Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Illustrations, New Stories

I have a really cool class that I teach at the university.  My students have to organize outings to different cultural events and then host a salon afterward to talk about what we saw.  Basically, we go to concerts, shows and museums, and then have stimulating conversation and try to refine our minds with beauty, wit and cleverness. 

Last Monday, my bright students coordinated an outing and salon around "The Snowbowl Effect: When Recreation and Culture Collide" at Cline Library.  "The Snowbowl Effect" was made by local filmmaker Klee Benally.  Klee's website says that he has been a "media activist" for over 6 years, an enrolled member of the Dine' (Navajo) Nation, and the project director of the non-profit media group Indigenous Action Media. 

What I liked about the film was that it gave a voice to the indigenous cultures that are affected by Snowbowl expansion.  The players that spoke up for their cultures weren't movie stars (except for Klee Benally--HE'S movie star material!)  They were real people who have real values and opinions that they expressed.  Sometimes their words were awkward, sometimes they were articulate, but they were always heartfelt.

My students were really interested in the local politics, and really struck by how money seems to take precedence over cultural values.  Are we really a culture that values capitalism over soul?  My students were really concerned--bless their hearts.

I agreed with them.  But what really struck me about the film was the initiative behind it.  Indigenous Action Media was founded in 2001 "to provide strategic media support and action to directly address issues impacting Indigenous communities."  They are telling young people from the reservation that they, too, have something important to say, and they can say it with cutting edge technology!  That's pretty empowering.

Oh, how magnificent film is!  It gives voice to issues that aren't directly addressed by mainstream media.  Everyone can watch a film, and nowadays, almost everyone can make one.  It truly is the artform of the "common" man, because it is accessible, relatively cheap, and easy to learn.  The mistakes that young filmmakers make in film are sometimes the very things that endear the audiences to the film.

French filmmaker Jean Cocteau said that "Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper."

We are so lucky to be in the middle of a new art form, one that is as common as pencil and paper to provide  us with so many new illustrations and stories.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Art as Personal Mythology

The Valley of the Muse by Rodrigo de Toledo

  On a slight variation of my usual art/theatre/film/music circuit, I've finally attended a lecture on the artistic process.  I went to Rodrigo de Toledo's sabbatical lecture "The Self Mythological Realm - Branding a Designed Universe".

  Rodrigo is an associate professor of graphic design in the School of Communication.  This is how he described his talk.

"The research conducted during the sabbatical focused on formal aspects of visual and graphic language, and the visual representation of archetypical and mythological symbols. The project resulted on a new body of visual work, which will be showcased during the presentation."

  I  was excited to hear about this project because I'm very intrigued by Jungian psychology and archetypes as well as modern perspectives of Jung.  I'm interested in art that has a whole other narrative that isn't immediately apparent.   And finally, I think hearing about people's sabbatical projects is fascinating.  They've spent a lifetime building on their knowledge, they're at the edge of human knowledge in their specialty, and now they've spent a year pushing past it.  This is the epitome of niche domain.

  Rodrigo spent a long time developing visual symbols to represent things in his life, like the past, present and future, memories, and avatars, spirit guides, etc.  The shapes were based on organic and mechanical structures.  The resultant pictures -which kind of look like mandalas, tangkas, or icons- aren't just colors and shapes that look pretty together.  Everything had a meaning behind it, a whole historical narrative.

  Someone in the audience asked if it wasn't selfish to spend so much time exploring one's own inner world, when there is so much to be done in the outside world.  I would say that it's extremely important to square things up with ourselves first, so we know what we're doing and where we're going.  Identifying the symbolism of items along one person's journey is personal, yes, but it is also universal.  Here we are, living similar lives just with different details.

  It's helpful to know where people have been.  And if they are going to spend a lot of time identifying, categorizing and illustrating their symbols, all the better for us who aren't going to do so.  How wonderful that someone so visually articulate explored why symbols evoke a certain feeling or memory.  

  "Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious," said Jean Cocteau.  Absorbing, creating, and listening to art is something that helps us attune to ourselves and our personal mythology.  It's almost better than therapy--it's certainly more beautiful!

Rodrigo de Toledo's work can be viewed and bought at here.  More about the artist is available on his website, www.neurondiva.com/

The Mind's Cave by Rodrigo de Toledo

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ritual, Art and Veteran's Day

The procession held along Milton and Rt. 66 for the body of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Broehm was held Thursday, Nov. 11.

   At the beginning of the semester, I resolved to attend a cultural event every week throughout the rest of the school year.  I purposely left the definition of a "cultural event" very open-ended, although I hinted that it could be music, film, art or theatre.  

  On Veteran's Day, I attended what may have been the most touching "cultural event" that I've made it to so far.  The procession held along Milton and Rt. 66 for the body of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Broehm was one of the most poignant ways in which we can acknowledge the knowledge and values shared by our society.

  It's so important to let rituals mark the momentous and symbolic events in our life and in our society.

  Part of me wants to classify ritual as art.  They are both evocative of an emotion.  They are meant to be shared with others.  They fulfill a major part of the tastes in art and manners that are favored by a social group.

  And they're essential.  If we don't acknowledge the sadness of a marine killed in a war-zone, then we have totally lost sight of what is importnat to our human condition, here and now in 2010 America.  We become wrapped up in shallow, materialistic pursuits and forget that healing and remembrance of beauty occurs when you come together with others.

As I've said before, rituals and ceremonies can acknowledge your feelings towards death and transform these feelings into beauty.  We don't engage in rituals or look at art because we want to change the past.  We take part because we want to acknowledge our participation in something in the present.  We want to remember a specific point in time; metaphorically, we want to smell the rose before the season changes.

  Because there may never be another rose quite like it again.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Save the Artists!

  There's a reason the stereotype "starving artists" has stuck around for so long.

  A three-part article by The Associated Press in Saturday's AZ Daily Sun talks about being on the upswing of "The Great Recession," but that people are still being "focused, cautious and tactical" about their spending.
  Which is wise, of course.  But the current climate of the economy makes me worry about the welfare of artists, both locally and nationally.

  Nowadays, it's "easy" to be creative, and we all know that there is an inner artist just waiting to come out of each and every one of us.  Pottery classes, Martha Stewart Living magazines, and just a trip to Michael's can be very inspiring.  But there's a difference between our creative episodes and BEING AN ARTIST.

  Being an artist means that you have taken a very real and dramatic plunge into doing your art full-time.  You have a schedule and your work day consists of producing product.  You are a professional; you are not a hobbyist.  And your job produces something that is intrinsically valuable to society. 

  I was struck by the importance artists have in our society as I walked around during First Friday Artwalk.  Mainly, I realized that if I didn't start buying stuff at First Friday, instead of just socializing, then the artists were never going to recoup the cost of wine and cheese, much less make a decent living for their services.

  Artists are already so giving to us.  They give more gifts, pro-bono, to charity than probably any other profession.  They buy tons and tons of liquor and appetizers for all the openings.  They don't even get health insurance for doing what they love.

  It is a good citizen who become a patron of the arts. Because I like to give as good as I get, I've decided that I'm going to buy all of my holiday presents from local artists.  It should be super easy--everyone loves something original and handmade.

  And if anyone wants to buy me a present, keep me in mind at the next First Friday on December 3rd!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Arts: Exercise for the Soul

Artist Raechel Running and Nick Reznick know how to enjoy the arts.
  Last week was overbooked for everyone I knew, including myself.  Who determined that Halloween, Homecoming, and all of the college board meetings would be simultaneous?!

  Life is so busy that it feels like there's not enough time for cultural events.  Au contraire, pussycat, (I find myself saying in the mirror.)

  When life gets overwhelming, we need to take care of both body and soul.  Like exercise, cultural events are exactly what you need to engage in to be able to keep it up.

  Exercise takes care of your body and gives you more energy.  It insures that you are a smoothly operating bodacious body machine, so that you can power through all those late night Halloween parties and then sit upright through all the board meetings the next day.  

  In the same way, music and art take care of your soul.  They let you relax and release all the stress of the planning, presenting, and partying of the week before.  Beats and brushstrokes can help you get in touch with your inner demons--because they were created by people living this human life.  You can acknowledge them, and then release them!

  For instance, I knew that going to the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra on Friday night was going to come at the end of a very long day and week.  But I also knew that this was time that I had allotted to sit with myself and relax.  All I had to do for 2 hours was hear the music.  I could daydream, I could think about work, and then I could hear the sympathetic response of the orchestra.  For instance, they played Haydn's "Sturm und Drang"  ("Stress and Storm".)  Silly me, but I find it comforting that music can so perfectly express things like work stress.  It makes it kind of romantic, don't you think?  Like, we're all in this together.

  After the symphony, I felt like I often feel after being outside in nature; I was replenished, refreshed.  I think that beauty has amazing restorative effects, whether it be in the clouds and the trees, or in a museum or auditorium.

  As we rev up towards the holidays, and everyone starts to really feel the scheduling burn, I encourage you to take care of yourself!  Go exercise and take care of your body, yes, but don't forget to drink in some cultural events and take care of your soul!

  Flex your art muscles and make the world a better place.

"Ole!"  Jason gets splendiferous after partaking of the symphony.