Sunday, April 27, 2008

A note about canola oil...

This is what happens when you ask a [literal] engineer who is also an [expressive] artist to leave you a note about canola oil. (Yeah, corny joke.)

Sketchbook Numbers Quilt

Maybe it's time for open source fonts. After I typed that, I remembered "google first" (today's RTFM) and realized of course there's a lot of thought around that, and in exactly the direction I was thinking. More variety of fonts available more widely for web design.

Of course, even after solving the problem of ensuring the font you want is on all systems (even microsoft), ya gotta ask: Do we really want more fonts available? Aren't most websites ugly enough?

I have a long-held prejudice against a layout containing more than maybe two typefaces. When I was in gradeschool, I'd often stop after school at our small town weekly, where my mother might be laying out the paper. She'd be standing at the layout table, holding her "scalpel" (exacto-knife), moving articles and ads around with a very literal cut-and-paste technique. She'd grumble about some of the pre-designed ads that would come in which were "messy" - too many words, too many typefaces, too crowded, too ugly.

I'd listen to her while copying letterforms out of a linotype typeface catalog with a blue mark-up pencil.

She made me love simple designs with well-chosen typefaces.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Babydoll Blankets

When I was little, my grandmother let me take small pieces of fabric from her scrap basket to make "babydoll blankets". I sat on her lap at her sewing machine and pieced together scraps of polyester doubleknit (hey, it was the late 60s). I didn't call it piecing or quilting, and we certainly didn't consider it art. It was the beginning of my love of quilts, and the whole idea of making something beautiful from the leftovers.


Twenty years ago I visited Korea with a friend. Although I came away with a love for Korean food and the beauty of the countryside, I did not discover Korean patchwork then. Pojagi is a Korean patchwork craft that is used to make wrappings. Chung-hie Lee is a Korean fiber artist. Here she is at RISD.

Narrative vs Non-narrative

The part of our brain that makes us most human, the frontal cortex, is the part of the brain in charge of narrative. There's such a need to create a narrative cause-and-effect that we sling together the random images from memory consolidation into dream narratives. ("I was standing at the edge of a lake, then suddenly the lake became a glass path and I walked across it and into a grocery store, but the shelves were full of plastic animals...")

I'm curious about how different parts of the brain respond to narrative and non-narrative art. Is there an innate human response to representational art that makes us create a narrative around the work? ("Who put the bowl of fruit on the table? Why is the girl in the dress on her hands and knees so far from the house on the hill? Why are the old people with the pitchfork frowning?") Why is explicitly narrative art seemingly more accessible? Renaissance painters like Titian or Botticelli still spark discussion about the narratives of their paintings, but so-called "starter art" such as Norman Rockwell is accessible precisely because of the narrative content of the images.

How does the response to non-representational art differ? Why is it harder for adults to adjust to? ("Gee, Marge, anybody could throw and drip paint around like that. I can't believe it's hanging in a museum!") I say adults because children don't seem to have difficulty accessing Pollack or Rothko or de Kooning. Is that because the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which has been shown to inhibit spontaneity (see this article), is less developed in children? Does the extent to which the brain "edits" affect the response to art, as well as the creation of art?

"What're you lookin' at?"

So I know painting pets can be cutesy and cliche, and this may well not be an exception, but for me, the challenge is to move away from a drafting, engineering drawing style and into a looser exploration of color and movement. And if you look around me seeking movement, you can't miss the wiener dogs.