Rejiquar Works 2015-01-27T22:58:03-05:00 copyright 2015 Sylvus Tarn Sylvus Tarn 2015-01-26T00:00:00-05:00 Frederick Wiseman's _National Gallery_ documentary. 26jan2015

Went and saw Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery (at a theatre inside an art museum, how appropriate) but at three hours, this thing is way too long. I was able to sit through it, but my companion had to get up and physically stretch her legs; the patron in front of us left, perhaps half or two-thirds of the way through. Part of the problem is that it's really two films: one, the one I (as an artist) was interested in watching about the restoration, installation and other behind-the-scenes technical aspects of running the museum.

The other strand documented people's —curators, docents, assorted museum-goers, including lovers, students, the nearly blind and a lot of middle to elderly aged men—reactions to, and interactions with, the art. Acting as sort of a transition between these two components were the discussions and planning by upper echelon museum staff, with regard to it politics, planning, and finances.

The film starts out with an earnest mid-level board member attempting to convince the director that the museum needs to be more accessible, more relatable to the average citizan, who, she says, doesn't really get why the museum or its contents are so special. The director sits politely, unconvinced, as she goes on and on and on and on. I sympathized with her because an awful lot of people do in fact, regard art museums as something ‘for rich people.’ I also wasn't terribly surprised to note that (so far as I could tell) the top two positions were filled by men; most of the mid-level employees (and all the docents except one) were women. All of the laborers were, of course, men. There were three people of color who could be said to be working; two were menials, the other (a pianist) obviously hired part-time.

At the same time, no, I don't really think art museums need to have banners advertising this or that charity, or corporation (or corp sponsoring a charity, though coming up with cute, potentially viral vids that encourage people to check out their local museum sounds great). Director Penny clearly sees as his job to conserve the museum and its traditions, and preserve the art within. Which I suppose brings me to the heart of the underlying problem: the art shown in this film is a tiny, but famous and recognizable, portion of the collections: paintings, mostly oil paintings, dating from (I wanna say) roughly 1400–1900, with an emphasis on French, Italian and British ‘big names’.

Museums, so I was informed in another quite interesting documentary, are having a difficult time competing with modern collectors with lots of money to spend, and a desire to validate their taste (and wealth) with high-status art—that is, the same big names Wiseman focuses his camera on. This annoys for two reasons: one, of course, is that it's pretty hard for the average person to see art in private collections. But the other is the reinforcing of what is “proper” art: white, western, European. One docent mentions to a group of black youths that it ‘needs to be acknowledged’ that museum was founded with money extracted from the backs of slaves. That's all very well, but the black kids already likely have a sense of that, if not the exact history; it's all the well-to-do whites that really need to be reminded of this.

To be sure, it's encouraging that some major institutions are combatting this; but the fact of the matter is, all those paintings were, for the most part, commercial art made for patrons who could pay for it; just as today, the bulk of art is commercial, one way or another (little as the so-called ‘fine art’ world cares to admit this.) One of the things I love about the internet is that fans of odd little niches can find each other (and also that what I suspect is Impression-equivalent: graffiti and other street art, or comics, are starting to get some recognition.)

The National Gallery deserves plenty of kudos for trying to make art accessible to wider audiences (such as the visually impaired) as well as the making of art (we're shown a number of non-professionals learning to draw from the nude model, which is generally not something encouraged for non-artists). There's no question that looking at really top flight stuff in museums has sharpened my critical faculties. At the same time, there's an awful lot of art made by artists who can't support themselves; and if our culture placed more value on art-making, particularly more kinds of art-making, from the get-go, then I think the need to educate people on the importance of museums would naturally disappear.

The theatre always presents us, the audience, with a review of the film, and I enjoy comparing my reactions to that of the professional reviewer. In this case, we both clearly found the parts of the documentary about restoration (and to a lesser extent interpretation in a historical context) of the paintings to be most riveting. Rembrandt, for example, decided he didn't like/couldn't sell a large canvas, so he rotated it 90 degrees, and started painting anew, without even bothering to put another ground, (probably) incorporating material from the prior piece into the new one. That's the sort of thing I'd do, and that fact, derived from careful scientific analysis, is of far greater interest to me than what a painting means, nor even the silent communion with paintings the film-maker so lovingly depicts, over and over and over.

At first, I resented that most of these admirers seemed to be middle-aged or older white men; women, youths, PoC being more likely to be shown in line, or in groups, or the like; but I finally concluded that these men were standing in for, and representing the creator himself. —Which, to be honest, was the part that really needed to be cut. Wiseman, consciously or not, attempted to direct our sympathies away from the mid-level employee and her argument about accessibility to the average person by opening the documentary with a too-long cut to open the film. But a good portion of his film, to my mind, illustrated the strength of her arguments: art needs to be accessible to everyone, not just rich white guys. And that means, we need to know museums show more than just da Vinci, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

(So, is giftwrapping ‘art’? Most people would say no, or, hell no. Internally, I'm using the same software to create it as stuff that does get labelled art. So, who knows? But that's why I find these distinctions rather baffling.)

2015-01-11T00:00:00-05:00 My favorite online/youtube mathematician, Vi Hart, has a cool new interactive program that shows how even slight preferences cause people to segregate themselves pretty readily. (via skepchick, I think...) The accompanying article explains, moreover, how strongly these patterns persist--- *...

My favorite online/youtube mathematician, Vi Hart, has a cool new interactive program that shows how even slight preferences cause people to segregate themselves pretty readily. (via skepchick, I think...) The accompanying article explains, moreover, how strongly these patterns persist— unless you add a rule that participants actively desire to live with others unlike them.

The town I live in readily demonstrates this: it has five districts, and during the era after the Civil War & before WWI, its black population, then the highest percentage of any city in the state & originally pretty evenly distributed, was forced into one district by covenants, which I'm very sorry to say were enforced (at least informally) well into the 50s (and probably beyond, since an adjacent neighborhood still has members who call the cops on black guys silly enough to go door to door looking for odd jobs). A century later this pattern still persists, though I didn't learn the history until a year ago, despite having resided here well over a decade, and belonging to various historical groups for much of that time. The fact that our city is mixed overall was a plus for us, but owing to ignorance about this history, we inadvertently reinforced the old, bad, pattern.

This of course is the point of the game, and what SJWs mean when they talk about “structural injustice”. What this game does is to allow ordinary folk to understand why active programs (e.g. affirmative actions) are necessary to reverse bad trends, with nice mathematical rigor. And cute shapes:)

Speaking of shapes I have another bead curtain strand, this time in ambers and greens. Enjoy.

2015-01-07T00:00:00-05:00 So, bouncing back to the crochet (two posts ago) here's some linkies I liked for learning scrumbles specifically (part II) of a cute blue scrumble a green scrumble by the same folks, prudence mapstone (originator of the technique, I believe), plus instructables sand/shore/sea bag . And of...

So, bouncing back to the crochet (two posts ago) here's some linkies I liked for learning scrumbles specifically (part II) of a cute blue scrumble a green scrumble by the same folks, prudence mapstone (originator of the technique, I believe), plus instructables sand/shore/sea bag.

And of course, no roundup would be complete without the project that originally inspired me, LisaViolinViola's gorgeous green freeform mitts. In fact the blog has a ton of wonderful freeform examples.

Or you can look at another orange beadcurtain strand, which I suppose is also technically freeform.

2015-01-06T00:00:00-05:00 Happy New Year/Epiphany/12th Day of Christmas/Tuesday, everyone:) Found the most luscious pair of socks (you may need a ravelry login to see the link), so making those---or at least a simple every-other-stitch stranded two color pair is one New Year resolution. I love the way the pattern disapp...

Happy New Year/Epiphany/12th Day of Christmas/Tuesday, everyone:)

Found the most luscious pair of socks (you may need a ravelry login to see the link), so making those—or at least a simple every-other-stitch stranded two color pair is one New Year resolution. I love the way the pattern disappears into plain white, as if the toes were dug into snow.

For those of you not yet tired of winter, here are some gorgeous macrophotos of snow crystals, and along the lines of another dpreview feature is a new photographer who did a year of pix every day to learn. I'd like to start ploughing through strobist's photography 102 flash course (though if I manage one lesson a week, I'd be thrilled...). First thing—got the recommended flash, but now I need the light stand to stick it on!

Of course, I'm always still recovering from last year, this early on—just turned the heels on a pair of socks I started, um, last March, and today's feature was supposed to be delivered to the October.

Ah well, I do usually get this stuff done. Eventually.

2014-12-18T00:00:00-05:00 This is a typical way I waste time on the internet: Threads magazine, in a vain effort to get me to renew (because the mag has become ``Fine (Couture) Sewing'' instead of ``Fabulous Textile Techniques of All Kinds'') and I'm =not much into clothes= rank comfort, versatility and durability over app...

This is a typical way I waste time on the internet: Threads magazine, in a vain effort to get me to renew (because the mag has become “Fine (Couture) Sewing” instead of “Fabulous Textile Techniques of All Kinds”) and I'm not much into clothes rank comfort, versatility and durability over appearance, I don't put much effort into stuff that's just gonna get dirt, molten glass, acid, etc on it anyway...sent me a link called 21 sewing myths debunked which was more a well, that's-not-quite-a-myth-but-here's-the-exception-to-that-rule; then I wandered over to a vintage blouse because they do sometimes discuss embellishment (in the context of couture sewing, sigh) and mention was made of a specialized embroidery machine called a cornely, of which antiques are still used in Africa, India and the Middle East where labor is still cheap enough for hand-guided machine embroidery is feasible, where it's become part of the local style, and where, I'm guessing, there's a knowledge base for operating these machines—the guy in the video makes it look easy, but I'm guessing there's a fairly deep well of expertise there. Note, frex, how much more comfortable the Middle Easterner is operating the machine than the person demoing for the museum, in the first link. This is not to say this type of technology hasn't advanced, but the modern machines are neither suitable nor accessible to the artisan; on the other hand, just making this post allowed me to circle back to another favorite video of a woman using an old treadle machine to make lace. N.b., she's Hungarian: that same basic region as the Irish Crochet that inspired this post.)

From thence I discovered this artisan's interpretation of Irish Crochet (a form of three dimensional lace making) —she's evidently at the forefront of a Ukrainian/Russian movement that has incorporated color into this traditionally white (and pre-industrial) medium in an absolutely fantastic way. So after hunting a bit on the web and not really finding any go-to sources for learning this stuff (Ravelry no doubt has a bunch, but you need a [free] login)–this page seems to be the best for info on that, but somewhere along the way (i.e. Ravelry) I discovered that crochet has now got an array of symbols and thus can be charted, like knitting. It also, obviously, lends itself to freeform motif making, which can then stitched together with grounds, in much the way tape (bobbin) lace and needle lace can be used together to make fabric. —Mebbe these symbols existed 40 years ago when I was first exposed to crochet, but I certainly don't recall seeing them, and according to the Crochet Guild of America the technique itself is relatively new, possibly derived from tambour (chain) embroidery some 200 years ago (the same kind as done by those cornely machines, above;) so it wouldn't surprise me to discover that charted patterns only became common in the last decade or so, after the internet took off and artisans from many different countries needed a way to exchange patterns.

Which of course is a help to those of us whose brains stall out with the ch st dc type abbreviations—it's as bad as mathematics (I wish I'd learned that visually, too.)


I have a lot of string, more than I can ever use for kumi. Also, recently scored some tiny old (possibly antique) crochet hooks —one actually had 25c molded into the metal handle. Ravelry has instructions for modifying hooks as well, which, since I have a lot of steel rod (aka bent mandrels) and metalworking tools lying around, is not gonna be a problem. And I like this bolder look with the heavier cottons—the days when I could see 80 weight thread easily are gone, gone, gone.

So that is what I've been doing, instead of getting ready for the holidays. Hope your prep is going better, or less peripatetically (or mebbe not...)

2014-12-03T00:00:00-05:00 etsy shop announcement; Scalzi's _Lockin_, a (very) brief review. 03dec2014

John Scalzi generously does this thing where he opens up his blog for the rest of the world to flog our wares for the holiday season. So I got off my ass, reopened my etsy shop, and will be trying to fill out the collections over the next few days (in between a number of truly tedious mundane tasks).

Shown is the Bee Princess. I was originally trained in life drawing, and in college hoped to be a sf&f book cover artist. I never figured out how to do that, and getting hired by a bead shop rekindled my interest in beads, which, obviously has persisted.

Anyway. As Mr Scalzi has been so kind to allow me to promote myself, I thought I'd return the favor—he recently published a new novel, LockIn which he admits was

[t]otally a NaNoWriMo novel.


The story is about a person who is physically ‘locked in’ hir own head by a disease and communicates telepathically by robot body. It's a charming story, and an sfnal mystery (a genre generally considered challenging to do). I enjoyed it thoroughly, and recommend the book, though there were some dangling bits —such as the Agora, the mental space where the locked in people congregated, which I felt needed more development. (I first encountered this concept in Vernor Vinge's wonderful True Names ...which Lockin owing to that failure of the development of the online space, doesn't quite match for Name's prescient cyberspace.)

However, the protag is appealing, the politics non-annoying, (that is, the characters come in other flavors besides the traditional vanilla white male) and yes, the author managed a gotcha. On me, who suspected something of that nature might be happening when I heard there two versions of the audiobook, and then promptly forgot about my suspicions when I dropped into the story. Great fun, recommended.

You can see Bee Princess on rejiquar or purchase it (and other fine creations by yours truly) on etsy —who knows, perhaps some day I'll actually get this marketing stuff down.

2014-12-01T00:00:00-05:00 Happy December, everyone. (Eek, definitely not ready.) Aaaand the parade of links continues. I just loved the art in Nonplayer and I also admired the artist for seemingly getting his promotional chops in a row; but after that first volume...nothing. Turns out there's a happy ending (or middle...

Happy December, everyone. (Eek, definitely not ready.)

Aaaand the parade of links continues. I just loved the art in Nonplayer and I also admired the artist for seemingly getting his promotional chops in a row; but after that first volume...nothing. Turns out there's a happy ending (or middle?) to this story: the creator had a kid, and has been busy.

Oh, ok.

Also chugging along with fantastic art and story, Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ fantastic Saga. I'm ashamed to admit I totally missed the subtleties that Vaughn uses to make the thing more accessible:

  • no more than six panels per page
  • no more than 12 balloons per page
  • no more than two lines of (typewritten) text per balloon

I doubt I'd ever be that disciplined, but not having to plow through mountains of text is certainly a plus. Which leads me to the next link, Death by Powerpoint which hardly surprises me at all, having been a fan (via my father, who really admired) Edward Tufte. Plus, I know people who work for the military|contractors, and this sort of thing is a real problem.

And finally, the way they sometimes do, interesting links just... appear on my machine. Here's a heartwarming one. Or, yanno, you can look at these art noveau styled earrings.

2014-11-28T00:00:00-05:00 links to documentaries---2nd wave feminism, Mona Lisa recreated photographically, fabulous mushroom photos 28nov2014

Hideho, another post cuzza I gotta bunch a links I want to close in the browser interesting looking documentary on 2nd wave feminism (which got good reviews from some folks who'd actually seen it; via strobist, (which I'm perusing for the 2nd or 3rd time—mebbe this time the lessons on using flash will stick) another documentary about recreating the Mona Lisa photographically (which frankly was more interesting to me as a form of the photographer's obsession); also via strobist, some fabulous photography of mushrooms (which have fascinated me with their form and color for a long time).

Or you can check out a pair of earrings I wanna say I made roughly at this time of year in either ’12 or ’13, courtesy of the wonderful Cyndy G., who brought a bunch of autumn-themed bits and pieces for us guild members to play with at a meeting.

2014-11-24T00:00:00-05:00 This is another one of those tedious me, me, me posts I've made as a reminder to myself next time I have to photograph stuff for my friend, Kristin. If you are an amateur photographer getting into using a manual flash, you may find it slightly useful. Otherwise, yawn. However, I've accumulated a...

This is another one of those tedious me, me, me posts I've made as a reminder to myself next time I have to photograph stuff for my friend, Kristin. If you are an amateur photographer getting into using a manual flash, you may find it slightly useful. Otherwise, yawn.

However, I've accumulated a buncha other links—how a Deutsch town ju-jitsued (I prefer this to the ‘prank’ characterization boingboing used) a neo-nazi group; how music engages the brain (though I wonder what would happen if they MRI'ed someone doing a difficult arty task like, say, making a bead, which also has something of a real time performance aspect to it...?

Racism has long, deep roots. The distribution of blacks in my home-town was determined shortly after the Civil War, when covenants were created that restricted where blacks could live; and those distributions remain largely the same, over a century later. F2tY is applying for colleges, and finding the process frustrating and tedious—not least because of the racist roots of the admissions process.

On a slightly more upbeat note, I'm proud to be part of the creative commons. Even if today's aspect of it ain't that exciting.

UPDATE (27nov14): Whoopsie, forgot to finish the page! Well, I made the second checklist visible, and added another photo while I was at it. Sorry about that!

2014-11-19T00:00:00-05:00 flames are round in space:) 19nov2014

Sorry about the no-posting—first, I caught something at our guild show in the beginning of November; not to mention I had all these bulbs. I managed by Monday to finish planting them, however haphazardly, racing snow and cold before the ground froze hard. On the plus side, perhaps this means the various little rodents won't be able to dig them up and eat them!

Today's piece is a blast from the past.

And seeing as it's wood, a material I'm more likely to compost or burn than string, this rather cool link about flame shape seems apropos...I do wonder what it would be like to try making beads in space—for one thing you wouldn't have to constantly spin the mandrel to keep the glass from drooping!

2014-11-06T00:00:00-05:00 Today is Japan Day:) First up, via boingboing, a couple of interesting links---one of a short video of a traditional wooden dollmaker ; the other about one of those organizer/tidy-types . I have battled clutter all my life, and have slowly gotten better at it (though frankly I think having more...

Today is Japan Day:)

First up, via boingboing, a couple of interesting links—one of a short video of a traditional wooden dollmaker; the other about one of those organizer/tidy-types. I have battled clutter all my life, and have slowly gotten better at it (though frankly I think having more resources has helped a good deal—i.e., I either can spend more money for storage solutions, or am more willing to get rid of crap because I know I have the wherewithal to replace it).

Thus far, the most useful (recent) decluttering advice I got was fly lady's shine your sink. I didn't really think it would help that much, but it did. (Again, I was helped by the fact that we recently [almost finished the ] redo of our kitchen, so it's a lot more functional—and pleasant—than it was.) The Japanese woman Marie Kondo's advice is interesting: focus not on what you discard, but what you wish to keep, and keep only those things you love.

Right now I have to pull financial records from 2008–2013. I do not love them, but having them has certainly made coping with bureaucracies much easier. —There was (not altogether to my surprise, having just visited Japan, and stayed in/visited several Japanese homes) a very minimalist aesthetic shown in the author interview. It's lovely, but obviously these folks have someone else to deal with all the paperwork necessary to run a household (another thing that's slowly making super-tidyness more available: computers, which make the necessity of storing a lot of boring crap much more compact.)

But even leaving aside the issues of ugly-but-necessary stuff, or things I would happily get rid of (because they belong to other members of the household who would like to keep their possessions, thank-you-very-much), there's another issue, which is that, because I am an artist who works in so many media, I have an awful lot of stuff with highly variable desirableness. For example: I have some reproductions of old coins that have been sitting around for years. Decades, literally. Currently I mostly use them in my fukaro (the counterweight bag for kumihimo) but I just have started a new hobby for which they will come most extremely handy. Because I cycle in and out of media, and have a difficult time predicting when I'll need something (not to mention the fact that I often make my best art out of my most despised supplies, because I don't care so much about the outcome, and can let go) this philosophy, while most extremely appealing, is difficult.

I guess the bottom line is that, even more than being tidy (much as I love that) I derive satisfaction from ‘perfect use’ —finding the most efficient way to use, store or deal with a given item.

Finally, to round out my discussion of things Japanese, I thought I'd mention a brilliant manga I recently read: Nijigahara Holograph. This horror comic came out, I wanna say, in 2006, but was just released in English in 2014. It's an absolutely brilliant story, with multiple points of view (and some very unreliable narrators to boot) that took about 5 readings to nail down the plot. Briefly, the story is about a young man, a 5th grader who transfers to a school in which another girl was killed—drowned—by her classmates.

The art is very nice, and the character design is top-notch (absolutely necessary; otherwise figuring out the plot would be impossible), and the transitions—oh, man, the transitions in this book are amazing —as, for example when the two teachers are discussing the protagonist's history, and that he possibly jumped from his prior school's roof; then we cut to him, listening to the other children tell their victim to jump—there are lots of other examples, in which the text and images work in concert to switch from one timeline or character viewpoint to another's.

Despite the intricately plotted storyline and the richness of the characters—with the possible exception of the murdered girl(s), everyone is culpable, cruel, damaged and damaging—the story is, at bottom, the tale of a paedophilic rape; and the failure of everyone, but everyone to protect the victim. The book is so brilliantly done that, for the moment, I'm inclined to let this pass; but I can't help wondering why, if the other main plot thread is the protagonist's existentialist despair, we need a harrowing rape (with a side of incest) to balance his angst.

Despite this reservation, this has been the most engaging thing I've read in a very long time, and if you're looking for something with layers and layers of symbolism, then I recommend this book.

Or, you can check out the propane shed mouse.

2014-11-05T00:00:00-05:00 Reviews of Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword, and _Dear White People_. 05nov2014

Just finished Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword, which, I'm guessing from internal details as well as some other evidence (the fact that the classes of ships in the Radch empire are divided into Justices, Swords and Mercies) is the second book in what I presume will be a trilogy. Her first swept the awards, garnering hugo, nebula, locus’ best new writer, etc.

The worldbuilding is so delicious I hesitate to say much about it, lest I spoil the surprise; but if you'd like the smallest of tastes, one of her short stories, set in the same universe (though from quite a different point of view) is available online. It's a very good story, though I like the novels better.

Also highly recommended, from another beginner, is the film Dear White People. Looking over the rotten tomatoes’ reviews, most people focused on various aspects of the film; only one of the reviewers was made seriously uncomfortable by its racial themes, a tribute, in my opinion, of its creator's sincere effort to make, primarily, an entertaining film more about people's assorted coping mechanisms for dealing with structural racism.

The film is an ensemble piece, focusing mostly on the efforts of 4 people, 2 men and 2 women, to fit in at an ivy league school. The protagonist might be said to be Sam White, a fiery would-be film-maker with light skin privilege whose scathing indictments of everyday microagressions she illustrates on her eponymous radio show:

Dear White People: the number of black friends you need not to look racist has been raised to two; and your weed-man Tyrone doesn't count.


In a similar way, the quiet, reserved Lionel acts as the viewpoint character, observing much and saying little: as someone who fits in nowhere, black or white, straight or gay, he makes for the ideal observer.

What was particularly interesting to me was that since I've read (for years) about most of the problems illustrated in the film (why do the black kids get their own space, tragic muluttas, black names being less ‘salable’ on resumes, touching hair, etc) I didn't feel particularly uncomfortable that these issues came up; they are, after all, facts of life if you're (USian) black. But what I didn't realize till I thought about it later is that there is almost no male gaze in this film; or rather, the eye candy is, for a change, all male: Troy, whom one senses in other circs would be perfectly happy to smoke weed, play video games & watch brainless sf, has huge pecks and a very nice six pack, which get shown off in the film. Repeatedly. Personally, I would have preferred the opportunity to admire skinny, nerdy Lionel, but the absence of boobage was so refreshing I'd nearly forgotten how truly rare it is in any kind of a film you'd see in a mainstream theatre.

This movie was (at least partially) funded by indiegogo (to which I was goaded into contributing by f2tE), and, as it happens, I actually know somebody who reminds me of Lionel, so I was predisposed to like the film. It is, perhaps a bit rough around the edges (though I'm not of a film critic to be more specific) but I really enjoyed it, not least because it so thoroughly demolished that ‘those people are all alike’ myth.

Plus, serious as it is, it has some great humor, and a pretty upbeat ending:) \\

So go see it. Otherwise, you're stuck with a post that languished for three years before I finally got desparate enough to dig it out of storage.

2014-11-04T00:00:00-05:00 Discussion of Piketty's _Capital in the XXI Century_. 04nov2014

So one of the reasons—though hardly the only one—I've not been posting much is that the wizard set me up with a dual monitor system, and the new monitor is quite a bit brighter than the old one. Which makes all my image settings, that I've been using for my camera(s) and the website, for years, look terribly overexposed. I actually ordered a monitor colorimeter (not that I've figured out how to use it to actually calibrate said monitors, mind you) in the hopes that I could somehow deal with this dilemma.

Eventually, I suppose I will figure this stuff out. (Not helped by the fact that I sit at a bright window, because, um, I like looking out the window...?) In the meantime, some non image related updates:)

Lessee, I finished the Piketty (Capital in the XXI Century). I gather the author did a TED talk, but his frenetic delivery drove me absolutely batty, so I much preferred the book. Yes, I read the entire 700 pages (though only some of the endnotes—personally, I detest them, and with modern typesetting, it's not really that big a deal to park them at the bottom of the page as proper footnotes, so those of us who like footnotes can, and everyone else can ignore them—and btw, the design of this book was quite handsome, with proper ffl ligatures and everything). You don't have to read the entire thing to get the idea, because like a lot of truly passionate academics, Piketty lays out his arguments in a clear way. The thrust of the book can basically be summed as follows:

  1. The ROI (rate of investment) on capital (i.e. housing, land, factories, whatever your money is invested in) is roughly 4%–5%, on average. The rate of growth, which is birthrate (less deaths, so it can be negative, though currently isn't) plus increased efficiency per worker was historically 0.8% and may go as high as 1.6%. (For example, it is far more efficient for me to sell 10 prints over one drawing, and a 1000 books over either, and potentially unlimited page-views on this website over any.) Obviously even 4% > 1.6%, so capital will accrue to people who already have it. Or IOW, the rich get richer, which is not exactly news, but now we have a nice, simple mathematical model to explain why, in a structural manner.
  2. The other half of his thesis is that current technology makes nailing down the numbers, and then crunching them, to extract long-term historical trends, much more feasible.

The part of the book that's exciting all the discussion, of course, is his claim that the 20th century is an anomaly: the shocks, as Piketty calls them, of WWI and II redistributed the fin-de-siècle fortunes of the 19ca robber barons—and everyone else for that matter (via taxation and/or inflation); and the deep and vivid memories of the Great Depression promoted more progressive tax schemes.

It was a bit of a shock to me that not only during the ancien regime did the bottom 50% own only 5% (if that) of the wealth, but even after the revolution the bottom half still only owned 5% of the wealth. That is, it didn't (and still doesn't) seem to matter what sort of government you have, the top 10% are gonna have most of the money, with the top 1% owning anywhere from a quarter to half of all the wealth in a given country. (This is one reason I'm not certain campaign finance reform will “fix” things; it will help, I have no doubt, but the rich will figure out new ways to protect their resources.)

Back in the day, these moguls justified their greed with the divine right of kings: if you were a better sort of person, then of course you had more money—hence the class system of the UK, or India's castes. It took us americans (usians?) to come up with a new (and horrible twist) on this thinking: we invented whiteness to justify greater wealth. It also acted as a handy wedge to set poor whites against poor blacks; much the way wealthy conservatives currently set poor religious christians against women with all this abortion reproductive-justice-of-any-kind folderol.

There are a good many wealthy people who claim (with justification) that they've worked very hard to earn their money; but that the 50% 47% who have no wealth are simply too lazy to do equally well brings to mind one of the most striking asides Piketty makes: if those wealthy people are so rich by talent alone, then really they oughtn't mind resetting the clock of their wealth back to zero every 20 years, because they'll surely regain their place!

That framing makes very clear how absurd any claim that doesn't take into account luck (which is mostly how wealthy one's parents are).

I once read an interview of a bunch of people, each making 10x more than the last, starting with an immigrant dishwasher. I can't find that article, but the striking thing was that no-one, even the poorest, was particularly angry at the next level up...except the very wealthiest, who seemed deathly afraid, and angry, at all those below him. I strongly suspect, if we could reset the clock of wealth every twenty years, free education, UBI (Universal basic incomes) and other programs would suddenly become a lot more popular. Yet, as the story above makes clear, such drastic measures are not necessary; for everyone except the very richest (i.e. those making over 80–100x average wages, or whose fortunes are over 100 million*), one merely need promote a little generosity for all.

The ‘[y]ou're not paying taxes, you're buying civilization'was tremendously helpful for dealing with that resentment (of paying taxes); so too the memory that social programs were very popular in this country—till black people started benefitting from them. Well, I want everyone to have a good life, and what a stupid reason for cutting well-fare. Nobody needs nor should have so much money that they can spend millions if not billions on political campaigns, or outbid museums for art we should all be able to enjoy (as opposed to a form of showing off to one's peers). It's not healthy for society, and I don't think it's particularly healthy for the billionaires, either—who wants to spend their lives worrying the proles are coming for them with pitchforks? (In fact, Piketty argues the reason US super-managers are making 23million/yr and the like is because we no longer have that 1950s 90% marginal tax rate, which obviously needs to come back—for one thing, is it really in a corp's best interest to be shelling out that much for one person, when the folks cleaning the toilets are barely scraping by? Dunno ’bout you, but I bet being a manager is more enjoyable.) Most of the wealth does not need to belong to the 1%; we, the people, can change our laws.

If we so choose. Speaking of which, today (in the USA, at least) is election day...

*Calculations: if for convenience we set the average household income in the US at 50,000, then people earning over 5 million dollars a year, either as wages, or interest on capital (a 4–5% annual income on 100 million dollars would yield 5 million a year) should pay back that extra (e.g. taxes), to be used to build infrastructure: roads and bridges and internet and free college educations for all. Yanno, the civilization that makes 100 million dollar fortunes possible. (Or they can go the Carnegie Mellon/Bill Gates whitewashing route, and give it away to the charities of their choice—libraries and malaria respectively.) Cuz frankly I think anyone ought to be able to live on an income 100x the average!

2014-10-13T00:00:00-05:00 Links to videos about Turkey, Tuvan throat singing, Columbus Day and a blood moon. 13oct2014

I have not been very productive lately, despite the gorgeous autumn weather we've been having: at least, not on the art front. (I have been plowing through Piketty's Capital, plus a book on Korea, and have yet to extract “homework” from that massive reprint of the seminal Josef Albers 2 volume manual on color, which I can tell already is gonna be a lotta work—it's been a loooooooong time since I took Tammany's 2-D design color theory class...)

However I did want to post the Oatmeal's exhortation to rename that holiday we have here in US on the 2nd Monday of October.* Which I guess around here would mebbe be ‘Happy Huron Day.’ To round out the links that have been aggregating, here's a splendid short video about Turkey courtesy of boingboing, an amazing video of a woman doing overtone singing (scroll down for a guy demoing a variety of Tuvan styles, which is what most people think of when this technique of throat singing comes up—aaaand, update, languagelog's take); finally, in honor of my, um, host-family|not-quite brother-in-law, an absolutely stunning photo of the blood moon we had recently as he was kind enough to send me a really nice one via email:)

I have sort of a soft spot for ‘blood moons’ —not just because I got a glimpse of one of the most gorgeous orange moons I've ever seen the following evening, but also because I wrote a story about one in which I was finally beginning, at least, to get the hang of plotting.

Anyway. In celebration of yellow, orange and red moons in particular and autumn colors generally (the trees are now turning some truly spectacular colors) have an autumn colored mouse.

*Content note: it should be noted, that though hetries, there's a lot of sexism (not to mention fat-shaming) on the site, though the link I posted is ok.

†This would be one of the wizard's faves, frex.

2014-09-15T00:00:00-05:00 Well, just to continue on with the monarch theme, I was lucky enough to score some caterpillars (my milkweed evidently not being enticing enough to attract monarch eggs on its own...just milkweed moth caterpillars, which are furry and cute, to be sure. But not monarchs.) I've been collecting and ...

Well, just to continue on with the monarch theme, I was lucky enough to score some caterpillars (my milkweed evidently not being enticing enough to attract monarch eggs on its own...just milkweed moth caterpillars, which are furry and cute, to be sure. But not monarchs.)

I've been collecting and losing links, as usual. At the urging of my bead buddy Frances, I read the ‘Steal Like an Artist’ guy's latest (Show Your Work) which is sort of the reverse (sharing your stuff so's people can steal from you;) There's a lot to like in this quick and easy read, and much I agree with: sharing—documenting—your ongoing thought processes, and letting people bounce their concepts off yours—that bouncing back and forth, especially amongst several people (a ‘school’) sets up a chain reaction that's good for everyone. This is why cities foment ideas: as the number of people goes up, their number of interactions scales logarithmically, and the ideas start fountaining.

The only place where I stumbled was mebbe half way through, where the author urges his readership to sort of ruminate half-baked ideas publicly. Yes, that can be helpful (though an awful lot of people get themselves into trouble posting ill-considered stuff), and to be just Kleon does admit you should keep the stuff you can't bear to have torn apart private, at least for a bit; but I was getting a bit of the ‘I'm a white cis het male’ vibe, which was perhaps strengthened by his mentioning Kathy Sierra.

Kathy Sierra was the first woman I saw hounded off the internet waaaaay back in 2007—all for the innocuous crime of being a woman in tech. Seriously. She was signed up to do a talk at some tech seminar, which infuriated a bunch of dudebros and was sent death threats. She's still off the internet afict, and has been joined by a bunch of other women suffering similar horrid abuse—Rebecca Watson and Anita Sarkeesian immediately spring to mind, and of course, Zoe Quinn, who like Sierra was (is?) involved in gaming and is, um, also currently “enjoying” an appalling stream of rape and death threats. So why is Kleon talking as if Sierra's still a presence, as he advocates in this book ‘Stick Around’ is the title of the concluding chapter? And, while the author deserves kudos for alternating the genders of indeterminate persons, of the named individuals I counted in the first 50 pages, 36 were men and two were women (one of which was cited as a reporter, rather than a creative.) I doubt the ratio of PoC was much better.

So I'm thinking I'm not entirely unjustified in believing the author has a bit of blindness to the problems marginalized folk have trying to make their voices heard.

But, like all good self-help books, this one ends with the caveat of ‘keep what's useful, dump the rest.’ Which brings me to another self-help book, more specifically about learning to draw. I like the Betty Edwards’ book, because most people firmly associate being an artist with being able to draw representationally, which is what she focuses upon. Mona Brookes’ Monart method, originally developed for very young children (who aren't necessarily fixed on representation) backs up further to simply the joys of making marks on paper. She has a number of step-by-step by-the-numbers approaches to constructing drawings, for example a 5-category vocabulary of shapes, and a ball and cylinder method for laying out the human figure. The book is further helped by showing a wide variety of artists: it's extraordinarily inclusive.

But most of all she simply encourages people to believe in themselves.

That is most extremely important. Particularly when I taught adults, I spent a significant amount of time reassuring them that they weren't making a mistake, or that, even if they did, it wasn't a big deal.

I'd like to think I'm pretty fearless in art (I mean, paper is cheap. So, if you screw up, no worries, shred, compost or pitch and try again. It's not rocket science, where someone's gonna burn up in the atmosphere if you screw up.) Yet even I found her citing a study that showed students who copied photographs and/or other artists’ figurative works to be more proficient than those who worked/learned from a live model alone to be incredibly liberating.

(Why oh why didn't my frustrated mother, when I asked her to draw me a horsie to copy, didn't she simply plop of a picture book, ideally of photos, but even of illustrations, instead of trying to make a drawing—badly—all the while complaining she couldn't do it well? Big big kudos though, for trying, rather than hiding her lack of skill by discouraging me from wanting to make art. Similarly, thanks be to my early grade school art teacher, Mrs Smith, again for encouraging me. —Someday I'll post some of my childhood scribbles; until then you'll just have to accept my word for it that I had excruciatingly average talent; I've simply put a lot of time into getting better, and putting the time in is pretty much available to everyone. Born to genius, not so much.)

Photos simplify the problem, breaking it down into more steps, and thus manageable pieces. We slow learners need that. That said, Drawing for Older Children & Teens (Adults too) is not the work to consult for perspective. Brookes’ understanding of the subject is weak enough that a drawing purporting to show a box in 2 point perspective looked as if it were floating off the seemingly trapezoidal table it was supposed to be resting on, despite other sketches in the series clearly indicating said table was supposed to be rectangular. The artist failed to finish the bottoms of the legs of said table, a clear indicator of her confusion. Use David Chelsea's Perspective for Comic Book Artists (though women and PoC should be prepared for what I sincerely hope were unintentional sexist and racist flubs.)

Well, I think that's enough ranting for one day. Perhaps next time I can talk a bit medium and Marmite Sue. Oh, and perhaps squee some more over the fact that inkscape is jumping from v0.48 to 0.91, and remind people that the National Weather Service is uber-cool, and getting more so: they evidently have worked up a bunch of resources for coping with extreme weather events (beyond hiding in the basement, which is my basic response...)

Or you can enjoy my admittedly so-so (but CC licensed) pix of monarchs in the making:)