Enjoying Art on a Budget

As somebody who consumes a lot of art and media, I can tell you first-hand that it’s financially frustrating. I’ll hear about a book that I want to read, or an album that just came out, or a new video game that is stunning, and I always have to come to the same conclusion: I can’t have it all. This is easily attested to by the many lists on my phone of things I would love to get, and also by all the items saved for later in my Amazon shopping cart. Perhaps it’s something unique to me, but I doubt it; I think anybody who enjoys art wants something physical that can serve as a reminder of how great a work of art was. In this way, art is inherently nostalgic, and that’s a quality that I greatly appreciate, being a sentimental person myself. For example, the first video game I ever remember playing was Pokemon Sapphire on my brother’s GameBoy Advance; I absolutely loved it even though I had no idea what was going on (to be honest, I’m pretty sure I was stuck in Mauville the whole time because I didn’t know how to progress).

It was a combination of the style, the game-play, and the interesting Pokemon that kept me entertained, but more importantly, the game came to represent a simple time in my life. Eventually the game was sold, as it became obsolete in the face of iPods and iPhones, and I gradually forgot about it. Then a year or so ago I started to feel nostalgic about the simplicity of the GameBoy; it didn’t need internet, the battery lasted for days, it wasn’t cluttered with apps and social media, and it was a reminder of one of my first great experiences with art. Needless to say, I ended up finding and buying a used GameBoy and started collecting the Pokemon games, which eventually led to buying a used DS Lite for the nostalgia of playing Pokemon Diamond and Platinum. However, the cost was adding up, and I started to realize that I had forgotten the point entirely; I never wanted all of the games, I just wanted the one that was sentimental to me.

I learned a lot from that experience, but most importantly that art can be appreciated and enjoyed in small quantities. When I thoroughly enjoy a work of art, I no longer try to buy everything related to it, instead I focus on the one thing that I loved about it and try to find something that will represent that in a nostalgic way. As a result, I have a little bit from everything: the seventh book of One Punch Man (the style of the fight scenes in this book are especially impressive), the first volume of One Piece, a deck of tarot cards, and a poster from the anime Akira, just to name a few. Each of these things I would love to indulge in, but I’m glad I haven’t; it is essentially quality over quantity, which is perfect for somebody like me who already enjoys so much art to begin with. And as far as cost goes, I can appreciate a work of art without having to waste money; for example, if I wanted to own every manga from Akira, it would run me about $170, when instead I can appreciate it and remember how much I enjoyed it with a $15 poster. Obviously this is just my personal philosophy, and some people might think it’s outrageous to only own one book from a series. I can’t say they’re entirely wrong, and in a perfect world I would want the whole series too, but realistically this is what works for me. So consider this an alternative way of thinking about and appreciating art; perhaps you can find the same value in this philosophy as I do.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

The Timeless Appeal of Vinyl Records

April 13th was Record Store day across the world, an annual event created to keep the legacy of records and record stores alive. The local Ann Arbor District library set up a Record Store Day event, including a market of new and used vinyl records from various record shops in Ann Arbor, along with a DJ and other entertainment. I was lucky enough to be able to go, and it was a great experience: I didn’t expect there to be many people, and I was worried it would be an awkward and uncomfortable environment, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a large turn out. Even more surprising was how diverse the group was, most notably in age. It was interesting to see so many young people talking to the older people about records, and it got me thinking a lot about the role of vinyl records today. They’ve reached an age where they’re obsolete in a practical sense, but have become a symbol of nostalgia and good taste: many people will boast about the unique and superior sound of vinyl records; if they’re being sincere or just trying to sound cool, it can be impossible to tell. Regardless, vinyl records have maintained their spot in popular culture and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be leaving anytime soon.

 

Personally, it’s easy for me to see why vinyl records have stayed relevant compared to other music formats, such as 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs. I’ve always appreciated the artistic format of vinyl records: their size alone demands attention and respect, not to mention they can be great examples of quality art and design. They take the concept of album art to an entirely new level by making the entire product a unique piece of art, from the front cover to the back cover and everything in-between. Some of my favorite examples are actually newer albums that are being sold in vinyl record format; I find it especially fascinating that modern musicians are releasing new music on vinyl. Maybe they see the unique artistic potential as well and they want to sell a work of art that will never age. Either way, I hope it’s a trend that doesn’t die out.

 

(Header Image: Google Images)

Albums featured:

  1. Zaba Limited Edition by Glass Animals
  2. Monument Valley Soundtrack by Stafford Bawler, OBFUSC and GRIGORI

Understanding Abstract Art

abstract art ● art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures

Abstract art gets a lot of biased and unnecessary criticism from popular culture; ask anybody, even people who don’t care or know anything about art, about their thoughts on the abstract art movement and I’m sure they’ll give you a strong opinion that they believe is 100% fact. I’ve had personal experience with these types of people many times, and they always say something to the effect of “this doesn’t make any sense”, or “how is this in a museum, it isn’t even good”, or the worst and most common phrase, “I could’ve made that”. To the last one, put bluntly, obviously you could have, but you didn’t, just like anything else in life. When you see a surgeon perform brain surgery, do you say “oh, I could’ve done that”? Obviously not, because although you hypothetically could have trained and went to school for many years to be able to do that, you didn’t. There is an element of respect involved that abstract artists just don’t seem to get. It has become popular to invalidate abstract artists and dismiss their art for no logical reason, and that’s an absolute shame. I would instead argue that the abstract movement has resulted in some of the most interesting art pieces in recent history, and that the movement as a whole is doing something that has never been done before.

Piet Mondrian
Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow – Piet Mondrian, 1929 

When confronted with a piece of abstract art, the impulse is to turn away; it’s unfamiliar, daunting, and complex. In essence, it’s a challenge to the viewer, an attempt to make them work for something, to truly examine what defines art. This is what I love about abstract art: it goes beyond the shallow world of reality and travels into the world of form and feeling. You don’t just examine it like a photograph, in a methodical and information gathering way, but instead must approach it as something new and conceptual, not just seen, but examined thoughtfully. For example, when I first see an abstract painting I often ask myself questions, such as “what do I feel?”, “what colors are being used and how does that define the aesthetic of the piece?”, “what are the subtle undertones of the painting? Is there tension, freedom, chaos, or something else?”. These types of questions often reveal something that I didn’t see right away, and help me understand the piece in my own unique way. That’s the other great side-effect of abstract art: there is no right answer and everybody can interpret it differently. It makes the piece feel personal, like it was made for you, and that relationship with art is something entirely unique.

(Header Image: Convergence, 1952 by Jackson Pollock – Jackson-Pollock.org)

Swimming: Before and After Mac Miller’s Death

When Swimming was first released in 2018, I was quick to listen to it. . . and was quick to forget about it. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good, I just didn’t find it very interesting; it seemed monotonous and there was a lot more singing than rapping, which Mac Miller was known for. I saw it got a lot of negative reviews by music critics as well; one even gave it a 3/10. I remember around that time thinking “Geez, this isn’t a great year for Mac”, and the next thing I heard was that he had died from an apparent overdose. To me, the saddest part was losing someone so young who had so much to give, and who had always tried to make himself and others happy. The more I thought about how tragic his death was, the more I started relistening to his music, and eventually I came back to Swimming. I approached it with a new perspective, realizing that this was his last gift to the world, and it was a completely different experience. Suddenly it all made sense; his singing was heartfelt and authentic, and even though it was off-key (which critics emphasized in their reviews), it was a refreshing break from the over-autotuned rappers of today. The instrumentation was also incredible, featuring trumpets, pianos, and violins, along with great production value, proving just how much Mac cared about making Swimming a thoughtful and genuine album.

Most important though were the lyrics, in which he talks about finally having reached a peace with the world. He had been known to struggle with drugs before, and he talks a lot about dealing with his inner-demons. It takes on an existential attitude as he talks about living a simple life and realizing that what he had been looking for was looking for him all along. In the end, Swimming was his most mature album yet, and yet nobody had seemed to realize it. Some part of me feels as if Mac knew he wasn’t going to live much longer, and that this last album was going to be his meditations on life before death. However, it’s sad that it took his death to fully appreciate this album. It begs the question: would it be better if he had chosen a simpler life and lived, or should we be happy that he gave so much to the world through his music while he was alive? Overall, I can’t recommend enough listening to this album, it’s a masterpiece. My favorite songs are Self Care, Jet Fuel, 2009, and So It Goes, which is the closing track of the album. These songs are the core of the album and show the real depth of Mac Miller, both musically and personally. Hopefully you find the album to be as genuine as I did, or if you listened to it before and weren’t impressed, try listening again. Either way, Mac Miller will always be remembered by the music community, and also by the people like me, who were fortunate enough to realize how wise and kind-hearted he truly was.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Album Art Aesthetics

Great album art is incredibly powerful, but I feel as if it’s often overlooked by consumer and producer alike. People take it for granted, thinking of the physical representation as just a means to deliver the real product, the music. However, I would argue that the music is only half of the product, and that the music itself is almost entirely defined by its presentation. I’ve always been fascinated by the wide variety of art styles on album covers, but my passion was recently reignited when I saw the album cover for the new Flume mixtape Hi This Is Flume. It grabbed my attention and didn’t let go; the vivid colors, the straight lines and framing of the picture, and most importantly the beautiful painting on the hood of the car. Even though I knew who Flume was and didn’t mind their music, I never really cared for it much. However, I listened to the entire album right when I saw it, that’s how intrigued I was by the cover. My point: it’s all about first impressions, just like meeting a new person. Sure the music is important, but nobody will listen to it if you can’t get their attention first.

Hi This Is Flume – Flume

Beyond being eye-catching, I think an album cover has the power to enhance the music and add an entirely new element to the project. It sets a certain mood and interpretation for the album; you listen to it differently than if it didn’t have an album cover. For example, when I listened to the Flume album I expected it to be interesting and experimental, just like the album cover. As a result, I interpreted it through that lens and ended up loving it. I honestly don’t think I would have cared for it much if I wasn’t already expecting it to be different and experimental. I’m not saying the music isn’t good, I’m saying that the aesthetic of the cover opens up your mind to the music before you listen, and then continues to contribute to the overall feeling of the album. A lot of great albums use this to their advantage (such as the ones in the header image), and it makes a noticeable difference. It really ties the project together as a whole, and turns the album from a collection of songs into a musical journey. When I think back on an album that I loved, the first thing I remember is its aesthetic; the feeling and tone of the album that makes it entirely unique. It’s the album art that always determines this, because it’s the album art that gave the first impression.

Looking towards the future and the increase in purely digital music raises a lot of concerns with me. There’s something to be said for being able to hold the music as a product, and experience it in more ways that just auditory. If you’ve ever listened to a vinyl record or a cassette tape, or even just looked at one and admired its ingenuity, then you know what I’m getting at. Not only does digital music lack these things, I’m also worried that album covers for purely digital projects will more often be overlooked. It’s no longer a work of art that you can hang on your wall or collect; if you’re lucky it’s a thumbnail size image with good resolution. Obviously physical forms of music will always be around, and I’m sure there will still be artists such as Flume who continue to realize the importance of presentation, but I also think that we should all take a minute to appreciate the unique artistic medium of album covers and realize their importance in the art of music.

The Double: An overlooked film and novella

The Double is a short novella originally written by Fyodor Dostoevsky, first published in 1846. If the name sounds familiar, you’ve probably read Crime and Punishment, arguably one of his most popular works. If it doesn’t sound familiar, you aren’t alone: his writing style is notorious for being dense and tiresome to read, meaning you won’t find his works on any coffee tables. The novella was adapted into a movie of the same name, which was released in 2011 and stars Jesse Eisenberg. I actually saw the movie first, which inspired me to read the book, so I’ll be discussing them in that order.

The first time I watched The Double, I thought it was complete nonsense. It was weird, the ending didn’t make any sense, and it was so boring that I almost fell asleep. I was disappointed, considering the concept looked interesting and it starred Jesse Eisenberg, who I’ve always loved in other movies. I wondered what I was missing; who would be pretentious enough to pretend that they liked it? Evidently it festered in my mind, because I ended up re-watching it over a year later when I saw it on Netflix. This time it was a completely different experience; I don’t know if maybe my tastes had changed, or if I was just paying more attention, but I absolutely loved it. It was entirely unique in every way; incredible acting, visually interesting scenes and filming, an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack which I highly recommend listening to, and an atmosphere that kept you on the edge of your seat. Out of these, I want to focus on the strange atmosphere that the film has, since I find that to be its most unique and defining element. Now if you’ve been reading my last few posts, you might have a feeling of where this is going: Surrealism. This movie is a prime example of Surrealism in film, and is a testament to the power of film as an art form.

I recognize this film as surreal because it has the same atmosphere as any other surreal work of art: a dense fog, a feeling of semi-nostalgia and anxiety, and an unexplainable otherworldliness. This is developed in the movie mostly through the use of its color palette, which includes yellows, browns, beiges, and other grimy colors. It’s odd to say the least, and it makes this universe seem like some parallel universe where everything is drab and lifeless. Also contributing to this surreal atmosphere is the vagueness of the whole movie. I can’t really say what time period it takes place in, what the setting is, or what the main character does all day. Every place seems so disconnected, which is so contradictory to normal life. The closest thing to experiencing this is going to North Campus after 9pm on a weeknight and walking to a bus stop. The towering brick walls, strange architecture, and the complete emptiness of life is similar to some abandoned dystopian parallel world, much like the universe of The Double. Another key element of the surreal atmosphere is obviously the story; the idea of the doppelganger, somebody who is identical to you in almost every way, induces anxiety in itself. Watching the main character Simon as he falls into madness at the hands of his doppelganger is terrifying, and it defines the universe of the movie as much stranger than ours. Finally, I think even the soundtrack contributes to this atmosphere, much more than your typical movie score. It’s mostly composed of string music and piano, with dark and heavy chords that create a tension throughout the film. Listening to the soundtrack by itself induces anxiety, and in the context of the film, it is the soundtrack of madness. Overall, this movie is a work of art in almost every way, and is fascinating to me as a lover of surrealist art. It’s just an unforgettable, personal experience that challenges what you think about traditional media.

This brings us to the novella, which I read promptly after finding out that it inspired the movie. It was the first thing I ever read by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I can definitely understand why people say his books are a challenge. After forcing my way through it however, I was glad I did: not only is it an incredibly well written story, it is a great companion to the movie. While they aren’t exactly identical, as they aren’t meant to be, reading the book further revealed the true genius of the movie. The movie perfectly matched the atmosphere of the book, so much that it’s eerie. Maybe I was influenced by watching the movie first, but the book is a work of surrealism itself: it has the same bizarre atmosphere, which is developed through the writing and the events of the story. The way Fyodor Dostoevsky writes is so dark and heavy that it creates the same feeling of anxiety and fear, which is absolutely fascinating. I highly recommend watching the movie and reading the book, although I don’t suggest any particular order. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on it to see if people see what I see, or if I just sound completely crazy.

(Image Credits: Google Images)