Tag Archives: art

Ways of looking

I follow the English public thinker Alain de Botton on Twitter, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does provoke thought in his posts, books, and links, which of course is the whole purpose of being a live, working philosopher.  Yesterday, he tweeted about the “evils” of photography versus learning to draw and linked to an article in The Philosopher’s Mail about phone-photography versus sketching.  I don’t agree with the article, by and large.

The points I chose to take away from the article were:

1) we shouldn’t be living our lives through our gadgets, and that phone camera snaps shouldn’t substitute for being actually present in a moment, for noticing the minute details versus just collecting proof that Kilroy Was Here before we move on quickly, because there’s a (socially constructed and inherently false) schedule to keep to so that we can document to the next snapchattable moment, and,

2) by cultivating a “slow” skill such as drawing, especially when it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us, we learn to take in the world in a different way, to truly notice the depth of beauty all around us and all the fine details that we can breathe in if we just look,

3) the ability to look and perceive both the whole and its details is important.

I agree, fully, that there are too many of us who are distracted in our everyday doings, but it didn’t start with the camera– perhaps with the telegraph, or same day post.  The fact is, life is fast and has been getting faster since the invention of the printing press (darn that Gutenberg, he had no value for the small quiet value of hand-inked vellum), and “drawing” as a way to stop & smell the roses is all well and good as a metaphor.  It’s not so great as a general moral proposition.

The points inherent in the article with which I take issue are, if not legion, ones that have been brought up by people far more articulate than me–

1) that a camera phone photograph cannot inherently capture finer details,

2) that the takers of camera phone photographs are all rushing, rushing, rushing, rather than– pausing to notice and focus in on that detail– the cornice of that building, that tulip, that couple embracing,

 

3) that the takers of camera phone photographs do not take the time, later, to share that captured detail with other people later, either in print or on one of the many social media sites where photographers congregate to share photos, look for those details they personally find beautiful and worthy of documentation and sharing (Instagram? Flickr?  Twitter?  Does Mr. de Botton not know about photography social media platforms, or that photos can be shared on the platform he uses?)

4) that all the details & moments captured on camera phones are inherently “shallow”– selfies or fashion shots or pictures of expensive meals or other consumables rather than externally objective objects of beauty– travel, nature, animals, smiles, architecture, “what a wondrous thing is man” when he manages to capture a macro of a peacock feather– when, in fact, a review of any mobile photography website will show you the whole range of human and earthly existence,

5) that drawing is inherently and always better than phone (or any other) photography, and that photography is not, therefore, art, however “art” is defined,

6) that camera phone photography, as an “art” and a “skill” is something that does not inspire the doer toward improvement, toward other forms of the art, toward more technique or toward gatherings with like-minded persons who likewise seek to gather & appreciate the beauty out there in the world.  (One word/hashtag: #instameet.)  I didn’t start out with a camera phone, for my own self, but my little point & shoots, and my desire to improve my own naked eye shots of the things out there in the world have certainly caused me to read more about how to frame, how to compose, whether to upgrade to a DSLR (and I did) so that I could capture better, finer, more beauty than I had been able to heretofore.  I have met and know many, many, many folks online & in person whose “gateway” drug was the point & shoot or the iPhone, but now they go on photo safaris & print out real art, real beauty, real moments that reflect our world as it is– or as we’d like it to be.

I have no problem, at all, with people who have the time and perseverance to sketch, paint, or engage in other forms of non-photography art.  I admire the talent and ambition and stick-to-itiveness that it takes.  But it is an unassailable truth that life does move quickly, and all the slowing down and taking time to smell the roses (or sketch them, as the argument would suppose) doesn’t change the fact that in the every day churn of it all, sometimes we don’t have the time to stop and sketch, because we haven’t got the concatenation of timing, life circumstances and courage to choose to do anything other than get to work and take care of our selves and our loved ones in mundane, material ways.

It would be nice, lovely, ideal, to live a more artistic, more reflective life in more moments over the spread of a lifetime– but sometimes, realistically speaking, a camera phone shot and five minutes to notice whatever image you saw is all the time you have in a day to notice the beauty and humanity around you.

Five minutes’ pause on your way is better than none.

I also freely admit that there are a hell of a lot of pretty pictures of flowers and beloved children and cats of no particular artistic inspiration on the internet and in photo albums all over the world– though I would also argue that art isn’t always the point of a photograph, because it is also useful in capturing a moment, preserving a memory, and whether it does it with more or less technique or artistry is less important than the preservation itself.

In that regard, photography in its speed does what sketching (and those without patience or time or talent or any combination of those you choose to combine in your moral judgment) does not– it preserves a moment in time which, looked back upon, recalls happiness, even if it is done artlessly.

I’d also argue that today’s selfie might be someone else’s coup de foudre— art is at least partly subjective, after all, and however much sarcasm someone else might inflect the term with, to the aficionado, an iPhone shot of “nail art” has meaning and increases the general quantum of happiness– if some of it is at the shallow end of life’s pool, why does everything have to be deep? I’m not trying to say that there is no objective truth, or larger, important set of truths, but if a shallow happiness works for that person in that particular moment, or if something that seems trite to one person is meaningful to another– well.  I’m happy to wait while someone is standing on the sidewalk before me, taking a camera phone shot of something they find to have meaning.

 All pictures taken on my Google Droid phone, and uploaded to my Flickr, via Instagram & its various automatic filters.

 

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Oversimplification and stigmatization of mental illness

The below set of illustrations and descriptions of mental illness “monsters” came up on my fandom tumblr from tumblr user mouzekiller and it turned out I had a lot of thoughts about it.  I’m copying and pasting here, because, um, some of my fandom tumblr stuff is super-specialized and kind of weird and I don’t feel comfortable linking it here.

mouzekiller:

mental disorders in form of “monsters”.
monster description:

BPD:

“The borderline personality disorder is one of the most delicate but perhaps most sinister of monsters. The gather is small swarms around their victims and use pheromones to heighten the emotions of said victim, before feeding off on the emotion itself. They feed upon any emotion but tend to favor feelings of depression.

The monster is made almost completely of a clear ice, rendering it invisible. Only the maple shaped leaf on its tail is visible to the naked eye and looks like a falling leaf. At times, when the monster gorges itself too much on any given emotion its can overwhelm them and they simply shatter like glass.”

Depression:

“The depression monsters floats around endlessly, always covering his eyes becuase of his depressed state. Because of this he always bumps into things causing more distress to himself each time.
Hugs are known to relieve this poor creatures levels of depression and lift its mood slightly.”

Dissociative Identity Disorder:

“Dissociative Identity disorder (also known as Multiple Personality disorder) can be characterized by its ability to alter its form into whatever it likes. As well as changing itself physically, the creature also takes on different personas of itself each with their own personality.

Occasionally, the monster can become confused about its original identity and multiple personas can play out in the same from, complete with a mish-mash anatomy. No ‘DID’ monster looks or acts the same as another.”

Paranoia:

“Paranoia is similar in its biology to Anxiety and they can often be found together. Paranoia uses its tall ears like a radar, scanning the area. Due to the tight curled up nature of their ears the sounds often get confused and muffled meaning Paranoia almost often hears the wrong thing. They are quick to judge and quick to point the finger of blame.

They sometimes work as minions for Schizophrenia and seek out victims for it.”

Bi-Polar & Anxiety:

“The Bipolar monster is always at odds with itself, its two head constantly bickering with each other in a language of gibberish. The blue head is always depressed and easily irritable and the orange head it always on a high and in a frenzy.
Other monsters tend to stay away from Bipolar due to the constant noise it created with its arguing. “

“Anxiety is small enough to sit on its victim’s shoulder and whisper thing in to their unconscious. No-one has ever seen the face of Anxiety for it always wears a skull as a mask.
They often carry small objects linked to their victim’s anxieties. Clocks are a favorite.”

Schizophrenia:

“The Schizophrenia monster is a vile and disgusting creature that manipulates its victims into doing its bidding. It uses hallucinogenic gases secreted form the pores on his underbelly to control and influence others to do what he wants.

They are often accompanied by other monsters such as Paranoia, with Schizophrenia taking up an authoritative role much like a circus ringleader.”

Social Anxiety:
“The Social Anxiety monster spends most of it life underground or in secluded sheltered areas, away from human contact. Because of this their skin appears pale and anemic apart from hard plates that serve as as a means of defense.

They will shy away from all contact, even from a fellow monster making them elusive and rarely seen. They are from the same biological family as Anxiety and Paranoia but due to their extreme way of life they have evolved to look quite different.”

(SC: and here’s where I had thoughts…)

I am having a hard time trying to respond positively to these drawings, including the real, incredible talent exhibited by the artist, zestydoesthings, and the imaginative and mostly accurate descriptions (remember, your mileage may vary, and mine certainly does when it comes to bipolar, contrasted with what’s listed above) all to the side.

On the one hand, I think it’s really important that people find ways to cope with their disorders, and if expressing themselves artistically and finding a way to imagine what’s going on in their head in this format helps them work their way to a stabler self by seeing and then “taming” their monster, then perhaps it’s all to the good.

On the other hand, I think a lot of people with mental health issues already are faced with generalized social stigma against being “crazy.” When you’re identified as your disease— as monsters— that stigmatizing, alienating, reductionist behavior dictates that you’re no one and nothing but your crazy, you possess no real emotions, no ambitions, no real self, no dreams, just crazy, and it creates doubts and anxieties in the suffering person that are hard to get past.  Those marginalizing behaviors create a false sense of other and create a dissociation and an unhealthy case of denial in the person suffering the mental disorder. They feel guilty for something that isn’t their fault, and that just isn’t healthy if they’re going to learn to identify that they’re getting into a bad mental state and they need to do something before it gets worse, be it by reaching out to talk to someone, getting their meds switched, or doing whatever else it is that they need to do to feel better.

I guess I worry about oversimplification.  About dissociation and escaping into the trap of “I’m fine as long as I just take my meds, it will keep my monster at bay.”  About secrecy about your disorder even to people whom you might be able to trust, and to not more generally just owning up to the fact that you have feelings, whether or not they’re a bit more amplified than someone else’s.  They’re still your feelings, and you have a right to them, and to have them acknowledged, and to learn to express them in a way that’s safe for you.

Until the person with a mental disorder accepts and integrates their own monster and knows— it’s part of who they are and they are not a bad person because of their diagnosis— and decides that society and neuronormative people who who blithely toss off shit like “OMG, she was so bipolar, she was wicked moody” can go fuck themselves, because no, they don’t know what it means, and no, they don’t get to define you, because you— you are still human, and if you’re a monster, so aren’t we all, because one of the defining qualities of humanity seems to be our capacity to be inhumane to each other.

We all have monsters inside us.  Jealousy.  Anger.  Self-doubt.  Rage. Racism.  Sexism.  Self-absorption.  Willful blindness.  Those things may not fall within the ambit of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (which, fuck the DSM anyway) but they’re every bit as pernicious as someone who’s “officially”  crazy.  Until we recognize that the gamut of “normal” human emotions lead people to do monstrous things, too, I guess I’ll continue to worry about “monstrous” depictions of mental disorders— because I know more “crazy” people living sane, compassionate lives than I could list if I had enough Klonopin to let me stay up long enough to write it all down and not go totally manic.

We can’t forget the green-eyed monster, and the times we all were so mad the monster inside us saw red— were those times when we weren’t “sane?”