The Art of Ecology


I have always found peace in the tranquil setting of a boat on calm waters.  It always gives me time to reflect on life and how blessed I am.  I believe photography and film have the same effect on Agarwal and Kak.  Agarwal uses his pictures of India to expose the culture and way of living.  He speaks of being swept up in the excitement of the rallies and protests and then being forced to slow down by the rivers that could not be crossed.  Through these images, he shows the world that no matter where you are or what is happening, the environment will always be the strongest force in what you do.  The artists also discuss the impact these images can have on the world: “[Words on Water] certainly brought up to speed our collective understanding of the world in which the struggle was being waged, and reflected on what systems of justice were open to the poor and disadvantaged in India” (Kak).

Kak also discusses how the aesthetics of the images and films were guided by the previously mentioned rallies and protests as well as the people in the towns and villages he captured with film.  “In the film on the Narmada valley the aesthetic choices were dictated by my immersion in what was a remarkable people’s movement, a mobilization that involved Adivasi tribals, mid-level peasantry, urban intellectuals and students. There was a constant flow of people around us, protests, demonstrations and rallies, and the image-making was a response to that” (Kak).  Agarwal says that he thinks that aesthetics is somewhat of a superficial guide to art but is what the viewers look for the most: “Unfortunately there is often little real ‘reading’ of this by some curators/critics, where art as aesthetic is still the main concern rather than an ‘informed’ or ‘engaged’ aesthetic. It’s almost as if ecology gives the art world some ‘relevance’. I personally do not think this relevance is required by art, since I do feel it is relevant on its own, but it may be that the art world desires such relevance in a world which is so politically active and socially challenged today. I think there is room for a wider cross-disciplinary conversation in the domain of art.”  I tend to agree with his statements in some ways.

Mark Dion is also very interested in the environment and how it can be portrayed to the general public.  In his ocean themed collection, he has combined works from artists of different skill levels that portray the environment from their perspective.  All of these works are treated equally regardless of skill level.  This set up allows the viewers to connect to the collection no matter their taste of art or their social status.  I find this to be a very brilliant idea.  This makes Dion’s art that much more accessible to everyone.

I had never really considered the impact art can have on the mindset of people about the environment.  I am always very dedicated to maintaining a small carbon footprint but these images, collections, and perspectives opened my eyes to a deeper appreciation of the world around me and the full potential it has.


Toying Around With Play

Work hard, play hard.  That is the motto most artists live by.  But some people have a distaste for play in the work space.  Historically speaking, play was seen as frivolous for adults to participate in.  This was very common before the eighteenth century according to the article.  However, the Enlightenment era came in at full force and knocked those opinions out for the most part.

Caillois wanted a more structured approach to play.  He wanted to know how to concretely classify it, so he came up with a taxonomy that has two main categories: games with rules and games made up on the spot.  He also had four subcategories to further define his ideas: (1) competitive games, (2) games of chance, (3) dramatic play,  and (4) disorientation such as amusement parks.  I think this is a decent way to categorize and classify games and play; however, there is always room for improvement.  For example, a video game could be disorienting, dramatic, and competitive.  A good example of this is any sort of video game involving racing a car.  If control of the virtual car is lost, the player may be disoriented or experience dizziness.  At the same time, they are competing with others to obtain first place and pretending to be a racecar driver.  This would easily fit into 3 of the 4 subcategories.

Surrealists manipulated play in a way that was clever and thought-provoking.  For example, they used games as a political and cultural statement when they utilized them to “resist the restrictive political and intellectual conditions brought about with the rise of fascism.”  They also made the general public rethink polar opposites and where they belonged in society.  Often, surrealists used games to warp fate and human reason.

Spirituality for the Soul

Historically, art has portrayed spirituality in many forms, such as statues, paintings, and stained glass windows.  These are art forms I am very familiar with being that I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic grade school.  The idea of spirituality has always been very solid for me because I was told where, when, and how to come to terms with it.  My favorite form of portrayal is through stained glass windows.  I love their colors and there abstract attention to detail.  They can be a simple collection of colors with no determinable figures or they can tell their story through different panels.  All stained glass windows use their colors to tell importance however.

Stained Glass Windows

This specific example portrays the life of Christ in vivid, bold colors with distinguished figures and shapes.  The meaning of these windows is often left to the viewer, as is quite a bit of art.  It ultimately depends on the colors and whether is abstract or not.

Art can be seen as an “active metaphor for the spiritual.”  This is because artists can express with color, texture, and style that people cannot necessarily express in words.  For example, the beautiful contrast in colors in the window above can be interpreted to show the brilliance of the Christ figure and to make him stand out among the other figures and shapes.  This type of brilliance and contrast would be very difficult to explain in words.  These images almost make the stories in the Bible come to life; they give the stories a more believable platform.

In Sontag’s article, she speaks of silence in relation to art.  She writes of the elimination of the subject of the art.  I found this to be really interesting.  What I thought of when she said it is just a blank canvas or a painting with a background and a white silhouette where the main piece and focus should be, as if the art should speak for itself in “wordlessness.”  What I mean by this is that the art should be able to represent something entirely unknown to us simply with no words.  This can relate to spirituality in a sense that we are to believe, in the case of Catholicism, in a God that does not speak directly or audibly towards us but through different visual signs, much like “silent” art.

Artists Including Me

20150211_13183220150211_131816 20150211_131808I was able to capture a few photos before the guard caught me.  This was my personal favorite in the gallery.  It is a mix of postcards and oil painting, titled I Kandinsky, 2011.  I don’t know if it was because of the enormity of it or the oddly organized chaos but I was mesmerized by this monster of a painting.

The show I chose to attend was the “Artists Including Me” at Krannert Art Museum on campus.  The featured artist was William Wegman.  This gallery was a contemporary one that incorporated many classic ideas and artists into his work.  The exhibition was set up in a seemingly small room compared to the rest of the museum.  Some of the images were presented together in a series to promote motion or to show similarities.  Others were spread apart due to size or topic.  The paintings ranged anywhere from about the size of my notebook to roughly 12 x 6 ft and anywhere in between.  About 75% of the pieces were oil and postcards on wood palettes.  the other 25% were colored Polaroids of a dog positioned with other pieces of artwork – such as statues.  The artist’s combination of classic and modern not only made me chuckle but also more deeply appreciate the important aspects of both styles.

Wegman’s mesh of photography and painting is quite humorous at times but can also aid in adding a sense of texture and depth to the pieces.  The piece that struck me as the most interesting is the one in the pictures above.  However, I was also drawn to Reinstallation, 2013.  I was not able to snap a picture of it because I was told that was not appropriate by the guard that inconveniently walked by.  The piece was an oil/postcard mix; it portrayed what appeared to be a gallery of paintings of famous people in history.  All the portraits within the piece were postcards that were seamlessly blended into the rest of the work.  The colors in this painting were cool colors but very rich tones of them.  There were visible brush strokes in all directions adding texture and variety to the work.  The value of the colors added depth and perspective.

I found this painting to be so interesting because he combined so many moments of history into one single surface.  It has the power to bring so many memories with one glance, as does the previous picture I posted earlier in the semester of the attack on the Twin Towers.  The differences are evident in that Wegman is able to capture many different time periods in his work where my previously chosen photo captures one snapshot in history.  However, they both have a magnificent impact on historical memory.

Reinstallation has the ability to tell so much with one work that it is hard to know where to begin to decipher its contents.  The lady in the middle of the piece looks as if she has a secret.  Her expression led me to believe that she knew something I do not.  It is as if she is collecting the art for her own personal gain and to keep them from the rest of the world.  She has this gallery full of famous me all to herself.  She seems a little selfish to me.

I picked up a brochure from the exhibit just so I could read more about Mr. Wegman.  The inside included a few more pictures of his work and a question/answer interview format from the artist.  I found this to be very interesting and informational.  It gives a little more insight into his world and works.

I’m sort of buried in them [postcards] and I couldn’t possibly stop making these paintings now even if I wanted to because I have too much material.  And I can’t stop photographing the dogs because they stare at me all day.

~William Wegman

Maus and Memory

The two readings this week were really interesting to me.  The Maus one in particular made me view the subject in a completely different way.  In order to fully appreciate the two works of art, one has to have certain background knowledge on the subjects and know how to “read” images.  The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind with this specific topic.  In Maus, the drawings speak for themselves most times: the expressions on the characters really heightens the overall concept.  To fully understand the AIDS quilt, you also need an appreciation of the images displayed and the multiple memories they evoke.

This being said, it is also important to point out the many differences they have with the real-life events they portray.  I may be mistaken, but I am 98% sure the Nazis were not cats.  Going along with that, the Jews were probably not mice.  But everyone who understands the stereotypical cat and mouse relationship and therefore understand the Nazi/Jew relationship based on the extended analogy the artist provides.  Likewise, the quilt does not display real images of people with AIDS, but the images and colors used symbolize the artist’s thoughts.

Graphic Novels

 This week’s readings were really interesting to me.  It was mind boggling to read.  It didn’t seem like there was that much to read because it was in graphic form.  I think this also lead to me getting more out of it because it was more entertaining.  It made me stop and think about how I view things in the world.  Such as, “why do comic books work like they do?” or “Who invented the first graphic novel and think it would work for multiple age groups?”  It was just really interesting to put things into perspective.  My favorite part was about how because cartoons are simply drawn, they are sometimes easier to relate to or understand because there is not too much detail to get in the way of comprehension.

Garfield 4I have always really liked Garfield.  He and I have a lot in common after all: we love to eat, sleep, and throw some sarcasm around.  And honestly, neither of us find dogs to be that great–mainly just annoying.  I have always been more of a cat person.  Though he may be simple and sometimes not say much, I think he is pretty cool.  I have never met a more relatable cat.  I guess you could say he’s a pretty “cool cat.”

The Definition of Art

Twin TowersWhere to even start with this iconic image? Some may not consider it “art,” but I think that any image that can capture this much tragedy with one snapshot, is the coolest form of art.

THis may be considered art to some due to its ability to capture so many different emotions in a standing image.  Going with the article, it fits into the contemporary definitions as “art has important historically contingent cultural features, and it also, arguably, has trans-historical, trans-cultural characteristics that point in the direction of a relatively stable aesthetic core.”

We have all seen this image many times whether we come from the United States or not.  That is my favorite part about art: it has no geographical borders.  It connects the world without saying a word whether it is through tragedy, sorrow, elation, hatred, or love.

This image may mean so many different things to different viewers, which is another cool aspect of art.  Any one image can be analyzed in so many different ways.  The article mentions some constraints on the definition of art.  I do not think art should have any constraints.  If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, why can’t art be the same way?

Why limit art when it could be a source of communication for different cultures.  As Oscar Wilde puts it, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism the world has ever known.”  I personally do not think this individualism should be squelched by measly constraints.

For the most part, I agree with the definitions of the word from the article; however, I think the true definition of art is based on who is viewing the piece, where they are viewing it, and what they see in it.