from photographers to musicians/songwriters to film professionals. That tells me two things. One: the idea that creative work is something that can be pursued only for the emotional benefits, never the professional, extends beyond the concerned family member into the fabric of creative work-for-hire. And Two: People are actually taking these jobs. 

That can't happen.

Listen: the notion of art and design as a profession is somewhat newer to our culture than, say, farming, and it's this attitude of minimization and apology that contributes to the undervaluation of the skills listed on that NBC screen-cap. Because through that behavior, through accepting minimum-wage work, we seem to say "you're right. It's kind of a scam. I should just do it for free." But we shouldn't. Because art, design, drama, and engineering require skill, time, energy, and work; and just like farming they produce something we need. Although these purposes are intangible at times, they're no less real in their contribution to the social fabric and overall quality of life many of us enjoy. 
Still More Awesome.
Architects build the world; designers make it accessible, make it function; and artists evaluate it, interpret it, and pour it back out as beauty, tragedy, comedy; Photographers, Cinematographers, and writers are technicians whose talent lies in taking those ideas that everyone else on the list spends a lifetime considering, and translating them effectively to those of us that have not.

Without these Useless Majors, we are depressed monkeys living in caves, never knowing who we are. 

Thanks, Samantha, for letting me spew into your space. Anyone interested in thoughts of similar temperament on the subject of making and consuming entertainment could visit www.veryeasychoices.com from time to time. Or you could read a novel by someone famous. Whatever you do,