Art Biz with Liz: Spotify’s 2020 Wrapped

The past few days, my social media feed has been inundated with posts of people’s 2020 “Spotify Wrapped.” For those unfamiliar with them, Spotify Wrapped recaps offer data on the songs and podcasts that users listened to throughout the past year, including their most-played songs, top genres, and more. Users can see how many minutes they spent listening to content, how many new artists they discovered, and how they ranked compared to other Spotify users. For example, Spotify’s recaps may let an individual know that they were in the “top 5%” or “top .5%” of listeners of a specific artist or band over the past year. Overall, Spotify’s 2020 Wrapped aims to let users “see how they listened in 2020,” share their music habits with friends, and review the art that helped them get through the past whirlwind of a year.

Just as this data suggests, pop and show tunes are my favorite types of music to listen to. I’m surprised that classical didn’t make the list, but for those who may not know, bow pop is considered the combination of pop music and orchestral string instruments.

I admit that seeing everyone else’s sparked interest in my own Spotify Wrapped. While I didn’t share my results on social media, I’ll provide some of them as examples of this year’s features. Some results were expected, like my top genres. Spotify also included information about top songs. For me, my top song was “Heart of Stone” from Six (a musical that I happened to write a blog post about). This song can be attributed to themes of steadfastness, endurance, and patience, which were important to me during 2020. Indeed, Spotify lists user’s top song as the “one song that helped you get through it all.” Additional information on the top song includes when they first started listening to it and its total streams, which is new to 2020’s Spotify Wrapped.

The 2020 version includes a slew of new features, including personalized playlists, quizzes, and options for customized social sharing. This year, Spotify Premium users can also earn badges. I earned a “pioneer” badge, for example, for listening to a song before it hit 50,000 streams. I began paying for Spotify premium once I entered college, as my Spotify usage increased with all the hours spent studying and streaming music. I normally don’t pay for these kinds of services, but I was enticed by the student discount and the convenience of all kinds of ad-free albums, playlists, and more available at my fingertips. The time spent listening to music has only increased throughout this past year, and it is interesting to see the data in a condensed, colorful format.

Seeing RADWIMPS on this list surprised me, but that’s what I get for listening to the Your Name movie soundtrack on repeat.

Inside the Spotify app, you can find your personalized recap for 2020 by scrolling down to “2020 Wrapped” and tapping “see how you listened in 2020.” While it can be monotonous clicking through Instagram stories to see the same content over and over, it’s interesting to see what type of music others enjoy. Additionally, it can be an opportunity to check out new genres, artists, and more based on your friends’ selection. Besides looking at the pre-configured Spotify Wrapped, you can also visit friends’ profiles and see a combination of public playlists and the artists they follow.

While this post may seem like a Spotify advertisement, the popularity of Spotify and its “2020 Wrapped” goes to show how important music is to many. Spotify’s emphasis on the chaos of 2020 is a bit cheesy, but it holds some truth in how music has helped many get through the past year. While we may not be able to attend concerts and other performances, technology and increasing online accessibility allow us to still enjoy and appreciate our favorite songs and artists. Recapping our listening habits encourages us to reminisce about the art that has helped us cope with the loneliness of quarantine and craziness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Art Biz with Liz: Watercolor Cacti

Earlier this semester, I learned about a watercolor workshop for students through Passport to the Arts. By using Passport to the Arts, I registered with Flipside Art Studio for a Zoom class and picked up a free art kit. I recently added my own flair to the painting by using black Sharpie to outline my cacti and provide detailing. While my watercolor painting turned out differently than the instructor’s version, I was relatively happy with how it turned out and wanted to share it with you!

 

Creating this painting was one of my first times working with watercolors since I was a child, and it was interesting to play around with them. At times, I accidentally painted blotches on the page or had the paint bleed in a way I didn’t intend it to, as it’s easy for watercolor paint to bleed if wet paint gets too close to another color. I worried about it ruining the painting, but “mistakes” such as these turned into opportunities to play around with new shapes and create interesting visual effects, like gradients.

On one last unrelated note, I hope this Thanksgiving break proves to be a restful and rejuvenating time. It might be a great opportunity to take a break from schoolwork and do that art project you’ve been dying to do (like watercolor painting!). Whether you stay in place or share the table with family, my whimsical watercolors and I are wishing you a safe and happy holiday.

Art Biz with Liz: The Art of Baking

Last week I wrote about pumpkin carving, and this week I’m discussing baking. You might wonder, what is this girl even talking about? How do these things relate to art? As a reminder, my blog series seeks to bring the arts from my home to yours. This school year presents unique challenges for how we create and experience different art forms, and I hope to document my process navigating these changes. For example, this week, I attempted to make banana bread for the very first time. I learned that small differences in ingredients and recipes can have a big impact on the flavor, aroma, and appearance of baked goods. Besides granting me a delicious finished product, my experiences inspired me to consider the similarities between baking and art.

What is art? Art conveys human creativity and imagination. As art includes a diverse range of types and activities, baking could be considered a form of art through the imaginative and technical skill required of its baker. Both artists and bakers learn how to use their chosen medium in various ways. In baking, ingredients are measured, altered, and mixed to create something new. Like other forms of art, becoming good at the craft takes practices, dependent upon the ongoing process of trial and error and the available materials.

A sculptor can shape a basic piece of clay into something wonderful, while an instrumentalist can use the same instrument to play different sets of notes and sounds. Similarly, a baker can use the basic structure of their mediums–utensils, ingredients, recipes–to create an original product. As an artist, they combine chemistry with whimsy ingenuity to create familiar yet unique goods. No two baked goods are exactly alike. Much like the art of performers, painters, and other artists, the products that bakers make can provoke emotion and reflect creativity. As such, bakers use flavors, aesthetics, and textures to create edible art pieces, applying their unique ideas and skills to create breads, cakes, and more from scratch.

The finished product: chocolate chip banana bread!

 

Art Biz with Liz: Halloween and Pumpkin Carving

Like many others, my housemates and I have been laying low this semester. So far, we haven’t done very many “fun” things together due to hectic schedules and COVID-19; however, we wanted to do something special for Halloween. But what would be a good way to celebrate the holiday from home? We turned to the jack-o’-lantern, one of the most recognizable symbols of Halloween.

Last week, I stopped by the produce section in Meijer and picked out the best-looking pumpkins that I could find. That is, pumpkins that were round with sturdy stems and no questionable spots or bruises. Yesterday, we cleaned them off and prepped them for carving. It had been years since I last carved a jack-o’-lantern, and anyone who has ever carved a pumpkin knows that it can be more difficult than it looks. Regardless, the process was easy enough. We had a few tools from old pumpkin-carving kits, like mini saws for detail work and a scraper scoop to remove all the pulp. We set the pumpkins atop of newspaper on the floor and drew faces on them with Sharpies. After cutting out the tops and gutting the pumpkins, we started carving them by making simple, rough cuts with the bigger knives. Once the big pieces of pumpkin were out of the way, we worked on detailing and cleaned up the edges of our designs.

“Liz, how are you so good at carving pumpkins?” one of my friends asked.

“It’s because she likes artsy things. Look at how symmetrical the eyes are,” another replied.

Contrary to what my friends said, I most definitely am not a pro at carving pumpkins. In fact, I chose a simple design for my pumpkin because I was afraid of botching it! If anyone, the pro at pumpkin carving would be one of my friends, especially with how awesome her cat design turned out.

That said, I do like artsy things, as evident by this blog. I also consider carving pumpkins to be an artsy activity. Plus, it’s a great activity to do to showcase your Halloween spirit. Whether you stick with standard triangles or decorate your pumpkin with paint, placing the finished product on your front steps is the perfect way to share your masterpiece with the neighborhood.

Happy Halloween!

The finished product! My pumpkin is on the far right (a squirrel nibbled at his tooth).

Art Biz with Liz: Recycled Art and Letters

Last Thursday, I attended a “recycled letter crafting event” hosted by the Residential College’s Letters Forum and Eco Forum. What are forums? RC forums are student-initiated and student-run discussion groups that focus on a variety of subjects. The Eco Forum presents a space where students can discuss issues concerning the environment and how people relate to it, looking at topics such as sustainability, climate change, and more. Letter Forum, on the other hand, focuses on the art of letter writing, allowing students to discuss the history of letter writing, create mail, and connect with people around campus and the world as penpals. The two forums came together to combine their interests and create a fun event for RC students.

For the event, attendees created envelopes and recycled art from a variety of materials gathered prior to the Zoom meeting. After an introduction to the two forums and ideas for possible crafts to make, everyone in the Zoom meeting set forth on their own projects. After about twenty minutes or so, we regrouped and showed one another what we had worked on. People made all kinds of crafts, including wreaths made from leaves, envelopes constructed from scratch paper, and bookmarks composed of old sheet music.

Using a paper grocery bag, I made an envelope and a maple leaf craft. A slideshow presentation in the Zoom meeting showed instructions to make the envelope, and I followed a video online to create the maple leaf. For both projects, I cut squares out of the bag and folded them into various shapes. I wouldn’t quite call it origami, the art of paper folding, since I used scissors and a glue stick; however, these tools were the only things besides the brown paper bag that were needed to make the crafts.

Autumn is my favorite season, and students often host special events during it. While some of the typical campus events have been limited due to the pandemic, the Zoom event was an example of creativity that students exhibit in continuing to plan events and connect to one another. The event was perfect for fall, too; colorful leaves presented a unique medium for crafts, while the season itself served as inspiration for other art. I made a folded maple leaf, for example, because of my fascination with the change that takes place during autumn. I photographed it against the hues of yellows and reds on campus for this blog post.

Note: These pictures were taken outside of East Quad and the MLB prior to the issuing of the two-week stay-at-home order by Washtenaw County.

Art Biz with Liz: The Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program

When I was in elementary school, the children at my school participated in the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program. The program was a local contest formed in honor of a young girl who was killed in a car-pedestrian accident. For twenty years, it provided an opportunity for students to submit their creative writing to be evaluated and critiqued. Serving as both a tribute and an outreach program, the annual contest left a lasting impact on many in Charlotte, Michigan, including myself.

My stories featured what you might expect to see from a young child. In kindergarten, I wrote a story about a princess and a dragon. Throughout the following years, magic, talking animals, and my pet goldfish (R.I.P., Lucky) dominated the scene. In addition to writing practice, the program gave students insight into the publication process. My story and drawing of Lucky, for example, were immortalized in a book that was housed in the Charlotte Community Library. I’m not sure whether the archives of all the past winners are still there, but it was a great experience to go through the writing process and reach the publication stage at a young age (even if just for a local competition).

During those years, I looked forward to the end-of-the-year assembly, where we were reminded of the stories that we had written months before. The Christine Wonch awards were handed to us in a manila folder amidst other certificates and documents. Some years, I earned purple ribbons with gold stars and “young author winner” embossed in gold print. Other years, I received participation ribbons in a rainbow of bright colors. Either way, the message to young Elizabeth was clear: my work was recognized. Our work was recognized. My peers’ creative stories, poems, and essays had been read and appreciated. Someone even cared enough to judge and critique them.

Like most things, writing well takes practice, which is why opportunities to do so are extremely important. While it is a difficult skill to master, writing is an important part of our daily lives. The Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program encouraged children to get a head start in developing writing skills with simple activities, incentives, and outreach efforts. It allowed them to begin exploring the craft, laying a foundation for learning in later years. The program was not just for writing, either; it encouraged growth and self-confidence in young students.

I’m not sure what prompted my memories of the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program, but I’m glad to reflect on them. The program blossomed a love of writing among students like me, nurturing our interests in the art form. Its legacy illustrates the positive impact of creative writing on children. From broadening the thought process to encouraging self-expression, there are numerous benefits to practicing creative writing early on. I owe some of my first attempts at creative writing to the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program, and I’m forever thankful to the organization and its volunteer efforts for encouraging me to stretch my imagination.

 

 

For more information on the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program, click here to find a local newspaper and an article on page 2 regarding the program’s legacy.