Art School: Semester 4, Week 7

Hello everyone. Another week has flown by, and my head is spinning. The big news this week is that Tinkerbelle is still with us.

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She’s still very sick, and the odds are long, but there is a chance she’ll make it. She’s got a fungal infection, specifically cryptococcus. There are two varieties that she might have: cryptococcus neoformans and cryptococcus gattii. Neither is good, and both can be fatal. Gattii is nearly always fatal, it seems, but neformans isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Information is sketchy, but the vet says he’s treated 12 dogs with cryptococcus. 11 died. You get the picture.

We have her on anti-fungal medication that may help, and we’re doing our best. We’ve got a sling to help get her around without stumbling all over everything, and her attitude is still good. At times it seems her balance might be improving, but I suspect it is too early to tell.

We’ll see how this goes, but for now we have a sick dog and a lousy prognosis. On the other hand, she’s young, and Anne says the studies say that dogs with good mental state are the ones that are most likely to survive.

The week has been a whirlwind of worry and craziness as we worked through that. Add in the ongoing (but still improving!) disease combined with school and things get even weirder.

Professional Practice

This week we discussed cultural appropriation. It was a lively and interesting conversation. We have one person with some First Nations heritage in the class, and it was great to hear her perspective on these issues.

In a nutshell, cultural appropriation is the use of cultural symbols from a culture you’re not part of, and thus at some level trading on that culture for your own gain. Examples include things like tattooing a native clan symbol on yourself when you’re not a member of that clan, or creating pottery in a very specific style when you’re not a member of that group (say some intricate Japanese tea ceremony object when you’re not Japanese). It’s complicated, though, and the power dynamics of the relationship are always a factor.

I’ll give you a personal example: I have a certain amount of Swedish heritage. As far back as I can remember, there were orange, wooden, “Swedish horses” in my parent’s house. It turns out they are called “Dalecarlian horses” and look like this. They’re something of a Swedish symbol at this point.

Could I legitimately carve a horse in that style, paint it that way, and sell it as my own? I would argue no. While there is some Swede in me, it’s not like I have a strong personal connection to those items. If pressed, I couldn’t tell you much about them, and my lack of connection would be obvious.

There are, of course, much more challenging settings. Imagine First Nations people seeing private clan symbols tattooed on whites. Or finding someone selling cheap, plastic, made-in-China copies of sacred artifacts. Given the brutal history of the treatment of indigenous people, there is definitely a power imbalance in these cases, and indigenous populations are regularly being taken advantage of in these ways, even now.

But it gets weirder. Cultures sometimes take back words or symbols and claim them as their own. “Indian” can sometimes be heard that way, but the most obvious case — at least to Americans — is the “n-word.” Some can say it with impunity as it has been reclaimed (at least to some degree — I am not an expert) by the black community, but anyone else can’t. To do so is wrong at a level that is hard to explain, but obviously true. And to use it willingly when you are not part of that cultural group is to engage in a level of cultural appropriation.

It’s also interesting to note that cultural appropriation happens all the time, between all kinds of different people or groups. Even within the First Nations, some artists use symbology from other groups. Sometimes they do so unknowingly, but other times it is deliberate. The latter is definitely cultural appropriation in the eyes of most. The former is probably a case of inadequate education.

The discussion of this topic here in Canada is so far ahead of things I hear about in the US. Down there it seems this kind of conversation doesn’t happen. I wouldn’t claim things are perfect in Canada, of course. I’ve met people whose family members were sent to Residential Schools and never recovered, and the discussion about the deaths that happened as a result of western disease and cruelty is astounding. There is racism and awful behavior here too. People are people, no matter where you go. I still wish the US was having these conversations, but the current political situation there clearly indicates that time is getting farther away, not coming closer.

Design

Oh. My. God. This class is going to cripple my back, and I am in such a weird place with it.

My back is a challenge because of all the time I spend using Illustrator to work on improving my lamp. Hunched over a laptop, trying to figure out how the idiots that work at Adobe decided to make that program work. (Here’s a hint: if there is a non-intuitive way to do it, they used that in Illustrator!) I’m getting closer, though. Here’s the most recent model:

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That’s a photo taken the first time I managed to get all seven cones to hold together so I could evaluate the hexagonal top piece. Here’s a view of the interior from the bottom:

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That doesn’t have the top piece on it, as you can see because my fingers are visible at the other (narrow) end of the cones.

Based on getting that assembly together and evaluating it, I created a very long list of changes to make. That was on Thursday, and I am still updating the Illustrator files to reflect them all.

In fact, though, it’s worse than that. The changes needed to the cones themselves revealed that there was all kinds of accumulated error in their layout, and I first have to (essentially) recreate them from almost nothing in an attempt to eliminate all that built up error and cruft. That’s proving to be a serious challenge, though I am making progress.

As for that weird place I mentioned I am in, it’s complicated. At some level I am far ahead of my fellow students, most of whom have not started working with Illustrator and the laser cutter in any significant way. But then again, many of them have simpler designs than mine, and in the end their experiences may be very different. I am stressed out of my mind trying to get this thing right and looking good, and the strange position of being well ahead of my fellow students and yet feeling like I have a ton of work still to do is a real mind bender.

Anyway, I hope to do another pass at the laser cutter on Monday, and to assemble it so I know where I stand by the time Tuesday’s class arrives. Somehow I have to figure out how to create assembly instructions for this thing too, and that will be a nightmare.

Aboriginal Carving

Last week I promised a picture of the “canoe” project, just to show you what kind of exercises we’ve been working on. Guess who forgot to take that picture before he turned it in?

Yeah. Sorry.

Once that was done, though, class included a lot of interesting discussion about our own culture, and it tied in well with the cultural appropriation discussion mentioned above.

Aaron — our instructor — wants us each to create a smallish (say 8" square, give or take), flat carving that reflects something about our own culture. There I ran full tilt into the question of what exactly my “culture” is.

At some level I am like a fish that doesn’t know about water. I swim in it, but don’t see it. American culture is the stuff that gets exported to the entire world. It’s reality TV and superheroes, pop music, a love of money, and a shallowness about many things that other cultures find important. If you’re reading this, there is a very good chance you know many things that constitute parts of American Culture. (As far as I know I don’t have readers from other parts of the world. If that’s incorrect, I’d love to know about it. Please contact me and let me know!)

But what does that mean I should carve for my artwork? My family has no coat of arms that I am aware of. We’re European mutts, with a slight emphasis on the Swedish ancestry, it seems, but not enough that I know much of anything about it. I mentioned the Swedish horse above, and I rule it out as part of this project for those reasons. And it turns out the things that define me — at least as I see them — don’t really work well as ideas for inclusion in a carving. I don’t know how to show my underlying desire to help others in a simple carving.

Thus I am down to things that don’t make a lot less sense. I think there will be a flamingo (or flamingos). Some of you will have a clue about that.

Anyway, I need to have a drawing done for this coming Thursday. In addition I’ve been given some extra homework — to work on V-cuts with our knives at home — so I’ll be doing that as well. This isn’t remedial. Aaron’s trying to keep me busy, at my request.

I’ll get a photo of the canoe project when I can. But I have no clue how long it will be before I see it again. Also, don’t get your hopes up too high about it. It’s an exercise very specifically designed to have us interact with wood grain in various ways. It’s not exactly pretty or hugely complicated.

Sculpture

We finished crit this week. Lots of very interesting works were done by my fellow students, and that’s with a very tight time constraint on the project. I am impressed. There’s talk about putting them all up on Instagram or something. Should that happen, I’ll try to share a link.

The new project has now been fully introduced. It’s complicated, and kind of weird. We’re going to be casting parts of our own body, and mixing that (or those) with welded steel. The end result can be almost anything, but it will definitely be odd. I have a couple of half baked ideas so far, but nothing I am entirely thrilled with. Time will tell.

Last week we did a bit of time in the shop to get introduced to three kinds of welding: Oxygen-Acetylene, MIG, and TIG. This week we’re to use the casting material make a mold of a finger, and then use that to create a plaster cast of the same. That’s just to force us to become familiar with one of the casting processes. The other thing we’re to be doing is creating sketches of ideas and running them past the instructor and the shop manager. I’ll be doing that just as soon as I have a clue.

Links

As you might expect, I have nothing here this week except the old standby. Sorry.

Art School Post Index. Because Medium didn’t get the ordering right when I imported posts from somewhere else, and I can’t figure out how to fix it.

Pictures

Nothing here either. Sorry again.

And In Conclusion…

This little ditty went viral recently. If you haven’t seen it, you should. As with all things YouTube, though, do not read the comments. Never, ever do that on YouTube.

Written by

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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