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Posts Tagged ‘art

Week in the World: Above and Beyond Edition

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Here are a few things I came across this week that were exceptional.

PODCASTS
Perfect Day Publishing on Late Night Conversation
I’ve mentioned The Late Night Library’s podcast, Late Night Conversation, before but their interviews continue to be amazing, so, here we are again. This Portland-based organization is devoted to spreading the awareness of independent publishing. The show, hosted by co-founder Paul Martone, features debut authors and publishing professionals from small presses. Martone has the conversational style that makes podcasts so great. He’s thoughtful, informed, and curious.

The latest episode features Perfect Day Publishing founder Michael Heald and author Lisa Wells, whose book Yeah. No. Totally was published by the press this year. I first came to hear of Perfect Day Publishing through a previously self-published book they’d reprinted after it gained some attention. Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life is one of the best books I read in 2012.

In other podcast news, Alec Baldwin talked to Billy Joel in July and I just got around to listening to it. It was pretty great.You’ll probably enjoy it more if you’re from Long Island. A personal favorite, Teju Cole was on CBC’s Writers & Company, one of the best author interview shows out there today.

WRITING
This weekend I came across an article by Blake Butler on HTMLGIANT called ‘22 Things I Learned from Submitting Writing.” At first glance I expected it to be snarky. While the site is typically earnest, there’s a level of sarcasm lurking underneath. This piece from Blake, however, was truly generous. Here are a few of my favorite points:

4. Often editors who reject you are doing you a favor. Either the piece isn’t great and needs work (thus saving you face of looking back later like whyyyyy did I publish this) or taking a strong piece and making it stronger because of force of will.

5. Some pieces are you learning. Some never get it right. Don’t publish your homework.”

13. Don’t lose sight of someone you love in the midst of this.

19. Be a person, not an email address with a social profile and an onslaught.

Also of note is writer Brad Leithauser’s essay about the different ways we read fiction–mainly two ways, like a critic and like a child. He recalls the time he and his then 15-year-old daughter had a conversation about Rachel from Daphne du Maurier’s “My Cousin Rachel.”

I’m eyeballs deep in noir at the moment and came across this great essay by Raymond Chandler called “The Simple Art of Murder.” I’m sure many crime fiction fans have already stumbled on this, a few possibly owning a highlighted copy in their drawer somewhere, but for the rest of us…

Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.

ART
The Los Angeles Review of Books has quickly become the place to go for in-depth, thoughtful coverage of the arts. Their front page has a triptych that changes at least twice a week. Recently, I came across their LARBart Tumblr where the work is displayed and explained.

While the name suggests heavy coverage of books, LARB has able people writing about other topics as well. Recently, they ran an interview with Ellen Lupton, one of the curators of “Graphic Design: Now In Production,” now on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Ellen runs the MFA design program at the Maryland Institute College of Art and is the author of Thinking with Type.

Today, every designer is a production artist — setting type, retouching photos, and making endless updates for clients. The convergence of design and production gives us more direct control over the outcome of a project, while also loading us with an ever-growing list of skills and tasks to master. … Many designers today are using their knowledge of production techniques to become publishers, authors, editors, and instigators.

The term “graphic” has long been a point of contention in our field. … I like the word “graphic” because it connects us to the world of text, as well as to the “graphic arts” — the processes of printing and production. Typography is always about writing, and writing is a graphic phenomenon.

TV
I usually roll my eyes at algorithms, those computer generated recommendations, but the other night while I was clicking through Netflix I noticed a British program from the 80s that was highlighted for me, The Comic Strip Presents, a sketch comedy show featuring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson of The Young Ones and Jennifer Saunders, who later went on to create and star in Absolutely Fabulous. If you’re a fan of any of the above, you should stop reading now and add it to your queue. For those more familiar with Portlandia, this is their long lost British forebear.

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Written by Gabrielle

November 29, 2012 at 6:51 am

Not My Bag by Sina Grace

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Retail: many of us have been there, most of us survived, only few unscathed. Not My Bag is comic book artist Sina Grace’s autobiographical tale of clothing store misadventure, his brief stint in selling women’s apparel.

Grace begins his comic by asking, “What are we afraid of?” A cartoon image of him stands against a black background. He’s small, unsure. In the next panel there are two. The second Sina is wearing a suit and a smirk. In the following panel he admits, “I’m afraid of myself.” We soon learn the source of his anxiety, “What if being an artist isn’t in the cards for me?” This is a story of identity and what happens when our expectations don’t match our reality.

After a minor car accident that did more damage to his hybrid than anything else, Sina finds himself in debt to the insurance company. Shortly after he applies for a job at the local mall department store and is hired as a sales associate selling women’s clothes.

From the start we see that Sina is an overachiever; in the training session he offers the history of the company and within weeks spends hours studying the clothing line. Before too long he’s able to distinguish the different styles of stretch pants by sight alone. But, as with all ambitious types, this is not enough. He hopes to gain enough experience to “move over to a boutique, where [he] believed in the designer, where [he] saw the clothes as art pieces.”

Although it’s obvious that Sina likes clothes—he spends $800 on an Alexander McQueen wool fringe coat and takes pride in the accessories used to jazz up his work attire—retail is not where he’s supposed to be. It’s his art that is his true passion and both his boyfriend, only known to us as “The Lawyer,” and his friend, a fellow comic book artist, ask if he would rather not focus on his comics. The stress from juggling these two lives comes to a head when Comic-Con and a meeting with corporate headquarters collide.

Sina’s psychological decline becomes visible. In one scene we see him curled up on his boyfriend’s lap, lacking the energy to stay awake during a television show. Their “date nights” have gone from dinner and a movie to re-runs on the couch.

All the melodrama of working in retail is on display in Not My Bag, from an evil boss whose nature is depicted through grotesque facial renderings to the silent competition of fellow coworkers. More importantly, however, Not My Bag is a warning, it shows what happens when one forgoes their passion and, at best, chases after someone else’s dream.

::[Links]::
Buy Not My Bag at your local indie bookstore
See all of Sina Grace’s work at Image Comics
Sina Grace on Tumblr
Follow Sina on Twitter
Preview Not My Bag

Written by Gabrielle

November 20, 2012 at 6:58 am

Posted in books, reviews

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Steal Like an Artist, A Night with Austin Kleon

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Last week at McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore based in the heart of SoHo, Austin Kleon, artist and, most recently, the author of Steal Like an Artist, brought together three fascinating minds on the internet today. Joining him in conversation about creativity and curation were Maria Popova of the website Brainpickings, Maris Kreizman of the mashup Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210, and cultural critic Maud Newton.

One of Austin’s ideas that I find most interesting is “creative lineage,” those who influence your work, whose fingerprints can be seen in your creations. For Maud Newton, Muriel Spark is woefully underrated; Maris raved about fiction writer Lorrie Moore and recommended Self Help and Anagrams; Maria named Susan Sontag along with Winnie the Pooh and The Little Prince; Austin, a fan of Midwesterners who include pictures with their writings, named Kurt Vonnegut and Lynda Barry.

Here is a profile I wrote and a Q&A I conducted with Austin early in April when his book first came out. It originally ran on The Nervous Breakdown. You can also read my riff on Austin’s analog vs. digital approach to creating, posted in March on this site.

Below are links to all the various places you can find Austin and the panel participants on the internet, along with more recommendations mentioned throughout the discussion.

“It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to” –Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

In 2005 Austin Kleon experienced a bad case of writer’s block. Right out of college, after having studied creative writing, he was struggling to write a short story. To break out of the rut he took a Sharpie to nearby newspapers and started crossing out sentences, leaving only a few words and large swaths of black ink in his wake. Unknowingly, he created something he calls Newspaper Blackout Poems.

But as he said on the phone one Saturday morning before embarking on a major US tour to support his latest book, Steal Like an Artist — the title a riff on a popular saying in the creative world often misattributed to Picasso — “nothing comes from nowhere.” It was soon after creating these blackout poems that Kleon traced the style’s origins back 250 years to a former next-door neighbor of Benjamin Franklin’s. More recently, William Burroughs had done something similar with his cut-up technique.

Far from disappointed by his findings, Austin developed a philosophy, one that he celebrates in the book. “All creative work builds on what came before,” he continued. Whether it’s our subconscious at play or a dedicated effort, we all have influences whose work guides our own. Austin encourages us to embrace and cultivate them rather than see our mashup style as fraudulent.

“Just as you have a familial genealogy, you also have a genealogy of ideas. You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.”

Although his “family tree” is always changing, Austin named four influences who have stuck with him over time. Lynda Barry, his favorite cartoonist, showed Austin he could make a career out of pairing words and pictures. He believes her book What It Is should be required reading for high school students. Austin’s work is highly visual, the book features drawings throughout, so it was no surprise to hear him mention two other artists: Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame and Saul Steinberg, an illustrator best known for his work with The New Yorker. Acclaimed fiction writer George Saunders also made the list.

Although the influences he mentions appear cohesive, leading one to assume his work has a singular foundation, Austin says there’s no harm in variation. “Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece — what unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it,” he said.

The beauty of Steal Like an Artist is that it’s accessible, something that was important to Austin. As one can surmise from the subtitle, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, a tagline that fits neatly into today’s culture of pared down how-tos, there’s a noticeable lack of technical jargon. Instead, Austin filled its pages with thought-provoking aphorisms and bite-sized insights. Structured around these ten simple rules, Steal Like an Artist offers a list that will most certainly transform the way you think about your work: use your hands; do good work and share it with people; be nice (the world is a small town); and be boring (it’s the only way to get work done) — to name a few.

Unlike many big thought books, Steal Like an Artist doesn’t leave you stranded: putting ideas in your head without a practical plan for going forward. In the last few pages Austin offers tips on how to harness creative energy: take a walk, get yourself a calendar, start a blog, and take a nap. As an avid reader and someone who believe books hold many answers, he includes a reading list of other books that might help you along the artistic path.

Ultimately, Steal Like an Artist is an inspiring conversation, one worth returning to again and again as your creative process evolves over time.

Here are a few bonus questions I’d asked Austin after our phone call. Check out what he has to say about procrastination, serendipity, and Carl Jung.

You talk about finding one’s voice. I’m curious to know how you found yours — or if you think the search ever ends.

Voice always confused the hell out of me in school. I really had no idea what professors were talking about when they said “find your voice.” I still don’t have a handle on it real well, honestly. The closest I’ve been to understanding is through something Billy Collins said: you find your poetic voice by emulating about 6-8 different poets, and once they fit together, so you can’t tell what comes from who, you’ve discovered your voice. I don’t think the search ends, though — at least I hope not. To have one voice forever sounds boring to me.

Do you feel procrastination is an integral part to the creative process?

Oh yeah. Basically, I always have 3-4 projects I’m working on and when I get sick of one I bounce over to the other. At some point I’ll become obsessed with one and run on that energy until it’s dead, then I switch again.

As much as we like being productive, We also need time to sit around and do nothing. To stare at the wall and think, or do something routine and mundane with your body so your mind is freed up.

How do you procrastinate productively?

I like going for walks and doing the dishes — both get me ideas, but one makes me less fat and one gets the kitchen clean.

You say “Creative work is a kind of theater.” I love that. As an artist, how do you see your work — or creative work in general — as theater?

The stage is your workspace — your desk, or your studio, whatever. The costume is your smock, or your favorite sweatpants, or a funny hat you put on to think. The props are your tools — pens, welding torch, etc. — and the script is just plain old time set aside to work. You know, just like actors “get into character,” I think we can trick our minds into get into the zone, too.

You mentioned recently that you’ve been making more of an effort to step away from your computer — your chapter “Step Away from the Screen” is one of my favorites — and that you spend your time in the local university library looking through the stacks. What’s your take on serendipitous findings in the physical world versus the virtual/online world?

Yeah, you just can’t beat having books in a physical space. I call it the “serendipity of the stacks” — you go looking for a book with a certain Dewey Decimal number, and then your eye gets caught on another book’s spine, and pretty soon you’re reading that book instead of the one you went looking for.

The same thing can happen on the Internet, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same. Steven Johnson says, if you can’t find serendipity on the web, you’re not using it right.

I’d asked you about your favorite artist biography or memoir and you mentioned Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Did it change your life in some way?

I’m not sure it’s changed my life, but what I love about the book is how Jung is constantly on the edge between science and religion, rationality and mysticism, etc. it’s just a great story about one of our great minds coming into being.

You can find Austin online at austinkleon.com, on Twitter at @austinkleon, on Facebook at Austin Kleon, and on Tumblr.

::[Links]::
Maria Popova: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr
Maris Kreizman: Tumblr, Twitter
Maud Newton: Website, Twitter, Tumblr, The Chimerist (A Tumblr about iPad reading, co-run with Laura Miller of Salon)

::[Recommended Links]::
Perchance to Dream: an essay by Jonathan Franzen in Harper’s Magazine
Who is Mark Twain?: an animated conversation with John Lithgow at the New York Public Library
Artist Marc Johns on Pinterest
Maud Newton outlines her day at the Paris Review: Part I, Part II
Maria uses Evernote
Austin likes the show Justified, based on Elmore Leonard’s novels

On the Shelf: Podcast Inspired Reading

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UNDER THE INFLUENCE: How Colors Make Us Buy
Host Terry O’Reilly, an award-winning copywriter who has worked with leading advertising agencies and the co-founder of a creative audio production company, explores the shift marketing has taken “from a century of overt one-way messaging to a new world order of two-way dialogue”. Think marketing plus science plus history plus storytelling and you’ll have an idea of what Under the Influence is like.

The show’s most recent topics have included movie marketing, ads that have worked “too well,” and something called “hyper-marketing,” which I hadn’t heard of until the episode aired. This past week, Terry looked into color theory. Follow the usual format, the episode uses anecdotes from companies to explain why they use the colors they use, how they came to use those colors, and the successes and failures that followed.

As usual, the entire show eye-opening but what really caught my attention was this: “White has a feeling of lightness, and is the reason why most planes are painted this colour. It soothes the concern we all secretly harbour that a machine that size can’t possibly become airborne.” Blew my mind … and got me thinking about a book I’ve been meaning to read for years.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
“Discover the tantalizing true stories behind your favorite colors. For example: Cleopatra used saffron—a source of the color yellow—for seduction. Extracted from an Afghan mine, the blue “ultramarine” paint used by Michelangelo was so expensive he couldn’t afford to buy it himself. Since ancient times, carmine red—still found in lipsticks and Cherry Coke today—has come from the blood of insects.”

Terry discusses Pantone colors and the role they play in a company’s brand recognition–not entirely surprising. Tiffany’s was one of the examples. Pantone is not a new subject to the program, Terry had mentioned them a few episodes ago, right around the time they picked their color of the year (Tangerine), which, apparently influences the year’s fashion. Obviously, Pantone has more authority than many of us know and it might just do us well to pay attention.

Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color by By Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker
Pantone, the worldwide color authority, invites you on a rich visual tour of 100 transformative years. From the Pale Gold (15-0927 TPX) and Almost Mauve (12-2103 TPX) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Rust (18-1248 TPX) and Midnight Navy (19-4110 TPX) of the countdown to the Millennium, the 20th century brimmed with color. Longtime Pantone collaborators and color gurus Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker identify more than 200 touchstone works of art, products, decor, and fashion, and carefully match them with 80 different official PANTONE color palettes to reveal the trends, radical shifts, and resurgences of various hues.

TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE: Henry David Thoreau
For the 150th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s death, To the Best of Our Knowledge looks at the man, the myth, and the lasting influence of the Thoreau persona.

“Henry David Thoreau died 150 years ago, and he’s still a great American icon.  But have you ever wondered exactly why?  Thoreau wasn’t exactly the model environmentalist he’s often made out to be.  And his account of living at Walden Pond is partly fictionalized; he spent nine years writing and revising it.  We examine Thoreau’s legacy and why he still inspires us.”

The Journal of Henry David Thoreau 1837-1861
I must admit, I’ve never read Walden in full. If anything, I’ve read 20 pages and that’s not even certain. I’m sure I’ll try it again one day but right now his journals sound more appealing.

“Henry David Thoreau’s Journal was his life’s work: the daily practice of writing that accompanied his daily walks, the workshop where he developed his books and essays, and a project in its own right—one of the most intensive explorations ever made of the everyday environment, the revolving seasons, and the changing self. It is a treasure trove of some of the finest prose in English and, for those acquainted with it, its prismatic pages exercise a hypnotic fascination.”

One guest on the Thoreau episode was author Terry Tempest Williams. A nature writer and environmental acitvist, Williams talks about reading Thoreau’s work.

When Women were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice
In fifty-four chapters that unfold like a series of yoga poses, each with its own logic and beauty, Williams creates a lyrical and caring meditation of the mystery of her mother’s journals. When Women Were Birds is a kaleidoscope that keeps turning around the question “What does it mean to have a voice?”

“Terry Tempest Williams has been called “a citizen writer,” a writer who speaks and speaks out eloquently on behalf of an ethical stance toward life. A naturalist and fierce advocate for freedom of speech, she has consistently shown us how environmental issues are social issues that ultimately become matters of justice.” [via author’s website]

BULLSEYE WITH JESSE THORN: An Interview with Tom Bissell
Tom Bissell is a journalist, video game critic and author whose latest book, Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, is a series of pieces attempting to capture all angles of the creative process. This one has been in my sights since it came out last month.

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
In Magic Hours, award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of The Big Bang Theory to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox’s work was relaunched into the world. Originally published in magazines such as The Believer, The New Yorker, and Harper’s, these essays represent ten years of Bissell’s best writing on every aspect of creation—be it Iraq War documentaries or video-game character voices—and will provoke as much thought as they do laughter.

What are sitcoms for exactly? Can art be both bad and genius? Why do some books survive and others vanish? Bissell’s exploration of these questions make for gripping, unforgettable reading.

You can read an interview with Tom at The Rumpus.

THE GUARDIAN BOOKS PODCAST: Literature which disrupts reality
This episode of the Guardian Books Podcast features author Jeet Thayil and Etgar Keret. A growing household name among young, literary Americans (not at the exclusion of others), Keret is known for his surrealistic short stories. However, Thayil, lesser-known outside of his home in India and better known there as a poet, has just written his debut novel. Narcopolis takes from reality but doesn’t stay there.

“Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. . . . Narcopolis tracks the descent of Mumbai’s drug users from the sybaritic excesses of opium in the 1970s, to the harsh reality of contemporary addiction to heroin and crack.”

Read Etgar Keret’s short story Unzipping, excerpted from his latest, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door.

RADIOLAB: Crossroads
As someone who was turned onto blues at an early age, this Radiolab short about Robert Johnson was fascinating.

For years and years, Jad’s [Abumrad] been fascinated by the myth of what happened to Robert Johnson at the crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The story goes like this: back in the 1920s, Robert Johnson wanted to play the blues. But he really sucked. He sucked so much, that everyone who heard him told him to get lost. So he did. He disappeared for a little while, and when he came back, he was different. His music was startling–and musicians who’d laughed at him before now wanted to know how he did it. And according to the now-famous legend, Johnson had a simple answer: he went out to the crossroads just before midnight, and when the devil offered to tune his guitar in exchange for his soul, he took the deal.

Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson by Tom Graves
The result of careful research, this stylish biography of infamous blues musician Robert Johnson reveals the real story behind the mythical talent that made him a musical legend. According to some, Robert Johnson learned guitar by trading his soul away to the Devil at a crossroads in rural Mississippi. When he died at age 27 of a mysterious poisoning, many superstitious fans came to believe that the Devil had returned to take his due. This diligent study of Johnson’s life debunks these myths, while emphasizing the effect that Johnson, said to be the greatest blues musician who ever lived, has had on modern musicians and fans of the blues.

Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues by Elijah Wald
The life of blues legend Robert Johnson becomes the centerpiece for this innovative look at what many consider to be America’s deepest and most influential music genre. Pivotal are the questions surrounding why Johnson was ignored by the core black audience of his time yet now celebrated as the greatest figure in blues history.

Trying to separate myth from reality, biographer Elijah Wald studies the blues from the inside — not only examining recordings but also the recollections of the musicians themselves, the African-American press, as well as examining original research. What emerges is a new appreciation for the blues and the movement of its artists from the shadows of the 1930s Mississippi Delta to the mainstream venues frequented by today’s loyal blues fans.

NERDIST WITH CHRIS HARDWICK: John Lithgow
Without any hyperbole, John Lithgow is a brilliant actor. Drama, comedy, television, theater, he nails it. The Nerdist podcast has really hit its stride. The past dozen or so episodes have been truly incredible and this interview with John Lithgow has surpassed all that have come before it. As Lithgow says at the end of the interview, Chris Hardwick is a fantastic host. Both shine in this one.

Drama: An Actor’s Education by John Lithgow
In this riveting and surprising personal history, John Lithgow shares a backstage view of his own struggle, crisis, and discovery, revealing the early life and career that took place out of the public eye and before he became a nationally known star.

Above all, Lithgow’s memoir is a tribute to his most important influence: his father, Arthur Lithgow, who, as an actor, director, producer, and great lover of Shakespeare, brought theater to John’s boyhood. From bedtime stories to Arthur’s illustrious productions, performance and storytelling were constant and cherished parts of family life. Drama tells of the Lithgows’ countless moves between Arthur’s gigs—John attended eight secondary schools before flourishing onstage at Harvard—and details with poignancy and sharp recollection the moments that introduced a budding young actor to the undeniable power of theater.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
John and Chris both raved about Steve Martin’s memoir. Anyone interested in the craft of comedy should read this one.

In the midseventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of “why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”

Emmy and Grammy Award winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Martin has always been awriter. His memoir of his years in stand-up is candid, spectacularly amusing, and beautifully written.

What have you listened to lately that added to your reading pile? Be sure to include the book, too.

Written by Gabrielle

May 10, 2012 at 7:04 am

Coffee Shop Chronicles: Going Analog

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In my neighborhood, coffee shops are overrun by people on laptops. Baristas put signs on tables pleading for courtesy, the places that have zero tolerance rules feel extreme, and the New York Times reports on us under the headline “Destination: Laptopistan”. For the freelancers, the appeal is free WiFi. For me, it’s the promise of a sanctuary from online life.

While meditating on this coffee shop life of mine, one free from Twitter “interactions,” time-sucking Internet memes, and the endless flow of information, I came across a quote from Lynda Barry, “In the digital age, don’t forget to use your digits!” A tidy aphorism with great timing.

When I was in college I had a zine. I created it mainly by hand. All I had was a word processor — the electric typewriter kind — scissors, and glue. It felt good to sit on my floor, listen to music, and create something physical. It’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve done anything like that. Now, with websites and blogs, there’s no reason to go through the hassle. Believe me, there’s a lot to be thankful for but we also lose something in this neat way of publishing.

In his book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, artist Austin Kleon, in the chapter ‘Step Away from the Screen,’ where the Lynda Barry quote can be found, explores the work habits of illustrator and cartoonist Tom Gauld: once the computer is involved “things are on an inevitable path to being finished. Whereas in my sketchbook the possibilities are endless.”

Anyone who’s sat down to a blank page, pen in hand, knows there’s a certain amount of freedom in it. When I stare at a clean, unlined sheet of paper I wonder what will happen. How will my thoughts manifest? In words? Pictures? Both? When I edit on paper, or when I work out an idea in longhand, all sorts of things creep in that are impossible to replicate onscreen — grammatical cues that only I understand, words circled and heavily retraced either for emphasis or while daydreaming, and blatant disregard for margins and linear composition.

It’s easy to overlook the limitations humans face when drawing a straight line. Now that much of our work, often from start to finish, is done on computer, where perfection is possible, we demand exactness. “The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us,” Austin says. “We start editing ideas before we have them.” While I don’t have the scientific background to support it, I’m the type of person who likes to think there’s some neurological significance to these dueling processes. I’m not saying one is better than the other, only that both need our attention.

My weekend mornings are spent on the computer, alternating between writing and allowing whatever shiny, virtual object of the moment to pull me away. After the third hour of disjointed creative focus I pack up my books and head out the door. It would be easy to stay inside that sterile world, the hours dissolving into the ether with each distraction, but as online has become our default location, it’s more important than ever to consciously engage with something tangible. Austin suggestions two desks, one analog and one digital, but for those of us with limited space and deficient willpower, a coffee shop offers a unique space away from the online world. If it weren’t for coffee shops, I’d be just another casualty of the delete key. Austin’s book is a great reminder as to why we should never let that happen.

::[Links]::
Buy Austin’s book at IndieBound or find it at your local indie bookstore
Visit Austin’s website
Visit Tom Gauld’s website
Lynda Barry on Tumblr

Written by Gabrielle

March 6, 2012 at 7:03 am

Elf Girl: A Hilarious Memoir by Art Star Reverend Jen

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“Our mission: . . . humiliate ourselves in the name of art.”

The joy I felt while reading Reverend Jen’s memoir, Elf Girl, can not be expressed in words. Instead, it should be expressed by devoting one’s life to performance art — dignity forsaken, shame stricken from the lexicon. One should stock up on foam core, cardboard, dollar store instruments, hot glue guns, and whatever else it takes to live a life by Rev Jen’s example. This would be the appropriate response after reading Elf Girl. A lesser, although still respectable, response would be to fall absolutely in love with this woman, a woman who played a formative role in shaping the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 90s.

Elf Girl begins with Jen’s stint as a Christmas elf at Bloomingdale’s. As a longtime fan of elves, often considering herself one, Jen, disappointed by the department store’s idea of what the fantastical creature would wear (“Dresses!”), counteracted the inauthenticity with her own beloved elf ears, which, oddly enough, did not go over well with the management. This incident offers shades of what’s to come: fierce individualism and unintentional anti-social behavior, all at the expense of self-preservation.

Throughout the book you get the sense that Jen isn’t merely “doing” performance art, she is performance art, as if outrageous and absurd are Jen’s default modes.

At an early age Jen was a creative force, starting with her elementary school endeavor, Jen Magazine. Taking her art seriously even then, she recruited classmates to serve on the editorial team. At 15 she was accepted to a free art program. Under the instruction of “the most maniacal art teacher in the western hemisphere,” who taught his students to “sacrifice sleep, sanity, and any semblance of a normal life,” she learned “that being an artist wasn’t a way to coast through life. It required discipline.”

When she later left her hometown in Maryland for the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, living in a Salvation Army run residency on Gramercy Park South, she teamed up with her newfound friend Julia and formed Pop Rox, a band outfitted with a $2 toy guitar and snow-leopard-print unitards. At first they played covers of Guns-n-Roses, Metallica, and Alice Cooper but soon moved onto originals, which included one about their love for Woolworth’s, an inexpensive department store. They played to captive audiences of art students — locking their fellow classmates in a room — and crashed parties where they soldiered on through the jeers.

You would think that at SVA, an art school based in New York City, a quirky girl like Jen would at least be embraced by, if not hoisted on the shoulders of, fellow students. However, Jen was shunned by both the student body and the faculty. Eventually, however, Jen found her place and began to make a name for herself on the Lower East Side.

It was there that she came into contact with open mic nights; in particular, one run by an actor and producer known as “Faceboy”. Together, in the mid 90s, they formed a tongue-in-cheek group called the Art Stars, a term first coined by Andy Warhol. There are thirteen steps to becoming an Art Star, all listed and explained in Elf Girl. Just a few, to give you an idea, are:

1. Eliminate Hobbies: Everything an Art Star does should be done with obsessive/compulsive zeal. . .

3. Avoid self-improvement: . . . Self-improvement is for people with time on their hands, and Art Stars have no time on their hands.

6. Only take jobs that offer no room for advancement: The last thing you want is to get roped into a job that will prohibit you from staying out until four in the morning five nights a week. . .

One of the main components of being an Art Star is aversion to competition. Four years out of art school and turned off by all forms of art criticism, Jen was horrified that artists and performers, would willingly subject themselves to the spectacle of judgement. In direct reaction to an ongoing poetry slam at the time, the Anti-Slam was born — a place where performers could go on stage without leaving with a number pinned to their act.

Around the same time, John Ennis, the director of Toolz of the New School, a show that aired on the cable access station Manhattan Neighborhood Network, contacted Jen to see if he could borrow her elf costume for their Christmas special. Just before filming he asked if she wanted to be in the episode; and so began Jen’s televised career in sketch comedy. Nearly every episode, whether Jen showed up at NYU orientation as a student forced into prostitute in order to pay her tuition or at FAO Schwarz as Doo-Doo, the hard-drinking Teletubby forced into exile, ended with someone threatening to call the cops.

As someone who enjoys quirky social history, especially when it’s about New York City, I found the chapters involving Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral years some of the most interesting. Not only were they hilarious, as he often butted heads with local artists, they served as a reminder of the political climate during that time. In 1994, when Giuliani first assumed the role of mayor of New York City, I wasn’t yet old enough to understand the implications his tactics had on artists in the area. I do, however, remember that he ramped up the police presence as part of an aggressive campaign against crime. Before Giuliani my parents warned me against walking east of 1st avenue while later, in my 20s, I was getting overpriced, chic haircuts on Avenue C. However, it is disputable whether Giuliani had much to do with this decline in violence or whether the city had been part of a coinciding nationwide trend.

One of the more notable offenses was when Giuliani, in 1999, threatened to cut off funding to the Brooklyn Museum if they went ahead with an exhibition featuring controversial British artists. I won’t ruin Jen’s stories for you but one I can’t help mentioning took place in response to Giuliani’s enforcement of the cabaret laws as part of his “quality of life” campaign. The previously unenforced law, one that prohibits dancing in bars and clubs when the owner doesn’t have the proper license, led to a two day closing of friend Robert Prichard’s club, Surf Reality, the home of Faceboy’s open mic. Swiftly, Prichard and Jen formed the Dance Liberation Front and organized a guerrilla-style, agitprop protest: a conga line down Houston Street to Tompkins Square Park on Avenue A. The action, which Jen eloquently called it “social commentary disguised as comedy,” brought hundreds out onto the streets and received write-ups in local newspapers.

Since the start of her time in New York, many of Jen’s cohorts have moved to Los Angeles, but Jen remains a fixture of the Lower East Side, hosting her Anti-Slam every last Wednesday of the month at the Bowery Poetry Club and co-running the Art Star Scene Studios, an independent film production company, and writing a regular column for Artnet. New York is a better place for retaining this elfin wonder and once you read Elf Girl, you’ll think so, too.

::[Links]::
Buy Elf Girl at IndieBound
Reverend Jen’s website
Bowery Poetry Club
Diary of an Art Star column at Artnet.com
Jen’s Troll Museum Reviewed in The Village Voice
An interview with friend John Ennis (with photos)
Toolz of the New School videos

Written by Gabrielle

January 24, 2012 at 6:37 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , , , , ,

On the Shelf: The “All Comics, All the Time” Edition

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ABC Radio National’s Book Show had a great topic the other day: comics. The first segment, Female Comic Superheroes, was an interview with Karen Healy, an author, critic, and this year’s keynote speaker at Australia’s Tights and Tiaras conference, a symposium on female superheroes and media culture. Karen not only discusses the portrayl of women in comics but also their presence—or lack of it—in the industry. The topic reminded me of the kerfuffle over Wonder Woman’s outfit change a few months ago. Honestly, I was happy to see her wearing pants.

The second segment, for all those interested in the nitty-gritty of the publishing industry, was a round table discussion on Comics in the Digital Age. As with most media-driven industries, the internet is raising many questions to the future of the business. I can imagine it’s an interesting time for artists and designers—afew weeks ago I talked about web comics. According to the panel though and not surprisingly, much of the comics industry still lives in the print world. The show’s notes links to an optimistic story from WIRED magazine about comics in the digital era. Don’t miss it.

What’s your take on women in comics? Any thoughts on the future of the comic book art?

On the shelf this week . . . 

Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston
Growing up, I read comics but never the superhero kind. While I wasn’t aware of it then, the majority of artists were men. There was one comic book series that I found in my late-teens, however, that I loved and it was Blue Monday by female artist Chynna Major. It was like Archie, which I read as a kid, but punk and mod.

Grrl Scouts by Jim Mahfood
Grrl Scouts might be written and drawn by a guy but it had a feminist feel. The three female protagonists are tough, ass-kicking drug dealers who are hunted down by an organization who views them as competition: the U.S. government. This was one of my favorites growing up. I still have it on my shelf.

Fun Home: a Family Trigicomic by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdelis well known in the comic book world for being one of the most outspoken gay artists producing works about gay life. Fun Home is her graphic memoir featuring, among other things that happened in her life, Alison’s coming out story.

Queen of the Black Black by Megan Kelso
Megan has been a DIY artist and  has had her comics serialized in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Queen of the Black Black is a collection of her early Girlhero strips. In this book you’ll find stories of bike messnegers, unwanted pregnancies, STDs, and family reunions. All the stuff that makes like fun.

What’s on your shelf? 

::[Links]::
Here are some people who can talk about comics better than i can:
Comics Alliance
Comic Book Resources
iFanboy
Gamma Squad
DC Comics Blog
The Beat
Topless Robot

Written by Gabrielle

August 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Posted in books, on the shelf

Tagged with , , ,

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