Wednesday, July 23, 2008


There's nothing like leaving your comfort zone to broaden the outlook. I have had a busy summer and a few museum trips worth noting in this vein. My knowledge of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was secondhand until recently. I visited the museum for the first time this month. I had heard from museum educators that the SFMOMA had some impressive programs and they were keen on the technology integration. Their website certainly attests to this notion. I visited the Frieda Kahlo exhibit and was shocked, however.
I have rarely been more claustrophobic. I have never seen so many people pushing, shoving, and clamoring to see artwork in a blockbuster exhibition on a weekday that exhibited such a lack of courtesy. I thought I might suffocate it was so crowded. The galleries were not well attended, either.
I watched a backpack scrape against a Miro painting while a student posed in front of it for a snapshot. I watched a couple step on part of the What happened to the preservation part of the mission statement at the SFMOMA?
This is a great example of why the argument for/against the blockbuster museum exhibitions has arisen. I am not the first person to mention this issue see here. The presentation of objects for mass culture has several problem areas, safety of the objects being only a small part of that criticism. The danger of "dumbing it down" or creating an airport/mall/generic public space are also concerns. Then again, perhaps I'm taking the social role of museums too seriously. Where do you stand on the subject?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Goodbye Milton

I have been absent from the blogosphere for over a month, but a headline today brought me back to reflect on my own inspiration for artistic pursuit. Artist Robert Rauschenberg died yesterday. His artwork was not what caused me to feel reflective, although as a photographer and assemblage sculptor, I can identify with his process. No, it was upon reading his life in headlines that I felt compelled to share my thoughts.
The AP article stated:
"Robert Rauschenberg, whose use of odd and everyday articles earned him a reputation as a pioneer in pop art but whose talents spanned the worlds of painting, sculpture and dance, has died, his gallery representative said Tuesday. He was 82.
Rauschenberg died Monday, said Jennifer Joy, his representative at Pace Wildensteins.
Born Milton Rauschenberg in 1925 in Port Arthur, Texas, and raised a Christian fundamentalist, Rauschenberg wanted to be a minister but gave it up because his church banned dancing.
"I was considered slow," he once said "While my classmates were reading their textbooks, I drew in the margins."
He was drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II and knew little about art until a chance visit to an art museum where he saw his first painting at age 18. He drew portraits of his fellow sailors for them to send home.
When his time in the service was up, Rauschenberg used the GI bill to pay his tuition at art school. He changed his name to Robert because it sounded more artistic."
Click here to read the full article

I particularly enjoyed the New York Times article regarding Rauschenberg.
here's an excerpt:
"Apropos of Mr. Rauschenberg, Cage once said, “Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look.”

Cage meant that people had come to see, through Mr. Rauschenberg’s efforts, not just that anything, including junk on the street, could be the stuff of art (this wasn’t itself new), but that it could be the stuff of an art aspiring to be beautiful — that there was a potential poetics even in consumer glut, which Mr. Rauschenberg celebrated. “I really feel sorry for people who think things like soap dishes or mirrors or Coke bottles are ugly,” he once said, “because they’re surrounded by things like that all day long, and it must make them miserable.”

The remark reflected the optimism and generosity of spirit that Mr. Rauschenberg became known for. His work was likened to a Saint Bernard: uninhibited and mostly good-natured. He could be the same way in person. When he became rich, he gave millions of dollars to charities for women, children, medical research, other artists and Democratic politicians.

A brash, garrulous, hard-drinking, open-faced Southerner, he had a charm and peculiar Delphic felicity with language that nevertheless masked a complex personality and an equally multilayered emotional approach to art, which evolved as his stature did. Having begun by making quirky small-scale assemblages out of junk he found on the street in downtown Manhattan, he spent increasing time in his later years, after he had become successful and famous, on vast international, ambassadorial-like projects and collaborations."

There is some great hope in the retrospection of Robert Rauschenberg's life. As I presented certificates of recognition last Thursday, May 8th (Children's Mental Health Awarness Day) to young artists with whom I spent several weeks working, hope was the message I sought to convey. I shared with the artists, their families, and community members that I was a troublesome student for many of my teachers and I have never been known for my impressive academic record. Despite my struggle with a learning disability, I have become a healthy, happy, productive artist and teacher. I attributed this to a small handful of people who believed in me. People who stood in opposition to the many who said (and perhaps hoped) I would fail.
Robert Rauschenberg is one of so many artists that we can add to the list of students who were marked as failures that made indelible profound marks on society nonetheless! When will the educational system stop basing their assessments of students on narrow parameters that lead to assumptions that may be destructive for those students that can't fit the mold? More importantly, how many potentially Robert Rauschenberg-esque students miss opportunities to change lives because opportunities are not provided to them due to judgments made about them based on assumptions? This was why I came to be an art educator, and it's still a tremendous motivating factor. Recently related to me by Dr. Nadine Kalin was the statement her mentor Dr. Rita Irwin made "we learn more from pain than pleasure," which becomes more true for me as I continue to reflect.

So...thank you Milton. Thank you for defying the preconceived notions of art. Thank you for the example you have provided to us in your life. Thank you for helping me to reflect on my motivations for being an art educator.
Thank you.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Ari Marcopoulos and Paul D Miller: institutional critique re-mix

I just viewed Ari Marcopoulos' exhibition Architectures at the New Orleans Museum of Art. According to the NOMA's website, the exhibit is described as-
A special exhibition of xerox and laser-jet prints...Ari Marcopoulos: Architectures will be the first in the _museological exhibition series curated by Diego Cortez, The Freeman Family Curator of Photography.
Based on my observations, it was a room full of institutional critique. The near meter-length wide predominately black and white photos were printed on paper and tacked to the gallery walls with pins. The images were familiar, knowable scenes of youth culture, skateboard ramps, graffiti, and cityscapes, printed on humble materials without the recently popularized hyper-precision for which large format photography (I'm thinking of Gregory Crewdson's work, etc.) has become known. It's not the images alone that provide this institutional critique, it's the do-it-yourself didactic label text that Marcopoulos has added that grabbed my attention.
Marcopoulos has intertwined quotes from critical theorists and various other authors with his own philosophical musings in an effort to broaden the way learners define architectural photography to encompass graffiti (dialogue=structural) human bodies (flexible/mobile structures) architectural models (surrogate realities) among other photographic subjects. These sophisticated concepts are not clear in viewing the photographs alone. The key contextual piece (not found in the exhibition booklet) is the textual addition. This was an interesting component to this show that I felt embodied the "artist as curator" role that I have see in previous shows dealing with similar urban/global/culture as collage subject matter. The self-actualized artist as political and institutional critic resonates strongly with my own interests in reinventing the roles of art educators to encompass broader definitions of their practice as well as analyzing the museum as an institution and the role of education within that institution through the lens (literally and metaphorically) of train yard graffiti. That brings us to Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJSpooky.

Dj Spooky and Q*bert Copyright Criminals Graf Wall by Twick and Buder from the ICP Crew "Tire Island" in San Francisco at the end of 24th St.
Lifted (perhaps appropriately) straight from his personal page-
Paul D. Miller is a conceptual artist, writer, and musician working in New York. In 2005, Sound Unbound, an anthology of writings on sound art and multi-media by contemporary cultural theorists followed his first publication, Rhythm Science. Miller’s work as a media artist has appeared in a wide variety of contexts such as the Whitney Biennial and The Venice Biennial for Architecture (year 2000).
Miller is less interested in critique of the museum, but he certainly seeks to critique social systems via his multimedia experiences. As DJ Spooky, his performances in museums are often well received by the young, hip, intelligentsia. He's capable of creating an engrossing experience while maintaining an expository message of societal disfunction.
My burning question for both of these artists (who have had artistic collaborations in the past, incidentally) would be:
Do these artworks create more than conversation and reflection? Further, is action/change in society an intended outcome of the artistic processes each of the artists enact?
I ask these questions in response to the abstract and sometimes esoteric nature of the artistic content. In Marcopoulos' case, I understand his didactics and the art historical basis for his creative processes, but I wondered (as a liminal space interpretive border-crosser) who the intended audience was, and what Marcopoulos' intentions for the outcome of that audience's interactions were.
Similarly, I can't help but wonder if DJ Spooky's Antarctic ice music will facilitate ecological awareness or if his book Rhythm Science will prompt readers (whomever they may be) to read W. E. B. Dubois, Emerson, or Joyce, or if there's any overt educational intent at all.
Why should that matter at all, you may ask. I don't know that it does, directly. Within the context that both of these artists have successfully bridged the gaps between-artist as curator-street/urban culture-art as activism/institutional critique-I tip my hat to them. I am curious about the role of the educator in this equation. Does artist/researcher/practitioner fit into another gap to bring the messages of these artists to a wider audience?
Are educators DJ's too?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Online Graffiti Art

A fellow art educator and blogger posted an interesting link on his blog (which is a verrry nice blog, I might add) that I responded to earlier today, but I wanted to further explore the topic.
For proper background, first check out his post here:

The Carrot Revolution: A Blog About Art Education... and Vegetables.: online graffiti art

Now, assuming you read his post, investigated the web link he included, and read the beginning of my ramble in response format and decided that you wanted to hear me proceed with my thoughts on the subject, read on!

I clearly enjoy the visual experience that is graffiti, as my photography indicates. I enjoy the process of finding it and photographing it, too. I do not, however, engage in creating graffiti. I did grow up with friends that were taggers. They weren't the artists or writers that decorate the global human landscape that garnish gallery recognition. They were kids with sharpies and spraypaint stolen from the theatre department. We grew up in a poor community where 70% of the residents lived at or below national poverty level. I watched my friends tag their world without judging them as delinquent because I lived in two worlds. My 100 year old home was at the edge of town on 20 acres. We had horses, cows, a few milk goats, rabbits, labrador retrievers, and a variable number of feral cats in the hay barn. My parents were both educators by day and farmers in the evening. My siblings and I never went without. Just across the road that ran in front of our farm was a hill that served as a neighbor's hay field. Behind that was the Northside. It was one of the poorest neighborhoods in town. My tagging friends lived there.
Once those friends climbed the water tower and sprayed over the letters to change the name of the town into something humorous and illegal. Often though the tagging was restricted to bathrooms, lockers, walls on the Northside or desks in school. I knew my friends were angry. They wanted their tag on those things because they had nothing else to claim as their own. Many of my tagging friends went home from school to houses with no electricity or food. I doubt that any of my friends back then though of their actions as a way to claim territory, or have a sense of agency, or to bring attention to their plight. I think most of them just thought of tagging as a way to buck the system, in one of the few ways they could.
I wonder where some of those people are today. None of the handful of friends I had from that neighborhood went to college. I see some of them working around town when I go back to my hometown. I wonder if some of them finally had enough of being stuck in the Northside and found themselves stuck in jail as the alternative.
The point is, there is a certain amount of my personal identity that is wrapped up in photographing the graffiti. The tags are both beautiful and ugly to me, all at once. I see my friends and students reflected in those cryptic created identities. The invented names that the tags depict are mysteries to me. Is that name the one thing you can give yourself? Is it your property, your fame, your hopes, your dreams? Are you still tagging or have you found a way out? Do you tag because you need another identity after you leave your 8-5 job? I even wonder if the tags are a tiny bit of immortality for some of the writers that die in the perilous environments that squatters endure. It doesn't happen often, but the thought that some "anonymous" kid dies in the process of writing their alias sends a shiver down my spine.
I made an effort not to glorify or promote graffiti in my classroom when I taught middle school. We studied the history of graffiti (which is huuuuuge, by the way). We looked at the evolution of styles. I showed them some of my photography and some impressive urban bombing and expertly executed pieces. I contrasted that with simple tag images. We discussed key differences between categories of graffiti. The one point I emphasized in all cases was the legality and safety of writers from all categories. Rather than drag you through the rest of that unit, let me say that the students did create their own tags and they were displayed in our school. My principal and the campus police officer supported the unit wholeheartedly. I think that was due to my emphasis on the safety/legal issues and the fact that we didn't use spraypaint to create the final pieces.

I reflect on that unit often since leaving that school. I have mixed feelings about the results. While I think the students learned quite a bit and were proud of their finished products, I can't help but think something about the unit was askew. The finished works weren't really graffiti, by street definition. It's the same weird feeling I got when I saw that the Brooklyn Museum's Graffiti Exhibit. I can't help but think that many people, including my students and the museum goers, have the same voyeuristic fascination I have with graffiti. For some of those people it becomes an interest in making artistic creations of many forms. For others, viewing is enough. Do these hybrid creative forms and appreciative cultural audiences take the urgent messages out of what some of those street tags are shouting? Does transforming graffiti into an acceptable art form further silence the disempowered? As an educator with a heart for the underdogs, I hope not. Conversely, can this proliferation of sophisticated tagging such as the kinds found at Graffiti Research Lab bring the message of youth in peril to the forefront by presenting in in a flashy new media format? I have a sinking feeling that it's often a mixed message that isn't living up to its socially transformative potential.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Follow the Leader or Tag?

After hearing Dr. Deborah Reeve speak recently, I began to play around with a new connection to the tagging concept: tagging as leadership.
If you will indulge me in imagining the game follow-the-leader as a metaphor for earlier models for hierarchical leadership, then the connections to my previous tag(ing) will become apparent.
Dr. Reeve spoke to students, faculty, alumni, and local community members about the need for reinventing arts leaders. She challenged the audience to think about the importance of becoming a leader in a practitioner's role. She stressed the importance of flat leadership-leaders in the field of art education that don't fit the confines of top-down structure. As I understood these lateral leaders would shift between professional duties, peer/colleague mentorship, community activism, and building relationships with people involved with the arts at many experience and responsibility levels. Dr. Reeve's flat leadership was meant to parallel The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century the national bestseller book by Thomas L. Friedman. (For a quick summary of the book check out The World is Flat WikiSummaries)
Essentially, I have been struggling to find a way to link the game "tag" to my analysis of art education. I found Dr. Reeve's speech the necessary link to my metaphorical processes. In our understanding of "typical" institutional leadership, we follow the person in the front of the line. That person, in turn charts a path that they believe will lead all involved persons to a necessary destination. One problem with this model is the lack of visibility the leader has in the led parties' reactions. How is the leader receiving feedback when communication is merely a matter of following/mimetic response? I am, of course exaggerating and confusing the children's game, follow-the-leader, and the everyday experiences we have as practitioners. In a hierarchical model, communication with administration and other mid and upper level management can become difficult, if nonexistent, due to the designated tasks each involved party performs. While some hierarchical communication is formally facilitated, specific roles and certain types of communication are unlikely in this model. Players that self-designate as leaders or deviate from the leader's path may be kicked out of the game.
What about flat leadership? I can't speak for Dr. Reeve's intended practical application of the ideas she shared, but my own vision of flat leadership that her speech inspired goes back to the game of tag. In the flat leadership world, leadership is passed along in a series of interconnected exchanges of ideas, aptitudes or interests in tasks, and re/forming relationships. In this game, the "leader" isn't seen as a leader, yet all involved parties are aware of each other's positions and interactions. Communication is paramount for the person that is "it" and the people that aren't "it". Each player in this game takes turns being a "leader" and a follower, based on luck and circumstance. The main problem I see with this overlay of the game of tag and flat leadership is the idea of people running away from leadership roles. I'd love to imagine a flat leadership that was a large relay race. I just worry that in a society that struggles for standardization while promoting capitalist consumer individuality, running from lateral leadership might actually be the case. The positive overlay in looking at the game of tag and flat leadership's similarities are the gains in communication. In both instances the functions are dependent on every person involved being aware of all the other people and communication is constantly needed.
I leave you with a final game to consider relating to leadership in art education. What about a game of freeze tag? In this game the person that is "it" tags players, thus freezing them. They can only become unfrozen by being tagged by any active player that is not "it". Thinking about the person that is "it" as represented by the impediments to art educators working together (budgets, bureaucracy and naysayers) and the collaboration and communication needed by the participants to "unfreeze" our friends, perhaps this is the game we should play in our professional lives. When our colleagues are "frozen" by the current impediment to art education, aka "it", we should take notice and run to their aid. In turn, when we become frozen, our colleagues, community, and management will return the courtesy and unfreeze us.
(I hope Dr. Reeve doesn't mind me "playing" with her ideas. I was inspired by the possibilities she presented.)
So which game will we play as art educators?
Follow the leader?
Freeze Tag?
or perhaps something else?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Tagging as Teaching?

I have spent a week trying to wrap my head around several conversations. On leap day I met with my fellow blogger/artist/teacher/researcher and our professor to discuss our progress. I have been writing in a meandering fashion trying to reflect on many things that I encounter and relate to my learning and teaching. I felt that the tangential posts I was developing were logical until I had the blog opened up on a projector screen. Suddenly I had this sinking feeling that what may to me seem a cohesive process of connecting the dots (or aiding a growing rhizome) may just be a big mess to everyone else. So, I don't think that's how arts based research is supposed to go (?).
I am currently trying to contemplate how I can explain the photography I have been doing for a few years. I know how it is integral to my thinking and my teaching... but how can I tell you?
I have this funny vertical gallery that I add a few pictures from each photo shoot on the right hand side of this page. What questions do these images raise, if any? I think about how this blog could be speaking to people I'll never meet in person. I wonder if they wonder what kind of artist/teacher/researcher I am. I do.
The tags meet me, but I've never seen a writer in the process of tagging.
I wonder who they are.
I recognize some writers' pieces and tags as familiar. I know their unique style.
I have no way to reply to their pieces, so I photograph them.
I wonder where my students will go when they leave my classroom. Will their unique style reflect their experiences with me?
I keep thinking of those six degrees.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Public Art or Crime?

I just ran across an interesting article about the German town of Rummelsheim. Know for its cleanliness and organization, the community has recently been faced with an interesting problem. Despite strict laws governing the removal of trash, a toy shrine has existed in defiance to the laws. This toy shrine, described as "kitsch" has won a place in the hearts of many local residents.

So as I reflect on the cultural presentations we hold in our aesthetics class, I can't help but wonder what role order and civic responsibility play in the German aesthetic. When I visited Germany last year, I do remember seeing graffiti. Where does that fit in the aesthetic? Unlike the toy shrine, the graffiti in Germany isn't actually waste. In fact, it was generally more impressive to me in regard to artistry. Here's an example:

I remember my father telling me that you could always tell when you were in a German community while driving in rural Texas. German farmers had the best fences and they would blast and haul stones out of the fields. They always had well maintained irrigation terraces. While riding on the bus in Germany, I watched in amazement as I saw field after field of agricultural precision. It reminded me of David Hockney's landscapes.

I sometimes wish that people in the US had such a drive to interact with their environment with more care and precision. I grew up seeing this as one of frames of reference for public art.

While I love Ant Farm and the Cadillac Ranch, the comparison made me stop to consider my notes regarding the role of cultural aesthetic in such matters.
So what does the difference between US and German public landscape aesthetics indicate about the people? Why is there such a noticeable difference between the two cultures?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Marcel Duchamp and Invented Pseudo Algebra

I have been perplexed with the limitations I still encounter with preparing a document of research that can wholly represent my research and learning that I have encountered in my current degree. I have changed my thesis topic at least once each semester. The topics are all related, but they all have their own beauty and difficulties. I am continually fascinated with the interplay of words. I want to change how they are interpreted by placing them in opposition to each other. In equations, even.
I think about Marcel Duchamp frequently while I get frustrated with my lack of progress. He was often criticized for his lack of visible products. Despite this criticism, it has been said by many that Marcel Duchamp was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He was born in France in 1887 and became an American citizen in 1955. He lived a rich 81 years. Marcel Duchamp described himself as,"an artist, chess player, cheese dealer, breather, fenêtrier."

Numerous books and articles attempt to interpret Duchamp's artwork and philosophy, but in interviews and his writing, Duchamp only added to the mystery. The interpretations interested him as creations of their own, and as reflections of the interpreter.
A playful man, Duchamp prodded thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much with words, but with actions such as dubbing a urinal "art" and naming it Fountain. He produced relatively few artworks as he quickly moved through the avant-garde rhythms of his time.

John Cage said of Marcel Duchamp,"The check. The string he dropped. The Mona Lisa. The musical notes taken out of a hat. The glass. The toy shotgun painting. The things he found. Therefore, everything seen–every object, that is, plus the process of looking at it–is a Duchamp.

He simply found that object, gave it his name. What then did he do? He found that object, gave it his name. Identification. What then shall we do? Shall we call it by his name or by its name? It's not a question of names.

One way to write music: study Duchamp.

Say it's not a Duchamp. Turn it over and it is.

—from ‘Statements Re Duchamp,' see Marcel Duchamp in Perspective, ed. Joseph Masheck, 1975, pp.67-68

Duchamp, whose art career had been built on painting, painted very little after 1912. During this decade Duchamp began working as a librarian in the Bibliotèque Sainte-Geneviève where he earned a living wage and withdrew from painting circles into scholarly realms. He studied math and physics – areas where exciting new discoveries were taking place. The theoretical writings of Henri Poincaré particularly intrigued and inspired Duchamp. Poincaré postulated that the laws believed to govern matter were created solely by the minds that "understood" them and no theory could be considered "true." "The things themselves are not what science can reach..., but only the relations between things. Outside of these relations there is no knowable reality," Poincaré wrote in 1902.

Duchamp's own art-science experiments began during his tenure at the library. To make one of his favorite pieces, 3 Standard Stoppages (3 stoppages étalon), one at a time from a height of 1 meter, he dropped three 1-meter lengths of thread onto a prepared canvases. They landed in three random undulating positions. He varnished them into place on the blue-black canvas strips and attached them to glass. Then he cut three wood slats into the shapes of the curved strings, and put all the pieces into a croquet box. Three small leather signs with the title printed in gold were glued to each of the "stoppage" backgrounds. The piece resembles concepts described in Poincaré's School of the Thread, a book on classical mechanics.

The power to name, to tag yourself. Call it what you want to call it.
I was also recently enamored with reading an aesthetics textbook that created analogies in a somewhat algebraic fashion to illustrate several aesthetic philosophies. I was so intrigued by the analogies that I wanted to create diagrams. Here are a few.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Anarchy vs. subversion

Yesterday I told someone (somewhat jokingly) that I advocate subversion, not anarchy. I felt this sinking feeling that I was not adequately informed to make this statement after I had said it. I decided to read about anarchy and subversion to possibly edit my comment upon next encountering the friend with whom I had originally conversed. I came across the following two discoveries:

Many of the anarchy websites I read information from seemed ill-informed/contradictory/naive.
Subversion is a software primarily, and an attempt to undermine systems of power secondarily, according to the search engine I was using.

I did find the following two websites useful for the sake of this conversation:
for anarchy-
for subversion-

I know, I know, subversion is a wiki article, but that's in keeping with the subversion. I thought it was a good starting place. I decided that the subversion I have in mind is not the political subversion that alerts the "powers that be" to come stick me in a box with Ted Koszinski. That's the fuel for anarchy. Remember I said I didn't want that.

When I was in 6th grade, we studied castles in our history class. I forget the context for why we were studying castles, or what we studied after castles, but I remember the castle study for a number of reasons.
We were asked to create a model of a castle. I researched many castles and I finally decided to create a model of the Place de la Bastille. I did not then realize the ironic twist that project would provide for my adult learning.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of the Bastille, here is a bit of the history:

The Bastille was a prison in Paris, known formally as Bastille Saint-Antoine — Number 232, rue Saint-Antoine. The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The event was commemorated one year later by the Fête de la Fédération. The French national holiday, celebrated annually on July 14, is officially called the Fête Nationale, and commemorates the Fête de la Fédération — but it is commonly known in English as Bastille Day. Bastille (from bastide) is a French word meaning "castle" or "stronghold". In most accounts of French revolutionary history, La Bastille generally refers to the prison in Paris.

The Bastille (little bastion), originally called the Chastel Saint-Antoine, was built between 1370 and 1383 (under kings Charles V and Charles VI) to serve as a fortress for the protection of the city against Anglo-Burgundian forces during the Hundred Years' War. The four-and-a-half-story building, surrounded by its own moat, was located at the eastern main entrance to medieval Paris — overlooking the Faubourg St. Antoine of the Marais quarter, a former swamp. It had eight closely-spaced towers, roughly 77.1 ft. (23.5m) high, which surrounded two courtyards and the armoury. The towers were named as follows:
1. Tour du Coin
2. Tour de la Chapelle
3. Tour du Trésor 4. Tour de la Comte
5. Tour du Puits
6. Tour de la Liberté 7. Tour de la Bertaudière
8. Tour de la Basinière
The outer stone walls, 15 feet (4.5m) thick at the base, were pierced with narrow slits by which the cells were lighted. In early times, the Bastille had entrances on three sides, but after 1580 only one, with a drawbridge over the moat on the side toward the river, which led to outer courts and a second drawbridge, and wound by a defended passage to an outer entrance opposite the Rue des Tournelles. Close beside the Bastille, to the north, rose the Porte Saint-Antoine — approached over the city fossé (ditch) by its own bridge. At the outer end of this bridge was a triumphal arch, built upon the return of Henri II from Poland in 1573. Both the gate and arch were restored for the triumphal entry of Louis XIV in 1667, but the gate (where Etienne Marcel was killed on July 31, 1358), was pulled down in 1674. Until the 17th century, the fort was used both as a castle and for the safekeeping of the royal treasure.

Keeping Them in Instead of Out-
During the first half of the 17th century, the Cardinal Richelieu (under King Louis XIII) converted the royal fortress into a state prison for the upper class — mainly people who committed high treason or some other kind of offense against either the King or the state (which were considered to be essentially the same). In addition to political prisoners, the Bastille also housed religious prisoners, writers of "seditious" and overtly sexual material, and young rakes held at the request of their families. The very often arbitrary warrant of arrest (known as the lettre de cachet, or letter with the royal seal) made the Bastille fortress one of the darkest symbols of royal despotism, although the conditions of imprisonment were generally quite comfortable. The prisoners could welcome visitors, bring their servants, their furniture, clothes, and books, and the daily ration paid by the state provided them a luxury cuisine. During the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774), the Bastille accommodated more and more ordinary criminals, whose existence there was rather less comfortable. Common prisoners were held within the five- to seven-story towers, each having a room around 4.6 m (15 feet) across and containing various articles of furniture. Thankfully, though, the infamous cachots — the oozing, vermin-infested subterranean cells — were no longer in use by the later half of the 18th century. As the protectors of the Catholic religion, the king's authorities also imprisoned Protestants and freethinkers, and Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) was arrested twice during his youth. In the last decades after 1750, many inmates were committed by their own families as insane or because of some shameful carnal deviation. Among the more prominent convicts of the late 1780s were Latude, a notorious and querulous swindler; the quack and alchemist Count Cagliostro; the diplomat and general Dumouriez, later to be the hero of the French victory in 1792 at Valmy, but finally in 1793 deserting to the Austrian army; the wallpaper manufacturer Reveillon, who was arrested for his own protection after the riots in the Faubourg St. Antoine in April 1789, when the rumour that he intended to cut his workers' salaries claimed more than 300 lives; and the Marquis de Sade, who however was transferred to the lunatic institution at Charenton on July 4, 1789, after he screeched out from the window of his cell to the neighbourhood that "the prisoners were massacred and one should come to help". By this time, the government was already planning to close down and demolish the expensive medieval fortress.

Although it is theorized by some that these utterances by the Marquis de Sade may have inspired the storming of the Bastille ten days later, in fact a far more complex series of events led to the violent insurrection.

Interestingly, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro had been imprisoned in the Bastille because of his purported connection with a royal scandal known as the Affair of the (Diamond) Necklace, a charge for which he was ultimately acquitted. However, since the scandal indirectly involved Marie Antoinette, the wife of King Louis XVI, it is considered by historians to have been one of the precipitating factors in the French Revolution.

I chose the castle that became a prison.
I recall this choice requiring defense when we presented our models, but my argument was that originally, the structure had been intended as a military fortress. The fact that it became a prison was not relevant to the structure.
I disagree with that conclusion now.
Turning into a prison is very relevant to the structure and my current exploration of subversion vs anarchy.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tagging the metaphor

So if creative processes are my way of making sense of the world, tagging is my metaphor.

Much of my artistic process has been a thinly veiled attempt to get outdoors and get myself off the computer or get my nose out of a book. I crave adventure, even if it's the small scale variety. Also, I find myself drawn to graffiti. The fascination began when I taught public school and my students and I explored the history and techniques involved with graffiti.

Here's a bit of that history.
Tags, in graffiti writing, are a fairly recent development. A "tag" is the most basic writing of an artist's name in either spray paint, marker, or other often permanent writing/painting tool. A graffiti writer's tag is his or her personalized signature. "Tagging" is often the example given when opponents of graffiti refer to vandalism; the term used to label all acts of graffiti writing (it is by far the most common form of graffiti). Graffiti often has a reputation as being a visible act of a subculture that rebels against authority, although the considerations of the practitioners often diverge and can relate to a wide range of attitudes. It can express a political practice and can form just one tool in an array of resistance techniques. The developments of graffiti art which took place in art galleries and colleges as well as "on the street" or "underground", contributed to the resurfacing in the 1990s of a far more overtly politicized art form in the subvertising, culture jamming or tactical media movements. These movements or styles tend to classify the artists by their relationship to their social and economic contexts, since, in most countries, graffiti art remains illegal in many forms except when using non-permanent paint. Since the 1990's a growing number of artists are switching to temporary paints for a variety of reasons, primarily because is it difficult for the police to apprehend and for the courts to sentence or even convict a person for a protest that is as fleeting and less intrusive than marching in the streets. In some communities, such impermanent works survive longer than works created with permanent paints because the community views the work in the same vein as that of the civil protestor who marches in the street. Protests are finite actions in their duration, but they can have lasting impressions on the "powers that be". In some areas where a number of artist share the impermance ideal, there grows an informal competition. That is, the length of time that a work escapes destruction is related to the amount of respect the work garners in the community. (A crude work that deserves little respect would likely be removed immediately.) The most talented artist might have works last for days.
Artists whose primary object is to assert contol over property and not primarily to create of an expressive work of art (political or otherwise) resist switching to impermanent paints.

These are but a few of the considerations I weighed when I chose the "tag" as my metaphor for artistic and intellectual discovery. Beyond the confines of graffiti, the tag is known as a signification of ownership in many forms. Take for instance, the metadata tag.

We tag web objects to create order, to leave our mark or two cents worth of input to the great information collective. A tag is a keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (a picture, a map, a blog entry, a video clip etc.), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification and search of information.
Tags are usually chosen informally and personally by item author/creator or by its consumer/viewers/community. Tags are typically used for resources such as computer files, web pages, digital images, and internet bookmarks. For this reason, "tagging" has become associated with the Web 2.0 buzz. Many people associate "tagging" with the idea of the semantic web, however some believe that tagging may not be having a positive effect on the overall drive towards the semantic web. Tag classification, and the concept of connecting sets of tags between web/blog servers, has led to the rise of folksonomy classification over the Internet, the concept of social bookmarking, and other forms of social software. Larger-scale folksonomies tend to address some of the problems of tagging, as astute users of tagging systems will monitor/search the current use of "tag terms" within these systems, and tend to use existing tags in order to easily form connections to related items. In this way, evolving folksonomies define a set of tagging conventions through eventual group consensus, rather than by use of a formalized standard.
Although "tagging" is often promoted as an alternative to organization by a hierarchy of categories, more and more online resources seem to use a hybrid system, where items are organized into broad categories, with finer classification distinctions being made by the use of tags.

Tag is not just the graffiti writer's signature.
It's not just the data you attach to web objects.
It was my favorite game.
It's attached to the inside of my clothing to tell me who the maker was and the outside of my groceries to tell me how much my food will cost.
There are many parts of my life that are tagged.
I can mark my history with the changing meaning of the term.
I photograph tags as a way to illustrate my own personal changes. I can see myself reflected in their chronological evolution. I can hear myself speaking with their words. I can feel myself glow in their colors.
It excites me. The photography is like a game. Sometimes I loose and I get kicked out of the yard.
Sometimes I win and I come home with a cache of images.
I love it when I win.
you're it!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

1-dimensional art

I have mixed feelings this morning. Part of me is excited, part of me is deflated.
My Critical Theory class will meet again tonight. It's an enigma wrapped up in some irony wrapped up in bacon, battered and deep-fried. The course content is very engaging. The professor is sharp witted and well-read. My classmates are all over the map, though. Some of them read the material and have very thoughtful comments, some of them seem to skim the material and come to class to have someone fill in the blanks while they discuss less philosophically challenging subject matter, such as animal art. (and now my SNL reference for today...don't get me started, don't even get me started!) I am frustrated with the direction of the conversations in the course. It's a seminar course, so the students lead a portion of the course...or at least they should be leading a portion, in theory. The two groups that prepared materials to lead the class haven't even been able to lead yet. Thus far, we've met three times. In the course of those three meetings a series of events happened that prompted me to resort to desperate artmaking to try to make sense of my frustrations.'s pretty biblical.

It is related to the modernism v postmodernism dissonance that creates the creepy background music for our melodrama.
(imagine the pipe organ here...and pardon the double entendre)
Why snake tree? The tree of knowledge, fall from grace story is topical (to me, at least) when discussing the historical development of aesthetics theories. The idea of biblical truth, truth in aesthetic experience, and the belief in an absolute truth all came together for me in the form of an embellished handbag. It's a representation of the fork in the road. Utopia or dystopia? So hard to choose...My pastor called me Lillith when I was a teenager.
As with my eagle post, I may add more here later, but for now this is as far as I'm going.
I saw the bag with the four empty trees and I had to find forbidden fruit and a snake. I just needed that to be my expression of the revelation I had in reading critical theory and becoming aware of my awareness and the levels of awareness that are only partially perceptible by me of my classmates. What isn't said in conversation is just as important as what is said.
This is my way. I use art as a way to work out ideas. To practice my developing philosophies. It was cathartic when I was an angst filled youth. Now creating art is something else for me. It's a conversation with myself that I have loudly enough to enable those within earshot to eavesdrop. I don't often seek to speak directly to others. If my work speaks to you, it's because we share a common language, a dialog begins. We can invite others, too. I recognize that my work incorporates the work of others directly in the form of appropriation, but even when I don't intend to draw from ideas, it happens anyway. I live in a media saturated world. My chances for creating in a vacuum died with the snake and the tree. I happily create meta-art instead. Nobody can make an unoriginal piece of art in the linear 3-D paradigm I know.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Metacognition, etc.

Well, I've been conversing with an old friend about the blog, and I thought that sharing our conversation would be useful. She and I met in high school and parted ways soon after. We found each other again recently on MySpace. It's been really fun getting to visit again, and she has been a great conversation starter. I love it when the whole "thinking about thinking" process happens this naturally. 

Here's the conversation, re-posted with Brandy's permission. (Thank you, Brandy!)
Brandy said:
“Ok, so I voted on your other blog, but I couldn't comment because I don't have a google account. So what exactly are you doing? I DID read the blog, but I couldn't quite decipher it. Could you explain it to me?”

To which I relpied:
“Well, I'm trying to make an autobiographical blog about discovering what arts-based research really is. The book I'm reading, "Seeing Red" is actually a PhD dissertation, but it's a fictional novel, too. There are many people that are using blogs for their graduate research now. This art-based research is a way to incorporate artistic process, (like taking pictures, drawing, painting, or writing fiction) into the research method. I promise the blog will make more sense as time goes by. I hate that you have to have a google account to comment, though. Sorry about that. That's why I have the survey, so everyone can participate.
Your profile is fascinating…
That is some arts-based research on identity. I could not figure out whom I was talking to for a minute. Very cool!
Talk to you soon,

…And then she said:
“Research on identity? Yeah, if you do any of that, let me know. I'm kind of in one of those "I'm in search of myself, have you seen me" phases right now. (If you can consider 10 years a "phase" hmmm.) Thank god I don't REALLY take myself too least not for more than a few minutes or so, else I'd be completely crazy (instead of just mostly.)

So I'm not really sure what arts-based research is. I know that you defined it for me in the last message, but I've never been good with definitions. Can you give me an example? I have tried to figure it out, but I'm like that little Asian guy from Karate Kid. I can think with right brain. OK. I can think with left-brain OK. Try to put two together. Get squish, just like grape.

I promise that if you actually go to the trouble to chew it up and regurgitate it, I will create a google account and make semi-intelligent comments on the other blog. :-)

Until then,
The Brandopticon”

So I replied:
“Why are you so hard on yourself? It's not just a simple thing you're overlooking. I've had whole semester long courses on research, and I still don't fully get it. Here's what I know so far:
Research is divided into two categories loosely- quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research deals with numbers, measurable outcomes...quantities. Qualitative research deals with the human element, interviews, self-analysis...the "qualities" of the information give the research its content. Speaking very generally, quantitative research is considered more valuable to universities and publications since it has "hard facts" associated with its outcomes. Qualitative research is "softer" in other words it is less respected by the scientific method folks. In a university, this makes up a large majority of research reviewers on some campuses. While this is changing to some extent, (particularly in some European countries and Canada), the field of art education, as well as many other fields, still like to see statistical data (especially in the form of graphs) as analysis for research data.
So arts-based research is a fairly new qualitative research methodology on the scene, with only a few decades under its belt. A handful of graduate students have used arts-based research to inform their thesis/dissertation. Art educators have criticized arts based research for being neither good research nor good art. As there is a lack of a large body of work to analyze, this statement is often based on reading/viewing one or two "far-out" dissertations that don't have good professional committee members to guide the student's research in a rigorous manner (yes, I believe that there is a rigorous methodology to arts-based research, I just couldn't give you the specifics about that right now...still working on how to say it...). Yes, there are really crappy arts-based research pieces out there, but there's crappy research of all kinds, in every category (think about junk science!). I am thinking about it as a research methodology because I still create art. It's an important part of how I figure out the world. I even think of my myspace profile as art. I look at my friends' profiles as forms of art, too. I think that how we've all designed our profiles is a form of autobiography that can't be expressed in other ways. We create a representation of ourselves using the technology at hand. It is a place we feel free to be expressive in ways we wouldn't/couldn't necessarily do in a face-to-face setting due to the physical limitations of those interactions.
I am interested in using this degree of separation, this digital safety net, as a way to help visitors to my blog (and later visitors to my wiki) feel comfortable expressing a wider array of reflections and thoughts. I have a hunch those visitors that might not tell me something in person might tell me on a blog. I also think that being able to link to pictures or upload images/songs/hyperlink to other websites is an important new way we are communicating. I can paste links in a blog post to help visitors discover more contexts about a topic without having to worry about overwhelming them with content. Click on the link...or don't if you don't want/feel like it. You know what I mean?
So for me, the project uses my own twist on arts-based research. The text, images, and other media will serve as a way to lead me to greater understanding. Just like in quantitative research, a huge survey could tell you a lot about what a specific group, I'm hoping that the blog helps tell me a lot about myself and others that I wouldn't get from just interviewing people or sending them a survey.
So does that help you understand where I'm coming from a little better?

I was wondering would you mind if I re-post this exchange between us on the blog? I think that it might help other people understand what it's all about better. You have valuable questions, they make me think about what I'm doing and help me explain myself better. Let me know how you feel about a re-post.

Also, thank you for engaging me in real conversation. I get hung up on silly surveys and small diversions sometimes on myspace. It's not often I get to talk to someone in depth. I feel like we're getting to meet all over again.
Hope to talk to you soon,


So she replied:
“Ok, I totally understand now. The thing that has always kind of bothered me about quantitative research is that it takes so long to really get to the heart of an issue because you can really only measure one control at a time, so your conclusion usually ends with something like, "Further research will need to be done to eliminate the possibility of...." so then you're waiting for someone to pick up where you left off with your numbers.

I've read several thesis (theses?) that don't do this; they try to wrap it all up in their own research so as to give a "definite" result to their incomplete work. Anyone who has any kind of logical mind, however, can look at the study and say, "Yeah, but he or she didn't rule out this possibility or that possibility." They just take the numbers and use them to mean whatever they want them to at the time. This garbage usually ends up on the news as facts, I guess because the majority of people want an answer NOW - even a wrong answer - instead of waiting till sometime in the future.

I don't really know what the faults are of qualitative research, but I would think that in the area of art, what are they hoping to achieve with quantitative? I can't call myself even a semi-expert on art, but it would seem to me that the majority of art is subjective, so how can you measure that? Like I said, I'm speaking from a high school art student perspective, but that's just what it seems like to me.

So are you also using Myspace in your research, or is it all going to come off of your blog?

Yeah, I don't mind if you repost. It has been equally awesome to me to be able to discuss interesting things with someone. But the surveys are awesome too. Your responses always crack me up. I feel more comfortable talking in depth with someone that I know has the ability to laugh at themselves and everything around them. So yeah, a repost is cool, I hope it helps!


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So about that eagle...

I always wanted to go to UNT. My dad was completing his doctoral work at UNT when I was born. I used to ride in a basket on the back of his bike when we would go to the library so he could do research. He and my big sister and brother and my mom would go listen to live jazz at UNT all the time. The eagle was an important icon from my early childhood. We moved when I was four and I told my playmates at the daycare my mom ran out of our house that I would come back to UNT for college. I didn't make it back for my undergraduate degree, but I did finally achieve my goal. That eagle was something to strive for all those years. It represented the education I felt was key to my success. I also think of my dad when I see the eagle. He was a historian, and an expert in native culture. There's more, too....

I think about how perceptive people are described as having the "eagle eye". I will continue to add to this post, I think.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What is arts-based research?

This question has rolled around in my mind for months. My colleagues and I have talked about it, looked at it, toyed with the ideas and writing surrounding it, but I hadn't committed to answering that question until recently. So here I am, beginning my trial run of this form of research, in blog form. Before I confuse everyone and re-arrange the cart/horse relationship, I should give you some background on how I arrived at arts-based research.

I entered the museum education graduate program looking for a way to widen the arc of my art educating possibilities. I taught middle school previous to my current adventure. I found myself wanting to connect what was happening in my classroom with the wider community. I wanted to see how intergenerational learning looks in action. I wanted to try teaching ideas and processes without the end product resulting in competition between participants and colleagues. I also wanted to work without having to use laminated reproductions as my everyday visual resource. 
So working in an art museum is all that and a bag of chips, right? Well, for the most part that's true. I've had some great internships and volunteer opportunities to confirm my career choice. The down side is I'm loosing my long summer vacations and (often) the pay in a museum position is lower than public school art positions in the same area. So, all that aside, you may be wondering why I'm not working in a museum yet. Well, that's another story.
My coursework is more than complete. I have more hours than I need to graduate. I lack a thesis. I am considering arts-based research as a possibility for my thesis research method. I would like to incorporate my photography, illustrations, and personal reflective writing into an interactive research project. Here's where you become integral to the process. I'm not sure where this blog will take us, but I'm hoping you'll help me find out. I will have monthly surveys, photography/images, and reflective writing to offer, and I hope you will offer you input as well. 

So back to that first question...

Are you willing to help me discover the answer?