art

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…)

How Latvian Mythology Contributed to the Olympic Silver in Bobsleigh

Fascinating insights from the designer of the graphics on Latvia’s Olympic bobsleds. And how great is it that all that attention to detail helped the Latvian bobsled team win a medal!!

Food, writing, random musings, and everything I enjoy

These past Olympics have been mind-blowing for the Latvians. A very small country, with the third most medals per capita of all participating countries, Latvia also managed to induce partial heart attacks to 35million Canadians with the show-stopping Canada vs. Latvia hockey game, drawing all eyes on Latvia (similarly to the last summer Olympics when Latvia won gold in men’s Volleyball – “Wait, do they even have summer?”)

Edit: not gold in volleyball, bet bronze in beach volleyball, beating the US team in the quarter finals. Thanks to the readers that spotted that mistake!

Bobsleigh Ornaments

A satisfying end to the Olympic run was when team Latvia’s bobsleigh team nabbed Silver on the last day. The bobsleighists had been a favourite and everyone had hopes for the team. They didn’t let us down, and just missed gold by a sliver.

But my rooting for the Latvian Bobsleigh team has a backstory, and…

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Cultural Products and Creativity: The “TMZ” Video and the Lego Librarians

Earlier this week I spent an afternoon reading trashy celebrity gossip magazines (give me a break, it’s summer). I learned way, way more than I ever needed to know about the antics of the Teen Moms, the possibly jail-bound Real Housewife, the sexting politician, and the Kardashians – and all that useless information about people I don’t even know made me think of one of my recent favourite music videos: (more…)

Why It’s Good to Be Bad at Something

A lot of writing about success and achievement encourages you to find your “passion” (a word that is getting extremely overused) or to set a goal, and then to single-mindedly work as hard as you can to achieve as much as possible. I’m going to propose an alternate strategy for improvement: do something you’re terrible at. (more…)