Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wallpaper of Ugly

Please welcome our first guest blogger, Design Communication Arts advisor Karen Lauritsen.

I like pretty (although defining the term is relative, or at least should be), but I want more. Culture, especially in the U.S., trains us to reach first for the shiny, the lovely, the perfect. We like to look, and we know what we like to see. We want visual support for our cognitive assumptions, we want to consume as we know how, and we want to find agreement in a common aesthetic. So in creating, it’s tempting to focus on pretty.

When I was a high school English teacher, I found the most successful students were the ones still willing to use pen and paper. As we have all experienced, the computer hides our drafts. It corrects the superficial and forgets what came before. It can make everything look pretty at first glance, perfect and ready to read before the real work has been done.

This illusion seduces students in design as it does in writing. They stare wide-eyed the idea of including early sketches and concept work in their portfolio, as though no one is interested in their thinking, only in their decorating. Indeed, it takes courage to show process, to make a decision based on personal thought and belief rather than communal aesthetic. Society demands pretty and perfect; it’s vulnerable to show something unique and unfinished because it may be deemed ugly, one of the gravest offenses in our culture.

I remember a teacher who saved every draft of everything she wrote. On the first day of school she taped her work around the room, creating floor-to-ceiling wallpaper with her many ideations, complete with scratches and tears and Xs and notes. This is the real work writing involves, she explained. The students balked, incredulous. But in time many accepted that process was necessary. Ugly was okay - it could even be pretty.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Good Times (Beret Optional)

Often times, when friends ask me why I choose to live in Los Angeles and brave the smog, traffic, earthquakes, and proximity to Hollywood, my answer is “There’s always something to do.”

Recently, however, I’ve been struggling with the concept that perhaps there is too much to do. Last Thursday I had to decide if I wanted to go see a band I love, or a friend’s improv comedy show, or a lecture by a photographer who is a living legend, or try a new restaurant with my sister. Instead of picking one thing, my brain overheated, and I went home and fell asleep.

How do we decide which event of a hundred warrants our time and attention (and is worth sitting in traffic for?) I often rely on a series of culture-savvy website editors for suggestions. One website/newsletter that I enjoy is Flavorpill. They send me weekly e-mails with picks for art, film, multimedia, music, performance, photography, spoken word and theater events in Los Angeles. I also rely heavily on LA Weekly reviews, and I’ve noticed that The Onion has some interesting (real) event listings.

What resources do you use to keep up to date with cultural happenings in Los Angeles? Personally, I love receiving the Hammer Museum’s catalog – they always have several events that I immediately get tickets for. If anyone has a favorite source for cultural news, or wants to share a secret purveyor of fun times, leave it in the comments.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cut and Paste

On Tuesday, I had to make a mock-up of a postcard. It didn’t have to be anything fancy – just a way to communicate a design concept. The concept involved brains and art.

I fired up Adobe Illustrator, and stared at the white screen for about 15 minutes. I got about as far as making some postcard shaped guides. Then I put my computer to sleep and picked up some construction paper and a pair of scissors. The project that I ultimately presented was composed of a manila envelope, white paper, scotch tape, pen, pencil, colored marker and glue.

I think most people might agree that when asked to free-associate about the word “art,” they go right for the tactile – oil paints, brushes, canvas, clay, a rainbow-smudged artist’s smock. Increasingly, however, the art that is relevant and present in our daily lives is created on a pixilated screen. The past decade has ushered in an era of amazing, compelling, groundbreaking digital creativity. The latest issue of Communication Arts magazine (which I am so excited comes to the office, because it costs about as much as an entrĂ©e at a fancy restaurant), is just page after page of jaw-dropping images. And most of them are ads! I’m excited about looking at commercials!

So why did I reach for the scissors when it was time to put together my little project? Are paints, pens and paper the instinctive bedrock from which all art springs? If I was more technically proficient, would I have been able to put something more professional-looking together to present?

I assume that every artist has a unique, personal experience with old media vs. new. Some might view the two as mutually exclusive, and prefer only to work in one area or the other. Some might see the possibilities presented by digital media as just another facet of the complicated, ever-changing world of art. Personally, with my rudimentary skills (I’m no Picasso, and the pen tool still remains frustratingly elusive), I find it easier to communicate an idea with simple tools like a pencil and ruler.

What are your experiences with new media vs. old? Acrylic purists and Photoshop enthusiasts, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

A Blog is Born

Hello, and welcome to the Visual Arts blog! We created this little online community as a way for instructors, students and staff to share their experiences and engage in discussion. Though we all move in similar circles, many of us don’t often get a chance to meet and speak in person. We hope that this blog provides a way for all of our artists to connect.

As our blog grows, we plan to use it to showcase student art, provide links to artists resources, and host guest posts from instructors. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment as a way of welcome and introduction. We’d love to hear from you.