Posts Tagged ‘art’

Folding and attaching

Monday, 10 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I feel like I’ve done nothing crafty in months, and despite reading right through both of these books during that time I really haven’t followed up by doing any of the projects taught/suggested in either. That shouldn’t be taken as a reflection on either book, since I certainly thought about doing things from both, but just haven’t really been in the mood so much of late.

Cover of The Ultimate Papercraft and Origami Book

Cover of The Ultimate Papercraft and Origami Book

30. The Ultimate Papercraft and Origami Book by Paul Jackson and Angela A’Court

This is a large and long book with lots and lots of fairly simple but very diverse paper projects. Cutting, tearing, folding and sticking skills will all be put to good use in making things decorative, fun and useful. Decidedly a family book (rather than being aimed just at either children or the adult crafter) that I can see enjoying with my little girl in a few years.

Cover of Take Up Patchwork

Cover of Take Up Patchwork

42. Take Up Patchwork by Ionne Hammond

I actually want to try out the patchwork and quilting techniques in this book (most of them, anyway), but for some reason I feel a greater need for a teacher with this than I did with crochet. I think I just need to a) learn to use a sewing machine and b) get over my fear of cutting into large pieces of new fabric without being sure I can turn them into something worthwhile. Crochet didn’t incur that fear, since it doesn’t require cutting anything up, and one can always rip out and start again. (I learnt to crochet on cotton string, so didn’t even have to worry about damage to delicate fibres.)

As to the book itself – it includes a variety of small sized projects using a range of techniques, so I imagine making a few of the projects would be a great learning process in sewing generally and patchwork and quilting more specifically. The fabrics and colours in the illustrations aren’t necessarily ones I would choose to use, but then changing those is the easiest possible customisation going!

Guest post: Racism and the Works of Joseph Conrad

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Today I’m doing a guest post for Kaet because the subject matter fits her blog more than my own.

Joseph Conrad

Image via Wikipedia

I first encountered the works of Joseph Conrad when I was in high school when I had to read Heart of Darkness for English class. The volume I purchased for the class also had in it the novella The Secret Sharer which I promptly read as well. Although I was constantly reading, I usually selected my own fare to read and did not go above and beyond in school. However, Conrad was the first author I encountered who wrote above the sea and life at sea who got the details right. At the time, I still lived on a boat myself, and so The Secret Sharer was particularly vivid. Conrad instantly became one of those authors I regarded as a favorite. Yet somehow, I didn’t read more by Conrad, although I purchased a few volumes by him which I placed on my ever-overflowing “to read” shelf– or shelves, to be honest.

I did re-read Heart of Darkness my final year of high school, again for English class. I’d switched school and it was part of the curriculum for the final year, but the English teacher gave it short shrift that year. She made all too clear she was reading it because she had to but she preferred romances like Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice.  The subject matter of Heart of Darkness could easily have lent itself to racism, and yet I did not notice any in the two works of Conrad I had read nor did either English teacher– both of whom reveled in such criticism– point it out to me.

Book Nigger of the NarcissusSo when recently I pulled off my shelf to read a volume containing three novellas by Conrad, I was not put off by the fact that the first of them was entitled The Nigger of the Narcissus. I assumed confidently that here was Conrad’s work analogous to Mark Twain‘s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which uses a thoroughly offensive word but which does so in a way that is thoroughly justified by a point that decries racism.

Then I started reading. The famous preface of the work enheartened me; here was a manifesto about art with recurring themes of words and color. Surely these were allusions to his following major work confronting racism. The objectionable word in the title appears repeatedly in the text, but with each of the five chapters I became more forced to the conclusion that the fact that the title character James “Jimmy” Wait happens to be a black man makes no difference in the story or its events. Maybe, I thought, that was itself the point?! Yet the casual racism of the characters, including the narrator, is never questioned, never challenged, never even held up in contrast to confront the reader. To all appearances, the matter of fact bigotry of the ship’s company in the novel, not a burning raging vehemence against a black man but thoroughly careless assumption that the title character is socially inferior by virtue of his color, remains throughout entirely unquestioned– even by the author. I conclude so reluctantly because no point whatsoever is made in the book that could not be made as well or better were James Wait white or his color simply never mentioned.

The other book in the volume I’ve been reading other than Heart of Darkness is the Conrad’s novella Typhoon, but that will have to wait. I’m still coming to grips with what I think of Conrad as an author. Certainly I’m disappointed and I feel I’ve lost my respect for Conrad as an author. In future when I refer to my liking of Conrad, doing so will always be apologetic, because in my mind his work has become tainted. While I know the prejudice was common in his time, yet that just does not seem to me a good enough excuse when others like Twain were coming out against racism before the book was published (which by the date of the preface was 1897).

Kaet here: My DH finished reading this novella today, and while I haven’t read it myself, he’s been sharing his impressions (and the storyline) with me throughout. Long time readers of this blog will know that reading classic fiction with racist and sexist elements in it, apparently acceptable at the time, but certainly not now, has been something I’ve struggled with (it’s something I certainly discussed when deciding how much of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘s Tarzan series to read, for example), and so I thought these perspectives on the topic might be of interest here.

American Pride

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

168. The American Art Book (Phaidon)

Not that I’m American, or anything, but I am quite proud of myself for looking properly at each of the 500 pictures in this book, and reading the commentary. (I’ve read the original and the 20th Century ones as well – not forgetting the two children’s editions – but that was last year or even the one before, and I’ve taken the time since over this one. The Photography Book comes next.)

Anyhow, this selection of more than 250 years worth of paintings, sculpture, photographs, quilts and more is just as good as this others in the series, and well worth the perusing. If you can, I strongly advise the large format, rather than the small one, as the reproductions really repay enough space to see them well.


I’ve decided to call the Crazy Cloth Dishcloths potholders when I give them away, but say that they can be used however the recipient wants. I think that will go down better around here. I’ve done the blue one (yesterday) and half of the green one. I really like the pattern, which confused me at first, but then made so much sense once I’d got it that I didn’t even need to refer back to it to begin my second one, so I gave my printout (including the site address and full credit) to someone at the knitting & crochet group tonight. Here’s hoping this is okay. It’s a great pattern.

I took some pictures this afternoon, and will try to slot them in tomorrow. Goodnight!


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

50. Drawing Now : Eight Propositions by Laura Hoptman

An exhibition catalogue (and more) from the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2002. 26 different artists were put into eight different categories (propositions). I read and perused most of this some months ago, but finished it today. Again, learning more about the state of modern art (and Modern Art).

51. Keeping Pets: Cats by Louise & Richard Spilsbury

I read and discussed the Freshwater Fish volume in this series yesterday, and this one is similarly well put together and written, with the same focus on the needs of the animal for proper care.

52. Great Britons: Leaders by Simon Adams

Each of the twenty ‘great leaders’ receives a double page spread, with chronological details, a picture or two (all in black and white) and a very short biography. On most spreads there is also a box with either an anecdote or a couple of lines on other figures of related interest. They are pretty much all the usual suspects (monarchs up to the modern era, then influential politicians, basically). It does make the effort to include both Scottish and Welsh figures of note, rather than just English (and explains that it isn’t including Irish characters from anywhere on the island).

53. The 1930s Scrapbook by Robert Opie

This is a fascinating series, in large format hardback (the quintessential coffee table book), with very short written explanations on each spread of the commercial packaging and advertising shown, showing how fashions and social feeling changed over the decade or period in question. I really like seeing how similar and different the products, brands and styles of advertising are now and then.

54. Step-Up History: Mary, Queen of Scots by Rhona Dick

This is one of the Scottish-focussed volumes of the Step-Up History series, and gives the details of Mary’s life, including the complicated politics she was involved in her whole life, with the impact that had on what would become the United Kingdom(s), and the other major figures involved. (The kind of stuff I mostly learned from and because of the historical fiction I read, it has to be said!)


Sunday, 17 February 2008

Shabbos was nice, although I didn’t make of it what I know I should. Then last night and this morning I heard Rabbi Shurin speak, and I really want to take much more out of that. This morning he elaborated on something I’ve heard him mention before, namely the difference, perhaps even chasm, between thrill-seeking fun, and contented or satisfied happiness. (What follows is my thought-process after hearing the shiur – my thoughts should not be ascribed to him.)

It really is true: no instance of simply having fun can make me happy. It certainly has its place, but the past excitements that still bring a smile to my face are those that had something much more meaningful involved. I enjoy going on fairground rides, yes, but do I actually remember those few minutes or seconds afterwards? The times I do, what I’m really remembering is the connection with the friends or family members who accompanied me, or overcoming the trepidation of a particular ride, or feeling really sick (and no, that last is not such a good memory).

Thrills certainly have their place in our lives and in that so American ideal The Pursuit of Happiness, but for what we can build from them, rather than as an end in themselves. If they are the end, rather than the means, then only the next, bigger, thrill is of any interest, and that way can lead disaster.

So that said, a little introspection seems in order: which of my hobbies or other free-time activities actually bring me contentment or satisfaction, and thus happiness, and which bring cheap thrills?

Crochet certainly brings contentment in being productive in giving others the fruits of my hands. It brings satisfaction whenever I complete a useful object, or teach someone the skill. On the other hand, stash and tool acquisition for their own sake are thrills only to be upgraded when there is a project involved (or at least strongly in mind). Which means that while I truly appreciate the beauty of these hooks, and would love to be able to support such skilled craftspeople/artists, right now what I can justify is one or maybe two hooks in each of the sizes I use. I’ll say yes to spending a bit on extra comfortable hooks in the sizes I use regularly, or want to make a large project in. I’ll buy extra (yes, cheaper, but perfectly serviceable) hooks to give away to learners. However, I won’t build up a hook collection for its own sake. (Certainly not unless and until I have the space to display and thus really enjoy it!)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m decrying MY OWN tendency to collect things that don’t have inherent value to me, and trying to challenge that. I own one or two pieces of art (nothing monetarily valuable) and wouldn’t mind acquiring one or two more, but these must be items that will give me pleasure, make me smile, maybe even make me think, well into the future.
Smiling bowl
(This bowl always makes me smile, and that does help me to be happy.) (Sorry, I’ll try to take another pic with better focus to replace this with later.)

Reading is actually a harder issue to address, because much of it does have work or learning value. I’m hardly going to say many novels don’t have value either, to provoke thought, to share with and connect to others, to provide an easy learning experience or even just as a quick way to see a different perspective on something. The fact remains that while I do get much of that from most of what I read, some of it also involves images and thoughts, thrills that aren’t currently … helpful … in my life. If nothing else, I’d like to rebalance how much of that there is.

Again, this is (public) introspection. I amn’t passing judgement on other people. That isn’t my way.

A third mitt?

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

So the second mitt is done, and I really like how it’s come out. Far better than the first, in fact, and now I’m thinking I want to redo the first! The person who took this picture for me says she likes how the fan pattern shows up more on the first (I did ‘too many’ stitches in each fan, so they puff out) but does agree it doesn’t fit half so well.

So I think I’ll be crocheting on the bus again tomorrow morning! (I can’t bring myself to begin tonight – I want a bit of feeling good about ‘finishing’!

I read another couple of books at work today (where I’ve also had some compliments on the mitts, as well as bemusement from the people giving me lifts):

38. Wood by Andy Goldworthy

I really didn’t know anything near so much about art before I began this job, and I’m very much enjoying the extra knowledge, especially of artists like Goldsworthy. I’d really like to see some of his works in person, although many are of course ephemeral and meant for others to appreciate through photographs and his wonderful books. (I’ve also read Stone and Wall.)

39. Usborne Famous Lives: Alexander the Great by Jane Bingham

I like this book rather better than the one on Cleopatra, as it seems a bit more about his exploits and rule than his love-life. I’ll admit that my knowledge of Alexander has largely come (a very long time – could it be eighteen or so years? – ago) from Mary Renault‘s The Persian Boy and its sequels. Let’s just say that those don’t paint his first wife Roxanne as the love of his life, the way this one hints (but not very strongly) at.

Family portraits and the like

Thursday, 31 January 2008

34. Dogs by Catherine Johnson

There wasn’t so much reading with this book, but it’s a lot of fun. This collection is really a study of the dog as friend and family member as expressed in (all black and white) photographic portraits and snapshots from the first half of the 20th century. They are arranged thematically to a certain extent, with the informal change of theme signified by a new quote about the relationships between people and their best friends. I especially liked the quote that said something like “Every puppy should have a boy,” but unfortunately I forgot to note down who said it.

35. The Essential Edward Hopper by Justin Spring

I have actually read at least part of this book before, as my father gave it to me a few years ago, after he visited a major Hopper exhibition in London, but I think I may have got more out of it. I’m a lot better informed about art now, because of work, than I ever used to be, and I’m appreciating the knowledge. I really should get to some of the galleries more often than I do. I’m spoilt for choice here, after all.

I don’t remember all the information about Hopper’s relationship with his wife Jo, so I can’t have read that far into the book before. It constantly reiterated that she was his only female model from the time of their marriage, and that she felt her art was overlooked in favour of his, but then didn’t actually show us any of her painting either! The reproductions of the paintings discussed are small, because of the format of the book, but I think they are big enough to give the sense of what is being discussed.

Extra Information

Friday, 25 January 2008

Thanks to one of my colleagues, I have further information on Jan Steen‘s The Christening Feast (here listed as Celebrating the Birth. Apparently the Wallace Collection Live website will work now/at home (it wouldn’t when we looked a few days ago from work). The commentary there agrees with what I thought, which is that the woman stirring the pot is one of the maids. It doesn’t say which woman it considers to be the mother. While I can quite see why some of the other details would be extraneous in a children’s book I still don’t understand why such an interpretation was put there in the first place!

Today was busy, but less hectic than yesterday at work, so I actually got to finish another of the books I’ve been needing to read there. (It’s taken me a few days, despite being relatively short.)

30. Great Rivers of the World: The Rhine by Tony Allan

It discusses the history and geography of the riverside populations over thousands (but mostly hundreds) of years, as well as looking at the forces affecting the river itself (including river traffic, damming and pollution. I don’t know how many people would read it cover to cover, but it’s interesting that way and would be easy to dip into as well. I haven’t looked much at the rest of the series yet, but they look good too. I am surprised the Danube wasn’t among the rivers chosen.

Artful Progress

Thursday, 24 January 2008

I do believe I’m halfway through the FrouFrou! I can’t be exactly sure how long the edgings or sewing up will take of course, but I got lots done at the knitting group tonight, which is good, as I’m in the ‘boring bit’ (32 long rows with no increases or decreases or anything) so distraction and encouragement are all beneficial. (It would be far worse if my housemate were larger – more longer rows! I’d probably do it anyway, though.)

I’m just under halfway through the yarn I’ve got, so it looks like it will be enough after all. I may have to unravel some of the swatches for their yarn, but that would be okay. The Amelie doesn’t much like being frogged, but seems to cope with it fine. I’ll try to post another picture tomorrow, since there has been an appreciable difference since the last one.

I read three different art books at work today, which were all pretty good, and very different from each other.

27. The Art Book for Children: Book 2 by Amanda Renshaw

This volume follows the layout of the first Art Book for Children, with the same quality as the rest of the Art Book series. My one qualm is that I found at least one interpretation, or at least the argument given for it, rather unconvincing. No-one would deny that Amanda Renshaw and her team know far more about art than I ever will, so I’ll presume there are more pertinent details I don’t know how to interpret, but I’d hate to think that the readership of this book are being given sloppy reasoning.

The painting was Jan Steen‘s The Christening Feast and the question, which of the many women in the painting is meant to be the mother of the infant? The father is assumed to be the only man in the picture, who is holding up the baby.

The book says the woman on the right gesturing expansively from the cooking pot must be the hostess and therefore the mother.

However, considering this woman seems to me to be dressed more like one of the servants on the far right, I personally wouldn’t have thought that. I might have taken her for a wet-nurse. The father and the women seated around the table all look rather better dressed. My own assumption on studying the picture would be that the mother is one of the two women to the left who are being cosseted, although the seated one does still look pregnant. It could be the one in bed.

One of my colleagues at work thought it might be the standing unbonneted woman with her back to the viewer, because she is dressed in the same red as the baby.

28. Seashells by Josie Iselin (photographs) and Sandy Carlson (text)

This is a beautiful book in both its photographs and layout. It’s concise-but-very-clear descriptions of the shells were most interesting.

29. Artists in Their World: Salvador Dali by Robert Anderson

It’s very descriptive of the artist and his influences, without mud-raking.