ghostcatching.

Upon first watching Bill T. Jones’ digital installation, “Ghostcatching,” I disliked it.

I knew that immediately.

What I had more trouble figuring out was exactly why I had such a strong averse reaction. This piece is completely different from anything I’ve ever come into contact with. In all honesty, I found the entire piece—the movement, the sound, the organization—jarring and incoherent. Aesthetically, I was somewhat bored with the squiggling after a while, and the only thing I could think about was that “pipes” screensaver from old desktop computers:

You see the resemblance now, too, don't you?

But then again—I don’t know art. I know my own taste and my personal preferences, and—as you can see from the design of this blog—that often includes light, airy, outdoorsy, pretty things.

What do I know about dancing squiggles with booming voices talking about cornbread?

Nothing at all.

So I decided to investigate. What was the purpose of this piece? Whose vision was this, and what did it represent? Perhaps, if I understand the process, I could appreciate the piece rather than spend my time zoning out because it reminds me of a screensaver.

After checking out both the Lincoln Center Institute’s article and another article from OpenEndedGroup, I’ve come to better understand how this piece relates to slavery and the effect it had on black families. The cornbread story in the Lincoln Center’s second “Article” tab was especially fascinating, and I could begin to see rudimentary images of slave labor take form.

Once I had an idea of where the artist was coming from, I was interested to learn about how this piece was made. Apparently, it was a collaborative effort, tying dance to motion capture in order to form the animations. This is where I began to see connections from “formal” education into artistry, as physics and technology were needed to turn an individual dance sequence into an animated narrative.

In addition, there was one shining beacon of my “Ghostcatching” research that I found in this excerpt from the OpenEndedGroup article distinguishing product from process—or rather, highlighting how indistinguishably interconnected the two actually are:

Watch children drawing and you’ll see this for yourself: they are performing, though mostly for themselves. Their strokes are dramatic gestures tied to dialogue, narration, and song (the soundtrack may be sub-vocal, but notice the moving lips). As the drawn improvisation develops, new lines are scribbled in, and old ones erased or crossed out, one scene following another.

Explaining the process through the actions of children helped immensely with my understanding of why the installation’s sequence flowed as it did. I could imagine a child tirelessly scribbling while creating an entire mental narrative. It did not necessarily need to be cohesive. Instead, it could move freely and suddenly take off in another direction. Although I may not be fond of the aesthetics of “Ghostcatching,” I was able to shift my paradigm to better understand the artist’s intention. Even despite my aversion to its structure as a piece of digital animation, I can appreciate the sentiment and—moreover—the presentation of this installation.

This is the first experience I’ve had where I’ve disliked a work of art and yet have still managed to understand its value. Realizing that aesthetic appreciation and symbolic/thematic appreciation don’t necessary have to go hand-in-hand has been a liberating experience.

note: all photos courtesy of Lincoln Center Institute.

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“…like in opera?”

My mom---our fearless leader, arts enthusiast, and undoubtedly the craftiest and most clever person I have ever come across.

There’s been a long-running joke in my family that I was born into music—after all, as an “aria,” it is my namesake. Before I was even born, artistic expression has been central to my development. While pregnant with me, my mom used to put headphones on her belly and play Ennio Morricone’s scores from The Mission (this was in 1990, mind you—long before Baby Einstein came into play).

As a toddler, I began humming and singing noises before I could speak. My pursuit of music took off from there: school plays and musicals since kindergarten, all-district choral concerts, national anthems, and even a country cover band called “Bridges” when I was in middle school. My mom bought me a keyboard for my 10th and I taught myself Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” For my 14th birthday, I received my first guitar. It was at that moment I realized I was destined to become a punk rocker.

Right.

While that dream quickly morphed into something a little less….aggressive, music has continued to play a key function in my life. Coming from a single-parent household with two younger siblings to help look after, I couldn’t afford private lessons, so the extent of my musical experience often came from school programs and self-teaching.

While I wish my schools had made a better effort of introducing a wide variety of arts into instruction time, I still owe a great deal to their afterschool programs. Without chorus class or school musicals, I wouldn’t have had access to something that has been essential for my well-being. As a result of the knowledge I gained through my schools and the enthusiastic support I received from my family, I’ve been fortunate enough to have music maintain a key presence in my life. Whether writing music and playing guitar on The Lawn or just aca-bopping with Hoos in Treble, the arts have been consistently available to me, and that presence has been invaluable.

Playing guitar on the Lawn during a cappella auditions.

ron mueck.

I just wanted to highlight some amazing work from a London-based artist, Ron Mueck.

Mueck is a hyperrealist sculptor. What’s even more amazing than the sculptures themselves is that they’re made out of fiberglass resin, rather than the more common and malleable latex.

I am floored.

All images courtesy of hoax-slayer.

Here are even more pictures of his studio and works in progress!

confidence.

courtney khail, via pinterest

I have a friend who goes to UNC-Greensboro that is currently studying Music Education to become a high school choral director. Amidst the litany of courses he’s taken to fulfill his major, one in particular required that he gain a basic working knowledge of a wide variety of musical instruments throughout the semester.

The first week, he learned the flute. Then, the clarinet. After that, he made his way through the remaining wind instruments, and then the brass, and—finally—piano and percussion. Each week brought with it a new instrument and an entirely new set of challenges. I’ll admit, watching him try to learn the trumpet was my favorite. He looked like this:

…….But I digress.

During our Q&A time with the Arts Panel, I asked—rather inelegantly—what could be done to promote creative confidence in the students who do not feel they are naturally inclined towards the arts. How can we foster an environment that enthuses the students that don’t feel they have much to offer artistically into getting involved and benefitting from the process, rather than focusing on the product?

I offered myself as an example. While I may be inclined towards music, I am a weak studio artist. My last attempts at drawing anything complex ended when I began drawing my “fashion girls” with flippers instead of hands because I couldn’t be bothered to draw out ten little fingers.

And that’s when Studio Art professor Dean Dass asked me, “How old were you when you stopped drawing?”

Flippers. All I saw were cartoon girls with punky haircuts, fluffy skirts, and flippers.

“Thirteen?”

That’s when I realized what my high school experience was missing. From kindergarten, I had been involved in music and vocal performance. Music was so engrained in me that I sought it out actively, and therefore, I was never far away from some way to get my “fix.”

When did they stop making me take art class? Middle school? Before that? I honestly can’t remember. Sure, I had to continue taking math and history and P.E., but orchestra or band or art class? Insignificant.

What my high school lacked was an emphasis placed on a working knowledge of a wide variety of skills, especially the arts. In gym class, I had to learn how to play football, dodgeball, floor hockey (reallyfloor hockey?!)—yet, no painting and no drawing. Had there been a way to implement art into the secondary education arena, perhaps I wouldn’t draw like a “thirteen-year-old” today.

More importantly, perhaps I would’ve grown with the confidence to keep up with drawing and visual art throughout my life, rather than just now begin the process of making up for lost time.


learning/teaching.

When I began my involvement in YWLP, I expected that I would learn a great deal about connecting to adolescent girls in a way that could provide support and foster confidence. Between the professors, program directors, and my own fellow “Big Sisters,” I’ve had an incredible network available to help me improve as a mentor. Additionally, it is a testament to their influence and support that I have realized my own passion of furthering this process of empowerment through academic achievement.

What I did not anticipate, however, was how much my own 7th grade girls have been able to teach me. In retrospect, my belief that serving as a Group Facilitator somehow placed me in a “teaching” position was clearly misguided, but it seemed to make sense at the time. After all, I’ve been through the curriculum before. I’ve spent a year as a Big Sister, with a wide variety of experiences as a result. I felt completely prepared to share both my knowledge of the program and my enthusiasm for service, and maybe—just maybe—I’d inspire some of my “Bigs” to do the same next year.

What I neglected to recognize at the time is that the notions of “teaching” and “learning” are not these impermeable and exclusive concepts, but rather are intrinsically—and cyclically—linked. From being educated by my 7th grade girls about the merits and pitfalls of “Bieber Fever” to understanding how they interact with each other and how they view the world, I have learned that learning and teaching moments can be found in every single interaction, regardless of how small that moment may seem at the time.

In retrospect, some of the silliest or most insignificant interactions I’ve had with my middle schoolers have carried the most weight in helping us form connections. In preparing for our “Fall Finale” skit, last semester, I taught the girls how to beatbox.* In return, they’ve taught me that my super snazzy Vibram Five Fingers don’t look nearly as cool as I think they do—at least not in public.

I'm still holding out hope that I can change their minds.

These types of interactions have helped to remind us that leaning spans far beyond our curriculum and instruction time. I look forward to continuing my education.

*Confession: the extent of my vocal percussion knowledge essentially begins and ends with “boots and skirts.” It’s embarrassing.

a theme.

"Wander" by Wesley Bird.

This is an introduction.

Wandering has managed to be a definitive feature of this year in particular as I have woven my way through all things, from country roads throughout the Shenandoah to potential careers and imagined future selves.

As I delve deeper into an Arts Administration course entitled “Art in Education,” I have begun to view the learning process itself as a sort of wandering, rather than the linear projection I once envisioned.  At the helm of this journey seems to be an overarching desire for expression and connection, and it is here that art holds an especially captivating appeal.

What I have found to be particularly fascinating is the methods by which my own peers choose to make sense of the world we interpret. I speak of many of the artists of the past with a certain reverence, but I cannot fully understand them. Instead, what I see in front of me now is a sort of “grassroots movement” of artistic expression. The music is folksier, the perspective is more organic, we are outside, we are just barely self-aware, and—at the root of all things—we wander.

In all likelihood, this notion is nothing new, but rather a regeneration of a recycled storyline. But regardless of whether the path has been traveled prior to our discovery of it, it is nonetheless a discovery and it is up to us to travel it for ourselves.