Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the art spirit

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Twice a year our library holds a book sale. I go on the first day to get the good reads and I go on the last day for collage material when they give away the leftovers. I always score on both ends. Last October I squeaked in the door ten minutes before closing, and just started grabbing. The standout of the bunch was The Art Spirit by Robert Henri -- the cover had a groovy 60s pink and orange design and I thought it would make a nice wall item for the front room. And I soon found out that this one was fully worth judging by its cover, because I opened it during a fit of insomnia one night, and five months later I'm still reading it. It is a witty, encouraging, uplifting, centering, and substantial collection of his thoughts and lectures on art and its role in humanity. These are some of my favorite quotes from the book, though really I should have just lettered the entire thing because it was so hard to pick and choose what to record. Alas, the groovy pink and orange edition is no longer in print, but thankfully the book itself is. If you can grunt your way past the early 1900s sexist language (I gave him the middle finger more than a few times) you'll find the forgiveness worth it. It is a joy to read and it will leave you thinking about what art really means long after you close the cover.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

my method of bookkeeping

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i read my books with a pen -- that is, unless i check them out from the library, in which case i jot down my favorite quotes on loose scrap papers, which often get lost. for some time, i've wanted to keep them all in one notebook for easy reference, but as i've mentioned before, working in a bound journal gives me massive anxiety. blank books look so delectable on the shelf, but when i buy and bring them home, i try a few pages and then i freak out. they feel forced and wrong, they don't feel very "me", and so i abandon them. that's because the format doesn't reflect my thought process; linear progression is not my thing. i do like harnessing the chaos and putting some order to it, but within that structure, my work needs mobility, an escape hatch, the ability to shift around noncommittally the way mosaic pieces do before the grout arrives.

instead of continuing to beat myself over the head about this i simply decided to define an art journal as the way i need it to be. that is, it must conform to my own demands and illusions. armed with this revelation i took a hardback moleskine (barely touched of course) off the shelf and ripped all the pages out. immediately made me feel better. i inked the pages, thus ridding them of the white plague, which brightened my mood even more. then i took it one (crucial) step further. instead of lettering the words directly on the page (which of course i would want to change the moment it was irreversible), i made paper cutouts of other inked and stamped pages, lettered them just the way i wanted (and tossed the ones that didn't work) and then played with the quote pieces until i was ready to commit them to their spaces. and then i put all of the loose pages back between the binding and snapped the elastic shut. separate, but together.

some might say i should be doing just the opposite, and use a journal to work through my issues instead of encouraging them. even Cassandra herself from I Capture the Castle would frown on my approach ("i should rather like to tear these last pages out of the book. shall I? no-a journal ought not to cheat.") but i've found a combination that works for me, and for once i've made a journal page that might possibly lead into another and create some continuity in my bookkeeping. and for me that's a big step forward.

Monday, February 7, 2011

long live the button

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in the 80s i was a button fanatic. i had hundreds of them. i collected them like others collected stickers, cabbage patch dolls and baseball cards. they were easy to collect, too -- they were ubiquitous then. in the late 80s the button trend for the most part just melted away and other things took their places. recently i discovered that a gal i knew in college, christen carter, took this loss quite personally and launched her own bid in the 90s to revive the fading craft. and so the busy beaver button company was born. over fifteen years later, she is at the helm of a booming business. the thought of this made my heart swell and my pulse top out, for it reminded me how much buttons once defined my life. they were badges of statement: i traveled here, i saw that, i ate there, i believed that. they were snapshots of culture: advertisements, events, foods, politics, music, tribal pride. they were pieces of art: concise, colorful, graphic collections of shapes and words.

and now they bring back waterfalls of memories. after i found out about her company, i was curious enough to dig the long forgotten (and rather rusty) bucket of buttons out of my scary basement and go through them one by one. many have surely vanished in my 20+ moves over the years but the ones that remain tell a fairly accurate story of who i was and what i did during the first half of my teenage years. my third grade year, when i went to hawaii with my grandmother for a month, and spent the first night in a honolulu hospital because she tripped over a speed bump in the parking garage. watching columbia lift off for the first time in 1981. the trip my parents made to the 1984 olympics. the family voyage we made to toronto and niagara falls at a time when my hair was orange, i wore horrifying neon things and one of my braces popped off. when mcnuggets hit the cuisine scene. the black and white TV i won after buying a button in st. croix falls, wisconsin. and for the love of faux mexican food, who didn't make it through the 80s without a visit to chi-chi's?

if you are a button nut, you'll enjoy christen's history of buttons and her determination to help these little pieces of genius make their rightful comeback. long live the button!