On Deadlines

This is the final episode. The closing act. The last post.

I’m graduating in a couple weeks, so I’ll no longer be writing for Arts Ink. In the past three years, I’ve written 59 posts (this makes 60, which is an oddly even number). I’m not a sentimental person, but it was pretty sweet to get paid for something like this. Arts at Michigan is a good program, and I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had with them. Writing a weekly column about “the arts” was a means to exploring different forms of expression and an avenue to gain readership while at university. I’ve written on personal blogs before, but they lacked something that this satisfied: deadlines. Due dates are beautiful, terrible things. Every Wednesday or Thursday or whatever day of the week I was asked to post was a deadline. It kept me accountable.

A lot of people say that deadlines restrict art and creativity. That art “can never be finished” and that it “can’t be done until its perfect.” I don’t think this is true. Nothing is perfect. Man is inherently flawed, and anything he makes will therefore be flawed. That’s the beauty of art. It’s okay because imperfect things can still be finished. If perfection was the finish-line, God was barely at the racetrack. An artist needs a deadline. Without one, she will drive herself mad. She’ll keep adding to the piece until she has nothing left to give, but she’ll still find it imperfect. But if shown to others, they may be inspired by its beauty and deem it perfection. That inspiration can’t exist if the art is left undone, hidden by the artist’s insecurities. Deadlines force an artist to do her job.

Whatever line of work we do, deadlines exist. They may be our greatest enemies and we may demise them, but they ensure that the job is finished. We’re often dissatisfied with our product at the deadline, but we aren’t the audience to please. We are servants to art. Yes, we could only create that which we enjoy creating and not “sell out” to consumers, but we have to deliver irregardless of the subject matter. To create solely for oneself is mental masturbation—okay in moderation, but never in excess. We don’t have a right to the fruits of our labor. As artists, it is our job to produce. We are entitled to our work and the deadlines that come with it. Deadlines lift the yolk from our shoulders and relieve us from the toil. They let us start something new. To place “fin” at the end of a film or sign our names in the corner of a painting. Without deadlines, we’d never see the next two words.

The End.

La Cucina Futurista

Discard the past. Consume the present. Thirst for the future.

These beliefs characterize Italian Futurism (Futurismo) in the early 1900s. The founder of the Futurist movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, birthed the idea at the turn of the century when he drove his car off the road to avoid a pair of cyclists. When he emerged from the ditch, he was a changed man with a vision for the future. It was a future of speed, technology, violence, and youth. His vision gathered a following in Italy and honored the invention of machines. It challenged culture’s sedentary nature by destroying the old and accelerating the new. Seeking to shed the weight of the past, it had influence on multiple facets of the culture—industrial design, literature, fashion, and even gastronomy.

Futurist Food

La Cucina Futurista was a dining movement crafted in Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurist Cooking (1930). Like many Futurismo manifestos, La Cucina Futurista was a radical idea that greatly disrupted the culture. This manifesto banned pasta from the cuisine. As one could guess, this idea was unpopular in Italian culture. But it was the mission of Futurismo. La Cucina Futurista declared war against starchy foods that embodied the people’s weaknesses, complacency, and nostalgia. Seeking to eradicate this neutrality and cultural laziness, the gastronomical movement went where no chef had gone before.

No Pasta!

It was revolutionary. The movement encouraged the mixture of foods previously deemed incompatible: mutton with shrimp, banana with cheese, and herring with strawberry jam. Political discussions were forbidden during dining, and the space was replaced with art. While eating, people indulged in sensory experiences. Perfumes were offered for one course to excite the nostrils. Certain foods were placed on the table and left untouched for the sake of smell and visual aesthetic. Some courses were be rushed, so food would be quickly consumed. Others were be drawn out so people could savor the intricacies of taste. Music was played to delight the ears while chemists concocted new flavors. It was a full sensory experience that promoted the joy of new things. Where the old food culture was a means to connecting with history, La Cucina Futurista was a means to connecting with the future.

Marinetti claimed that we must “eat with art to act with art.” It was a beautiful idea: Our diet influenced our thoughts and expression. By bringing art to the plate, we could paint our palette in manners that could spark breakthroughs in taste and even health. But like much of Futurismo, it was an eccentric idea that never seeped into mainstream culture.

The movement toted some great ideas and some awful ideas. Airplanes, automobiles, and robots were deemed great ideas by popular culture. As for futurist meals…here’s to hoping they find plates beyond the history books.

From Shapes to Stories

In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel produced a simple film. The animated short features a large rectangle, a small circle, and two triangles—one large and one small. The shapes move about the screen for a minute before the film fades to black. Throughout the video, there is no audio, text, color, or other features. As for design aesthetic, the film goes beyond minimalism. It is frugality.

But in this frugality, stories arise. While the lack of concrete detail could render the film to nothing but a handful of shapes floating around a screen, viewers manage to derive meaning. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Despite the absence of normal elements—people, animals, and places—stories can still be created. The hardiness of our storytelling ability is akin to cockroaches surviving nuclear detonation: Generation without “sufficient” nutrients. This demonstrates a uniquely human disposition. No other creatures seek for meaning so desperately that they build narratives from moving shapes. Is our thirst for meaning so strong that it is never fully quenched? At what point can we see triangles as triangles and nothing more?

Heider and Simmel designed the video for a study about the activation of anthropomorphic descriptions when we see geometric shapes. Basically, they were seeking to understand why we attribute human features to nonhuman things. Personification of the world has been a large part of human history. Myths and legends have given faces to oceans and voices to winds on a quest to understand our place in the world. When encountered with the unknown, this anthropomorphizing nature is a coping mechanism. We seek to fill the holes in a situation and craft a story so that we can understand why something is happening. We paint the void with our minds, and it allows us to make sense of things. This is why we experience emotions when seeing a painting, listening to music, or watching animals interact with one another. When we cannot understand the context of the situation, we create one. Even with things as simple as circles and squares.

It is for this reason that we find television and films enjoyable. They cause us to react emotionally, despite the fact that they are abstract representations. Granted, modern technology has enabled higher graphics and sound, narrowing the gap between the concrete and abstract. Heider and Simmel’s film suggests that anthropomorphism needs little input.

Some say our anthropomorphism is dangerous, as it distorts reality. But I say it makes us human.

And, well, we couldn’t have art without it.

Fire, Air, Water, Earth

The world is comprised of four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.

This simplistic breakdown of our world is shared across many cultures and is the foundation for the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. With these four elements, the universe’s energy is kept in balance. When imbalanced, harmony is lost. While this is the basic concept, the elements’ existence and significance is interpreted differently across the globe. In the Western world, the elements are a component of astrology: a system that garners insight on the world from astronomical activities. In popular culture, astrology is seen as foolish and hokey–a pseudoscience that contributes nothing to the greater good. While I find this view untrue, I will echo that it is pseudoscience, based on the definition that our language has constructed to categorize it as such. But I believe astrology can have a great impact on people’s lives. If anything, its impact on the greater good is not realized, as it shares aspects akin to popular beliefs in other parts of the world. Especially in regards to the elements.

In the zodiac, each sign corresponds to one of the classical elements. This is known as triplicity, since there are three signs per element. Depending on your element, you will have natural tendencies in different areas of your life–some positive, some negative. Like all aspects of the zodiac, the triplicities are left open to interpretation and their meanings can be tailored to the individual. But it’s an interesting concept. Looking into it can offer some insight and means to self-reflection. Breaking down your life by four simple elements can help clear mental clutter and confusion. This simple classification system can reduce and compact a large deal of information. Significant progress on these ideas was developed in early Europe.

In ancient Greek beliefs, the four elements were a means to categorizing the world. Plato coined the term “element” to describe a piece of something larger. It was a term that could spur further divisions and help progress organization as a discipline. Aristotle later grouped the four elements under two natures, of which there are four properties: hot/cold and wet/dry. Each of the elements could be (roughly) categorized under these dimensions.


This perspective on the world can yield some interesting thoughts. Could this describe places and climates? People and their personalities? Lifestyles and strategies? Further elements can be devised from this classification system and applied to multiple fields and scenarios. But the further the divisions stray from the source–fire, air, water, and earth–the more complex life can become. Without a harmony between these basic energy sources, complexity could not exist. This elemental foundation is, to my knowledge, better realized in Eastern culture.

In Buddhism and Hinduism, these four elements are manifested in the seven chakras. Chakras are energy points in the body, and four of the seven channels correspond to the four elements. According to this philosophy, you must clear your seven chakras in order to find spiritual peace. In order to build complex things–inventions, cities, or philosophies–the basic elements must form a stable foundation.

For the arts, this understanding seems rudimentary. In order to create something beautiful, acknowledgement of the medium is fundamental. For music, we acknowledge the way sound is carried through the air. For sculpture, we reconcile the relationship between products of the earth and our visions. For painting, we mix colored waters to illustrate something within our minds. For dance and performance, we must demonstrate bravado and inner fire in our expressions. Whether the material or the concept; fire, air, water, and earth comprise our art and our lives.

Chess and Go

A chapter in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog ponders the games Chess and Go. Both are arguably the best strategic board games in human history. Both are believed to have evolved in ancient China. And both involve two players in a perfect world: one that can be controlled entirely through strategy, leaving nothing to luck.

Despite these similarities, the games are fundamentally dissimilar. There are a handful of minor differences: such as color leading, board size, and complexity of moves. White leads in Chess while black leads in Go. Go has a large board of 361 intersections while Chess has a restricted board of 64 squares. Chess has a collection of complex move types while Go has an elegant two rules. And so on. But the fundamental difference between Chess and Go is the subject-matter of Barbery’s chapter: Profound Thought No. 7.

In chess, you have to kill to win. In go, you have to build to live.

In Chess, you are seeking total victory by checkmating (killing) the opponent’s king. Total win or loss lies in the fall of a single piece with limited movement. All other pieces, unique in their movement and capturing ability, serve to protect their king and slay the opponent’s king. It involves pure logic and left-brained, analytical thinking. Go, on the other hand, seeks to obtain larger territory. You win not by killing your opponent, but by letting them grow less than you. Both players build toward a goal, and one achieves greater market share. Pieces coexist with one another and recognize that balance. Go involves both left- and right-brained thinking–a balance of the analytical and artistic.



Although these two games were conceived in the East, their ideals have been adopted by different cultures. At large in politics and business, Western culture adopts a Chess-way of thinking. Eastern culture adopts a Go-way of thinking. While Go offers a more balanced view of the world, neither strategy is superior to the other. This has yet to be proven. But the games can tell us something. Do we adopt a Chess-view of the world? Do we rely on superior tactics and individuals to achieve what we want? Or do we look at the big picture and slowly grow into what we desire?

For the readers of this blog, the demographics are largely Western, so most of you will be more familiar with Chess. Your default settings, from being raised in this culture, may favor a strategy of tactical domination. It may not be realized, but it may underly your life decisions. To achieve a broader perspective, consider playing Go. Learn how the game works so that you may make a choice about how you view your world. I believe that board games are a manifestation of culture, and culture a manifestation of our perspective. By learning different ways of thinking through board games, we can broaden our thinking. It can change how we approach life.

So will you kill to win or build to live?

Beauty and Control

The Garden of Eden was a beautiful paradise. It was abundant in fruits and peaceful creatures and was perfectly manicured. But when lost to evil forces, it grew long weeds and was consumed by nature. As a result, Quakerism holds nature as a place of evil and a home to devils. Nature is something to be conquered and controlled. By uprooting forests and cultivating gardens that conform to human visions, we create beauty. From a Quaker’s perspective, beauty lies in refined control. The uncontrolled is wicked and seen as hideous. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his tale of “Young Goodman Brown”, exemplifies this belief. A “good” young man ventures into the forest one night and meets the Devil. He loses his innocence and enters a place deemed unholy by his community. The beauty of his innocence is lost upon exploring nature.

The interesting quirk of Hawthorne’s story is that young Brown is not the only member of his community in the woods. Dozens of familiar faces are participating in sinful activities, running amok in the uncontrolled wilderness. Young Brown comes to realize that the people who seemed so refined in town actually indulged in their wild side. The beauty he once knew became tarnished. But perhaps a new beauty arose?

Henry David Thoreau, in his famous Walden, describes the wilderness as a place of remarkable beauty. To Thoreau, the forests were a place of God, not the Devil. Transcendentalism holds nature in high-regard, as a beautiful and wild place. Although it is uncontrolled, it is gorgeous. The lack of human intervention–the lack of control–perhaps made it so.

Apart from spirituality, Quakerism and Transcendentalism represent distinct arguments between beauty and control. For Quakers, beauty results from control. For Transcendentalists, beauty arises in the absence of control. Which side defines the relationship today? While Transcendentalism is a more contemporary belief–as demonstrated through conservation policies, the National Park system, and /r/EarthPorn–there are numerous components of modern life that contradict this idea.

So, what is beautiful?

Natural beauty–lakes and mountains and forests–are often icons of wondrous allure that we claim to appreciate. But does that not contradict our affinity for synthetic beauty? We wear makeup daily, go on diets to cultivate an ideal body, and awe over accomplishments in human invention–skyscrapers, artificial intelligence, and sports cars. We admire the intricacies of watchmaking–the controlled and precise machines are beautiful. Our autonomy over our environment is something we hold in high regard, but the wonders of nature can leave us breathless. When searching for “beauty” in Google Images, we see dozens of white women wearing makeup and colorful natural scenes.

This dichotomy is interesting. We have contradictory views of beauty and control, and there is no consensus. We cannot control the Sun but it is a life-giving beauty. Our natural skin tones, hair textures, and personalities are what make us most beautiful. But there is a beauty in what we create–from the aesthetics of a smart phone to a symphony orchestra. Beauty and control are a two-way street.

We admire that which we cannot control and marvel at those we can.