There was a post World War II art movement called Nouveau Realism, that among other things, sought to portray individuals and society through the random accumulation of things. Basically, your trash was a picture of you. It was a way of making a statement about mass production and the tendency to allow things to define who we are or what we represent.

<– This piece is called “Portrait of Yves Klein” by Arman. He supposedly emptied Klein’s trash car and randomly placed the items in this vitrine. I know this may seem like a stretch – I thought it was, but I have to say, the idea grew of me. We have so many things that represent us, or things we alter to appear as though they represent us. I’ve heard people joke that they wish they’re lives were as exciting as their Facebook wall make them seem.

I suppose that Arman’s gesture was one of mockery perhaps, because it really never is our things that define us and if they do, then, that’s just pretty sad.  They perhaps gi20111123-133307.jpgve one clue to aspects of our lives or values, but they don’t (or shouldn’t) really define us.

I decided to take a picture of the inside of my purse and see what it says about me.

1. Hand me down designer purse – I love a bargain, especially a free one.

2. Sunglasses – everyone needs sunglasses. I bought these at the  99 Cent store and when I pulled the sticker off the lens, it was cracked. I kept them anyway. Who cares, it’s a buck.

3. Inhaler – my daughter and I are asthmatics.

4. Giant/overstuffed wallet – I tend to let things gather.

5. Husband’s watch – went to get the battery changed, only to find out it is broken. Keep forgetting to take it out of my purse.

6. Medication – I have issues. So sue me;)

7. Big Lots value card – I have a hard time saying no to things – never used it.

8. Pack of face plotters – my mom is always trying to beautify me to no avail.

9. Folded coupons – hate fast food, but you know what, it’s fast and it’s food.

10. Laffy Taffy wrapper – I like an afternoon candy.

11. Check book – archaic form of money that sometimes comes in handy.

Well, I don’t think any of these things define me, but they certainly give you a snapshot of my life – the mundane, ridiculous and necessary parts of me. I wonder if anyone can say what defines them – I mean, I think other people can more accurately define us than we can ourselves. Often the idea I have of myself is completely different from what others express to me. I guess that’s supposed to be how it is though; who and what we are is not for our own personal enjoyment only, but for those around us. At least it should be enjoyment that we are bringing.

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Yoko Ono Before Lennon

In case you’ve ever wondered, Yoko Ono actually did more than just break up The Beatles. Back in the 60’s there was an art movement called “Fluxus” that sought, among many things, to democratize art; make it accessible to the masses, include the audience in the “performance”, combine different art expressions together and to take art out of the hands of the bourgeois. For the most part, I really don’t get it, maybe because it doesn’t seem like art – which I guess is the purpose.

Today we watched a “performance” of Yoko Ono’s called Cut Piece, 1965.The idea behind it is that the audience creates the piece and interacts with the artist, creating moments of confrontation. The video is about 8 minutes long and is rather mundane until the last 2 minutes when there is a participant to takes it further. His participation suddenly  and inadvertently defines her work as “art” by making it something else.

In my opinion, this work is about gender as much as anything else. I say this because had it been “performed” by a man, it would have been so different. Also, perhaps being a woman makes me come to this conclusion; but also as a woman, I was very effected by the last portion of the film. There is the conviction that at one point, her art is turned into something far less savory and no matter how much you try, there are some people who will completely (intentionally or otherwise) miss the point.

After seeing the film, I actually appreciated the movement much more than from just reading about it or seeing still pictures from performances. I appreciate the attempt to make art as much an expression of the people as that of the artist. I like the idea of art reorganized by the viewer, reinterpreted through their eyes. This is a tremendously vulnerable move by the artist – to hand your idea (your baby) into the hands of someone else for their individual expression, understanding and possible abuse. Then again, I guess abuse or violation, is an expression.

Also, another aspect of this movement is the transportable idea behind it. These were meant to be “do-it-yourself” kits to take home and experience yourself. Does it blur the lines of art? Yes, but I think that’s exactly what it intends to do.

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In The Trunk

I’m taking a comparative literature course on the autobiography this quarter. It’s been very eye-opening, like all my classes have been. The impression I’m continually left with when the quarter ends is: Anything goes. I had a professor tell me my first quarter, “You can write anything, as long as you do it well.” I see this more as a tremendously freeing statement, more than an excuse to do “anything” and call it art; it’s a challenge for me to do well in whatever it is that I’m endeavoring.

My autobiography class is no different. We are reading “autobiographies” that are written by others. Yes, this is a contradiction of terms, but instead,  I like to think of it as “a stretching of existing borders.” (Yes, you can quote me on that;) Our assignment over the weekend was to write a memory of ours from a number of topics she gave us. I decided to illustrate a story I’d written years ago while living in Hungary. I have a ton of these stories and would love to eventually illustrate all of them, but this is the first. I’d love feedback, especially concerning the visual effect of the writing. My graphic novel professor liked that I handwrite everything, but I’m thinking more of typing it from here on out, so I’d like your opinions. It wouldn’t let me post it here, so you have to click on the link and it will open in Word on your computer – I’ll try to do it differently next time.  Also, because I saved it as a Word file, the colors are a little flatter than they are in person. Enjoy  In the Trunk

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Music, Memories and Morisette

I had to get pumped up for school this morning. The fact that it was overcast and cool actually made it easier for me – instant happiness as far as I’m concerned. Scrolling through the iPod, I landed on Alanis Morisette and thought it had been too long since her uber 90’s screech had been heard. As soon as the music started, it took me back to my years in Hungary, one trip in particular where I took a train across the country to visit friends. I was suddenly taken back to the feel of the train window as I leaned my head against its coolness and the thoughts I had while listening to Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill album, and the smell of cigarettes,  So many memories, so long ago.

Last year in a modern fiction class, we had to mimic one of the authors we’d read and submit a story of our own, written in their style. I had fallen in love with Austerlitz by W.G Sebald as it brought me back to Europe in a Dickens-esque, very verbose and surreal way; in fact, the longest sentence in the book goes on for ten pages. He also uses photographs peppered throughout the book; an unusual detail for modern readers (I wonder if that set the stage for my liking graphic novels??) So, all that to say, the piece I’ve included was  done in his style, so that will explain why it’s overly wordy and includes photos. It was inspired by the first part of his book where the main character is in a European train station that he knows is a part of his past, but can’t place exactly. While reading it, I was taken back to the trip I took so many years ago from Budapest’s Nyugati Palyaudvar (Western Station) and married the two for my final project.

                                                                         Nyugati Palyaudvar

Budapest has three railroad stations, or at least it did when I left there nine years ago. One of them is on the west side of the city, Buda, with its sheer cliffs and rolling hills that undulate and eventually stop rolling before meeting up with their far superior brothers, the Alps. I never used this railroad station as there was no where I wanted to go that would lead me out of the country, my home; I was only interested in a voyage that would take me through Hungary and allow me the opportunity to discover, visit and revisit every corner and take in its vistas at every vantage point, whether through the lens of direction, season or mood; I wanted to know it at its best and worst. Although, this side of the river was arguably the more beautifully preserved portion of the city, perhaps with the exception of the rows of old houses and museums and landmarks that dot the underground’s “yellow” line and dart beneath institutes and the Opera House and drops you in the center of Hero’s Square, flanked by a castle I remember nothing about and the zoo, I never visited. Buda has a sophisticated air about it that dominates the flatlands of industrial, steely Pest, with the former lodgings of royalty sitting precariously on the edge of a cliff, nearly dropping into the dingy Danube, teetering with just enough surefootedness to remain both authoritative and condescending. The remaining two rail stations are located in the strangely flat counterpart to Buda, called Pest and named simply, Nyugati and Keleti (Eastern and Western) respectively,  and hold no distinguishing factors in my mind, other than their straightforward and unimaginative titles and ever-sooty cement facades. One or the other boasts a divided glass ceiling that I used to look at in anticipation of a breathtaking moment when the sun would peer through the skies, shine through the windows and create a Robert Doisneau moment which I tried repeatedly, without notable success, to capture, blow up and frame on a wall in a room I didn’t own yet. I remember sitting for a few hours in one of them, keeping myself occupied with watching the people in the bar. What imprinted itself upon my awareness was that none of the men sitting at the bar had the slightest intention of traveling; it could have been a bar placed anywhere within the city, a few blocks, over even downstairs from their residences and would undoubtedly have been visited twice daily, once after breakfast and again before dinner, for years dating back to a significant point, being a move after marriage thirty years before or upon beginning a job at a factory around the corner. The men in these bars always possessed a grey pallor that made them appear somewhere between freshly deceased and catacombic; all staring in a blurred direction and making a conscious effort to focus, despite the drunken stupor and follow, with their disabled eyes,  any pedestrian whether in the bar or out. It was clear that something akin to existence had ravished their better intentions and entombed them in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke. The smell of cigarettes is one of the things I miss most about Europe; it is an ever-present detail in the scenery, an unnoticeable characteristic of the experience abroad that at first is overwhelming and in the end, such an element interwoven into life, that it leaves a gaping hole when back on American soil. This smoke, though, that hung to the bar’s walls like dated wallpaper, was stale, unbecoming and unenchanting. It added to the abysmal downward spiral that accompanied the shots of the synthetic alcohol substitute that lined the counter and gasped, squeezed tourniquet-like within the tight fists of the inebriated.  It escapes me now why I chose to take the train, when it was customary for me to take the bus. Perhaps it was because this particular journey would have been significantly longer otherwise; so I boarded the train, following the left arm of the country out to its fingertips, past the elbow of the plains and the forearm of nothingness but faded yellow land.

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The Creative Encounter

I should be in bed. Actually, I am in bed, but I should be sleeping. When I feel like writing though, I know I need to take that moment otherwise when I wake up, all inspiration will be gone. I’ll try and make this quick.

As you may have noticed, I’m loving my Art Theory class, because I love understanding things; I love when the fog lifts and suddenly something makes an amazing amount of sense. I’ve always enjoyed Abstract Expressionism, especially the works of Jackson Pollock, but I didn’t understand them; I didn’t know what I was supposed to look at or why it resonated with me. Tonight in my studies, I ran across an explanation what I love. In reference to the approach to (then) modern Art, art critic Harold Rosenberg explains:

At a certain moment, the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather than a space in which to reproduce, “redesign”, analyze or express an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture, but an event.

The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.

I like to think of creativity as an event. I like the idea of me encountering a canvas or in my case, a piece of paper and coming away with something I had no preconceived notion of creating; to agenda, no goal but to experience something flow out of me.

In the movie Pollock about the life of Jackson Pollock, there comes a scene where he is staring at a canvas that he has been commissioned to paint. He’s been staring at it for a long time, like weeks, maybe months. Suddenly he grabs a brush and with huge strokes and ever increasing curves of boundless enthusiasm, he paints until he has nothing left to give. It was a really moving scene for me. I don’t want to sound trite, but it effected me physically, it was breathtaking to watch him abandon reason and simply be creative.

The big moment came when it was decided to paint…just to paint. The gesture on the canvas was  gesture of liberation, from value – political, ethical, moral.                Rosenberg in “American Painting Today

Last year in a fiction class we were discussing why we write. I said that I have to, it’s a compulsion, it’s therapeutic and if I don’t, I feel like I’ll die. A girl in the class responded eloquently by saying, “That’s selfish. Like masturbation!”  I was so offended that she would associate my reasons for creativity with a selfish, lonely act. It still bugs me, but it got me thinking. After reading these passages tonight, I realize that she writes for different reasons than I do, and that’s OK. Writing is a private event for me, it’s a moment between me and a thousand words that are bottled up inside and are dying to come out in a subconscious order that I had never considered.

Being creative is freeing – freeing from many things, but mostly from myself; from my distracting thoughts, my fears my pressures. And I like that.

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Finger Painting and Social Commentary

I’m thrilled with my classes this quarter. Thrilled. Maybe because none of them include numbers or microeconomic formulas or visits to the map room (although that was kinda fun).

I’m taking an upper division art history class entitled: Visual Art and Visual Theory after 1945. No, don’t fall asleep on m! It’s really amazing. You know those seemingly random, painfully abstract, Kindergarteneresque paintings that hipsters and art buffs stand in front of and ponder for hours while wearing black horn-rimmed glasses? Those are actually commentaries – visual commentaries, painstakingly created to express, even subconsciously, the political, economic, psychological and moral state of the post World War II world.

These paint smears are inner expressions that often times the artists were not even consciously aware of. Jackson Pollock, one of the leader artists of Abstract Expressionism said, “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about…Painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

In a world where so much is mass produced, it is exceptional to create. While my readings have referred only to painting, I think that these comments about art can reach to virtually any form of creative expression. Schapiro (another hot-shot) said, “Paintings and sculptures are the last hand-made, personal objects within our culture…Few people are fortunate enough to make something that represents themselves, that issues entirely from their hands and minds, and to which they can affix their names…the painting symbolizes an individual who realizes freedom and deep engagement of the self within his work.”

There is truly something amazing in the process of creation. While I cannot claim to be an artist or a great writer or someone noteworthy by generally acknowledged standards, I do love to create. There is just something about it – it is both a compulsion and an aversion. Sometimes I hate the drive and yearning to put thoughts on paper, but I’m so thankful for the rest of soul I feel once my words are out. There is also an incredible sense of isolation that is felt; perhaps because the expression can be so personal, so subjective that you wonder “Is there anyone who can relate or understand what I feel?”

Quoting from my textbook, “…these painters experience a unique loneliness of a depth that is reached perhaps nowhere else in the world…his duty is to let us enter the inner sanctum of his feelings; his art is bound to reveal his very own self as a kernel of his originality.”

While everyone wants what they create to be appreciated, there is simply a sense of wholeness that comes when a piece is finished, even if no one understands it, not even yourself.

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What the Heck is a Graphic Novel?

What is a “graphic novel”? Fair enough. I’ve had people ask me this and say they’d like to understand what I’ve been blogging about, but don’t know what it is. Honestly, I had no idea what it was until I accidentally enrolled in the course last spring. The course fit my time slot and I thought, “Hmm… graphic, I like dark and disturbing.” Then, after I enrolled, I read the syllabus and was like, “Crap!!! Comic books???!!” Lame. Comic books are for society’s rejects who never grew up and still live with their parents and are 45 year old pizza delivery boys!

Well, I was pleasantly surprised (at least after we finished Watchmen – ugh!) Not all graphic novels/comic books are filled with the “BAM!” POW!” “ARRRHH!” of Superhero angst. Many are simply illustrated novels. Story? Yes. Speech bubbles? Yes. Drawings? Yes. The non-superhero novels are those that I prefer (except I love V for Vendetta – way better than the movie which was nothing like it).

I was floored when I began reading them and totally sucked into the depth of subject matter and the complexities of story line. There are books about everything from religion, growing up, war, sexual identity and magical/fantasy to superheros and Japanese transgender fairy tales. In fact, half the movies out these days are based on graphic novels (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Sin City, Prince of Persia, X-Men, Coraline).

The melange of sight and reading is for me, all-encompassing.  I was hooked.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the subject, check out the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Or if you don’t care THAT much, check out McCloud talking about the concept on  The video will only take 17 minutes of your life and it’s very entertaining.

Many of my readers know that after taking the course this spring, I took it again over the summer and fell deeper into the genre, so much so, that I’m writing one of my own. I’m hoping to submit is as my senior thesis/project.  If you are interested in reading graphic novels, I’ll add a page with a number of titles. PLEASE read the descriptions before you read one – they can be graphic in the violent and/sexual meaning of the word and I don’t want you to go in blind. Also, if you check your library’s online catalog, you will find that many classics have been rewritten in graphic form and also kids’ history books which my daughter enjoys. I’ll only recommend books/authors I have read, so if you want to run a title by me, just ask and I’ll give you the low down. Happy reading.

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