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

The Multi-Valenced Ann Arbor

I really had no other reason to be at this concert besides who I was sitting next to. He asked and I said yes. Luckily.

I glimpsed (more like studied; the room was silent and there was little else to do besides read since my voice tends to fill most spaces even at their largest) at the program and read, “Schumann: Dichterliebe.” Or I at least read Schumann and had a flashback to curly hair, beautiful professor, Deleuze event, and something about “the Refrain.” Lately, I’ve often forgot how amazing it is to be at the University of Michigan, not because it is amazing

(the Central Student Government silences and oppresses the very students it claims to represent)

but rather because there are a lot of opportunities for class and life and interests to have a real conversation. Namely, there are chances to take what I study and apply it to situations OR I can see what I study “in the real world,” which, as an English and Philosophy student, is sometimes difficult. Tucked behind/beside/near the Aut Bar (some could say a gay bar, family restaurant, or gay studies lab), the Kerrytown Concert Hall is one of the cutest venues I’ve been in and I absolutely love the cozy atmosphere. There is a facade of escape at such concerts, and for me the escape is heightened when the music performed isn’t from this century–it is my form of time travel.

(Since, as I’ve said, campus life is beyond unbearable, and this is coming from a person with almost all agent social identities, i.e., I identify as a white, cis-man, middle class, temporarily able-bodied person . . . . And to see not only the student government act atrociously but also other students stand behind such actions makes me (on the tame side of my emotions) want to never look at this campus again. And then when you pile on my queerness, I’m ready to evacuate immediately and call this campus, more or less, a war zone where a majority of my friends and my community remain unsafe on a daily basis. I would like to travel by any means necessary: time, space.)

As the Schumann started, I realized that I had analyzed (or been in the presence of an analysis of) this very piece’s first movement. For a Deleuze Interest Group event. How did a friend taking me to a concert send me spiralling into the philosophico-musical feels? I don’t know, but it happened.

The song melted away, much like when I oil pull in the morning–it starts of granular? or at least in some conglomeration of solid until it melts into a liquid and congeals in some sort of liquid mass of “detoxification and whitening”–and only solidified, perhaps, when I left the venue, walked away, into my night (a drag show). Chords unfinished continued to haunt me as a queen flashed the audience and I was left agasp not at perfectly sculpted breasts but at Schumann, lurking just behind me, never to be fully seen or taken in.

After a few more songs that helped to fill out the theme of “A Lovers’ Discourse” started, happened, and ended, the pianist/composer/friend-of-my-friend-on-the-left-of-me’s compositions began.

The first. Three Frank O’Hara poems. The second. One Sylvia Plath poem.

Now it is dangerous, as someone who “studies literature,” to attend such events. I have been trained to be a snob, although the training has been undertaken, more often than not, by myself. SO. I obviously have a lot of feels about these two songs.

I think what matters most to me, and to this blog, is not how I felt about the composition itself (which I loved by itself, however, I disliked the tenor singing the lyrics of the poetry since I felt there was a HUGE disconnect between form and content, which could be the point even though I doubt) but how I felt inside of someone’s interpretation of the poetry. Live music is not just something I listen to, but I become the music. It fills my nostrils, it enters my body, and fills, yes, “my soul.”

(My soul aches. I am aching because the Ann Arbor campus, a place I was taught and eventually learned to love in some real way, is parasitic to its most important inhabitants. It is a sad thing for an institution to remain passive when individual, one-off microaggressions happen. It is an unspeakable offense for an institution committed to “social justice and diversity” to enact the very crimes it condemns. The rampant racism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, sexism is abhorrent. I can only hope the University and its various governing bodies take responses like this one to heart and take responsibility, acknowledge their accountability, and do things (not just say things) to rectify what they’ve done.)

And I hated the interpretation. Though it was refreshing to be in a conversation about poetry without using any words. It was like listening to the most beautiful one-sided debate, and I was the other team refusing to speak.

What is beautiful about this campus may be purely aesthetic. I can study, I can read, I can feel, and then I can go and see things enacted, performed, experimented with by those in or near my community.

Days like today I cling to the aesthetic, sit in my corner, and count the minutes I have left before I can take flight.

Functionality Over Taste

This weekend, I attended a conference with a group called InterVarsity, which took place in enemy territory. That’s right, I went to East Lansing, home of MSU. Besides the fact that I was unable to wear anything from the maize side of my closet and I saw a LOT of green, I noticed a few things about the hotel I stayed in.

Pointed out to me by my (new) friend Mary, art student extraordinaire, the conference center and hotel was beautiful. From the way the sinks were designed, to the calming waterfall welcoming guests into what will hopefully be a home away from home, the layout was appealing, stylish, and modern. I noticed small touches, such as the way the comfortable chairs were placed near large windows, were the sunlight could filter in and provide a pleasant atmosphere when having a chat with friends. I enjoyed the placement of a revolving door, optional next to the regular door yet still an instillation that made the institution feel like a hotel. Yes, as Mary said, the architecture was great.

So that makes it artful, right?

When going to wash my hands, I had no idea where to place the complimentary bar of soap. When I found it could be tucked between the faucet handle and the raised edge of the sink, I felt proud…until it slipped of back into the sink.

Put on, slip off.

Put on, slip off.

The fountain, while gorgeous, spanned two stories. The water fell from the main lobby into the garage floor, into a pool with…what kind of sculpture? Really, what is that supposed to be? Did they actually pay money for that?

And why in the world would I want to look at a bale of hay right before I’m supposed to slip into pleasant dreams filled with friendship, laughter and rainbows? Hay is not particularly calming to me. In fact, I really don’t like hay (too many encounters on Rodeo Day. This is what I get for growing up in Texas).

All of these things culminated into a single question that both my friend Mary and another friend of mine Dean posed: Does art HAVE to have a reason?

In this case, I would solidly argue with yes, since a hotel is primarily functional rather than artful. I’m not sure if I necessarily agree all the time, but every time I’ve encountered art, either in audio or visual form, it’s made a clear statement. Deep? Maybe not. But a clear idea, theme, statement, whatever you have it? Yeah.

So I’m not sure what statement the bale of hay was trying to make. But hopefully, it was making a statement, and I just happened to miss it.

Art in Non-Art Settings

As I sat waiting to begin a study for one of my courses, I began to look all around me. I had never been in this area of the building before, and I was taken aback by how full of art the walls were. It wasn’t a building dedicated to any artistic profession, but it captured this aura of serenity and culture through its snapshot images placed vertically along the wall. I’ve always been fascinated by how businesses choose to decorate their offices, eating areas, and hallways. Is the art supposed to match the theme of the business? Who chooses what art should go up? Will the artist get their deserved recognition if their pieces are well-received by the customers?

Wynwood Kitchen and Bar

Sometimes what makes a cafe or a restaurant so yummy is the atmosphere that is created by the decor. While we wait for our food, we are drawn to the setting around us, and it becomes our entertainment during our time of hunger. I find it very beneficial for an artist to display their work within restaurant settings because for many people, the desire to eat out is not solely based on the food, but also on the intrigue that the setting brings. An artist’s piece may be so eye-catching and original, like the Wynwood Kitchen and Bar backdrop above, that many people may inquire about who did this piece, and how they can contact them for more work.


New York College of Health Professions

I often see art within an educational or professional setting, and to be honest, I’m usually not impressed. I’m not sure if it is the fact that I’m in a dentist’s office or waiting to take an exam, but I rarely connect with the pieces because my thoughts are elsewhere. Some educational institutions may realize this and opt for the still life of a bowl of fruit or flowers, opposed to something more stimulating.

Chicago Dental and Dentist Services

With this in mind, I wonder what the relationship with art that colleges and businesses truly have. Is it for the love of the field or is it more about filling space with simplistic pieces?