Monday, July 1, 2013

It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you...

...but I've ended up in a permanent (let's hope) position at a high school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and have a lot more to say about art and art education.

As for now, it's my first summer in about a decade in which I don't have to look for work, and I have two months ostensibly "off."  During this time, I'll be doing curriculum planning and online assignments for my Advanced Placement students, yes, but I'm also going to give myself some Me Time.

I'm FINALLY writing the actual script for a comic idea that I came up with in collaboration with Kenneth (Max) Brooks, who's got a bunch of stuff on .  Scroll way down and look for the words "Sarsen" and/or "Mr. Nice Guy."  These are the protagonists of a book called The Straight and Narrow, about two ex-supervillains who are trying really hard to stay on the "good" side even though their world is falling apart, they're getting desperate, and suddenly they know the secret identity of their archrival superhero.

Max pitched this to me a LONG time ago with the single sentence "What if the Riddler and the Penguin discovered that Bruce Wayne is Batman after vowing to never do evil again?"  Obviously, we couldn't use those characters (at least, not in canon), but I think we've made characters that can truly matter to readers.  I'm thrilled to finally be writing about Tommy and Oskar - they deserve to have their story told.

I'll be writing this script in a month as part of Camp NaNoWriMo ( - if you're a) not a spambot and b) actually posting there too, look for me as likethegum!


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Shame on me for not thinking of this:

I used to paint with Thermochromic inks, and even made objects that changed their patterns when the viewer exhaled on them...but I never thought to make a Rorschach mask.   This, even as I spent most of the last two decades as an obsessive fan of the limited comic book series Watchmen (1985). 
Shame on me - this would be one of the few times in which the art-nerd in me (the "culture high") completely overwhelmed the pop-culture-geek in me (the "culture low")!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Back after a long while (and looking at photos of the subway)

 I'm not very keen on the Metropolitan Transit Authority of late, but one of my points of local pride is the New York City subway system.  It's eco-friendly, (relatively) economical (though the MTA is working to make that less the case), and a perfect illustration of the "melting pot" concept.

Really, I think that one of the things people from outside NYC or any other urban area need to understand about us is that the average outer-borough New Yorker spends at least an hour a day sitting next to strangers as part of a daily commute (on a sidenote, it's really weird for me to realize that, due to FINALLY GETTING A TEACHING JOB AND IT'S EVEN IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD as detailed below, an unlimited Metrocard would be a waste of money for me for the first time since they were introduced).

Allora (that's "anyhoo" in italiano), here's a link to a gallery of New York Times photos from the NYC subway system over the past hundred years.  Around the late 50s, you start getting archtypal "Grey Lady" images; they're a nice reminder of the old aesthetic for photos at the Times.  I must admit, it took me a while to warm up to their color photography, but by now I can't imagine the paper of the last decade without its incredible color photojournalism.

In other news:

  • RIP Ari Up of the Slits (1962-2010) and General Johnson of the Chairmen of the Board (1943-2010).  I'm sure that everyone who comes to this blog shares my love of scratchy post-punk and Carolina beach music, as well as art-education and site-specific artwork.
  • Yes, this time I actually assumed that there ARE people who come here.  Apparently, this blog now has two followers!  And I don't even know you folks!  
  • I promise to get back into art-ed ramblings soon -- I just got hired as an art teacher at a middle school in the outer boroughs (!!!!), and need to find my footing with that age.  If my principal is okay with it, I'll certainly post some images from projects as they develop, though I probably won't post the school's name or the kids' faces.  Further reports as events warrant.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Creativity Crisis (via Newsweek)

Here's a great article from the newest issue of Newsweek provides food for thought for those of us with kids, or who want to teach, or who care about art, or who care about America still generating great minds. Surely at least ONE of those criteria apply to you, right?

As Eliot Eisner and many other art-education advocates and theorists have noted, art education provides students with "Habits of Mind" (Eisner's term) which are not necessarily instilled through other, more academic -- and thus more typically privileged in a curriculum -- subjects.  These habits encourage flexible, creative thinking, which benefits students not only in the art class, but in other classes and for the rest of their lives as members of society.

All fine and well for theorists to talk up the arts, of course, but this Newsweek article cites several scientific studies which show that creativity exercises (such as those found in a good art classroom) literally strengthen brain functions.  It also states that American schools, and thus American adults, are falling behind Chinese and Asian schools in terms of creative thinking, which is hurting our industries and our ability to deal flexibly with important left-field issues as they arise.

Perhaps these are the angles from which to push for increased art-educational opportunities, in order to get the broadest coalition of supporters:  science proves it and it's for the sake of our economy.  

On a related note (and no, I am not saying that this project is exactly what America needs to regain its position at the top of the creative market), here are a few pictures of sculptures made by first-graders in response to a guided visualization I led them through while working as a student-teacher this spring.  In the visualization, I had them imagine flying in a spaceship to the end of the universe, landing on a planet unlike anything Earthlings had ever seen, and meeting an alien from that planet.  They then used homemade play-dough (which could be reformed - changing the shape) and found materials (which could be recontextualized - changing the meaning) to create the alien.

Sure, many of the aliens used similar materials - straws and toothpicks especially - but each student used them differently, and gave different explanations as to what the materials were.  On one alien, toothpicks were poisonous spikes, on another, they were wind showing movement in a direction.  One alien's snorkels were made with the same bendy straws as another alien's legs and the "laser sticky arms" of another.  Each student was encouraged to create his or her own solutions, and find his or her own problems.  American education needs more of that, not only from me (certainly not only from me!!) but from every teacher.

This alien is pretty much my favorite piece of student artwork ever - my cooperating teacher will vouch for me that I was all but in love with it.  The student found a teapot lid in the box of found materials, and quickly realized that this wouldn't work as a stable base for a clay alien.  His response was to make a mobile sculpture (it rolls in circles) with toothpicks, pipe cleaners and feathers reaching out in an arc which beautifully spins as the alien rolls.  This six- or seven-year-old was thinking about kinetic movement and purposing his materials as intently as Alexander Calder did when making his early circus sculptures.  

Anyhow, the Newsweek article makes a really good case for giving more students more access to the arts - visual, performative, musical, etc.  Here's hoping that principals and parents read the article, so that it isn't just bouncing around the creative-arts-teacher echo chamber...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"If you found ONE, they probably made a THOUSAND."

Your author would have looked just as stupid in this in 1991. 

Pretty much everyone I know who lived in Brooklyn in the 90s fondly remembers Domsey's, a Williamsburg-Bridge-area clothing place legendary for its by-the-pound offerings in the basement.  I found many staples of my ridiculous art-school-era "look" by sifting through piles of rags, ducking the bulldozers that were shoving bales of clothing, and pulling out the most gloriously weird stuff I found.

Nothing topped the mighty GRUNGE jersey, though.

A baseball jersey with an African-tricolor motif (red and yellow front panels, green sleeves, and a black back and hood), with five-inch-tall lettering spelling out the decidedly-not-Afrocentric word GRUNGE.  It was the sort of thing a computer simulacrum would wear when it appeared to the United Nations, had it learned the ways of Earthlings entirely by watching VHS tapes of MTV from 1991. I found it around late 1999 or early 2000, long after it would have been timely in its misguided squareness.

The best thing about the jersey, other than it being hilariously ugly and uncool, was that it was produced by Spike Lee's short-lived 40 Acres and a Mule stores, themselves a time capsule of that period in the 90s when independent film still felt like something...well, independent.  Unless the piece was a custom (not likely, given the price point of the 40A stuff when there was a store on Dekalb Avenue by Pratt), the GRUNGE jersey was a product which had been given the green light at least a few times between the drawing board and the coat hanger.  I like to think that Spike Lee himself looked at the design on paper and said "Yes - this is exactly what I need to promote my brand as a vital aspect of Brooklyn Afrocentrism.  Look out, Moshood!"

My wife (a costume designer who certainly knows her way around bulk clothiers) put it well:  "The chances are, this was not a custom, and if you found one, they probably made a thousand of these."

Sadly, before I was able to finally wear it to a Spike Lee signing, I realized that it had been several years since I last wore it (and that I never even wore it in a promo photo for my late hip hop project, for which it would have been a perfect statement of my "it doesn't matter if you cheer my name or hiss me" persona).  I ended up selling it to Beacon's Closet in Williamsburg about six months ago, and have since kinda-sorta expected to see it worn by some yahoo on Project Runway or in a band-promo photo in L Magazine

I wonder if, ten years from now, I'll see a piece of clothing made in 2010 that so completely got 2010 wrong.  Or am I now too old, too distanced from anything resembling the cool stuff?  Would I even recognize square anymore?

Push those gender roles early!

Seriously, MAM?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brooklyn Friends School “Invents the Museum”

I've worked for several years as a pre-college instructor, teaching art and art history to high-school students.  I've also spent the last two years working towards K-12 Art Ed certification, with the ideal goal of teaching high school students.  As a true believer in teenagers' art, and a student of art education, I must say that the bar has been raised, both for high school art and for teaching high school art, courtesy of a show planned, produced and curated by the Brooklyn Friends School Art Club Cooperative and their teacher, Elizabeth Deull.

Before I go further, I should state that a) my wife is a teacher at Brooklyn Friends School; b) I've worked with several, but not all, of these students as a student teacher at BFS in the Fall 2009 semester; and c) I'm a recent graduate of the same art-education program as Ms. Deull, and have gotten to know her a bit at BFS over the past six months.  As such, I'm not an unbiased observer - and I know that those few people who visit this blog expect nothing but the highest in journalistic integrity.

That said, this show of high-schoolers' work stands up aesthetically and conceptually to the majority of group shows in small commercial galleries in New York City.  I'm very happy that it has been extended through June 6th, to coincide with the Atlantic Avenue Art Walk, and hope that it gets a lot of views and attention.

Okay, so let's talk a little bit about the art, shall we?  In the words of the show's press release (here): 

"In 'Invent the Museum' students chose to react to or reinvent an artwork or art idea that already existed in the world. This theme allowed students to research artworks of interest from a wide range of time periods, artists, artistic movements and media. They also learned about how artists and art movements from WWI to the present have developed new art ideas and expressions in reaction not only to the world around them, but often to the art that came before them. As a result, the student artists of The Art Club have constructed a show that presents their unique, contemporary take on both famous and more obscure artworks that span from the Renaissance to Postmodern times."

The show makes excellent use of a strange little storefront space on Hoyt Street in Brooklyn (half a block north of Atlantic Avenue) - the first thing you see walking by is a series of dolls made by the entire Art Club, each the familiar face of the Mona Lisa.  It's a nice introduction to an exhibition that makes the viewer look at familiar artwork through the eyes of some of the newest acolytes to art history.

All of the work was impressively left-brainy for such young artists, and some pieces struck me as the equal of works from artists several years older and more experienced than these students.   As I said above, this show stands up to most of what's up in group shows in NYC, and that's mighty impressive for a bunch of artists too young to legally vote.

Here's what's on display:

Ashley Felix's linocut self-portrait (based on Egon Schiele's Self-Portrait with Hands Folded) makes explicit the sort of stance Warhol made with Gold Marilyn - by referencing classics from art history in the process of depicting herself, she's planting a flag in the long-running conversation of art.

please click this image to see it in its proper proportion!

Becky Grenham's painting perfectly states the tongue-in-cheek reframing of this exhibition's questioning of what gets to be considered a "classic" work of art, and why. Degas' dancer takes the floor at a discotheque, enjoying the attention of club kids rather than the stodgy folks who read about her in a copy of Janson's or the hoi polloi who know her as a calendar motif. Culture high, meet culture low. I love the colored dots showing the play of light off a disco ball – it implies movement and increases the tension between the figures and the flat black background, as well as making me think of Damien Hirst's "dot paintings."

Wiley Guillot has a great hand already - he draws beautifully and idiosyncratically, and that makes his response to Kiki Smith's work feel fully independent of his art historical reference (I mean that in the best way).

When I last saw Staver Klitgaard, she was immersing herself in painting, learning everything she could about how the Old Masters composed and produced their imagery.  Her work in the show shows this exploration heading in a different direction:  digital "painting reenactments" of herself and another Art Club member as figures from Picasso, Goya and Vermeer (I wonder how Picasso would feel to know that he's considered an Old Master by the newest crop of artists...I agree wholeheartedly, and Portrait of Olga dans un Fauteui is an excellent painting for a modern young woman to reenact).

Manos Lupissakis processes "traditional" graffiti, Banksy's stencils and wheatpastes, and the general aesthetic of peeling paint in the subway system to make an Ode to the Subway that I found worth poring over inch by inch.

Samantha Rees's wall of small pen-and-ink portraits comment on the emotional content of traditional portraiture, and use the wall beautifully and evocatively, while her Self-Portrait in the Style of Van Eyck suggests an amazingly diverse group of artists:  Van Eyck, Kahlo, Klimt, Redon, even Stettheimer.

(this show ismuch more impressive than my ability to successfully format this blog entry...)

Amina Ross
is well on her way as an artist already:  her stunning modern interpretation of an African-American mourning quilt commands attention from the viewer, and her corner installation Defective Oracle made me chuckle for a moment, then ponder it for several days. 

Nina Ryser adds collage and her own drawing style to reprocess the work of Keith Haring into something much more her own.  This would fit right in at a Williamsburg gallery, and I'd love to see variations on the theme.  I love the head and neck that haven't been painted in at all - it sets off the wood grain and collage nicely.

Romy Smith makes a statement similar to Ashley Felix's referencing of the Egon Schiele self-portrait, only with a lot more humor – her How Botticelli's Woman Got Her Groove Back subverts the Portrait of a Young Woman by styling the sitter more like 1980 than 1480. The model's smirk makes it clear that she's in on the joke.


Allie Shyer's installations, collages and assemblages process Schwitters and Cornell with a design sense that (in my eyes, your mileage may vary) echoes the presentation of jumbled, disconnected imagery on a Google image search (or maybe mid-career Richard Prince).  I've seen a lot of her work by now, and it's all quite impressive.

 The Art Club Cooperative is such not just in name: several other pieces in the room were produced in collaboration. The back windows of the small space are covered in marker-on-acetate (?) reproductions of classic self-portraits…

 …hung over a shelf covered in plastic animals, all painted pink. My toddler LOVED that part.

There is also a wall of artworks made in the gallery by the Art Club members, all for sale at a measly $5 apiece. I bought two, and hope to buy a few more before the show ends. Money from the sales goes towards the Michael Nill Endowment Fund for Faculty Development, which will directly benefit Brooklyn Friends School and thus its students.

If you go, you really owe it to yourself to buy a piece of artwork. I can't wait to put mine up in my apartment once the show comes down (one of the ones I bought is the white panel with mounted 3-d black ribbon, visible under the appropriated picture of Wolverine. It's that kind of show.)

If you haven't been able to tell yet by reading my glowing praise, I'm very, very impressed with the caliber of artwork in this show, and by Ms. Deull's ability to work with students of this age to produce a show this impressive.  I hope to get the chance to work with high schoolers again soon and will keep this show in mind as the exemplar of what can be done with talented high school students, provided that you give them a real, meaningful project to work on and push them to challenge their own limits. 

"Invent the Museum" is up through June 6th (whether the BFS link at the top of this post says so or not) at 77B Hoyt Street between State Street and Atlantic Avenue, a space generously donated by the building owner, Nat Hendricks.  Go see the show, wouldja?