art

From Unexpected Places

Questlove’s book Creative Quest is a fascinating read. It’s a book about creativity, but it’s not a “successful creative person tells you how to be like him” type of book. It’s written in a very conversational style, almost like Questlove is talking through his creative process as a way of trying to understand it himself. And unlike a lot of books about being creative, Creative Quest is presented in plain black and white – no photos, no coloured fonts, no decorations, and, apart from one small box of text at the end of each chapter, no sidebars jammed full of handy tips and tricks. I really appreciated this approach because it didn’t pull your attention in ten different directions at once. It made you focus on what was being discussed.

I don’t know Questlove’s work all that well – I’ll explain how I came to the book in a minute – but I was impressed at his wide range of interests. That he’s into so many different things may not be a surprise to someone who follows his career more closely than I do, but he knows and values a lot of different kinds of artistry. One of the creative ideas that works for him and that he suggests in the book is to push your boundaries: to seek out work that you usually avoid. If you like punk music, go (more…)

Kate Bush’s ‘Lily’

Photographer Gitte Morten has started a blog titled One Kiss In Apple Blossom. It features women who are Kate Bush fans describing their favourite Kate song, and Gitte’s photographic response to them and the song.

Being a major Kate Bush fan, as soon as I heard this idea, I was all over it. However, Gitte lives in Somerset, England, and I am in British Columbia, Canada. Being about 4500 miles away made a photo session a bit of a challenge. But thanks to FaceTime and Gitte’s willingness to experiment with photographing a computer screen, she made it happen – and it was a great deal of fun. Here are the results, and my thoughts on Kate’s song “Lily”.

Fiona: Lily (1993)

Draw the F***ing Flower

All About Work is up and running again! My summer project is nearly finished, and I will be posting details about it soon.

In addition to working on that project, I’m spending part of my time this year working at a new location, and I get there by taking public transit. To pass the time on those trips, I’m exploring the world of podcasts. A podcast series that I’m really enjoying is Sodajerker, hosted by UK songwriters Simon Barber and Brian O’Connor. Simon and Brian interview other songwriters, and because they are songwriters themselves, the focus of the interviews is on (more…)

Art that Makes a Difference

As much as I like going to museums and art galleries, I sometimes struggle with the question of what these institutions contribute to the world. And I know museum and gallery professionals struggle with this question too. Sometimes people just need a place where they can look at or interact with something that gives them new ideas or new insights, or makes them see the world in a different way. Museums and art galleries can be that place. But while I certainly disagree with the business-oriented operational model that demands tangible and measurable outcomes – because that model assumes that if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist – I do wonder sometimes whether museums and galleries can use their resources to have a more visible impact outside their own walls.

So I was very excited to read about an art exhibition which will have a tangible external impact. (more…)

Water

Writing a blog is rewarding in many ways. But for me, one of the great and unexpected benefits of blogging is being inspired – even unknowingly – by the work of other bloggers.

This spring, a blog that I’ve really been enjoying is The Perimeter by photographer Quintin Lake. Quintin has done several long-distance walks in the UK, but last year he embarked on an epic journey – a walk around 10,000 kilometres of Britain’s coastline. He’s doing the walk in sections, as time permits; he estimates he’ll get back to his starting point (St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) in April 2020.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some unusual opportunities to take photos – including a round trip by seaplane from Vancouver to Nanaimo. I found that for some reason my eye kept being drawn to water: its textures, its movement, how the light made it change. And I ended up taking a lot of pictures of it. But it wasn’t until a few days ago, (more…)

A Tribute to Bill Watterson’s Perspective on Success

The work of cartoonist Bill Watterson is widely loved and respected, but Watterson has had a most unconventional career path. His comic strip Calvin and Hobbes was one of the most successful cartoons of the late 1980s and early 1990s – but Watterson resisted all attempts to commercialize the strip and its characters. No animated movie, no TV series, no stuffed toys or other merchandise. And when Watterson felt the comic strip had “said all it had to say”, he graciously ended it. Other than a few unexpected projects and guest appearances since then – like in 2014,  when Watterson anonymously took over a week of Stephan Pastis’ comic strip Pearls Before Swine – Watterson has worked on whatever he wants to, whenever he feels like it, and stayed out of the public eye.

One of my friends showed me this comic by artist Gavin Aung Than, who runs a website called Zen Pencils. Than was frustrated with working in corporate graphic design, and quit his job to create a career in what he found personally rewarding: choosing inspirational quotes and drawing cartoons to illustrate them. Zen Pencil is a wonderful site; the quotes are carefully selected, and Than’s artwork is astounding – especially when he is illustrating the words of another artist (Calvin and Hobbes fans will recognize the visual reference in the last panel of this comic). Than’s commentary on his Watterson comic explains very eloquently why Watterson’s work is so highly regarded by other cartoonists, and why Than personally was inspired in his work by Watterson’s unconventional choices. Here’s Watterson’s words and Than’s images, in a beautiful and profound commentary on what “success” really looks like. (more…)

Disrupting Gender Stereotypes in the Media

My friend Sam Ford does a lot of interesting things, and one of them is teaching in the Popular Culture Program at Western Kentucky University. Last year, at a research conference, Sam was on a panel with another WKU professor, Ted Hovet  – and during that panel, Ted made a provocative proposal: “We should never ask students to do anything again in which the professor is the only person who sees their work”. Sam took that idea to heart. And now, at the end of every semester, he sends out an email with links to students’ videos, presentations, and research articles from his classes.

I always like getting that email from Sam, because his students’ work is so enjoyable. But this past semester, there was a presentation so exceptional that I thought it deserved a wider audience. Sam kindly put me in touch with three of the four students who did that presentation, and the students agreed to share their project on this blog.

Shelby Bruce, Katie McLean, Kalee Chism, and Paige Medlin were students in POP 201 (Introduction to Popular Culture), and the topic they chose for their end-of-semester presentation was “women in the media”. The Prezi of the entire presentation is available here, but the part of the presentation that really caught my eye was (more…)

“Open for Business”

When I took an art history course about Modernism, one of the subjects that I most enjoyed learning about was the Modernist photographs of industry and urbanization in the 1920s and 1930s. The work of photographers such as Charles Sheeler, Paul Strand, and E. O. Hoppé showed the unexpected beauty and majesty of purely functional structures. And the work of photographers such as Lewis Hine showed the humanity of the workers whose contributions were often overlooked in celebrations of industrial and economic growth.

Open for Business, an exhibition that is currently touring the UK, contributes to this grand tradition of photography that explores industry and commerce. When I visited the UK in April, I was lucky enough to see this show – which I stumbled across entirely by chance, (more…)

Population Ecology and “Handmade With Love in France”

One of my favourite events every year, the Vancouver International Film Festival, is in its final week. This year’s festival was a good one for me – I saw seven movies, and every one of them had something to recommend it.  But the one that I enjoyed the most was a French documentary entitled Handmade with Love in France. It is a heartfelt tribute to some very talented artisans, and – although I am pretty sure the filmmaker didn’t explicitly intend this – it also illustrates the organizational theory of population ecology.

Population ecology in organizational theory is based on the biological theory of evolution; it tries to explain why (more…)

Dismantling the Creative Routine

Around this time last year,  Thomas Frank put forward some very pointed and accurate criticisms of the popular literature about creativity – namely, that these books and articles discussed the same examples over and over again – and wondered how much this literature could really enlighten us about creativity when it was so un-creative itself.

Now an article in Pacific Standard magazine has similarly critical things to say about another frequently discussed aspect of creativity – the “creative routine”. This, we are told, (more…)