9/28/2011 5:16:12 PM
In the Western world, calligraphy—and handwriting in general—is nearly as dead as the paper it’s written on. But for scribers of many Asian languages, calligraphy is not only a part of everyday communication, it’s considered a pleasurable hobby. In Chinese public parks, for example, many people have taken to brushing beautiful characters onto sidewalks with water instead of ink—creating ephemeral splashes of public art that disappear within minutes.
Beijing-based artist Nicholas Hanna has taken the art of temporary calligraphy to a whole new, digitized level. Hanna strapped big water jugs to the back of a sān lún chē, or tricycle rickshaw, and connected them to about 15 computer-controlled nozzles that are affixed to the back of the vehicle. As he pedals down the street, the contraption dribbles water, leaving temporary characters that look like a hybrid of hanzi and the classic video game Space Invaders.
“It doesn’t have the same kind of grace and beauty, because it’s mechanized and it’s automated,” Hanna concedes in the Danwei-produced video below. “I view it as a sort of Western approach to things, but it a way for me to do it, too. To be in China and to play with them also.”
9/21/2011 3:29:13 PM
Impressionist artwork was once seen by some to be rough and incomplete. “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape,” scoffed one critic of Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, which was being exhibited in a salon alongside works by Renoir, Degas, and Cézanne. Close up, the pieces were thick smudges on a canvas. Only when stepping back could viewers perceive the beauty of the scene itself created from the rich layers of paint.
Modern artist Tom Deininger takes impressionist perception to a whole new level with his re-creation of Monet’s 1899 masterpiece Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, which is composed entirely of found objects like plastic forks, phone cords, bottle caps, markers, lighters, combs, and children’s toys. “When you can take something out of context and put it together with a variety of other things,” Deininger says, “you can coax a new definition out of it and maybe a new purpose”—in this case, natural landscapes recreated in junk, writes 1-800-Recycling.com. Deininger creates his assemblages on a grand scale, as large as 12 by 20 feet, making them a lovely scene from far away and a hodgepodge of junk up close. “I think that all art, even reality, is about perception,” says Deininger, calling to mind the Impressionists to whom his art pays strange and beautiful homage. “And so you’ve got one thing up close and it coalesces into something else all together from a distance.”
Images by Tom Deininger, collection of Billi and Bobby Gosh, used with permission
9/21/2011 2:30:40 PM
In this continuing series,
Art Director Stephanie Glaros explains the
process behind an
Once in a while, an illustrator comes to my attention whose
style is unlike any other I’ve seen. Although I can’t recall how I first came
across Keith Greiman’s work, I knew instantly that he was someone who I wanted
to get into the magazine. His characters are really fun, and I especially appreciate
his use of color. I recently commissioned Keith to illustrate the article “The
Gospel According to…,” which describes a bible without God. I knew Keith would
have fun playing with the idea of mixing secular and Christian elements.
Indeed, his final art includes the coolest version of Noah’s Ark I’ve ever
seen, and the surrealistic colors made this piece one of my favorites in the
Since its inception in 1984,
has relied on talented artists to create original
images for stories that express powerful emotions, brilliant new ideas, and
humorous storytelling. Browsing through back issues of
is like a tour of “Who’s Who”
in the illustration world. Artists like Gary Baseman, Brad Holland, Anita Kunz,
Bill Plympton, and Seymour Chwast have graced our pages over the years, to name
just a few.
9/19/2011 3:29:17 PM
Meet Meng Hai Lin. She’s a 29-year-old mobile phone engineer from Beijing, China. She has learned some English and is skeptical of marriage. Meng’s voice is but a small murmur from an unprecedented global generation—one witnessing a dramatic restructuring of traditional relationships between countries, cultures, and people. Advances in communications technologies have made it easier for her voice to be heard—and drowned out. Photographer Adrian Fisk wants to show the world what Meng and the rest of her generation want to get off of their collective chest. Thus, iSpeak was born.
So far, Fisk has taken iSpeak to India and China, traveling widely around each country. He describes his impetus and methodology (specifically for iSpeak China) on his website:
For the last few centuries the West has dominated economics, politics, and culture. But now there is a shift toward the East, in particular China, a country of 1.4 billion people of which we know little about.
It is the young Chinese who will inherit this new found global influence, but who are they and what do they think about life?
I traveled on a 12,500 km journey through China to find an answer to this question. I looked for young Chinese from 16-30 years, gave them a piece of paper, and simply told them they could write whatever they wanted to on the piece of paper. I then photographed them holding the paper.
Fisk’s portraits are occasionally funny and occasionally heartbreaking, but genuinely candid. The messages communicate the hopes, dreams, quibbles, and fears of the crowd that shares our planet’s close quarters. “Understanding is the basis for tolerance towards each other,” said Fisk in an e-mail to Utne Reader, “and this can only come from communication.”
Fisk is currently trying to acquire financial support for iSpeak Global, which would broaden the project’s horizons to 25 more countries.
Abhishek Pandey, 17 years old, Hindu, Calcutta, college student. “Young people are bringing down the ethical culture of India.”
Chow Liang, 17 years old, Gansu province, cosmetology student on his way to see his father who works in another province. “In adult eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.”
Priyanka Jhanjhariya, 16 years old, Hindu, Haryana, schoolgirl. “I want to be an airforce pilot. Everyone should have high dreams and work hard to fulfill them.”
Saksham Bhatia, 16 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, senior school. “Wake up! Indians are coming!!”
Heng She Dong, 16 years old, Qinghai province, junior high school student. “I want to save people’s lives.”
Hari Chandra Behera, 21 years old, Hindu, Orissa, farmer. “I want our village to have electricity.”
Yang Long Long, 30 years old, Gansu province, farmer, illiterate. “When I go to the big city I feel like I don’t know anything.”
Bharati, 23 years old, Muslim, Bombay, prostitute, has one child and pregnant with another, illiterate. “Like you, we need the same things in life.”
Sarah Yip, 22 years old, Hong Kong, receptionist at an investment bank. “Do whatever you want in life because you might DIE tomorrow.”
Karsang Yarphel, 29 years old, Buddhist, Himachel Pradesh, waiter, Tibetan refugee. “I want to go home but . . .
Vibhuti Singh, 22 years old, Hindu, New Dehli, studying converging journalism with honors. “I want to date somebody and not be frowned upon.”
Wong Jing Yi, 30 years old, Hong Kong, works in a sex shop. “I don’t want children.”
Chan Jie Fang, 28 years old, supervisor in bag making company in Guangdong province, but learning English in Guangxi province. “I’d like to see any supernatural thing, such as alien, UFO, mysterious thing.”
K Mallappa, 27 years old, Hindu, Karnataka, migrant manual laborer. “Without an education, I am doing the work of a manual laborer, but I am happy. Though I would be more happy if I was a bird or an animal.”
Akhilesh Kumar, 20 years old, Hindu, Bihar, unemployed. “Because I am unemployed I roam around with other boys, so people call me a vagrant. This makes me sad.”
Avril Liu, 22 years old, Guangxi province, post-grad student. “We are the lost generation. I’m confused about the world.”
Images courtesy of Adrian Fisk.
9/15/2011 11:09:47 AM
Dan Tague is a New Orleans-based artist with a different sort of green thumb. Tague folds American banknotes in a sort of slapdash origami-style. Often his mini-money-sculptures look like inconspicuous, crumpled wads of cash. But if you look closer, you’ll see that Tague has creased the money in such a way to spell out messages—many of which have an anti-capitalist tone. You probably didn’t think that “We Need a Revolution” was written on the six dollars in your pocket. Well, look again.
Images courtesy of Dan Tague.
9/14/2011 11:13:13 AM
Try to brainstorm some of America’s most celebrated athletes. Pete Sampras and Johnny Unitas come to mind. Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken Jr. in baseball; Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant in basketball. America typically cleans up fairly well at the Olympic games, too. But chances are John L. Sullivan or Jack Dempsey weren’t your first ideas—maybe Muhammad Ali was somewhere in the mix. Boxing is a sport that has fallen precipitously out of fashion with the American public, an unprecedented trend for a sport historically linked to our national identity.
“[F]ew Americans could name more than one or two current boxers, if that,” writes Paul Beston for City Journal, a quarterly publication known more for wonky economic propaganda than for creative writing. He continues:
Boxing has become a ghost sport, long since discredited but still hovering in the nation’s consciousness, refusing to go away and be silent entirely. There was a time when things were very different. For boxing once stood at the center of American life, and its history winds a thread through the broader history of the nation.
Beston’s intriguing article shows how the history of boxing intersects with larger social trends in American history, especially technological progress, international relations, and racial politics. My favorite anecdote came from the anxious years before America entered World War II:
At Yankee Stadium in June 1938, [boxer Joe] Louis met Germany’s Max Schmeling in what remains the most politically charged sports event ever held. Schmeling had become a favorite of the Nazis—not as eagerly as his critics insisted, not as reluctantly as his apologists would later claim—and they often cited his earlier victory over Louis as proof of Aryan supremacy. Here was one of history’s surprises: most of pre–civil rights white America rooting for a black man against a white boxer. Louis, though black, now became America’s representative, as confirmed by a White House visit with Franklin Roosevelt, who told him that the nation was relying on him. Almost half of America’s population—60 million people—tuned in to the radio broadcast. What they heard NBC announcer Clem McCarthy describe was probably the supreme example of an athlete executing under pressure. And “execute” is the right word: Louis finished Schmeling off in barely two minutes.
Source: City Journal
Images by snow0810 and j3net, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/13/2011 9:57:16 AM
American higher education is on the cusp of change. Figures for average tuition and cumulative debt are skyrocketing, while the value of degrees is deflating. Newcomers to the job market are defaulting on their loans more than ever. At the same time, disruptive new technologies and educational strategies are usurping the dusty, sprawling, bureaucratic, green-fisted university system. Solving the large, complex institution’s problems has proven thorny (at best). How to best serve the students? The faculty? The university? The country? Humanity?
“Education has one salient enemy in present-day America,” writes Mark Edmundson in an essay for Oxford American’s education issue, “and that enemy is education—university education in particular.” As a teacher, Edmundson understands and takes issue with the profit motive of higher education. He doesn’t say that American education is categorically “bad.” For example, of professors he writes that “[t]he people who do this work have highly developed intellectual powers, and they push themselves hard to reach a certain standard.” Fair enough. One problem: “That the results have almost no practical relevance to the students, the public, or even, frequently, to other scholars is a central element in the tragicomedy that is often academia.”
Edmundson’s catch-all solution goes beyond the usual Hail Mary defense of liberal arts, a panacea partly pragmatic and partly delusional: memento mori. Remember that you only live once and that most people only have one chance to attend college.
He recalls a formative episode sitting at the dinner table and telling his father—a hardscrabble, near-dropout, middle-class, by-the-bootstraps man—that he was thinking about pursuing a “pre-law” education. As Edmundson tells it, that’s when his father “detonated”:
He told me that I was going to go to college only once, and that while I was there I had better study what I wanted. He said that when rich kids went to school, they majored in the subjects that interested them, and that my younger brother Philip and I were as good as any rich kids. (We were rich kids minus the money.) Wasn’t I interested in literature? I confessed that I was. Then I had better study literature, unless I had inside information to the effect that reincarnation wasn’t just hype, and I’d be able to attend college thirty or forty times. If I had such info, pre-law would be fine, and maybe even a tour through invertebrate biology could also be tossed in. But until I had the reincarnation stuff from a solid source, I better get to work and pick out some English classes from the course catalog.
As is often the case with this type of essay, Edmundson only obliquely confronts the issue of rampant unemployment among recent graduates. Rather than littering his conclusion with reassuring statistics about the job prospects of a liberal education, he defers to Robert Frost:
If you advance in the direction of someone else’s dreams—if you want to live someone else’s life rather than yours—then get a TV for every room, buy yourself a lifetime supply of your favorite quaff, crank up the porn channel, and groove away. But when we expend our energies in rightful ways, Robert Frost observed, we stay whole and vigorous and we don’t weary. “Strongly spent,” the poet says, “is synonymous with kept.”
Source: Oxford American
Image by Carnoodles, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/2/2011 5:04:58 PM
“The main thing would be films: riveting, fascinating, beautiful, controversial. For one afternoon a week, we would watch great movies, then talk about them. I’m hypnotized by movies, utterly rapt, even when they are bad. I would allow myself to project this far, to imagine that at least some of the students are like me, happy to escape for a few hours from their current situation.”
So goes Ann Snitow’s terrific essay in Dissent (Summer 2011), about her opportunity to teach 14 films to medium-security prisoners—men who have committed armed robbery or murder, but who were carefully selected by the college selection board from the penitentiary’s 900-some inmates as the most cooperative and promising:
The room is much too bright to show films. (“Can I darken the room?” “Of course not!” “Can I cluster the chairs close together around the monitor?” “Of course not!”)[…]
The twelve men filter in. As far as I can tell, the class is eleven African Americans and one Hispanic, ranging in age from thirty to fifty. They are friendly, a few elaborately polite and happy to help sort out the mess, set up chairs. They are used to this level of chaos, both patient and gracious.
Snitow, a longtime feminist activist, tailors the course around the themes of childhood, manhood, and womanhood. Crooklyn, The Hurt Locker, and Thelma & Louise make it into the final cut, along with other provocative films addressing everything from immigration and abortion to nostalgia and joy. The students ask and explore compelling questions: Is it OK to break the law to do the right thing? Is part of the dream of heroism making your own rules? Is violence human nature? Does heroism look different when women do it?
Snitow reveals the major missteps she makes—like when she calls out a student publicly for having plagiarized and then realizes she may be jeopardizing his upcoming parole—as well as her true victories. A Harvey Milk documentary leads to a heated discussion of the word faggot, after which one of the students—“the dignified and usually silent David”—stops by privately to comment on Snitow showing the film: “I’m gay and you can see what hell it is in here. Thank you.”
Ultimately, Snitow hopes that the films will chip away at the hard-edged visions her students have formed of what it is to be a man:
I know that all this [class discussion] is unlikely to make a dent in the essentialist views of manhood and womanhood that often seem to prevail in the room. But these are belief systems with big cracks in them. Elijah, Harry, David, and Phillip have been working on themselves for a long time, self-consciously cultivating inner calm and wisdom. A different idea about manhood might be a lifeline. Who knows? Since they are near the end of their terms, the question of how to be a free adult outside (and how to avoid returning here) is in the air every minute. In a long teaching life, I have rarely encountered students with such intense motivation.
Image by daniellekellogg,
licensed under Creative Commons.
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