Spirit of Collage – Compose Harmony

The Collage – the art exhibition in Dana Gallery has been passed for a while now. The things that I still clearly remember were the clay sculpture and the amazing songs performed by a circle of smart women from Agnes Scott.  Though in totally different art form, both of them gave me deep impressions. I guess the reason why so is that I saw both of them as the art of composing harmony through distinct individuals.

The small chorus performed at beginning of the reception was made up of about ten individuals; each of them played a distinct voice: one lead, several different parts, and group humming. I was amazed at how harmonious it sounded when all these variations organically formed a system the same time each of them became a part of the whole. The beauty of ensemble is the cooperation and compromise made by the individuals to make it more than the sum of all the individuals.

Same as the chorus, the clay sculpture in the picture above also shows the spirit of composing harmony. I was obsessed with this artwork at the first sight. I asked Cecilia if she knew how it was made into this particular form.  It looked so complicated that it seemed impossible for it to have a mold. She said that these different cups, pots or jars were made individually. Before they were hardened, the artist smashed one into another in a thoughtful way. Then, with further refinement, the connections between cups were smoothed and polished, which made it look like a wholeness instead of individual cups.

The explanation totally made sense, even though I didn’t know whether it was true that this sculpture was made in this way. In this artwork, the highest cup and the bottom bowl corresponded to each other, like the alto and the soprano corresponded to each other in the singing. The protruding angles of the cups and the jars were like the feature voice of the lead or of a particular part in the chorus, which added a certain personality to the harmony. The way that the light fell on this artwork was amazing, too. Some parts reflected the light while some part hided itself, as one voice fell and another rose in the ensemble.

I was also very attracted to the artwork on the ground outside the building. I loved the way that the paper cranes of different colors were composed. The variation of the thickness and density in this artwork told me so much about its creative form, which was more than a simple collection of paper cranes. The way that individuals worked together was inspiring. Once those dead parts came together, they became alive.

The proportion of the parts, the color changing, and brightness and the darkness – they all work together to make the picture as a whole. I appreciated the way the artists deal with these aspects in their work, and how their work moved the audience.

I don’t know what the original spirit of collage is, but through this exhibition, I recognized my own understanding and definition of putting things together. To me, I love the artwork that is a harmonious combination of distinct parts, and gives out inspiration of its creativeness and remarkableness.

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A Visual Feast in High Museum

April 21, Saturday

Cecilia and I went to High Museum last Saturday. This was not our first time visit, but I was still amazed by the beautiful artwork exhibited. The ones that interested me most were European Art, which was at our first station, including porcelain work, sculptures, and painting.

I love the porcelain work with the vivid shape of the animal or the vegetable so much, that it reminded me of the fine china I saw in my aunt’s house when I was little. Since my family moved a lot in the past twenty years and we stored the good china in our old wooden house, I hadn’t seen such delicate work for years.

First of all, I love the quality of porcelain. It is smooth and glossy, somehow like the quality of water. Secondly, there are so many careful details contained in one artwork that I can just stare at the fish bowl (see below) for a whole day. The beauty of this fish bowl is the combination of its aesthetic sensibility with its utility value. The seaweed on the top of the fish is not merely for decoration, it is also the place where you can hold to open the lid. Isn’t that just ingenious?

There are many great examples to share here, such as the parrot and the leaf pot. I am amazed at the skillful technique embodied in the artworks. I can imagine the artists’ patience and carefulness when they made these things. By looking at them, I feel calmer and more relaxed because there are so many little places worth slowly appreciating. I just cannot make my eyes off them!

As we moved on, we saw more wonderful paintings of both American and European artists. I guess I am a very rational person, so the paintings that attract me most are the ones that show a great deal of truth within. The variations of the colors in these landscapes just remind me of some places I saw in real life, which is the most moving thing that the artwork can give.

I equally love these three landscapes, but in different ways. The first one is a wash painting. The hue of the whole picture gives the viewer a very comfortable feeling. The range of the colors the artist used is very small. However, the color adjacent to the other, which is very similar to the previous one, can be differentiated clearly, while the whole picture still remains the continuity of the colors. This continuity puts a light veil on the view, giving the paining a mysterious sense.

The other two are oil paintings. The contrast of the colors is more apparent and stronger.  The qualities of the rock ground and the waterfall are expressed in a just right way. There is no mystery in these paintings, but there is the wisdom of seeing the truth. I believe that these paintings are very good to watch during the meditation, because they help us see the subtle things in the nature and give us another way to understand our perception.

There were many other beautiful exhibits in High Museum. Every time I went there, I felt that I would come back again and it would give me some different thoughts next time. I saw the different styles of painting and sculptures by artists from different countries and historical ages, which in addition, aroused my interest to take an art history class next semester. 🙂

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The Eye Is Too Big – See the Different Strategies of Drawing

Apr. 24

The picture above was my work after Tuesday’s class. When Cecilia came over and saw my work, she immediately pointed out that my eye was drawn too large. I stood up and realized that she was right. The proportion was obviously not right, but I didn’t see it when I was drawing.

When I complaint to her how difficult it was to draw the eyes right, she told me that she had erased and redrew her eyes about four or five times. I told her that I could never do that. I didn’t want to start over again since I observed so hard on the variations of the grey that I thought they were quite accurate. Then, I realized that our drawing strategies were different.

Comparing the drawings of us two, she focused on the entire picture, the large scale, and the proportions of different parts of the face, so that she could adjust very fast once she saw any problem; I focused on the details, moving from one small point to another, so that my process was slow. Her drawing showed a great deal of trueness if we saw it at a far distance; my drawing might be truer on the detailed light variations on my face. Now, the problem showed up in my strategy of drawing. Because I focused too much on the details, I lost the basic frame of my picture. Once I made one small mistake, it would lead to another mistake and they all added up. After I finished the eye, I found that the eye itself might be true, but it was wrong compared to the other parts of my face. That left me something to work on after the class. Cecilia said she would refine the details after she got the basic proportions right, and I would be more careful about the scale of the eye before I developed the details as well.

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Beaten up

Apr. 23

I came into the art center Monday afternoon and spent over two hours drawing, especially  my lips. Cecilia pointed out to me last class that my drawing was too soft and needed more dramatic contrast, so I worked on that, too.

It was strange that I felt very nervous at the beginning, about which way I should use to revise, or about revealing a truer self on the paper? Although I was safely sitting on the horse, I felt liking standing on a stage under the focus lights. I t takes me some time to enter my best state of drawing, which makes the whole process longer. I am a really slow-to-warm-up person.

Before I left Dana, I felt so exhausted that as if I was beaten up. I just read an psychology article that day. It says the recent research found out that the pain of social rejection has the affect on the same brain region as physical pain does. I think that intellectual exhaustion may have similar affect as physical exhaustion as well. I literally went to sleep for an hour right after the drawing. Drawing is a physical labor, too!

Anyway, I felt more comfortable with my lips after the adjustments. However, comparing the drawing with my photo, there are still many places needed to be further revised. Now, I realize how clear a camera is!

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How many kinds of grey are there?

Apr. 17 & 19

In the two class last week, Professor Ruby consistently pointed out the shadow area next to my nose, where it looked flat compared to other parts of my face. I almost spent the whole class time just observing and differentiating the grey colors of the shadow, which was so subtle and hard to see.

When I closely observed my drawing and myself in the mirror, I realized that there was not obvious line that divided my nose and the shadow, as I symbolized in my first drawing.

The reason to differentiate the gray levels is to incarnate the curve on the cheek. This requires extreme high skills and experience. To me, there is no doubt that I spent such a long time trying to be as accurate as possible.

However, the result was still not satisfying to me. When I stood far to see the picture, I couldn’t recognize that it was my face. Some things must have gone wrong.  Thus, I decided to spend some time outside the class refining my nose and lips.

After the class on April 17

After the class on April 19

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Different Habits of Being Educated- Retrospect on “Little Animal” and Art Thinking

I didn’t know why, but I experienced a relatively hard time when we were in “little animal” project and art thinking class. In retrospect, I realize that my mind was like floating in the air and didn’t know where to go when the class shared opinions. The information given out was expressed in a way that my brain was not used to responding immediately. The only thing I could do was passively receiving the information and trying hard to digest its in-depth meaning.

After some while, now, I gradually come to some explanations of why I encountered these difficulties in class. The essential cause is the different habits of being educated in the Western way versus being educated in the Eastern way.

Before the critique of “Little Animal”, I thought my project was not satisfying at all. What I received from my friendly classmates was the highlights on my animal that I didn’t even realize myself. Although I admitted that it made me feel good as people said positive things in public, that good feeling just stayed for a little while.

From the educational system where I came from, the teacher rarely completely approved one’s work even if it was near perfect. The teacher always picked up the students’ mistakes in front of the class. In that way, we were pushed to make our work better. One teacher that had huge influence on me only appraised students in private, to make sure that they knew he still held confidence in their performance. The conclusion was that compliments never came easily in Eastern educational system.

On contrast, the system goes opposite in the U.S. In order to motivate a student, the teacher usually says the positive aspect of the student’s work. According to some of my American friends, if the student is frustrated by the teacher’s criticism, she might easily lose the interest in doing the work.

Imagine that a person who was used to hearing criticism for years was thrown into the place where people complimented a lot. Would she lose her identity easily? At least, for a while, she would think that her work had reached its peak, so that she didn’t have to revise it any more.

I was drown in so much positive information in the American conversations, that I was having a hard time to see the flaws which were sometimes crucial t0 me. Some cheap compliments can be very misleading indeed. Another feeling after being complimented is the somehow emptiness in my heart, because the nice words don’t usually help me recognize my potential to doing the thing better.

After we went back to the charcoal and the paper in the art class, I found myself again. My art professor always tells me the places where I need to improved on, which is very helpful to my drawing. There are many things that I am not able to recognize because I stay too close to my paper. I know that other people can help reflect the things that I cannot see. If they kindly point it out to me, I will be very grateful because they expand my limited view.

After the experience in the “Little Animal” project and the discussion on art thinking, I get to know myself better. I was definitely not immune to compliments between people, but now I know what to expected and how to deal with it objectively.

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From Nothing to Something – Thinking Like an Artist

People in their early 20s are usually the most frustrated social group, lingering between the large ambitions and lack of practical experience. I often hear many young writers ask those famous ones the same question, “How do you make up the character in your book?” This is an apparently inexperienced question. My head immediately says, “If you don’t have at least some idea about what you’re going to write, how dare you choose to be a writer?” Of course, those famous writers won’t answer this question in my inexperienced and rude way. They are mostly very patient to help to find the identity of work. Same as being a writer, an artist also struggle with the same question. Where does the inspiration come from?

When Benjamin Percy talked about his students writing a story, he said, most students would never open a book when they were writing; even they were struggling to come up with something to start with. When he asked them why, they said, “I don’t want to be influenced.” People in the theatre laughed. Of course, the non-reading of his students was not what Percy wanted. Even though it seemed a little late to get some experience when the assignment was due tomorrow, he still recommended not shutting ourselves down when we were creating. Further explaining, he said we needed to experience different voice, by traveling, getting old, having kids, and reading books, in order to create a character. “No character is based on one person,” he continued. This identity is not from nothing, but from large numbers of past works we go through.

The African American artist Kerry James Marshall said that when he is making art, he often goes back to the origin, and picks up things from there. History contains the whole experience of human kind. As he said, some principle (in the history) works in his art. This little spoon we pick up from the history ocean can radiate into different new creation with the new time. We can almost conclude that history is the source of all work.

Marshall talked about his childhood experience and how he became interested in choosing art as his career. When he was in kindergarten, his teacher brought a scrap book to class and said whoever behaved best could take a look at it. Little Marshall got to look at the book and he was so amazed by the delicate cards in it that he read with tears in his eyes. That was when he started to think, “I want to make pictures that affect people, like these pictures affect me.” This precious memory gave Marshall the purpose of his life, and he gave his every work a purposeful identity.

The French sculpture artist Louise Bourgeois is a very thoughtful and wise woman. She said, “Everything I do was inspired by my early life.” In her hand sculptures, there is tension, strength, and emotion, very sensitive and strongly impressive. Why-because these hands have identities. They are Bourgeois’s own hands with explicit folds and wrinkles on the palms. As she said, “it’s a real document… It shows that these emotions are true. It’s not something made up.” She talked about different cases, the shift from being a child to being old. It’s the whole life experience that is melted into her work.

No matter whether it’s art or writing, the creator is always looking for the identity of his/her work. When the poet Joy Harjo talked about how she got the source of her work, she related it to the land. She saw the land as a being. Interestingly, she said she had the feeling of poetry when she lived in Mexico. Since she kept moving from place to place in her life, once she lived in Hawaii, the ocean had such a predominating force that she lost the poetry. Even the land chooses the birth of its artwork.

I feel that the same identity searching process is also true in learning. As a student, learning has been my major job for years. And I only recently realize that the learning is only truly meaningful to me when I can relate it to my life purpose, where I get the motivation to move on. That’s to find the origin of what I’m learning things for. This final “art work” hasn’t floated onto the surface yet, but all I learn and experience now serve as the basis towards its target.

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