45 degrees off

Seeing the same thing from a different angle.

Monthly Archives: April 2012

Teachable Moments in Art

“Teachable moments” are often the moments where something happens that makes a perfect illustration of the point you want to get across. If you want to teach people that wearing seat belts saves lives, a “teachable moment” is when a car wreck is reported on the news where the car is totaled but everyone in it was wearing a seat belt and survived with minor bruises and cuts.

I believe teachable moments happen every day. I also believe art can provide us with many teachable moments. It can sometimes be difficult to get people to think about an issue or idea until there’s an illustration right in front of them. Especially when the issue or idea relates to horrible things that happen or are done to people, it doesn’t really make anyone feel better to have a real case on hand to use as an illustration in their teaching. Art can provide us with fictional cases that still make excellent examples or icebreakers to begin a conversation about an issue.

A few months, I found out about the From Enchantment to Down photo series by Thomas Czarnecki. The photos are shown in this article, but I’ve chosen not to show even one of them here in this post. The reason is I’ve looked them all over carefully before and would rather not do so again. They are upsetting to me.

But why are they upsetting to me? Mr. Czarnecki has created a series of pictures showing the “Disney Princesses” all grown up and meeting very depressing, perhaps even violent, ends. Is it the depictions of such things happening to beloved characters that bothers me? Is it that it makes me think of violence against women in the real world? I asked myself those questions when I looked at the pictures before, especially since I didn’t interpret them the way the people who brought them to my attention did.

I became aware of the photo series because of a tweet going around on Twitter claiming that someone had tried to be “edgy” by showing all the Disney Princesses as rape victims. There was a lot of talking about how sickening that is when an artist thinks they’re “cool” for doing something like that, and how the media has too much violence against women as entertainment already, but I didn’t see any discussion of other interpretations of the work. I wasn’t even seeing real discussion of the work, but simply of the idea stated in the original tweet… that someone had depicted them all as rape victims.

It was weeks later, when the story about the photos was run in several big internet news outlets and online versions of a few newspapers, that I finally saw discussion of the work. Not everyone cared for it. Some people found it to be disgusting and senseless. Some people thought it was brilliant. Every website reporting on it seemed to interpret the pictures different ways, and even commenters had different interpretations. According to the article I’ve linked here:

Mr. Czarnecki admits his aim was pure culture shock.

The photographer was inspired to create a clash between what he calls ‘the naive universe and the innocence of the fairy tales’ and a ‘much darker reality that is as much part of our common culture’ provided through imagery we see in entertainment and media.

‘So many Disney characters embedded in the collective culture as sweet and innocent creatures that I decided to get out of their recognized fairy-tale frame and universe,’ he said.

I’d tried looking for a statement from the artist about what his motivation was when I first saw the work but hadn’t found one then. What I did find was an interesting split in feminist discussions of the work. Most of the feminist discussions I saw on Twitter focused on that idea that he was depicting them as rape victims, and that somehow this was to be “entertaining” or “edgy”. I saw feminist discussions in other places, such as Tumblr, that seemed more in line with what his eventual statement said. Many of the women I saw discussing the photos are not fans of the Disney Princesses, seeing them as bad role models for girls, and were talking about these photos as a warning about what can happen if you deny your true self and live for fashion and pleasing a man. Interpretations of individual photos included seeing them as rape victims, drug and alcohol abusers, suffering from depression, and I saw at least one case of the photo of Ariel being interpreted as a warning about ocean pollution.

The wonderful thing is that the work was being discussed as having value and lessons to be learned from it, rather than judging the artist’s possible reasons for doing it.

This has been on my mind again because of a recent post on The Stories of O. I don’t play the card game she’s talking about (Magic: The Gathering), but the issue isn’t about the game. It’s about the art on one of the cards.

O explains the uproar about the art more fully, and there’s at least one commenter who gave some additional information on the context of the card, but the short version is this :

There’s a story that goes with the game. The woman is a powerful necromancer who cursed the man, and he’s gone after her to try to force her to lift the curse. Another card shows the continuation of their fight, in which the woman wins. There are some people who seem to have reacted to the art without taking context into account. They see the woman as helpless and pinned down by a large violent man, and there have been statements that they understand there is no sexual assault happening, but that the scene calls such events to mind.

Those speaking out against judging the art out of context, like O, have pointed to how the card makes it clear the woman is not helpless and “unarmed”  (she’s casting a fireball spell) and that this is a fight not just between a man and a woman, but between a man who is rightfully enraged because he was cursed by a woman who is a powerful necromancer. I’d like to step away from that argument for a moment and look at how this could become a teachable moment.

This art provides opportunities to discuss a number of issues. It can be used to show that being smaller doesn’t make you helpless. (She is casting a fireball spell, and she does win the fight.) Discussions of fictional worlds where women can be even more powerful than many men can open doors for discussions about how women can be empowered in our own world by simply getting people to think about the subject. There are still people who think rape is about sex, and this art could be used in an educational context to correct that misguided idea. Yes, it is clear from the context that sexual assault is not what’s happening here. However, the fact that people are able to see it so easily out of context means it would make it easier to show people the paralells and educate them about assault being about power and dominance over another person, no matter what kind of assault it is.

If you’re fighting a war against ignorance and outdated societal attitudes, use weapons of opportunity. Turn the tools of the masters against them.

I did figure out why Mr. Czarnecki’s photos upset me, by the way. They pushed me to think about things I usually avoid thinking about. I learned quite a bit about myself from the experience.  I had to make myself look at them and ask myself some uncomfortable questions to get there, though.

Note: These are very hot-button issues, and intense discussions about them have happened more recently in some social circles than others. I will open comments on Monday, but would rather not spend my weekend moderating them.


Then and Now

Last week I came across the first drawing I ever did with a Wacom tablet. A very messy snail.

snail 2009That’s from 2009, and I drew it as soon as I finished installing drivers, software, and getting things configured. The first time I held a stylus in my hand and struggled to make it feel as comfortable as a pencil, that snail was the result.

I decided today to draw the snail again.


snail 2012

The 2009 snail took several hours. The 2012 snail took about ten or fifteen minutes.

Again, I was drawing with a Wacom tablet, though I did get a newer model in the past three years. Both snails were drawn in ArtRage, though I was using the basic ArtRage in 2009 and use Studio Pro now.

Part of me thinks it would interesting to draw the snail again once every three years. I’m not certain I’d remember to, though.

It’s easy to get so focused on where we are and how far we have to go that we forget to look at where we are as compared to where we’ve been. It’s a long journey. It takes time.

Maybe moving “at a snail’s pace” isn’t always a bad thing.



Black and White Fabric now available through Spoonflower!

Updated with pictures of fabric swatches!

One of the bigger projects on my 2012 “To Do” list is done!

I shared this picture through social networks just as the Easter holiday weekend was starting and said I’d have an announcement about it this week:

Sneak peek of the floral fabric design.

That’s a sample view of the black and white floral fabric, and there’s also an abstract design inspired by feathers.

Yes, I said I would do a (singular) design this year, but it turned into two before I was finished.

Spoonflower has quite a few options for fabric with varying prices. If you’d like to test a piece for quality before committing to a larger purchase, you can order a small test swatch for $5.00. I’ve ordered a test swatch from them before. It’s an 8 inch X 8 inch swatch, which isn’t big enough to make much from but does allow you to see how things print and even run it through the wash and put it under an iron.

Both designs were done with quilters in mind, and one of the fabric options is Kona brand cotton. I can imagine a lot of uses for the floral design, though, and I’m sure someone more creative with fabric than I am could come up with a whole list of projects for the feathery design!

You can find the black and white flowers here, and the abstract feathery fabric here on Spoonflower.


My fabric swatches arrived in the mail today, so I’m updating this post to add pictures of the designs printed on fabric. I chose the Kona brand Premium Quilting Weight Cotton for my swatches. I think the photos give a decent view of how smooth the lines print, but the lighting and my camera make the color just a little off.  The fabric is pure white. The black lines aren’t jet black, but they do not look what I would call “faded” at all. It’s more like a soft black that doesn’t jump out at you too much but is definitely black. I’d say you could put this fabric in a project with other fabrics without it dominating everything, nor would it look faded and “blah”. As the artist, I am very pleased with the results!  The feathery design especially looks even better on the fabric than on the website.

Black and White Flowers on Spoonflower

Feathery fabric on Spoonflower


Do You Need Talent to be An Artist?

What is “talent”?

Dictionary.com lists as the first definition “a special natural ability or aptitude” and uses art as an example – ” a talent for drawing”.

It is a word that is often used to compliment an artist for their work. “She’s a very talented artist.” “You have so much talent!”

It is also a word often used to express one’s lack of ability. “I wish I could draw like that, but I just don’t have any talent for it.”

To understand what’s wrong with this idea, let’s look a little more at the word “aptitude”.

An aptitude is a component of a competency to do a certain kind of work at a certain level, which can also be considered “talent”. Aptitudes may be physical or mental. Aptitude is not knowledge, understanding, learned or acquired abilities (skills) or attitude. The innate nature of aptitude is in contrast to achievement, which represents knowledge or ability that is gained

(from the Wikipedia entry for “aptitude”, emphasis is my own)

This is why I rarely describe an artist as being “talented”. I even shudder a little when I catch myself saying it without meaning to. It’s not an easy habit to break, but I’d like to ask everyone to make that effort to break it with me. Consider the implications of what you’re saying when you call someone “talented”.

Many artists have no artistic talent at all. They are highly skilled and create beautiful work, but it all comes from years of working hard to learn and perfect their craft. Try using those words instead. “He’s an amazingly skilled artist!” “She’s an artist who creates beautiful pieces!”

I know, I know… I just argued that talent is different from skill. So if you can’t look at someone’s work and know if they were born with artistic talent or not, how can you know it’s skill instead?

Even talented artists have to develop their skills. Talent doesn’t do the job for you… it just makes getting started a bit easier. A talented artist who doesn’t develop their skills will become mediocre rather quickly.

And don’t sell yourself short if you’re not an artist! Ask yourself what your mental dependence on talent is doing for you. Is it holding you back because your belief that an artist must be talented sabotages your own efforts? Or is it your excuse for not making the time to develop skills?

I joked a couple of days ago on Twitter that my buddy Brad Stover has “a magic camera that makes people look good”. I can’t take photographs the way he does, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the camera isn’t at fault. I’ve seen photographers talk to each other about their work. “Which camera are you using?” is only one of the questions they ask, often followed by questions about lenses, lights, time of day, film processing, etc. There’s a lot of talk about equipment, but also about how the equipment was used. About knowledge and skill.

I can’t take pictures like that because I’ve never put serious effort into mastering that craft. Not because I lack talent with a camera in my hand, but because I have not done the work to develop the skill.

The next time you’re tempted to say, “I wish I could draw/paint/take photos/bake like that, but…” ask yourself something. Do you really wish you could do it? So much that you’re willing to devote your time and energy to learning, practicing, and mastering it? Or do you simply wish you could get those results without having to learn the craft?

If you really want to do it, don’t hold yourself back with a misguided dependence on “talent”. It’s not a requirement.