The Art of Creating Art

Often times, the process of making art can be a thing of beauty onto itself. This has been beautifully conveyed by a video from the California-based American Museum of Ceramic Art, which depicts several ceramics masters creating a masterpiece as part of the 5,000-year ceramics tradition of Icheon, South Korea.

The seven-minute video is beautifully done in its presentation; it made me feel at peace during my lunch break. The focus on each craftsman’s precision, patience, and attention to detail is breathtaking, highlighting just how much goes into those beautiful artistic pieces we so effortlessly view and admire.

The video was released in 2013 to mark the first-ever exhibition of over 230 Korean ceramic pieces on American soil. Unfortunately, “ICHEON: Reviving the Korean Ceramics Traditions”, has long since passed, although you can see some photos and information about it here. I’d definitely love to pay a visit to this interesting museum someday.

Video is courtesy of WIMP.com and my dear friend Drake for bringing it to my attention.

Before They Pass Away

A friend of mine shared some great photos from Imgur of various indigenous and tribal cultures that are quickly disappearing in the face of changing times and social pressures.

I did some research and found that they are from a series I had heard about before called Before They Pass Away, a project that collects photos and accounts of some of the most remote and ancient civilizations in the world. It is the brainchild of British photographer Jimmy Nelson, who maintains a website for the series that documents his three-year journey across 44 countries.

There is already a book about the project that includes over 500 of these excellent photos (you can browse through some parts on the website). I definitely plan on buying it one of these days. The images are captivating both aesthetically and in the stories they tell; I love the expression and demeanor of the subjects — often proud and stoic, though sometimes hinting at deeper uncertainty and worry — as well as the sheer beauty of their settings, which are unsurprisingly some of the most isolated and pristine in the world.

That these groups have endured such typically harsh and untamed areas for generations (if not millennia) is a testament to their sophistication and tenancy.

Here are some of my personal favorites, although I fell in love with them all.

The Kazakhs of Mongolia.

The Huli of Papua New Guinea.

The Maori, New Zealand.

The Gauchos, Argentina.

Nelson also has an interesting TEDx Talk where he discusses his journey and the various connections he made and things he learned. I recommend you give it a listen. It is pretty inspiring and makes me even itchier to travel.

The Troubled Waters of South India and How It Impacts Us

I love and appreciate art of all kind, especially that which brings attention to important issues and conveys them in an impactful and digestible manner. Such is the case with the photographs of Selvaprakash Lakshmanan, who has captured the lives and struggles of South Indian coastal communities while bringing attention to a troubling intersection of several modern global problems.

Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu. Fishermen protest near the proposed nuclear plant on World Fisheries Day. Credit Selvaprakash Lakshmanan / New York Terms

The New York Times offers a great slideshow and summary of his brilliant and thus far unique project, as very few journalists or photographers have explored this area.

It was as much an environmental project as a human one, he discovered. As he learned while making “Life in Troubled Waters,” the harrowing issues facing these communities encompassed many symbolic and complex problems that resonate in the globalized 21st Century.

Mr. Lakshmanan was educated about the environmental issues while serving as a participant journalist for the Fojo Institute’s Coastal Management program. “With most of my stories before, it was more people-centric,” he said. “And the cause made me look, holistically, at how it is closely connected to the environment and the social, geopolitical, and economic issues. Each issue is interconnected, either in a direct or indirect way.”

While interviewing residents of villages in Tamil Nadu, he learned that an increase in shoddy industrial construction on the shoreline had led to erosion, which threatened the fishermen’s houses. Several of his photographs documented homes falling back into the sea and the attempts to build storm walls that buttressed against its power. Rising tides, a byproduct of climate change, presumably played a part too.

Indeed, Lakshmanan’s work is sorely needed, since this part of the world — like so many others — remains invisible to the wider global community, let alone the powers that be.

Since most of India’s massive population lives in inland cities, the coastal areas he’s investigating are typically underreported and overlooked. It is Mr. Lakshmanan’s mission to bring awareness of what’s going on in those areas. He has seen the effects of coal-fueled, thermal power plants spewing fly ash into the ocean. And salt mines that raise the salinity of the soil, destroying mangrove forests, which leads to further erosion. In addition, he said, “human waste and urban sewage systems go directly into the sea.”

But like so many humanitarian issues nowadays, the bigger picture is far more complex, and the intrepid photojournalist did an excellent job capturing both the nuance and global relevance of this seemingly localized issue:

But rather than present the fishermen as blameless, Mr. Lakshmanan was quick to point out why the Sri Lankans are so angered by the poaching. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu fishermen use a technique called bottom trawling, which has been banned in Sri Lanka but not India. In this type of fishing, nets are dragged along the seabed, which destroys fragile Sri Lankan coral reef ecosystems.

This was confirmed earlier in the year by Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the Sri Lankan Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Development, who said, “Because of this method of fishing, the bottom of our Northern sea and the marine environment get completely destroyed. In the future there will be no fish left in the North.”

Ironically, most of the catch for which these Tamil Nadu fishermen risk their lives is then shipped out internationally or to the voracious urban markets in India. From there comes the sewage that pollutes the water, forcing the fish further out to sea where the fishermen follow, to their peril. It is a baroque tale that befits our intricately woven globalized society and perhaps a harbinger of larger resource wars to come.

It is that final point, which I have emphasized, that made this project stand out for me. It reaffirms a crucial but underestimated fact about our rapidly globalizing world: that just about every system — commercial, political, or cultural  — on every level — local, national, and regional — has significant  international connections and influences.

Much like the butterfly effect of chaos theory (which I admit to possibly misattributing), even the seemingly smallest and most localized actions can set in motion numerous other changes and consequences beyond our initial calculations.

As Lakshmanan notes at the end of the article, the environmental calamity looming over south India and northern Sri Lanka — like so many catastrophes across the world — is in large part driven by the voracious demands of consumers halfway across the planet. We take for granted how easily our goods come to our homes and stores, unaware of the exploitation, corruption, and environmental degradation we are unwittingly driving.

And just as our actions have impacts across the world, so too does the reverse happen: the destabilization and degradation resulting from our consumption will come back to haunt us, in ways ranging from refugee crises to climate change. We need a global perspective that recognizes this reality and can implement solutions across borders — no small feat, to say the least.

Hats From Around The World

Since I am busy and not in the mood to write, today’s post will be light but fun — here are eighty hats from around the world courtesy of DesignTaxi.com, which in turn pulled them from travel website Venere.

In addition to the iconic hats we all know and love — the French beret, Mexican sombrero, and so on — there are some pretty interesting and little-known varieties (especially from Africa and South Africa). Fellow artists and writers might benefit from these as a point of reference.

Hats Around The World I Hats Around The World II Hats Around The World III Hats Around The World IV

I think you can learn quite a bit from a culture by looking at its attire — what sort of inferences can you make from these samples?

Street Life Through Puddles

One of the great things about art is its ability to unlock new perspectives and angles that can change our own everyday perceptions and thoughts. Such has been the effect on me of Un Regard,” a photographic series by Congolese painter-turned-photographer Kiripi Katembo Siku.

His artwork captures daily life in the bustling city of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as reflected in puddles. As you would imagine, this adds a pretty interesting effect to each photo.

Here are some photos courtesy of HuffPo, where I first stumbled upon this unique series.

2014-07-11-Rester.jpg

2014-07-11-Subir.jpg

2014-07-11-Survivre.jpg

2014-07-11-Avancer.jpg

2014-07-11-Devenir.jpg

2014-07-11-Errer.jpg

2014-07-11-Evolution.jpg

A pretty neat way to capture the everyday world around us. It kind of makes me want to get a closer look at puddles from now on! What do you think?

 

Theo van Gogh

Theo van GoghTheodorus “Theo” van Gogh was an art dealer and younger brother of Vincent van Gogh. Though overshadowed by his more famous sibling, it was Theo’s unfailing financial and emotional support that allowed Vincent to devote himself entirely to his world-famous art.

Not only did Theo unconditionally provide Vincent with painting supplies and money for the rest of his life, but gave him unwavering emotional support and love. Despite being far more successful than Vincent by societal standards – he was a respected art dealer, married, financially successful – Theo admired his elder brother his entire life.

It was Theo who urged his brother to continue his work and who constantly praised him, expressing deep and abiding respect for a man often wracked with self-loathing and frustration. Theo was one of the few people that Vincent could talk to and confide in, and he served as a constant source of support during Vincent’s darkest times.

Subsequently, the brothers maintained an intensive correspondence – of the 800 letters Vincent wrote during his lifetime, around 75 percent were to Theo, including his first and last. Though communication was difficult given Vincent’s poor health and financial circumstances, Theo continued to write letters with much enthusiasm.

The majority of Theo’s letters and communications with Vincent are filled with praise and encouragement, as well as concerns about his mental health. In turn, Vincent would send Theo sketches and ideas for paintings – in addition to various rants and trivialities – that Theo would take in with the utmost delight and eagerness.

Theo Portrait

A portrait of Theo done by Vincent that was originally thought to have been a self-portrait. Its true subject was revealed only in 2011.

It should be noted that these letters are one of the main and only sources of information about Vincent’s life, providing many detailed accounts of Vincent’s circumstances, thoughts, feelings, and the like. It is largely thanks to Theo and his wife that these letters are available today, having been collected and published in a compilation, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh (unfortunately, few of Theo’s letters survive as Vincent failed to keep them).

In 1886, Theo invited Vincent to come and live with him in Paris, introducing him to such notable contemporaries as Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Henri Rousseau, and others. Allegedly, he tried to use his connections as an art dealer to bring attention to Vincent’s work, but evidently none of his paintings were ever sold.

It goes without saying that Vincent’s death hit his brother hard. Already suffering from dementia paralytica, a syphilitic infection of the brain, Theo died just six months after his older brother, at age 33. The cause of death included “sadness” from grief as a factor. He was survived by his wife Joanna and his only son, Vincent Wilhelm.

It should also be noted that Theo’s work as an art dealer played a vital role in bringing attention to contemporary Dutch and French artists and movements. For example, Theo was instrumental in promoting the popularity of Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, persuading his employers, Goupil & Cie, to exhibit and buy their works.

In 1914, Theo’s body was exhumed and reburied with his brother at Auvers-sur-Oise in Paris, where it can still be seen today.

Van Gogh Brothers

The Top 10 Places to Be an Artist

It’s not easy being an artist. Most of those who try to make a living from their creative pursuits either never pull it off, or just barely squeak by (ultimately requiring supplemental income from a different job altogether). But depending on where you live, you might have an easier time dedicating yourself fully to your craft without sacrificing your standard of living. Consider the following ten countries or regions listed by AlterNet as some of the most artist-friendly in the world.

1. Germany: Germany’s cultural budget was approximately $1.63 billion USD in 2013. According to Ian Moss, research director of Fractured Atlas, Germany’s art funding in 2007 equated to roughly $20 per German citizen, which “dwarfs the 41 cents per red-blooded American provided by the NEA. What artist wouldn’t want to live there?” Moss told Huffington Post. Since the 1970s, Germany has implemented a federal program for art purchases and the collection of contemporary art in a bid to support artist organizations and bodies. In fact, publicly funded cultural institutions are used to educate people to promote interest in art. In 2013, the German culture budget rose by 8 percent even despite an overall federal budget decrease by 3.1 percent.

2. Northern Ireland: The Arts Council of Northern Ireland announced it will award over £13 million ($21 million USD) to arts projects through northern Ireland, including theater and literature for its tiny 1.8 million population. The Arts Council is the development and funding agency for the arts in Northern Ireland. It distributes public money and National Lottery funds to develop art projects and events throughout the country for both individual international artists to perform in Ireland as well as organizations.

3. France: France has always had a vast appreciation for art and culture, which it considers almost holy. Home to some of the most prominent art displays in the world, French museums generate over 20 million viewers a year. The budget of the French Ministry of Culture for 2013 was close to €7.4 billion ($10 billion USD) with €3.5 billion ($4.73 billion USD) dedicated to the cultural field alone.  Despite such a large distribution, these figures actually represent a 2.3 percent drop in art, which has prompted protests and strikes across the country in recent times.

4. Sweden: The Swedish Arts Council is a government authority that implements national cultural policy by allocating generous funding to performing arts, music and literature. Every year, huge sums of public money are dished out to punk rock and indie music bands, which AmericanRepublicans have criticized. In 2011, the Swedish government spent 2.60% of its central government spending on culture alone. The Swedish Arts Grant Committee allocates approximately 100 million SEK to the arts ($15 million USD) for its modest 9 million people. Moreover, the Nordic Culture Fund supports artistic and cultural cooperation between all the Nordic countries. The fund goes a step further, even supporting architecture, design, visual arts, performing arts, film, literature, music and multicultural projects.

5. Australia: In Australia, government expenditure for the arts and cultural activities in 2011-2012 period was estimated to be approximately $7 billion for a population of only 22 million. In 2013, the Australia government confirmed an additional $75.3 million in funding over four years to support Australian artists and art organizations. The government supports the arts in Australia through a number of programs including arts training bodies, music, film festivals and also includes radio and television. Each state in Australia has an Arts Council that provides the majority of funding. In 2008–’09, cultural funding by all three tiers of government averaged $311.77 per person in Australia.

6. Finland: In Finland, the Ministry of Education oversees arts and cultural funding and directly supports individual artists through extensive cultural and professional training schemes supported by the central government. In 2011, government expenditure on culture was €33 million ($44.61 million USD) for its 5.3 million citizens with €14 million ($18.93 million USD) spend on individual artists alone. Remarkably, Finnish visual artists are entitled to receive a five-year salary paid by the Finnish Art Council.

7. England: The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for the arts in the United Kingdom, funding art through Arts Council England, which merged with other arts boards to distribute grants and National Lottery funds to support “good causes” in the arts. At present, the National Lottery has provided a benefit of £165 per person ($269 USD) in London compared to £47 per person ($76.64 USD) for the rest of England, which has angered British residents about unfair regional distributions. In 2012-2013 alone, DCMS funded 16 major national museums and galleries totaling £447 million ($728 million USD) according to The Conversation.

8. Uzbekistan: In 2004, the Forum of Culture and Arts of Uzbekistan Foundation was established and is the largest public organization in Uzbekistan dedicated to reviving and funding the arts. The Forum provides financial support for young talent and craft dynasties and has generated increased international support with offices all over the world including Moscow, Beijing and Paris. The group organizes annual festivals like the Youth of Uzbekistan Festival of Fine Arts and joint opera concerts, which generate major public participation. Even during the Soviet period, the government gave extensive support to the arts, built cultural centers and paid the salaries of professional artists. Unfortunately, government censorship issues have impacted various art projects, which have restricted most art festivals to the capital of Tashkent. Nonetheless, the fund continues to organize state-endorsed exhibitions and support its artists.

9. Mexico: Mexican artists can pay their taxes with artwork in an “art-for-amnesty” type exchange, according to USA Today. Since 1957, the Mexican government has offered artists a deal where if they are able to sell five artworks in a year, they can offer the government artwork in lieu of tax payments. Under the scheme, the government displays the art in museums and government offices and loans them out for special exhibitions. Participants must register with the Tax Administration Service and submit their work to a jury to prove they have actually shown or sold artwork. To date, there are around 700 artists registered and the Mexican government has amassed 8,000 works of art.

10. The Balkans: The Balkans Arts and Culture Fund (BAC) provides funding for the arts with a view to strengthening and promoting artistic cultural development in the Western Balkans specifically to bridge broken relationships in the former Yugoslavia. BAC is financially supported by the European Cultural Foundation and the Open Society Foundations as well a number of other European cities like Amsterdam and Budapest which largely back the arts in their own countries.

Minus Uzbekistan, whose government is notoriously authoritarian, most of these countries aren’t bad places to live overall.  Perhaps it’s no coincide that most of them have long cultural heritages that make preserving and encouraging artistic expression vital. In fact, in many cultures art is seen a universal birthright to be cultivated by society as a whole through public funds, rather than as a private or market commodity.

If you’re wondering how the U.S. fares for artists by comparison, consider that three years ago, funding for the arts hit a record low, constituting only 0.28 percent of the government’s non-military budget; in that same span of time, local government spending on art also dropped by 21 percent. Private funding has always declined by around nine percent, albeit let dramatically but nonetheless troubling given the lack of alternative support elsewhere.

What do you think? Are the arts a public good that the deserve government funding? Or should their funding be left up to the market?

 

Twenty-One Children and Their Bedrooms From Around the World

PolicyMic is featuring the engaging works of James Mollison, a Kenyan-born, English photographer based in Venice whose 2011 photo book, Where Children Sleep, collects photos of various children and their sleeping quarters. It was meant to draw attention to each child’s “material and cultural circumstances” and to put perspective on the class, poverty, and the diversity of children worldwide.

I strongly suggest you check it out here; it’s well worth your time. Some of these images are pretty powerful, highlighting the vast discrepancies in standard of living between (and within) countries around the world. Many of the subjects have a lot of personality and character as well (which is no doubt why they were chosen.

Lessons of Hope from

Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything.”

My temperament. This optimism and this discipline. Punctually, at 10 a.m., I am sitting there at the piano, with everything in order around me. For 30 years, I have eaten the same — fish or chicken. Good soup, and this is all. I don’t drink — not tea, not coffee, not alcohol. Hot water. I walk a lot with terrible pains, but after 20 minutes it is much better. Sitting or lying is not good.

That was Alice Herz-Sommer, the world’s oldest-known Holocaust survivor, in a 2006 interview with the Guardian. died in London this past Sunday at the age of 110. Most people her age (or even younger) would hardly be as sprightly and enthusiastic, yet despite both her years and her tremendous personal tragedy, she remained this way to the end. As NPR noted:

Bear in mind: In 1943, Herz-Sommer and her husband, Leopold Sommer, and their son, Raphael, were sent from Prague to a Nazi camp for Jews in the Czech city of Terezin. According to The Guardian, “she never saw her husband again after he was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 and many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with were also lost in the Holocaust.”

According to the BBC, Herz-Sommer and her son “were among fewer than 20,000 people who were freed when Terezin was liberated by the Soviet army in May 1945. An estimated 140,000 Jews were sent there and 33,430 died there. About 88,000 were transported on to Auschwitz and other death camps, where most were killed.”

Even amid the unspeakable misery and despair of a concentration camp, she did everything in her power to keep hope alive. As shown in the Oscar-nominated documentaryThe Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Herz-Sommer, then already a pianist, joined others to perform music in order to lift the spirits of prisoners.

On the film’s website, Herz-Sommer was quoted about the role music played in her life:

She speaks with great pride and passion of playing more than 100 concerts inside the concentration camp and she likens that experience, both for the performers and their imprisoned audience as being close to the divine. Alice is unequivocal in stating that music preserved her sanity and her life — while bringing hope into the lives of countless others. To this day Alice never tires of saying ‘music saved my life and music saves me still.’ “

The film’s creators added an even more remarkable observation:

Despite all that has befallen her, Alice insists that she has never, ever hated the Nazis, and she never will. Some see in her tolerance and compassion a secular saint who has been blessed with the gift of forgiveness, but Alice is far more pragmatic — she has seen enough in her life to know all too well that hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated.

I’m at a loss on how someone can be so liberated of hate and despair despite so much tragedy (indeed, her son had died abruptly in 2001, but years later she remained no less positive about life). Even as she approached the end of her 110-year-long life, she remained a passionate and accomplished musician — in fact, she was also the oldest pianist. Here is a brief but touching video of how she was still touching lives even at a 109.