If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Art Matters

School can be boring. I know.

Many students feel this way. It’s normal, and you might think it’s the subjects that are boring––but you’d be wrong. Subjects like math, science, and literature are exciting! Really! It’s just a question of how they’re presented (sorry teachers). And, don’t be too quick to blame your teachers. They don’t have nearly as much control as you might think. Some students even think art is boring, and, even more frustrating, they feel it’s a useless subject. It always shocks me when I hear it, often on the first day.

Part of me wants to tell them, hey, give me a chance! I haven’t even started yet! I can make art tons of fun! Part of me wonders, "What did your first art teacher do to you?" But mostly, I can’t help notice the disconnect between what these students say, and how they look. Notice, they don’t look like this:

This is what people looked like before art. Before we ever started farming or building villages, we spent thousands of years hunting, gathering, and living in caves. Then something funny happened. We started drawing,

15,000 BC - Lascaux, France

and sculpting,

and (relatively) soon after, we started herding animals, harvesting wheat, and building houses and temples.

10,000-9,000 BC Göbekli Tepe, Turkey

Our prehistory is mysterious, and art gives us tantalizing clues about who we were, how we lived, and what we worshiped. And, it seems that art was the catalyst.

But that was then! It’s 2013 now!

So, art isn’t important today? But your clothes are, aren’t they?

And your shoes, and your hairstyles, and your mobile phones, and make-up, that’s crucial isn’t it!? How do you think all this got here? Everything around you that was made by people began as an art project - a drawing. 

This disregard for art is part of a larger trend, where people devalue art, because they don’t see the faces behind the work, or the thought that went into it. People have this crazy notion that art is impossibly hard to learn, but for those with “the gift” it’s as easy as breathing. They say, “Oh, I can’t draw. I’m not artistic.” But when they see someone draw they say, “Oh man, that’s really good! You’re really talented! I wish I could do that! Hey, can I keep that? Why not? It just took you a minute to make! How about five dollars?”

Both of these assumptions are wrong. Learning to draw isn’t impossible, anyone can learn it – there are blind people who draw and paint. It just takes time. Talent exists as with any skill, but it just speeds up the process. And no, just because an artist is skilled, it doesn’t mean it’s easy for them. That sketch you saw didn’t just take a minute to make. It took a lifetime of practice.

So let’s put a face to some of those products you love so much. Here’s Sir Jonathan Ives, lead designer for Apple.

He and his team designed the iMac, MacBook, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. He studied industrial design at Northumbria University, and in 2006 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his design work. He’ll probably have more influence in your lives than your elected politicians.

Here’s Maj Isabelle Olsson, lead designer for the Google Glass (that she's wearing), which may eventually replace your mobile phones in the next ten years or so.

Here's Leonardo Fioravanti. He and his team at Ferrari designed the '68 Dino 206 GT, the 246 GT, the 365 Berlinetta Boxer, the 308 GTB, the 288 GTO, the Testarossa, and the F40.

Here’s Manolo Blahnik. A Czech, he’s the main reason high heel shoes still exist. He revived them in the 70’s.

Here’s Mary Quant, who invented the mini skirt.

Here’s William Steig (1907-2003), the children’s book author and illustrator who created Shrek. And here’s Josh West, the 3D modeler who (with a team) designed the modern version of Shrek we know and love today.

Here's Jay Shuster, a concept artist for Pixar. He designed the concepts for Wall-E and most if not all the cars in Pixar's Cars 1 & 2.

And here's Joakim Svarling, senior artist for the Angry Birds franchise:

All these people are artists who transformed the world, with a fulfilling career, and steady income. Still not convinced? Here are some other careers related to the arts. Not all these people are artists, but they still have to know it (hold tight, it’s a long list):

print maker
political cartoonist
comics writer
comics artist penciler
comics artist inker
illustrator – book, children’s book, textbook, magazine, editorial, fashion, medical
concept artist – film & videogame designer: characters, vehicles, weapons, monsters, environments
court artist
police sketch artist
tattoo artist
wax figure sculptor
traditional model maker
toy designer
jewelry designer
plastic surgeon
gallery director/owner
exhibition designer
art restorer
tour/museum guide
art critic
art historian
art dealer
art auctioneer
art consultant
artist’s agent
art teacher
art therapist
art publisher
art editor
art librarian
aerial photographer
fashion photographer
photo/dark room technician
photography editor
advertising illustrator
advertising photographer
sign painter
window decorator
advertising art director
advertising creative director
advertising commercial director
advertising copy writer
marketing researcher
graphic designer
logo designer
web designer
billboard designer
greeting card designer
computer graphics designer
design consultant
industrial designer - cars, trucks, planes, boats, trains, machines, tools, furniture, electronics, etc
theatrical director
theatrical choreographer
theatrical set designer
lighting designer
theatrical background painter
costume designer
theatre critic
film maker/director
screenplay writer
film art director
film set designer
film storyboard artist
film background artist
film cinematographer
film sound engineer
film special effects technician
film editor
film critic
animation director
digital modeler
architectural illustrator
landscape architect
urban planner
interior designer
interior decorator
wallpaper designer
fashion designer
fabric designer
fiber artist
fashion buyer
fashion editor
hair stylist
make-up artist
antique restorer
automobile specialty painter
upholsterer – car or other furniture
parade float designer/builder
crafts artisan
basket weaver
carpenter – furniture, cabinets
stained glass designer
puppet maker
glass blower
Studying art can lead to a successful career, if you’re willing to work hard and build a solid reputation.
Now, you may be thinking, "So what! I know I don’t want to do that!"
Well, fine, but remember you're still young. I didn't want to be a teacher when I was your age, but now I am, and I love it. And besides, art isn’t just about making a career, either. It's about developing into a better person - even if you never make art outside of school. Here's how, it takes you out of your comfort zone:

And, there's more. Here’s a Latin quote to consider:

Vita brevis, Ars longa.

It means life is short but art lasts. Ask yourself, how do you want to be remembered after you die? There are many ways to answer that, but not many will capture the hearts of others like art.

My final argument in this debate is in the art itself - the proof is in the pudding. Now I agree there are many bad and boring artworks out there. They even have museums for them. But, like searching for good music, there are masterpieces out there that'll knock your socks off - and there's something for every taste. A good art teacher should be like a disc jockey, showing as many of these as possible. So, here's a small sample.

Pieta, by Michelangelo

Mourning for Icarus, by Herbert Draper

Volga Boatmen, by Ilya Repin

Familia Llorando, by Eduardo Chicharro Agüera

All Saint's Day, by Emile Friant

Freedom Ride, by Jonathan Eastman Johnson
Boy with Crow, by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Orphaned, by Nikolai Kasatkin
Falling Leaves, by Ivan Goryushkin-Sorokopudov

Bath Time, Valencia, by Joachim Sorolla

Falling Leaves, by Philip de Lazlo

Gustave Courtois in his Studio, by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret

Illustration from Show Boat, by Frederic Gruger
Ballet at the Paris Opera, by Edgar Degas

Trapper in the Woods, by Clarence Gagnon

Thrust, by Frank Frazetta
Blythburg Estuary, by Roger Fry

Returning Home, by Ivan Kulikov

The Glade, by Frank Carmichael

Landscape at Collioure, by Andre Derain

Sail-In Two Movements, by Charles Demuth

sketch by Luke Kopycinski
print by Gihachiro Okuyama

Korea Town, by Sean Cheetham

All Played Out, by Mark Goodson

Self Portrait, by Kate

Speed Painting by Paul Chadeisson
Lady Sham Inspects the Damage, by Jeremy Geddes

Illustration by Jason Chan

Comic Cover by Mike Bierek
Avengers Comic Cover, by Marko Djurdjevic

Still not convinced? How about this?

Carved Pumpkin by Ray Villafane

Carved Book Sculpture by Guy Laramee

A Wire Tree Sculpture by Clive Maddison

Elephant Rock, in India

a suit of medieval jousting armor for a mouse, by Jeff De Boer

Giant Frying Pan, by Andrew Hankin, in Sydney Australia 

One photographer stands on magma for a shot, his shoes catch fire.

Another photographer risking his life for a good shot.

If none of these pictures excite you, or make you think, then there's something wrong with you, and I don't mean it as an insult. If none of these pictures make you feel anything, if they don't stick in your mind, if you don't enjoy any of them, then there really is something wrong with you, and you need to go back and look again. There's something you're not seeing.

I have a theory that when people deny the beauty, the drama, and love present in great art, it's a kind of personal prohibition - that this work "isn't for me". They've limited their taste based on the fear, "What will people think of me if I like this? How does this fit my image?"

To that, all I can say is life gets a lot more relaxing once you quit worrying about self image. You should work to be respected, and worry about earning respect - but when that respect hinges on superficialities, then you're going about it the wrong way. You're worrying over the opinions of fools. Stop.

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