Mid-Fall Reflections

So I have a problem. It’s not a particularly big or important problem. It’s just a problem. But it’s affecting me in a pretty big way.

Today, Wednesday (or early Thursday morning, depending on how quickly I get this done…oops), is my posting day for arts, ink. I love this blog. I love it to death. I sometimes wonder how I got on the blog and how the idea to let me write about arts in whatever way I want is somewhat questionable, but overall, I think it’s great.

So all day, I’ve been thinking about this blog, thinking about what I want to write about. First, it was a conversation with a new co-worker of mine, and how it ties into how I experience art, specifically theatre. But then I read the news about A Series of Unfortunate Events, how Netflix is making it into an original TV series. I also read about the pervasiveness of sex on broadcast television, and how shows nowadays are pushing the boundaries. Last week was my first creative writing workshop, maybe I can talk about that?

You see, I have the opposite of writer’s block at the moment. There’s just so much to talk about and only one day a week to do it. News comes out every day about art, especially popular media like the TV shows we watch weekly. I can barely keep up. And that’s excluding the influence of my classes, how we talked about T.S. Eliot today and his poetry and how his later poems shifted into something that countered his earlier ideas and standards for poetry, and how no one who wasn’t already established as a brilliant poet (like T.S. Eliot) could ever publish the Four Quartets as their first poem.

All of this, everything combined, it makes me wonder…am I getting repetitive in my blogs? Lather, rinse, repeat. Movies, theatres, TV shows, writing.

I;m willing to chalk it up to the amazing experience I;m having at this University, how here I’m overexposed to art, and I can get my quick fix like a junkie looking for his next high as easily as I can walk down to the CC and get a passport. I’m just wondering if any of my fellow Inksters feel the same way, like they talk about the same things over and over again in a cycle, desperately trying to find artistic meaning in the forms available to us as burgeoning writers, engineers, business women, lawyers, nutritionists. Are there really no new stories to tell, in nonfiction as well as fiction?

“I Think Everything in Life is Art”

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How you’re writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.” 

I came across this quote from Helena Bonham Carter for the first time last week. It’s quite enthralling. She uses the examples of everyday life, from the way you drink tea to what kind of food you make, and equates it to the importance of art in life. I love this quote a lot, because I can connect to it. When I sit down, excited to write my ArtsInk post every week, I’m so overwhelmed about the different ways I can talk about the art that is present in all our lives. It’s literally everywhere.

I know what you’re thinking. “Art can’t be simplified to the act of drinking tea or smiling at someone!” But, think about the way the steam swirls in the air, as warm Chamomile tea sits in a mug on your coffee table. A symbol of comfort, warmth, and being at home. A feeling of relaxation because your day was long, you talked a lot, maybe laughed a lot, and now you need to find solace in something soothing, something that can fill your belly with flavor. That is art. That is a moment in time that can easily be captured in a photograph, a painting, a video, but it’s so much better than any physical piece of art. It’s your own moment of symbolic peace.

“What about a smile? That’s something on your face, how can that be art? You’re smile can be crooked or small, no one can connect to a smile!” Well, my friend, think about it. Getting that happy smile from a stranger or someone you love can literally make or break a day. It’s the transfer of hope and kindness among humans. It’s a silent exchange that means so much when given to someone. We see smiles within physical art products as well, and we buy it and embrace it because it makes us feel a certain way. That same concept applies with smiling in real life.

Carter’s quote can be applied to any moment of our days when we’re feeling uninspired by the world. It’s a matter of looking closely and appreciating the beauty of everything, even a simple cup of tea.

Come At Me, Patriarchy

So, I’m on Youtube. I’m getting ready to watch some sort of video, possibly even just listen to a song while I’m doing my homework, heck, I don’t remember. But of course there was an Ad blocking my way.

Youtube ads are not always a curse to me. Sometimes they’re actual videos, and I like it when they make the “ads” a trailer for a movie. That’s not so bad – it’s not commercialism shoving it’s big ugly face at me in a constant attempt to get me to spend my money on worthless crap. I like movies, and even though they do represent a certain section of commercialism that thrives off of people like me who love to be entertained, I think they still have something to offer.

This, however, was not a movie ad. Darn.

The music started up. It was good music, I noticed. Some pop artist? Maybe. When i jiggled my mouse over the screen, the title came up at the top.

Stuart Weitzman | #ROCKROLLRIDE

Uh…okay. I still have no idea what this is, but hey, still marginally better than a Febreze commercial.

And then I noticed the shots. The angles of the camera. The filters stolen directly from a high schooler’s instagram. This was meant to be “artsy.”

And, of course, objectively I can say that it was creative. It did some cool things with the camera, and the editing was pretty neat with some frame effects. But something was wrong. Oh, so wrong.

The subject of this short film? music video? thing? was in fact two beautiful women. Flowing blonde hair, legs that went on for miles and miles and miles, and some gorgeous trees all around them. Perfect for the film, right?

But instead of presenting these women as women, as people who deserve respect, as people who have opinions and voices and are allowed to think and speak and act however they want – these women were dehumanized. Shots of legs and butts were in front of my screen and I just wanted to go onto the set and yank the camera out of the directors hands and shout YOU ARE RUINING DECADES WORTH OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS. Until the very end of the video I didn’t even get a good look at the faces of these beautiful women. The material itself wasn’t all too bad – it showed the women getting dressed in cute outfits, riding bikes on a trail, driving a flashy cool red car, and, the kicker, riding a motorcycle.

These things in themselves aren’t dehumanizing. Some of them, such as the motorcycle and the expensive car, are things typically attributed to men. But by shooting the women’s butts, by not showing their face, putting an extreme emphasis on their bodies and the way they looked next to these props, it made them seem like objects – like they were just toys that the director was playing with.

You may ask at this moment how this even remotely relates to art. “You’re just an angry feminist ranting about something you happened to come across.” You bet I am. But the fact that the director wanted this to be taken as art, as something to be critically analyzed and thoughtfully considered is a joke. This isn’t art – it’s objectifying women. And what’s worse is that it’s an ad on Youtube, going out to thousands upon millions of people who click on their favorite cat video. This ad-disguised-as-art isn’t art.

It’s a joke. A joke that isn’t funny anymore and needs to end.

For reference, I’m not including a link to the video because I’d rather not promote something that shouldn’t be getting any views at all. Instead, enjoy this lovely video of kittens who love Star Wars a bit too much.

Obligatory Year-End Reflection Time

So I’m going to be completely honest and say that I don’t really have a topic in mind for this blog post. It’s probably my last of the year and I should probably make it something important or special but finals are creeping in and my imminent departure 1000 miles away from Michigan and away from all my friends here is looming ever closer. So not only do I have to study for finals and get ready to pack up all of my belongings, but also spend as much time as possible with the friends I won’t get to see for another three months.

But even with that, I need to write this post. All I can think about right now is the fact that I’m writing this right now. That I got this job, that someone liked my writing enough to hire me to write once a week. And the fact that I’ve done it, that I’ve kept up all last semester and this is even more astounding. The deadline helped, but more than that, it’s pushed me to try and be a better writer. My friends and family read these, as well as people I don’t know. I’ve gotten comments from people from Illinois and Hong Kong who liked my post.

At the beginning of the year when I had “orientation” for this job, the people who had done it in years past said they felt like their writing had gotten stronger, that the weekly posts were challenging and made them think about their writing. I believed them, but I also didn’t think it would apply to me. I thought I would have plenty to write about, so much to say about art and how it affects my life.

But it was harder than I thought. My arrogance caught up with me, and some weeks I found myself grasping at straws to fulfill my weekly requirement.

Honestly though, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. I’m so excited for arts, ink next year and for all the things I’m going to write about. This year, writing for this blog, has been such a payoff. I still remember when I saw that Michigan Pops shared my article on their Facebook page, that the members had read it and that the concertmaster whom I had acknowledged liked the status, signifying that he possibly read my writing. To me, that is insane. When I got 6 comments on my post about Khalil Fong, I about cried from happiness – it was the most comments I’ve gotten on a post.

And even beyond this blog I’ve learned so much about art and how it affects my life. Art has always been something that I’ve loved and recognized as a big part of my life, but seeing it while living on a college campus has been absolutely mind blowing. I grew up as the outcast, as the one who liked the weird things, but here I feel like there’s a community that’s made for people just for me. It may not be as popular as football, but when I found out Musket’s performance of Rent was almost completely sold out I was astounded. I barely had half of the audience filled at my performances at my small private high school, and there were only parents and teachers at my chorus concerts. No one seemed to care about arts at home except for a few of my friends, and yet here I could barely get a ticket to see a musical. The fact that the arts community here is so strong, and permeates so much of the campus makes me incredibly happy.

Art is everywhere. I’ve made connections to art in so many different ways that it seems impossible, but it’s such a vital part of our lives. And this blog has taught me how to find it, and how to express how it makes me feel and wanting to imprint that on others. It’s a feeling I can’t describe. It’s a feeling I want to keep forever.

The Art of Dressing for Lukewarm Weather

Is it just me or is attempting to comfortably walk outside with clothes on getting progressively more difficult as the we move into spring? Looking out of the window on a typical week day, the sun is shining, so naturally us Michiganders are entranced by the unnatural brightness that is taking over the campus. We pull off the long pants and winter jackets, and look for items to be worn for warmer weather. Yet, after walking outside for a total of ten steps we realize the wind chill is -50, 90% of the campus is covered in 10 degree shade, and the classrooms that we spend half of the day in are still considerably chilly given the recent warmer climate. What are we to do in order to stay warm, whilst also staying cold? I think that makes sense..

What is the art of dressing for lukewarm weather? Unfortunately I’m not quite sure, but I figure that if we break this down together, going season by season, then contrasting Michigan seasons to those outlines, we might find an efficient way to satisfy our temperature styling mishaps.

Okay, so when we think of spring what comes to mind? Minimizing! That’s one thing. Whether it be downsizing the puffy winter coat, trading in the jeans for a pair of shorts or a flowy skirt, or even going for open-toed shoes, spring is all about stripping away the unnecessary fluff and enjoying the sunny weather. However, another aspect that comes to mind when we think of spring is the frigid winds, and the unexpected days where the temperature will drop 20 degrees just for the heck of it! So what to do, what to do… Maybe some light layering might help! Jackets, scarves, hats, tights, all are able to add some warmth with light layer-able styles that’ll allow us to  survive until reaching the next warm patch of sun.

We pretty much know that in transitional seasons like spring and fall, we have to prepare for the low temps with extra clothes on our bodies, but what about the ups? When you walk outside with a hoodie, jeans, and tennis shoes on, you expect that’ll be enough, but oh no wow the campus is suddenly 90% sun and you’re 100% hot! This, my Arts Inksters, is a problem I surely haven’t found an answer to. I mean you can’t remove everything you’ve worn for the day in the middle of the Diag! My best advice is to bring a backup t-shirt or shorts, even if it is a hassle, you won’t regret you’re reduced body temp while you’re walking around in this lukewarm weather.

The Indispensability of My Art

Your art assignment, should you choose to accept, is one that I guarantee will be filled with adventure, intrigue, and quite a lot of laughter.

Since The Art Assignment premiered on YouTube in February, it has become a massive success. Hosted by curator Sarah Green (and wife of novelist John Green of The Fault in Our Stars fame, aka that guy I won’t shut up about), this show is a visual embodiment of what Arts at Michigan strives to be. The Art Assignment, Arts at Michigan. Seems like a perfect match.

But what IS The Art Assignment? Well, there is no concrete definition provided, but in general it’s a show where different artists are interviewed and share their stories, which ends up in a place where the artist engages and challenges the viewer to an assignment – possibly relating to art, possibly challenging them to redefine their meaning of art, but always pushing the viewer to really examine art and what it means to them.

While there are currently three Art Assignments on YouTube, the third one released only a couple of weeks ago struck a unique chord in me. The artist featured in this episode is Toyin Odutola, a woman living in New York that creates beautiful, textured portraits, often self-portraits that constantly define and redefine not only her visual image but the image she has within her.

And while I have yet to do an Art Assignment, Toyin’s challenge to create a gif of something indispensable to you sounds like a great place to start.

I like Toyin’s assignment the most because of its reflective nature. It asks the viewer to look at themselves and really figure out what is indispensable to them – something that I can honestly say no YouTube video has ever done to me. And even more amazing is the portrayal. For Toyin, it was her hands, and in a beautiful selection of frames she drew her hand clenching and unclenching, and even in that small motion I was fascinated at what her hands had birthed – a representation of herself that was true and vulnerable and yet gave her power in strength in its creation.

It makes me envious in the best way possible. I hope, even though I’m not that kind of artist, that someday I can think complexly about myself and those around me in order to create something groundbreaking, such as her art.

Honestly, I have to admit, this is not my usual coherent blog post and more a jumbled mess of words about how complex and fascinating art – in its grandest venn diagram – is, but if you get anything out of it, it’s that you should take some time out of your day and do The Art Assignment, even if it’s just thinking about what you would do if you were brave enough to bare your soul in a 24-frame gif. Think about what you define art as, and how you can continuously redefine it every day of your life – because that changing nature of art is what makes it art. And yet, art will always be an extension of you, and that paradox is what makes The Art Assignment so impactful.

What is blackness? It’s whatever I make it. What is being a woman? It’s whatever I make it. And that’s the beauty of being an image maker, you can do whatever you want, you can create whatever you want, and it’s all in the realm of how, you know how vivid and how like broad your imagination is – Toyin Odutola