Friday, January 29, 2010

Kitsch (and so, so sorry for the delay)

It's funny that I pulled the word "kitsch" out of the hat instead of one of its scribbled fellows because I have a really weird relationship with the whole---what? genre? medium? category? stereotype? Kitsch is described by wikipedia as "a German word denoting art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of an extant style of art or a worthless imitation of art of recognized value," often associated with widespread icons of culture, like santa and apple pie and g.i. joe. Since I was a little kid (and I do mean little--maybe 5 or 6) I followed my dad from neighborhood housesale to housesale avidly searching for little figurines that exemplified kitsch.
At first I was attracted to anything at all that was small and representational-- ceramic ballet dancers, chicken salt and pepper shakers, entire farms-ful of animals in a dozen different aesthetics. As I got older my tastes narrowed a lot, until I was looking more and more for things straight out of foreign cultures, or very old things, or stylizations that seemed to make more sense to me than other kinds. I was incredibly proud of the collection through my elementary school years, identifying it as a signifier of my interest in art.
But by the time I reached middle school, I began to realize how contrived and artificial and mass-produced many of the shiny ceramic items on my shelves were. I began to notice the off-center airbrushed glaze on some of the gnomes' rosy cheeks, and the badly cut edges at the bases of victorian ladies' dresses and bunnies' feet. Out of something like habit, though, I kept seeking, finding fewer and fewer things that fit nicely on the three-inch cherry wood shelves. But I was finding more and more things I was interested in that no longer fit into the generic concepts of nostalgia and self-indulgent sweetness invested in the word "kitsch." And all of these new things had one thing in common--they were not representations of things the makers knew nothing of, they were not created to exploit nostalgia, they were real.
So now, at home, I still have all those nice little figurines packed away somewhere in the basement. But they're not going back up on my wall anytime soon. In their stead I have japanese lucky cats, and thai hand-embroidered purses, and indian hand-carved wooden figures, and way too many graphic novels to fit pretty much anywhere, and a lot of artbooks and some prints.
I think there's a lot of cool things you could make art about, to do with kitsch. I keep thinking of Jenie's frequent references to what she termed "excess." The hugeness of our excess in daily life, just as regular human beings, is more than real enough to make a whole lifetime's body of work. But I figured out it's not for me, even if I'll always sort of half smile when I see a garden gnome are a plaque with a cheesy saying curling in cursive on its surface. It's something I could comment on, but not something I would ever emulate.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Appropriation is everywhere, in some form or another all through history. Dada, cubism, pop art, conceptual art, modern, and contemporary art all contain cultural borrowing. Appropriating is taking someone else’s imagery, usually without permission (other art, photographs, symbols, objects, etc) and making it your own by putting it into a new context. Many artists work is conceptually based around appropriation. Some of the most popular examples are Duchamp’s readymades and Sherry Levine’s appropriation of Duchamp’s readymade.

After artists like Duchamp and Levine, “stealing” images is not the controversy it once was. Still, appropriation always brings up the question of originality, and we keep discussing it even though appropriation has been fairly common for the last century. When is appropriation appropriate? When is copyrighting a problem? What does original even mean?

Enrique Chagoya

Appropriation is especially relevant to printmaking because of the ease at which we can reproduce images. Over the last century artists like Warhol, Rauschenburg, and Robert Prince have become famous for their use of appropriated imagery in a print context. They exemplify a use of appropriated imagery to comment on the cultural environment at the time. I think this is when appropriation is most successful in conveying a message because it allows the artist to more directly comment on and alter something that we are familiar with. Currently in printmaking it is common (and quite acceptable) to remix appropriated images in with a variety of processes and other images to create unique prints. Anytime you take an image off google images, or a photograph from a magazine and use it in you art, you are appropriating. It’s hard to avoid when so much imagery is so easily accessible, but it also makes me think about the reasons for appropriating. Is it better to take my own pictures than to copy and paste off the internet? Does it matter?

I came across an artist in my research who appropriates in a different way. Krzysztof Wodiczko makes large-scale videos, which he then projects on to national monuments and significant architectural sites to explore how these monuments reflect the past and our memory of it. In this case it is the actual monuments he is appropriating.

Junior Seminar Investigation: Marks

This is actually Jen O'Neill account is not working for some reason. But no worries, Erin has generously volunteered to let me use hers for this post.

So...the topic of this blog isss...Marks!

When I drew this word [marks] out of the hat, my mind immediately wandered back to my Florence sketchbook. Over the course of the 4 months we were studying abroad in Italy, we were asked to make fifteen minute sketches everyday using only short marks. We could make our 15 minutes one day be a sketch standing alone, or we could spend 15 minutes on the same sketch for a few days, a week, a month, until we felt it was a complete drawing. These are some of my favorites from the semester.

After spending 6 hours doing perspective drawings in a massive, cold, marble church, I was often relieved to not have to focus strictly on a particular subject. I would start with a certain mark, whatever came to mind at the time, and see where it took me. I didn't have a plan. I played with light and dark marks, accumulation of marks, frantic marks, careful marks, etc. I've always been a perfectionist, which gets frustrating when I'm wanting to sketch something specific like a figure or specific object. I get too stuck in the realistic. This exercise was incredibly satisfying and liberating in that I didn't have to worry about it being a "good" sketch. (and, of course, that shouldn't be what sketchbooking is about anyway). It didn't have to represent anything in particular. Yet, I still liked the end result most of the time.

Marks, I learned, are incredibly expressionistic on their own. A long, heavy mark expresses something completely different than a short, fast mark made by the same pencil or pen. Different media create different marks. In accumulation, I found that the way I made one mark could totally change the end result. I experimented with sketching the same figure using different media. First, I sketched the girl in my default mode, with a nice micron pen. Then, I ventured into markers, pastels, pencils, as well as experimenting with the different ways in which each tool could be used. As a result, each figure conveyed a slightly different feeling.

Sometimes I was slow and careful, and other times I was fast and gestural. My first sketch, done in micron pen, I felt focused mostly on the detail of the figure. The green pastel and the blue marker, on the other hand, were able to emphasize the movement and hint at a narrative. The girl in blue seems to hint at more of a sexuality, where as the gestural brown figure focuses on the twirling, dancing, movement.

Furthermore, the mark is an extension of the artist's hand, of his or her own individual expression. Were I to give this subject to a different artist, it may look completely different. It may not even look like a figure. Klimt's highly sexualized and often emaciated figures certainly convey something different than those anatomically correct (but somewhat idealized) figures of Raphael or Michelangelo. Artists in the past few centuries have learned the power of the mark to emphasize emotion and action, and often to go beyond realism as a means of representation.

The way a mark is made can change the effect of the finished piece. The mark, therefore, serves as a microchosm to the greater image.


Remember handwriting paper in kindergarten? Those dotted lines that told you exactly where to cross the t? I miss those. It was nice having a guide telling you what to do. Or at least telling you where to do it (stay inside the lines!!). These aren't the greatest prints in the world, but they came out of a nostalgia for the seeming simplicity of the past, anxiety about what the future brings (as evidenced by the third one, obviously), and a general desire for something like a Guidebook To Life.

I used to keep a diary when I was young--it was homework, actually, and I don't know if I wrote in one before I was made to. I didn't even know what a diary was! I asked my teacher what I should write about, but I must have gotten the instructions mixed up because, for my first entry, I wrote a paragraph of facts about butterflies. It's funny now because in all the creative writing classes I've taken here at WashU, they emphasize writing what you know, since you're your own best expert on what you know--and here I was, at six (?) years old, writing, literally, what I knew. I wrote about how butterflies start out as caterpillars that get bigger and then make like a little cocoon that they hatch from, how butterflies come in all different colors, how much I liked them, etc. The next day I wrote a page about dragonflies. And so on until, a couple pages on, I finally learned what I was supposed to write in a diary.

What's interesting to me is that even though I "didn't know" how to write a diary entry, I wrote pretty much about things that occupied my thoughts at the time (obviously, I was a pretty normal kid). Now it seems like keeping a journal or a sketchbook is a completely natural, and even necessary, thing to do. Or writing things down on scraps of paper and keeping them together somewhere. A diary, it seems to me, more than anything is a record of your thoughts. It can be confessional, but it is unavoidably personal. We hesitate to show our sketchbooks at times for this reason. Or we wonder about exposing ourselves in our work, because even our artwork can feel too much like a diary, too confessional or too personal (or at least this is something that applies to me), even though the viewer might not be able to guess at the story beneath the images.

I think a diary, journal, or sketchbook is more than a daily chore or assignment--it's a place for questions and complaints--a place for reflection and exploration. It's a place we sometimes turn to for guidance we can't find anywhere else. I think in our lives we're constantly looking for direction--and as artists, we turn to the blank page, and we make our mark. Our diaries are our personal guidebooks, tailored by our experiences and visions for the future. The blank page is the cosmos. That mark is us. More than affirming our physical presence, it affirms our identity. This is my hand. This is me. This is me, searching.

That's my stance on things, at least. Sorry for the long post! I've been thinking about this for a while...


For 'delegation,' I found two general definitions for the word - either to transfer power, or to give an assignment or task to a person. Both of those seem applicable to art-making because giving someone a task transfers the power of responsibility.

Here's a delegation of doodles, starting with the word dream. First, I found a person to draw what they associated with a word on the card, then delegated the topic for the sketch by having them choose a word for the next person. And then repeated several more times. (Since it's hard to read them, the words were dream, paleontology, elephant, rhubarb, and submarine)

Delegation takes many forms in art-making, often transforming the process into a collective operation. We got to experience this first-hand when Allison Smith came to visit, by participating in a range of tasks such as research, dissecting a parachute, or making a pattern.

While thinking about this, I began to wonder what the role of 'delegator' means for the concept of an artist - or how often they are a type of manager for the implementation of their ideas? Also, what about everyone involved in the art-making process compared to the often singular term 'artist' (apologies for all the scary quotes)? Is the focus the participation of a community or reaching some specific end? Or what about delegation of tasks to machines?

Anyways, here's a link to a neat example of delegation by Stephanie Syjuco.


One link to a good source is....

Junior Seminar Investigation: Commoditization

Art as commodity. Is art ever free from the constraints of a market economy and the gallery setting? Crafted into the very bones of the art “industry” is a gallery structured value system, and it shapes the way art is made, valued, and considered – whether we like it or not. Despite rebellion and attempted subversion of the gallery and art market as determiner, owner, and distributor of art, it lives on. Its selections influence what the public define as “good” art – art worthy of garnering “close to the GNP of some Caribbean or African states,” as critic Robert Hughes dryly states in a 2004 speech to the Royal Academy. In innocuously molding the rubric for determining what is “good” art or art worthy of commodification (of course, one in the same), these institutions wield a mighty hand in qualifying what constitutes art. In order to survive as artists, we are pressured to conform and to make art within these standards in order to even attempt to support ourselves.

Kinda sad, right? Isn’t art about something bigger? When we dream of the biggest things to ourselves, do we ever start thinking about what the dividends will be? Does your hand turn to the brush, to the micron, to absent minded doodles because the cash register Cha-ching! sounded first in your head? For me, the truest things are always pure. It’s true that art can be defined however you want it to be. You decide the value of things. You act on your impulses or through self-made rules and make, make, make. Regardless, we can’t ignore the permeating structure of art as commodity. Commodity spreads. If it’s hot, everyone wants it – on their t-shirts, on their coffee mugs, in their living room. Value goes up. Hype carries it up farther. We look to the (art) stars and wonder if we could be them if we too shot for the moon. It makes it hard to be an original voice, to be true to oneself as a creative entity. But mostly it just raises a lot of questions that perhaps can’t be answered about how art is to be defined and valued, considered, priced, about art’s “place” in the world. It lays down a transparent grid of restrictions. Like slamming into that glass door that looked open, it’s a little embarrassing and it kinda hurts. You’re making something that finally feels real and true and then you forget the grid is there and suddenly BAM! it’s the institution you’ve ingested speaking in your voice: Is what I’m making even good? Despite how we may feel about it, art’s role as commodity influences how art is valued and defined. Perhaps the best we can do is be aware of it or play in it, to overturn what philosopher Michel Foucault calls these “regimes of truth.” Once we understand the system, we can act within it to free ourselves… (spread the word!)


As I was researching about the word archetypes, I had assumed that I knew the main definition of the word, as it used in more everyday language. Typically it means, "an original model of a person, an ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned or emulated, " or a symbol universally recognized by all. It can also apply to psychology, referring to a model of behavior. Archetypes are also found in literature, as they used to be important to ancient mythology.

However, the most interesting and artistic use of this word takes on a slightly different use. Carl Jung in the year 1919, came up with the concept of Jungian archetypes. He was a psychiatrist who believed that archetypes are innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations. He claims that archetypes are unconscious, and arise from patterns of behavior and images, and then are actualized when they enter the conscious after being manifested in someone's interactions with another's behavior. So for example, when you see a certain symbol or interact with a certain kind of a "archetypal" person, it triggers memories and forces you to question truth and reality. In essence, archetypes are visual symbols that exist in our subconscious that are actualized in certain moments to grant us understanding.

If you want to become aware of these Jungian archetypes, Jung says that they come about through meditation, dreamtime and outer body experiences. The five main archetypes are:
The Self- the regulating center of the psyche
The Shadow- opposite of the ego image
The Anima- feminine image in a man's psyche
The Animus- the masculine image in a woman's psyche
The Persona- how we present ourselves to the world

Other archetypes include the child, hero, great mother, wise old man, and often refer to stages of life such as marriage, birth, death, courtship etc. These images of people are often expressed in art through ancient times and even now are explored in a more modern context. Egyptians and Native Americans relied on these symbols often, as they were used to tell narratives that influenced their cultures. They are also expressed in architecture, as the pendulum archetype is used in St. Peters Square at Vatican City in Rome, and the World War II memorial in D.C. They have also appeared in crop circles and space observations.

Hope this gives you a better understanding of the word, even though the concept behind it is quite confusing. They are no accounts of anyone claiming that they have witnessed the process of interacting with these archetypes, however.

Junior Seminar Investigation: Rules

on the left: objects drawn with right and then left hand

on the left: a strand of spaghetti thrown onto the wall every time I made spaghetti last semester.

Make a hole in a purse full of seeds and put the purse where there is wind.

The concept of setting up parameters for making art is a pretty accessible way to make work. The top two examples are from Yoko Ono's display at the 2009 Venice Biennale. There was a wall filled with type-written instructions. Here, the text stands alone as a conceptual piece.

Jana Harper had an exhibit in Florence,Italy last spring with a series of "games" that she created while spending a month in an area outside of Florence. “Game One: Assemble the tiniest bouquet. Ever.” “Game Eight: Sit under an olive tree and try and catch the flowers as they fall.” “Game Eleven: Try and draw the wind the way it feels on your body.” The exhibit showed text paired with an image documenting the "game." In an adjacent room, there was a table with a book where visitors were implored to write down a "game" from their own imagination.

Setting parameters such as "make a drawing a day" allow us to maintain discipline while allowing creative juices to flow. Sometimes starting with rules and words is an easier jumping-off point since we are such verbally-based creatures of habit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Monster Casserole

Monster Casserole catalogs various illustrators, fine artists, designers, street artists, etc. for your ease of searching. A lovely online resource for the art monger's convenience.