Art is a Measure of Society’s Success Nov16

Art is a Measure of Society’s Success...

As an advocate of the arts I often look in to academic studies that champion their cause. Recently I came across a compelling case in Harvard’s Project Zero for valuing art for art’s sake in educational systems, particularly because linking art in the classroom to the success of other subjects is not keeping art in the classrooms during hard times. Rather than tying the value of the arts to other subjects, such as suggesting that an education in music will benefit math skills, the authors of Harvard’s Project Zero claim that we should focus on art’s unique and intrinsic value. Art is necessary for its own contributions as stated by Project Zero’s authors: The arts have been around longer than the sciences; cultures are judged on the basis of their arts; and most cultures and most historical eras have not doubted the importance of studying the arts. … The reason is simple. The arts are a fundamentally important part of culture, and an education without them is an impoverished education leading to an impoverished society. Studying the arts should not have to be justified in terms of anything else. The arts are as important as the sciences: they are time-honored ways of learning, knowing, and expressing. (p. 3) A lack of culture and an impoverished society; a big claim to make for the arts but a claim that is not without merit. In order to see what Project Zero might be referring to, let’s turn back the clock to 1943 when the motivational theory of aspirational psychologist Abraham Maslow first went to print. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a pretty familiar term in the circles of human developmental psychology, but for those of us not well versed in psychology it boils down to this:...

Manga: The Virtues and Difficulties of Minimalism Jul28

Manga: The Virtues and Difficulties of Minimalism...

Sitting in my college illustration class one evening I remember vividly the teacher’s comments when he found a pair of students dabbling in manga-style characters.  How he saw “man-ga” everywhere and he was sick of it; that it wasn’t real art. Yet Western comic book art was perfectly acceptable and we even had a class that was centered around how to caricature. As someone who has an appreciation for Eastern art forms I was taken aback. Amateurs might flood the market with manga of varying quality but we see people flood the market with varying attempts at modern art imitations of someone like Warhol or Jackson Pollack just as much. So firstly, in defense of manga, we should probably understand why people might like it so much. Manga as a form of art came out of a long tradition in Japan. For many centuries Japan had been highly influenced by the art of China, which traditionally had a focus on details and perfection. In the 1600s there was a movement away from the Chinese form which started to discard the details of the Chinese influenced schools and sought a more evocative form of expression of washes and minimalism that was inspired by Buddhism. By the 1700s minimalism had begun to flourish in Japan’s art schools. This new school of art was called nanga (nope, that’s no typo). For those of you curious to know more I would recommend the book Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker, part of Thames & Hudson’s World of Art series. Artists used this style to portray the first real caricatures of humans and also made animalistic representations of humans. This history was influential to the modern artist Stan Sakai’s making the iconic comic book figure of Usagi Yojimbo, for example....

Living Celtic Knotwork Jul15

Living Celtic Knotwork...

Celtic knots are magical. The complexity of the most ancient Celtic art works seems to fly in the very face of what I posted about in my article on focus; there seems to be nothing to focus on at all. The sheer number of knots, changes, patterns were said to have been so intricate that only angels could have possibly carved them into stone or illuminated the pages of ancient manuscripts. But the focus is there. The focus is not on the knot, but on the piece itself as a contained system. When I finally took the plunge into the artistic construction of Celtic knots it was through the help of George Bain’s book Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction. Mr. Bain has spent his life studying the artwork of the ancient Celts in an attempt to understand them and recreate a lost art form. No small task, I set out to follow his guidance and started tentatively into a journey that ultimately began to transform me. Even as I learned how to weave together a simple dirk knot and began to move into more ornate borders and spirals, I soon learned that if I was going to continue I was lacking skills that I had forsaken long ago; mathematics. I suddenly had a reason to care about geometry and ratios in order to plan out spaces that would meet very tangible space requirements in order to be properly filled with the design I desired. I had to teach myself old compass and straight-rule tricks for the making of geometric objects. My spatial awareness began to blossom to a mantra of “over, under, over, under” as I wove three-dimensional lines into a two-dimensional medium. Knot construction is ultimately a meditation similar to the care...

Shifting Focus Jul08

Shifting Focus

I will never forget the opening words of my college drawing instructor. “Anyone can draw. What I hope to teach you is how to see.” Perception is something we often take for granted, yet it is pivotal to our everyday lives. When it comes to the arts a picture is only worth a thousand words if there are at least a thousand words that can be said about it. There must be a context into which it is seated. Out of that context, there must be a point of focus for our perception to work at all. To help understand what I mean by this let’s take a moment and understand how the human eye works when it focuses on something in our field of vision. Innately, the eye focuses in on one thing with detail, forcing the rest into peripheral vision. For example, when I look at the cup of collected pens and pencils on my desk I see clearly one pencil and all the rest are suggestive images that I interpret as being there, but I don’t focus on them. If I look at the pen beside the pencil, it becomes the center of focus and the pencil becomes a suggestive object in my peripheral vision. So why do I choose to see the pencil and not the pen? There is no detailed explanation for that which will cover every individual. You might have seen the pen first. What we both have in common was that we saw something of importance, something we chose to focus our attention on. As a rule of thumb you might say that in order to see something we must chose to not see something else; at least clearly. What does this have to do with art?...