Monday, October 31, 2011

Creativity and a Child-Mind

Juan Carlos shows me his family altar.
My personal ofrenda.
   In the same way that going to a costume party without a costume on is no fun at all, going to an art event and not participating is pretty lame.  Why are you at the concert if you aren't going to listen to the music?  Why go to Celebraciones de la Gente if you aren't going to make a couple of paper flowers or color a calaveras?  Why even watch a street performer if you aren't going to clap and interact with them?  

  This week I DID participate in the artistic experience.  I went to the Museum of Northern Arizona, for their Dias de los Muertos, and taking the cues from all the children around me, I colored a calavera mask (complete with "jewels"), made paper flowers, and got a personal tour by 10 year old Juan Carlos (he's also featured in the Arizona Daily  Sun) who showed me his family's ofrenda, or altar. The craft table was full of other kids-- like me-- who just wanted to engage by creating.
  I was just lazing around in the sunshine on Heritage Square when I got caught up in the street art performance of Dizzy Hips (he holds the Guinness Book of World Records for hula-hooping the most hula hoops).  He also hula hoops a 102 lb. tractor tire.  There was a lucky kid who got a ride in the tractor tire (a la Scout Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird") and after the show, I mentioned to Dizzy that I sure would like a tractor tire ride.  So I got one.

  I giggled the entire time, and spent the rest of the night trying not to get sick.  But I sure was engaged in that show!!

  It's so much more fun when you are part of the artistic process.  Somehow little kids know this instinctively.  If you are bored with the art you're taking in, maybe you should take a look at all the kids.  What are they doing?  Most likely, if it's a truly creative, interactive experience, they are CREATING and INTERACTING.  It's easier for kids to be silly and take part in those activities.  Creative playtime isn't just for kids--it's for everyone.  

  Let go of your inhibitions, and have some FUN for Chrissake!

This be me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The calmness of art

Float (version 3) by Jennifer Holt

"Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.  A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm... an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction."
-Saul Bellow (1915 - 2005)

 This past week has been hectic for everyone I know.  In my world, October is so busy for everyone on-campus, what with mid-terms, Homecoming, the peak of the performance season...And people are also busy with Halloween, and a general energy of activity.  It's during these times that I find myself close to getting sick, because I'm lighting the candle at both ends.  There's not much stillness, and much chaos.

  But no matter how busy I am, I always find the time to go to NAU Art Museum openings.  The NAU Art Museum focuses on challenging work by modern and contemporary artists, and they usually have 4-6 exhibitions yearly.  This year they have had a challenging time letting people know they are open throughout Historic Quad construction on-campus.

  I went to their 2011 National Juried Ceramics Exhibition opening on Thursday.  The exhibition was a great collection of functional/utilitarian work (i.e. teapots) and sculptural ceramic work made in a variety methods.  There was the exhibition winner, "Float (version 3)" by Jennifer Holt, made of slip cast porcelain.  They really looked like white paper bags, and when you looked inside, they were holding water with little origami paper boats (also made out of ceramic) floating on top.  It was absolutely charming.  

  Some of the pieces were from NAU ceramic students, including two wood-fired pieces by Blake McCord.  A very interesting piece by Eric Belz, "Bound," was made out of ceramic, glazes, slips, rubber, cords, and copper wire.  Yes, some of the pieces were disturbing (avoid the bunnies) but most of it was texturally interesting and visually compelling.  I just let my eyes rest.    

"Bound" by Eric Belz is on display at the NAU Art Museum.
  I could go on and on about the show (there were over 40 pieces) but you should just check it out for yourself.  The show is open until Nov. 23.

  It's really important for everyone to grab little snatches of time to relax.  Looking at art makes me do that--I find that there is no pressure to "understand" anything, follow the witty dialogue or keep track of the score.  With art, you can just "be," and "achieve stillness in the midst of chaos." In the midst of the distraction of our busy lives, achieving a sense of calm is so critical!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Film--Always a Happy Ending?

“When the Cowboys Rode the Indian Screenscape”
A talk by K. Harihara, Oct. 12

This week I watched a lot of films, and talked a lot about films.  I've been thinking about the art of film and why it's one of our societies most favorite mediums.   

  On Wednesday, K. Harhiaran from Chennai, India came to the NAU campus and discussed Indian film and the cowboy archetype in his presentation, "When the Cowboys Rode the Indian Screenscape".  After hearing about the melodramatic aspects of Indian film, I spent many hours at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival, Wednesday - Sunday,  watching documentaries on environmentalism, extreme sports, local issues, indigenous voices, and women's issues.  So I got to delve into two very different film genres--melodrama and nonfiction.  But really, are they all so different?

  There is an interesting distinction between melodramas, dramas, and documentaries.  Harhiarian, or "Hari" pointed out that most Indian films are very clearly melodramas based on the Hollywood golden age.  Melodramas exaggerate plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions.  In the New York Times this week, Nicolas Rapold defines the formula of melodramas of Hollywood’s Golden Age as containing:
  Like the Hollywood Golden Age love stories, Indian films are packed with archetypes and character types, as well as exaggerated plots, following the formula for melodrama perfectly.  The film industry in India created 1100 films in 2010 alone; almost all of these contribute to a "creation of cinema mythology" that consists of heroes, heroines, and happy endings.  Indian films are expected to follow a plot formula.  There is no room for personalized stamps by the directors--there is no individualism, said Hari. 
  When I  was watching the documentary films at the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival this weekend, I wondered which was more dramatic--melodramas or real life.  For instance, I watched the local film "Greening the Revolution," about international food injustice, made by Katie Curran (who is also a College of Arts and Letters alumna, by the way.)  "Greening the Revolution talked about how globalization has created one economy for the entire world.  The United States is able to undercut local farmers in other countries, creating a dependence on imported food and destroying local farm economies.

  While the film was nonfiction and factual, it was incredibly similar to melodrama.  Like melodramas, the documentary had
  • A THWARTED LOVER  (Kenya, India, Zambia, Brazil and various farmers throughout the United States)
  • AN AFFLICTION  (local farmers are unable to compete with a global agriculture economy)
  • THE HORRIBLE AWKWARD SECRET  (companies like Monsanto, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland are making record profits by getting small farmers hooked on fertilizers and genetically modified seeds and making prices increasingly unaffordable) 
  The only thing missing was the IMPLAUSIBLE REUNION.  Documentaries aren't as popular because they don't have the magic bullet ending.  This is real life, folks, and the dramas of real life aren't so easily resolvable into a neat and clean package.

  A lot of these documentaries are telling important stories.  They don't have an implausible solution at the end, because solutions take time and effort, and are usually logical progressions.  Yes, this film was hard for me to watch.  Part of it was that the situation sucks.  Part of it was that the point was hammered in until my heart got sore.  But another part is that I'm conditioned to expect a happy ending at the conclusion of every film.  I will try to overcome my Hollywood training to expect the happy ending--just because it's a film-- and watch these documentaries that make me mad, make me cry, and make me think.

  But it's a hard process.

"Greening the Revolution" a film by College of Arts and Letters alumna, Katie Curran.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh, ArtWalk...sigh...(A LOVE STORY)

"Marvin" by Simon Kirk.  (No longer) available at Gallery 113.
  This is a love story.  I admit it.  I love First Friday Artwalk.

  I had a friend who was having a party last Friday night.  I told her  "It's ArtWalk, I've missed it all summer long (4 straight months) and if I don't make an appearance, I might...die.."
  There's something special about Artwalk.  It's my favorite social event of the month.  Friends know (or soon realize) that if they want to see me, they have to come downtown.  There is always a huge sense of community--for instance, the Murdoch Center unveiled their community/historical mural last Friday, featuring many prominent and influential black residents from Flagstaff's history.  There's always a sense of celebration--there is wine, music and laughter at every venue.  And there's a sense of the importance of beauty.  We can even take that beauty home with us, and shop-keepers and gallery owners have started to give us options in all price points.

  Sometimes I even get to feel like I have been transported to another town, because the art and atmosphere is so edgy and different--(like when I visited Ivan's show "Unsung" at 100 Mike's Pike.  My friends and I all felt like we had entered into a Tron dance club.)

  John "JT" Tannous, executive director of Flagstaff Cultural Partners says that Artwalk started in either 1997 or 1998.  I remember going back in the early 2000's, when it wasn't as crowded.  Back then, it was more of an inside crowd, the people who came just for the art.  Nowadays, the crowds are estimated at 3,000+ during the summer months.  People are concerned that it has gotten too crowded, and that the true purpose- to promote art sales- is getting lost.  (Listen here to a related KNAU story here.)

  I think the radio spot has a good point.  Celebrating art within a festival-like atmosphere is valuable.  Personally, I have never had a problem with a party, especially if it involves art.  And, as my friends can tell you, going to ArtWalk with me is usually a blend of efficiency, maximum art-viewing, and pleasureable run-ins with interesting people.  I look at my map beforehand.  I make a plan.  I stick to a general area (on Friday it was mostly Southside.)  Sometimes, I even buy art.  So, really, it's the best of all my worlds.

  And as for my purchase, I bought a sweet little painting from UK artist Simon Kirk at Gallery 113.  There's proof that people do, indeed, buy art on Artwalk!  Peeps out there who want to give original art for the holidays...these little treasures are only $35!

Plugged in Robot (not original title) by Ivan at The Pike.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Flagstaff's Creativity Tribe Comes Together

Sir Ken Robinson speaks to a table of educators from NAU and FALA.

  October is here, and really, there is no excuse for you to stay home (unless you want to).  Last week I attended Sir Ken Robinson's public speaking event.  I also got to interview the Knight of Creativity himself.
  Robinson is a leading educational consultant known world-wide for his innovative approaches to creativity in the K-12 classroom. He has written many books and articles on creativity, the arts, education and cultural development, including the New York Times bestseller “The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything” and “Out of Our Minds:  Learning to be Creative.”

  And yes, he's a knight.  In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
  In his address, Sir Ken talked about the crisis we are facing as we cut the arts out of our school curricula, and deprive children of arts, music, dance and theatre education.  "As a system we have contrived to stifle the creative impulse," he said to the packed seats in Ardrey Auditorium.  "Kids are usually creatively rich, and adults usually aren't.  Creativity should be the heart of everything we do."  The implication here is that creativity isn't much a part of anything we do.  Or perhaps we don't identify it as creativity?

  Well, what is creativity?  Is it just the fine arts, music, or theatre?  "Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value," says Sir Ken.  So no, it's NOT just the arts-- creativity can be applied in math, working with people, and while running a company.  "Anything that evolves human consciousness is creative,"  he said.

  I think people need to stop feeling self-conscious about being creative.  You don't need to necessarily be a painter, or a jazz musician!!  I think this is a big one for me; I always feel slightly apologetic when people ask me if I'm an artist.  Well, no, I write a lot, I like to dance, and usually I can come up with a scrappy and unique solution... The biggest thing I came away with from Sir Ken's speech is that EVERYONE has the capacity to be creative.  No matter what field you are in!

Here's me, interviewing Sir Ken.  Photo by Steven Toya.
  After his speech, 160 NAU faculty, students, and K-12 educators in the Flagstaff Unified School District (as well as charter schools) gathered for a workshop to discuss creativity in education.  During that time, I had the chance to talk to Sir Ken about one's "tribe" and what that really means.  Much like the educators that were gathered together that day, Sir Ken described a tribe as "people who have similar areas of interest and a shared commitment to that type of discourse.  Not necessarily people you agree with.  That's the key thing," Having conversations about your passion and even arguing about it affirms the passion.  Being surrounded by other people's achievements elevates your own game.

  We are drawn to people that share the same interest.  And if we're really lucky, we will have 1-2 people who practically share our mind, says Sir Ken.  Yes, it's important to surround ourselves with people we admire, and people who encourage creativity.
  "If the Arts aren't there (in the school system) you're not educating people...(But) they're not dead, they're dormant.  If the conditions are right, creativity can bloom," sayeth Sir Ken.

  And those conditions include realizing that creativity is an evolutionary process; contains original thinking; and produces ideas of value.  I think we can all stand behind that.

An FUSD teacher gets creative at the Creativity in Education Workshop on Friday.