Japanophile Monday

Hokusai

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may have realized that I’m deeply interested in Japanese culture and arts. Even so, I generally don’t consciously seek out Japan focused activities but they do have a tendency to jump out at me. Over the weekend I realized that there are a number of exhibitions and seminars going on at the moment that it would be worth capturing them for anyone else who’s interested.

The headliner of these events has to be the Hokusai exhibition at the MFA in Boston that runs until August 9. Even before I started learning more about Japanese arts I recognized ‘The Wave’ shown above. This exhibition promises to be a comprehensive look at Hokusai’s work from his 20s through his 80s. Check out the MFA blurb on the exhibition here. There is a corresponding exhibition catalog that would be worth a look even if you’re not able to get to the exhibition.

Also at the MFA is the exhibition ‘In the Wake’ which presents the photographic response of 17 Japanese photographers to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the resulting enormous wave of water swept through towns in the Tōhoku (Northeast) region destroying virtually everything in its path including the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The exhibition catalog can be found here.

Finally at the MFA, ‘Playing with Paper’ in gallery 278A looks like it will be fun. This is an exhibition of woodblock ‘toy prints’ that shows how the 19 th century Japanese toys and games were enjoyed.

In New York of Friday and Saturday of this week there is a symposium: ‘Shashin Symposium: Photography from Japan’ that looks to have a good program. Of course the popup bookshop caught my eye – it would be worth going just to get an advance copy of Yoshihiko Ueda’s retrospective photo book “A Life With Camera”.

Also in New York is the exhibition “Life of Cats: Selections from the Hiraki Ukiyo-e Collection” which runs until June 7.

Embracing Constraints

It feels to be that I have a very delicately balanced existence.  It doesn’t take much to throw everything out of whack.  A demand for extra time in one area of my life has repercussions everywhere else, leaving me scrambling to pick up the pieces.  Of course if the kids are sick, my wife is sick or I’m sick, all of which has happened essentially continuously for the last month, chaos ensues.  All very much part of life’s rich tapestry and something to be embraced rather than to get frustrated about.  He tells himself through gritted teeth.

The ability to know what to do and when in order to be maximally effective is one of the ultimate aims of David Allen’s GTD methodology.  An updated version of the GTD book came out this week and I’m very much looking forward finishing working my way through it.  While it looks very familiar but also with enough new stuff to make it worth taking a look at.  The last full chapter deals with GTD mastery, what does it look like when you’ve got this GTD thing down?  It looks like mastery in most other fields, a freedom to add value without getting bogged down in the mundane.

While I get back to good health and back on track bear with me.  If you’ve commented here and not seen a response I apologize.  I can assure you that I read the comment and will respond soon.

 

 

Visual Poetry

I wanted to thank everyone for the comments last week – it’s nice to hear that many of us are on the same path. I particularly appreciated Sabrina Henry highlighting Ray Ketcham’s blog post ‘Art is not pointing‘. The post underscores the point quite eloquently that our work is part of a conversation that has been going on for centuries and that we need to have an appreciation of the ideas and issues that have been explored if we are to be part of that conversation. Well worth a read!

As I continue to paddle around looking for connections and parallels in the work of others I’ve been thinking about other art forms particularly writing. The similarity between writing and photography has been noted by others but continues to amaze me.  For instance take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, every time he mentions writing substitute photography and you’ll have a great guide to the photographic life.

If I were to pick a genre of writing that my photography is most like it would be poetry – ‘Visual Poetry’ anyone? Chris Orwig of course wrote the book on ‘Visual Poetry‘ – it’s not only a great read but also contains lots of useful exercises.

If we pick up the what is the purpose of art question from last week and ask ‘Why Write Poetry’ and ‘Why Read Poetry’ and then looking to the interwebs for an answer there are a number of interesting interviews with poets that have useful things to say.  This interview with Jane Hirshfield in particular resonated strongly with me.  There were a couple of points where I really felt as though she was in my head.  I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts about what I’m looking for in my photographs – an image that surprises me, while it makes sense to me is hard for other people to grasp.  Hirshfield says of poetry:

‘Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.’

This is captures what I’m trying for with my images in a way that I’ve never before been able to say. There are more juicy bits in this interview such as:

‘One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world.’


‘You can’t write an image, a metaphor, a story, a phrase, without leaning a little further into the shared world, without recognizing that your supposed solitude is at every point of its perimeter touching some other’

‘…good art is a truing of vision, in the way that a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. And that anything that lessens our astigmatisms of being or makes more magnificent the eye, ear, tongue, and heart cannot help but help a person better meet the larger decisions that we, as individuals and in aggregate, ponder.’

All of this is starting to make me feel a little more comfortable with a role for my work, certainly in the creation of it, as a tool to connect more deeply with the world in general.

As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments and would be delighted to hear what you make of all this.

Looking for the Secret Decoder Ring

I very much enjoy seeing how other artists work, the spaces that they work in and to delve deeper into the process behind the things that they create. At the same time I’m looking and listening for cues that explain what they’ve just created. The secret decoder ring that answers the question ‘what does it mean’?

I’ve had little to no academic training in art – I will exempt the photography workshops and classes that I’ve taken from ‘formal academic training’ – and so understanding what the art world is all about is something of a mystery. Art history, like history in general, is something that I thought to be dry and dull and not worth a second look.

However I keep hacking away and occasionally will have break throughs, or at least will find an answer that is spoon fed to me. This is exactly what happened in my research of the work of Wynn Bullock. If you dig hard enough you can find discussion of the four major principals that governed his work:

1. Space-Time – seeing the true quality of things are recognizing their relationship and interrelatedness with other events
2. Opposites are one – you can’t have ‘up’ without ‘down’, ‘rough’ without ‘smooth’, ‘joy’ without ‘sorrow’
3. Reality and Existence – the known and the unknown
4. Ordering and things ordered coexist yet have independent significance – Ordering represents activities of the senses and the mind. ‘Things ordered’ are those things that result in the stimuli that we respond to.

if you then look at the work with these principals as a guide you can start to understand what he was driving at and judge for yourself did he hit the mark or not.

The On-Going Conversation

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

― Fran Lebowitz

Joshua Wolf Shenk has a new book out ‘The Powers of Two‘ that examines what he considers to be the myth of the lone genius and the power of creative partnerships. His interview with Jonathon Fields is a good overview of the themes in the book.

The role that partners play in the creation of work is something that I’ve been exploring more deeply in the last few weeks. Whether those partners are members of an artist’s group or part of an acknowledged partnership, such as the example of Lennon and McCartney that Schenk uses in his book, doesn’t seem to matter. What does matter is the presence of that dynamic. Where you are pushing and being pushed to test the limits and explore new ground. Shenk argues convincingly that even periods in your life where you have experienced this dynamic can profoundly impact you and your work. Indeed, it sounds as though even when Lennon and McCartney weren’t working with one another they were such a clear voice in the others head that it was if they were in the room.

In listening to the description of Lennon and McCartney I was struck by how the interaction was perhaps a little like the interaction that actors and comedians have when they are improvising. They try to leave the door open for others in the group to continue, avoiding ‘No’ or ‘Okay, but …’ in favor of ‘Yes, and …’, generally ending up somewhere that none of the group had imagined. I think that’s what we’re hoping for with our work to end up in a place that we hadn’t expected and wouldn’t have been able to get to alone.

That Lennon and McCartney continued to respond and react to each others creative works in public through production of new material should be no surprise. While the public interaction of Lennon and McCartney during this period leaves something to be desired I believe there is a place to respond to work that is out in the world.

We do not exist in isolation but belong to the larger world, as we put images out into that world it is useful to understand or at least recognise that we are joining in the conversation, adding to the mosaic that is already existing.

Engage in the game of ‘Yes, and…’ and see where that takes you.

Friday Inspiration: Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon Birch Trees

In many ways I feel as though Lisa Congdon is the heir apparent to Maira Kalman‘s throne. I’ve followed Lisa’s development as an artist for the last few years. I was late coming to the two projects that have fueled her career momentum, the first of which was ‘a collection a day‘ and then more recently ‘365 days of hand lettering‘. Lisa has a new book out ‘Art, Inc.‘ which describes the practical aspects of making a living from your art. Peppered with examples from her own transition from teacher to working artist as well as interviews with a number of other artists this is a great resource for any visual artist thinking about making the leap. What I realized from working through Art Inc. is that Lisa Congdon’s success hasn’t been a matter of luck but rather a result of showing up and doing the work everyday and most importantly sharing what she’s been doing with the world.

Check out the recent interview that Lisa had with Dane Sanders here, discussing her new book on creative live here and some additional videos of her describing her work below.