On a Local Painter

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This weekend I was able to attend the Great Lakes Art Fair at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan. Artists from all over Michigan set up their art in booths and are able to talk freely with attendees, even sell their artwork. A wide variety of art was featured, including paintings, drawings, wood and metal sculptures, ceramics,glass works, photography, jewelry, printwork, and artisanal treats such as olive oils and dips, jerky, and even handmade soaps.

Although I may be biased by a predisposition toward fine arts, the booths that contained paintings were my favorite. I recognized one of my favorite Michigan artists, Thomas LeGault (whose work you can find here), and discovered a brand new one, Gerald Freeman.

Freeman paints primarily classic cars and other vehicles such as warplanes and bicycles, usually set in a backdrop of nature, but other works he was showcasing included human portraits, architecture, and a yacht on which fishermen wrestled with a huge fish popping out of the waves. His paintings are hyper-realistic–on his website, you can hardly tell that the pictures are of paintings and not of photographs.

In talking to him at the art fair, I learned that he does paint using photographs, but he doesn’t limit himself to just these. He would find a particular car he liked in one photo, then use the backdrop of trees or a dirt path from another, and, in the case that there was a person in the photo, he would often use a model in a studio. He said he wasn’t one for outdoor painting, but just a glance at his gallery told me that he loves nature, and had spent years studying it, trying to capture its beauty.

What struck me about his paintings, though, were the cars themselves. Though hyper-realistic, the natural backgrounds of his paintings gave just a vague hint of being painted, if you looked closely for brush strokes–very closely. But no matter how closely you looked at the cars, you will find only a perfect mirror image of the landscape around it, down to the exact warping in the curved exteriors. I almost expected to see my own reflection peering into the paintings, looking back at me in concave form from the smooth, shiny bodies of the Mercedes and Lincolns.

They were absolutely flawless.

One particular painting showed the dashboard of a convertible. He told me that he had done it with oil paints, which floored me because, in my comparatively little experience, oil paints are quite thick and hard to use for such perfect, minute details. But this one, just as the other ones, was photo-realistic.

Talking with Freeman and seeing his paintings was incredibly inspiring. Sometimes when I see art that seems unachievable for me, it’s discouraging, and it makes me feel like no matter how much time I spend practicing, I’ll never get to that skill level, or I’ll never create something as wonderful as *this.* But somehow, hearing Freeman talk about his passion for painting filled me with tenacity. If he can hone his skill over time to create paintings as gorgeous as these, then one day, anyone can get to that level, with painting or with anything.

You can look at the rest of Mr. Freeman’s gallery here.


There’s a sort of air in the music realm surrounding technique and virtuosity, that the harder something is to play and the more technical skill it takes, the better it is. Not the better it sounds, necessarily, but the higher quality the piece is—and the better the player you are. There’s a certain feeling that if you want to be considered a good musician, you have to play longer pieces, to memorize them all, to play in harder key signatures, to play with wildly advanced techniques.

When you’ve been playing for a decade or so, this starts to weigh on you. When I was in high school, sending out my college applications, I took a look at the audition parameters to study piano at Juilliard. I’d been playing for about eight years at the time, so I thought it wouldn’t be anything unimaginably out of my skill level. I was wrong—they requested videos of the applicants playing three pieces or so, all memorized, all at least ten pages, and so on. It seemed reasonable on paper, but when I looked up the sheet music to the requested pieces, I balked. There were no symbols I didn’t recognize, but the complexity and sheer amount of music was enough to back me down from applying. I’d been playing for half my life, and it seemed as though even if I had started when I was eight, seven, six years old, I wouldn’t be able to reach that level of skill at that age. That was incredibly discouraging.

But you know what? If you keep playing, you can leave all that nonsense behind you, and play for yourself. Who cares if you’re no good at memorizing pieces, or if key signatures with more than four accidentals mess with your mind, or if you can’t hit those seventeen-notes-per-beat runs in Romantic pieces? It’s okay to take longer on harder pieces to get them good enough, and it’s okay if good enough for you is the standard of your “good enough.” While it’s very rewarding to learn how to do all the advanced techniques, you can’t let yourself get wrapped up in getting it perfect, at least not so much that you back off of playing at all. Give yourself time. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Tight performances only come from hours of practice, and sometimes practice has to be loose, free, and fun. We wouldn’t still be playing if we weren’t having fun…so let go of the need for virtuosity; it’s overrated anyway.


The Humanity of AI

Recently I read the book The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel Wilson, which follows a girl named June, a post-grad specialist of ancient machinery, and Peter, the automaton who sweeps her up in his quest to stop another automaton who is bent on consuming all the anima, the spirit that keeps the automatons alive.

Though the book was mediocre, it had some very interesting thematic content, pondering over how we discover our purposes in life and what our life is worth if we don’t know how to pursue that purpose. However, there was a much subtler theme which I found more interesting: are robots who think and act exactly like humans, just as good as humans–and if so, are they better?

If automatons, robots, artificial intelligence, whatever name we give them, gain the same footing as humans in terms of perception, cognition, and whatever else that would make them more “human,”  would that make our two species interchangeable? If they can’t feel physical pain, does that make them better than us? What about emotional responses–if they can feel love and loss, does that make them our equals? If they can’t, are they our inferiors or superiors? Even some humans are incapable of feeling physical pain or experiencing emotions, so are these categories absolutely necessary when comparing humans and artificial intelligence? How do we place a value on things that make us human?

How do we decide what makes us human? When we can artificially craft those characteristics, does that make crafted being a human? If we can make working robotic ears, limbs, brains, where is the distinction between those and fully organic bodies? Can a being be 50% human, 50% robot? 25-75%? 1-99%? Is the 1-99% being still deserving of the dignity and respect we should give to all humans? Or is it a robot about which we need not feel remorse when we throw it out because its iOS is outdated? 

With our rapidly improving technology, we are racing closer toward perfecting AI each day. As our robots become more like us and we them, I wish I could say I had these answers. I wish I could say The Clockwork Dynasty helped me come up with a better solution. All I can do now is ask you these questions, spark discussion, and hope that we become more conscious of our humanity and how we value it as it comes time to be challenged.

When the Movie Is Better Than the Book

Let’s be honest: the book is always better than the movie. Directors never get it quite how we pictured it in our heads, or they go completely off-book altogether and we walk out of the theatre thinking, “How was that based on the book I read?” In twenty years of reading books and seeing the movie adaptations of as many of them as come to theatres, I’ve recently found only the second movie I prefer to the book: the third part of The Maze Runner trilogy, The Death Cure.

Needless to say, spoilers below!

I expected the movie to at least keep some semblance of the book, which revolved around a counter-revolution, asking readers: in a dystopian world facing a ruthless force that hoards all the resources, how much resistance is too much resistance?

There was none of that in the movie.

The counter-resistance was brushed over. A contrived cliffhanger from the previous installment drove most of the plot. A lot of logic (and lack thereof) in the zombie-infested, plague-stricken, uncivilized world was taken for granted. It was a mash of all the things that make us think books are better than their movie adaptations. But amidst the action for the sake of action, there was a shining light: Teresa.

Where the movie almost completely pushed aside the “how much resistance is too much resistance” theme, it replaced it with making Teresa a real person. Movie Teresa is a much deeper, more interesting character than Book Teresa. Movie Teresa is intelligent, clever, and wants to do what’s right, and she recognizes that sometimes, she doesn’t know how. Movie Teresa knows her limits, what she will and won’t do, what she will and won’t tolerate. Movie Teresa is motivated by logic, and it was refreshing to watch after Book Teresa (and the previous two Movie Teresas) seemed to be motivated by taking it on herself to screw up the plot for any reason, even if there seemed to be no reason for her, as a “fully-developed character,” to do so.

It wasn’t until seeing Wonder Woman last July that I realized how flat and one-dimensional our movie heroines are, and now, it’s all I can notice. The Maze Runner as a franchize didn’t have a lot going for it in terms of being likely to give a decent amount of characterization to its female characters. It’s made up of action movies, a genre that by its nature relies on plot over character, and is typically regarded as a “manly” genre. A huge majority of its characters were men, so the odds that if only one–or even half–of the characters was/were fleshed out, it wouldn’t be the two women, three if you include the main antagonist. So for what it did, especially in an area of art where strong female characters of any kind are desperately needed, I give it major points.

Normally, I’m a purist about sticking to the book. But when the book drops the ball on writing badass female characters who make themselves the subject of the story instead of an object of the plot, the movie can throw the plot off an exploding skyscraper for all I care if it can pick up the slack. So sure, Teresa was only one character out of a dozen in a wholly plot-driven narrative, but to me, the sacrifice was worth it.

Thought Contagion: A Call-Out

Nearly nine months after their last single dropped, the British alt-rock band Muse finally released new content, a single called Thought Contagion. The lyrics revolve around the spread of ideas, holding that if an idea gains enough traction, then there’s no way to stop it from invading everyone’s lives, even if they don’t believe it–and even if it’s a bad idea.

Muse is no stranger to heavy-handed lyrics. Their last three studio albums–The Resistance, The 2nd Law, and Drones–relied heavily on current events for their lyrical themes, and their second-to-last single Dig Down included the line: “When God decides to look the other way/and a clown takes the throne….” It’s nothing if not overt.

At first, I was really bogged down by the heavy-handedness of Thought Contagion. Three verses of sentence-fragmented metaphors describing a dismal, apocalyptic scenario are broken by the choruses of, “You’ve been bitten by a true believer…by someone who’s hungrier than you…by someone’s false beliefs.” Not a lot of subtlety there, and it’s wrapped up in a lot of pessimism, such as, “Brace for the final solution.” Yikes.

It’s suffocating to focus on these lyrics. We all know what it’s like to have idea after idea crammed into our heads. It’s impossible to get away from hearing the ideology of people who just know they’re right. Idea after idea after idea, and they’re in our classrooms and homes and offices, in our social media and news and ads, in our movies and books and art. No one could spend a single day without at least inadvertently encountering the ideas of someone who believes they’re right with every fiber of their being. These ideas could be about religion, politics, science, philosophy, sex, art–if someone can have a belief in something for which they’d be willing to die, you can bet they’ll be yelling it loudly from all platforms of social media in an attempt to get it across to even one person.

While there’s nothing more annoying than listening to “someone’s false beliefs,” some of those false believers are getting through to other people. In a country where polarization is a driving force of media, anyone who was neutral on anything at some point has been “bitten” by one side or the other, shrinking the middle ground and forcing both sides of any issue imaginable to resort to extremes, in both beliefs and in the actions for which they call they call.

Muse can do better stylistically than the lyrics of Thought Contagion, but maybe this time they’re not going for poetic–they’re going for a call-out. They’re back on the dystopian track, taking our current situation and stretching it to its logical extreme: if we stop thinking for ourselves and let the momentous force of zealous ideologies take us over, then “it’s too late for a revolution.” Thought Contagion reminds us to take a breath, step back from the inundation of media (as much as we can), and think things through before blindly getting caught up in the storm of shouting matches before the shouting matches turn to nuclear wars.