Blogs: Visual Arts

Can you guess what was the first Western television series to air on Soviet Television?  Here’s a hint:  it was also the first series to air on HBO - still stumped?   Fraggle Rock starring Jim Henson's Muppets. Yes, before The Sopranos, before the Game of Thrones, there was Fraggle Rock.

    

In Jim Henson, a biography, by Brian Jay Jones, we see how Jim was born into a big family  where holidays and birthday gatherings were marked by laughter and stories of growing up.  His creativity and ideas were encouraged by his family- especially by  his Grandma Dear.  But he knew from  the time he was a young man he knew he wanted to work in television.  He  mourned the fact that television’s great potential was  was used to sell products and to dull minds. It  was important to him that television be used 

 to educate and excite people- adults as well as children. Jim had  that  type of single- mindedness that showed him what to do, and the  tireless creativity to do it.

 Hence his creations- muppet and otherwise, reach out  to us like real living breathing people. He also had that rare gift of attracting innovative  and inventive artists like himself and giving them the power and opportunity as well, to be experiment, to dream, to create.

  Jim  saw television as a mighty instrument for change.  And change it did - Sesame Street helped to change the way children were taught- in fun short segments that kept them engaged and attentive.  It was entertaining to adults as well as children, so  it encouraged the whole family to sit and watch together. It mixed sophisticated humor with just plain sillieness that was hard to resist.  Sesame Street was such  a wild success that it led to the prime time program The Muppet Show and then to HBO’s Fraggle Rock. They all shared the  value  of inspiration through entertainment- pure and simple-but again appealing to both adults and children.
 
 

If  Jim Henson were still alive now what would he be doing?  Something tells me that he wouldn’t be putting  the muppets on Survivor unless it was to show how they could all live on a desert island together.  But best of all we would still  be experiencing the fresh  creativity of a  man who was able to achieve what no amount of political  diplomacy has achieved before or since-stimulating our  minds by  touching our hearts with laughter and song and love.  As it is, he left us with a unique legacy.   One that his favorite invention allows us to still enjoy.  As Uncle Matt says in Fraggle Rock:   "The magic is always there."

Self portrait paintingBefore I became a parent, I was a painter. When my son was born, I imagined a mini easel propped up next to mine, where we would paint together. If anybody has actually made this work for longer than three minutes, I’d love to hear about it. I will also suspect you are lying through your teeth.Book Jacket: One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan

Now that my son is more self-sufficient, I think I’ve simply stalled out and I need an assignment to help jump start my art.  I already went back to art school in my thirties, so this time I'm taking a different and less costly approach.  My first course is One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan. The 42 exercises in this book center around painting ordinary things, but the examples from contributing artists are far from mundane. There is no muse more accessible than your every day surroundings and I am already looking ahead to day 11: Paint a storage still life.

Next quarter, I'm considering How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.  I bought this book for my (then) 12-year-old niece with the intention of hanging on to it until she was a little older. In theBook Jacket: How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith end, I gave it to her anyway because I’m disorganized and found myself otherwise empty-handed on her birthday. It turned out not to matter that Exploration #26: Becoming Leonard Cohen, didn’t strike a familiar chord. Her interpretations of Exploration #9: Case of Curiosities and #34 Interesting Garbage, completely blew me away.

I hope to graduate this time, with a renewed and regular art habit. Feel free to join me. Admission is open year-round and you only need to dust off your art supplies and pull out your library card to get started with your first assigment!

As a child, I spent a lot of time with animals. My family had dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, lizards, assorted tropical birds, and even a herd of 13 goats. Moose visited the yard once or twice a week, and when the snow was deep sometimes ermine (those little weaselly-looking white critters with the black-tipped tails) peeked in our windows. To while away the dark winter nights we would check out a film projector from the local library, tack a white sheet up on the wall of the log cabin, and watch films (on reels!) of wildebeests stampeding across Africa, bears fishing in Canada, warthogs wallowing in the mud… somewhere far warmer than where we were. To this day, I can’t resist checking out lavish books of animal photography, big expensive books that would be awkward to own but that are a treat to look at for a few weeks.

Across the Ravaged Land book jacketAcross the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. is my favorite of these. When it arrived on hold, I was shocked by its size. Opening it revealed majestic and ominous black and white photos of elephants, lions, hyenas, and other African wildlife, created without a telephoto lens or digital camera. Apparently Brandt is gutsy enough to walk right up to a hyena to take its portrait. Especially striking are the eerie shots of animals whose every last feather and hoof have been preserved by the mineral waters of a natron lake, including a bat perched among thorns that looks like it belongs on the cover of some long lost apocalyptic folk album. But the heart of the book is with the elephants, so monumental and solemn - fittingly so, since some were killed by poachers not long after their portraits were taken. A beautiful but sometimes bleak book, well worth a look.

It may prove elusive to locate just exactly the imagery you are looking for on the Internet, or by searching for books in the library catalog. The Central Library Picture File Collection helps solve this problem. For many years (starting long before the Internet!), books beyond repair, outdated calendars, and discarded magazines were reviewed by librarians and organized by volunteers into massive file cabinets of pictures, all by subject. 

Multnomah County Library picture file collection sampleThe composite picture shown here is from the file of womens' fashion from 1950, just the single year 1950. Womens' fashion design is one of the most extensive sections, with a file for each year from 1900-2005. There are picture files for hundreds of topics from the arts, history, social sciences and natural sciences.

Pictures can be checked out just like books. To use this collection, ask for picture files at the Central Library Art and Music Reference Desk, on the third floor. You can check out up to 50 images selected from multiple folders.

The individual pictures are all protected by copyright laws of the US, since they are from printed books and magazines, published after 1922. As such, the goal of the collection is for helping people shape the ideas for their projects.

Felt Swan from the Hermitage MuseumThe felt swan shown here, on display in the Hermitage Museum, dates from the 4th-5th centuries BC.  An object made of felt and deer hair with the figure supported by wooden stakes, it was part of a burial mound in the Eastern ranges of the Altai region in Russia. This image is from the book Felt, by Willow G. Mullins, an account of the many uses of felt over spans of centuries to contemporary times. It is an example of a type of book in the library that can serve as good starting points for your imagination, beginning with raw materials.

When experimenting with various types of media and processes associated with them, another type of book that is useful to remember about are the books about art hazards. As many people know from studying art, it's easy to forge ahead and forget that some of the properties of materials may be less than benign for health.

 

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