Project 1, Exercise 2: Sustainable products

I live in a semi-rural area in Western Quebec. We are not connected to the municipal water or sewer systems, so our drinking water comes from a well on our property and our waste water is treated in a septic system buried in our yard. All of this means that we have tried to pay attention to the kinds of products that we use in our house and what we put in our waste water, to avoid polluting our immediate environment.

The dishwashing liquid that we currently use is called "Bio-Vert," whose name and packaging suggest that it is good for the environment.

The label on the front of the squeeze bottle make a number of explicit "green" claims:

  • Gentle on Hands
  • Biodegradable
  • Carcinogen free
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Green Leader since 1984
  • Ecologo from Underwriters Laboratories
  • Produit certifié à impact environnemental réduit

And there are more claims on the back of the bottle:

  • Biodegradable as per the OECD test series 301
  • Safe for septic tanks
  • No animal testing
  • Environmental facts: contains 0% of Formaldehyde, EDTA, Dye, SLES, DEO, APEOs, or Petroleum Solvants
  • Recyclable Container and Labels: 100%
  • Product certified for reduced environmental impact. View specific attributes evaluated: UL.com/EL; UL 2759

That all sounds very impressive, although I don't know what most of it means. And there is still a warning in all caps: "PLEASE KEEP ALL CLEANING PRODUCTS OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. IN CASE OF EYE CONTACT, RINSE THOROUGHLY WITH WATER. IF SWALLOWED, DRINK PLENTY OF WATER AND CALL A POISON CENTRE OR A DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY."

As far as I can tell from the company's website, its FAQ page and the accreditation from UL's environmental group, it would seem that the claims made by Bio-Vert are legitimate. To test the claims, however, I would need to spend a considerable amount of time researching the impacts of the chemicals named (what is EDTA?), the standards and tests employed by the various research groups (UL) and quasi-governmental agencies (OECD), the company's practices, its use of the accreditation symbols, and its track record in the marketplace. Even if I had the time to do all of these things, I do not have the necessary technical knowledge and competencies to evaluate all the evidence myself. Like most people, I am obliged to trust the recommendations of specialists and to hope that the company is representing the findings of those specialists fairly and accurately.

Project 3, Exercise 2: Holiday photos and motivation

My motivations for taking holiday pictures vary:

  • This is a famous place or view—I want to record it, too.
  • There is a detail or sign that I want to remember, so I will take a picture as a kind of visual diary.
  • I want to remember this view because of how it made me feel.
  • This is something that is new to me or not common where I live.
  • I want to have a record of family members on this trip. We will enjoy looking at these later. My children may appreciate that I captured a portion of their childhood, particularly once they are older and have children of their own.
  • I had some time to concentrate on photography, so I have taken more care with this image than I have with the others from this trip.

When I take pictures on holiday that are meant to be a simple record of a scene or happening, I do pay some attention to composition and lighting. When I am travelling with other people, though, I am always conscious that photography doesn't hold the same interest for them and try to get the shot quickly. When I am by myself I tend to 'work' the shot and will spend time considering how I frame it and use the light. If something is visually interesting I will spend time with it and make a number of exposures until I am happy with the results. A postcard usually offers an image of a scene under optimum conditions, but it is not drawn from my experience—and I suppose that must be important to me (I don't remember buying any postcards).

The images that give me 'more than just a record of place' have a visual quality that I would be happy to share with a broader audience. There is something in the image in terms of simplicity or geometry of line, the quality of the light, some humour or a human element that lifts it a notch above a snapshot. I regularly share these images online with people who weren't there and they frequently appreciate the same qualities that I enjoyed, sometimes spotting lines, patterns or expressions that I did not see. 

The debate about the value of snaps from phones and iPads rages on and I have to admit that I can see something on both sides of the issue. There are indeed a lot of mediocre photos being produced, but that has always been the case (the difference now is the volume, I suppose). At the same time, I think the democratization of photography has been a good thing and the value of an image should be related to its own qualities, rather than to the effort required to produce it. I know that I am generally happier with what I produce photographically when some thought and effort have gone into an image, but I don't know that I am always fit to judge another's thought or effort—let the results speak for themselves. I am more concerned with improving my own abilities than I am with the efforts of others (not that I don't have views on other people's images!).

Project 2, Exercise 2

Does this make photography a medium uniquely suited to portraying time and the passage of time?

Yes, I think it does. Whether we look at images that allow for a longer passage of time than the eye can record (Trillo and Lartigue in the last exercise) or a shorter passage (Edgerton and Muybridge), photography has been uniquely able to extend the boundaries of the way we perceive, record and portray time.

Can other creative art forms deal with the concept of time to the same extent?

Other forms of art are able to portray or capture time in different ways, but few of them are able to do it with the flexibility of photography. Furthermore, I think that artists working in different forms and media recognize this themselves—and it is why so many conventions for portraying time in the other arts have been influenced by both still photography and moving images.

Project 1, Exercise 2

  • When I review the pictures I have taken over the last year or so, I realize that many—but not all—of them were taken on trips.
  • Those that don't fall into that category are often pictures of family taken at events like birthdays and other gatherings. The family pictures rarely betray any interest in being 'artistic'. Instead they are meant to document the event and the people present for the sake of memories or creating a record. Sometimes they are also meant for sharing with people who were there or those who couldn't attend.
  • The travel pictures too, are sometimes meant to document a time, place or mood ('this is where we stayed,' 'this is the view we saw that day,' 'this is the place we visited').
  • In quite a few of the travel pictures, though, I can see that I have tried to do something different—I've looked for an interesting angle, a form/shape/abstract, an unexpected juxtaposition, or some beautiful light.
  • I can also see that the quality of my picture-taking changes depending on whether I am alone or with other people. When I am with others I am usually very aware that photography is my interest, not theirs, and that I can't take all the time that I would like to work a scene. When I travel alone I have much more latitude in the time that I can spend on creating an image and can stay with it, trying different things until I am satisfied.
  • My 'alone' pictures tend to be more self-consciously 'artistic' because I can devote the time to them that I would like. I can develop an idea or an approach both practically or technically, as well as thinking my way through it. I usually find these images much more satisfying than the other kinds mentioned above.

Project 4, Exercise 2: Knitting patterns

An initial mind map on knitting

Examples of knitting and knitwear

Many of the historical images I found online (and this is only a representative sample) followed a fairly stereotypical pattern: while both women and men wore knitwear, it was largely made by women, often in groups or in cozy domestic settings. I did manage to find some historical images of men knitting, but there are far fewer of them and they often go out of their way to show men knitting in ways that underline their masculinity (as in the group of men in uniform, above).

It is easier to find contemporary images of men knitting, but a significant number still show the men in ways that otherwise confirm their masculinity (men in uniform, sports figures or actors with a rough edge). It is sometimes hard to tell if these men really knit, or if the image is meant to be ironic.

Another important difference between historical and contemporary images of knitting is the move from a concentration on utility to artistic pursuits. Earlier images of knitted products show almost exclusive interest in items of clothing. More current images show greater imagination in pattern and use of colour in knitwear, and are also much more likely to feature knit items that are solely decorative or clearly intended to be art. Much of this can probably be attributed to a wider variety of knitting tools and materials available, as well as to greater affluence and/or time for leisure activities. 

Project 3, Exercise 2: Join the Navy

Denotation: Richard Babcock's wartime recruitment poster features a male sailor riding a moving torpedo. Aside from the splashing of the torpedo's wake, there is very little other detail in the image. The legend under the image appears to be hand-painted in bold capitals, in red and blue lettering. There are two wavy lines under the word "the" and the text is underlined by a solid gold or yellow line, roughly the same colour as the torpedo. 

Richard Fayerweather Babcock,  Join the Navy , c. 1917

Richard Fayerweather Babcock, Join the Navy, c. 1917

Blue, gold and watery green are the most common colours in the painting, so the red text reading "Join the Navy" stands out. The simple graphic and bold capitals of the message mean that the poster would likely be easily read and from some distance.

Connotation: The sailor's position and the placement of his hands and legs suggest that he is riding a bucking horse in a rodeo, a scene that would be played out many years later by a character in the movie Dr. Strangelove.

Actor Slim Pickens in a still from  Dr. Strangelove . Columbia Pictures, 1964.

Actor Slim Pickens in a still from Dr. Strangelove. Columbia Pictures, 1964.

The message of the poster seems to be that life in the navy is a great adventure for "fighting men." Unlike some other recruitment posters, there is no mention of duty to king, country or family—the only motivation appealed to is a desire for action. There is no reference to the flag, although the red and blue primary colours might help to recall the Stars and Stripes. Overall, the poster played to ideals of masculinity and the sporting life at the time.

It's possible that the torpedo served as a phallic symbol, but other examples of Babcock's posters that I have been able to find do not seem to draw on sexual overtones. At the same time, sexual symbolism and innuendo are not recent arrivals in the visual arts and there is no way to know what connotations the artist may have had in his mind.

What is more striking to me is that the poster represents a naive—and blatantly misleading—American outlook. By 1917, European armies had been in the trenches of WWI for three years and would no longer see enlistment as a call to action and adventure. While British posters insisted on duty, a cowboy riding live ordnance was designed for young men who did not know what was waiting for them.

Another example: The Big Whopper

Burger King advertisement, 1960s.

Burger King advertisement, 1960s.

I chose this second example because of the simplicity of its design. 

Denotation: The poster is a painting with a relatively limited colour palette, bearing the image on a white background of a young girl holding a hamburger and looking at it with excitement (mouth open and eyes wide). The image contains the legend "A Meal in Itself" and the lower quarter of the poster is a red rectangle with the words "The Famous Burger King Whopper" in all-caps. The painting looks as though it has been executed quickly (the fingers on the hamburger bun look somewhat clumsy) and there is more attention to detail in the hamburger ingredients than there is in the girl's face.

Connotation: The style of the poster might have been meant to appear unsophisticated and winsome. Although it evokes the excitement of a child, the image's tagline "A Meal in Itself" was probably aimed at parents and perhaps, more specifically, mothers. Children don't normally think of fast food in those terms, and the attention given to the hamburger ingredients (a fresh bun, well-cooked meat, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers) is designed to show that the little girl is indeed about to eat a complete and nutritious meal. The poster is presented in a deceptively simple style (reduced palette, unsophisticated art and limited text), but it is communicating visual messages that show the food both as desirable or exciting for children and reassuring for parents.

As a parent and now grandparent, I understand wanting to make sure that one's family has nutritious meals and I also understand that busy families sometimes opt for fast food. It is natural to want to be reassured that a "fast" option doesn't mean that I am feeding children something unhealthy. The poster might have been effective in its day, but its artwork is now dated, the figure of the little girl unappealing and we know much more about what goes into the meals prepared in fast food restaurants. The hamburger might be "a meal in itself," but I would be less confident that it is a good meal. To suggest that this was a nutritious choice for a child might have been the biggest "whopper" in the poster.

Another person I showed this image to remarked immediately on the size of the hamburger relative to the girl's head: she is dominated by the product in front of her. The portrayal of the product is more important than that of the child; the hamburger is truly the subject of the art. The same individual also mentioned that the apparent era of the poster reminded her of a particular episode of Mad Men (a television series centred on the advertising industry of the 1960s) when fast food was taking on a larger role in the lives of families. The fast food restaurant was supplanting the family table and began to market itself in this way to draw customers by easing their guilt over not cooking at home.

Project 4, Exercise 2: The Road

Read the extract again – as many times as you feel you need to. Think carefully about
the following and make rough notes in your writing diary:

  • ‘He’, the man, and ‘the boy’ are nameless. Why? Does their anonymity change the way we feel about the characters? Can we still care about them without names?

    There could be any number of reasons why the two are nameless: because they don't know each other; because they don't know themselves; because being named could put them at risk; because there is no one else around to name them; or because they are representative figures and their personal identities are not important (yet). Their anonymity heightens our interest in the mysterious characters and we can still care about them because of their humanity and vulnerability.
     
  • Do they still have an identity without a name?

    Yes, 'he' and the 'boy' still have identities, largely because there is no one else around at this point. If there were many men and boys with no names it would become difficult to distinguish them from anyone else but, for now, they are safe.
     
  • How can we tell they’re in danger? Are they fleeing danger or do they expect to encounter it along the way? What sort of danger? Human? Animal? Elemental?

    We know they're in danger because they are only carrying "essential" things and are prepared to abandon the cart, if necessary. The fact that it is necessary to watch their backs continually also signals their sense of danger. Whatever the risks, their forward motion suggests that whatever is behind them is worse than what might lie ahead. We have no idea what the nature of the danger might be.
     
  • The chrome motorcycle mirror tells us the time is roughly contemporary. So what’s happened to the rest of the recognisable contemporary world? Or is the story set in the future? Post-apocalypse maybe?

    We have no idea what has happened to the rest of the world, but something seems to have rendered it barren: it is characterised by "wasted country," an "empty road," "dead reeds" and a lifeless river. The fact that a mirror was the only salvageable piece of the motorcycle also suggests a risky environment: the motorcycle was damaged, and/or there is no fuel, and or the roads are not passable for motor vehicles.
     
  • They are alone: ‘The road was empty.’ Where is everyone? Why are they scared if no one is around? Because no one is around? Because someone might be around?

    Again, we don't know where anyone else is, or if there are any other humans. They are clearly scared of something that could approach them from behind, but we have no idea what the threat might except that it is mobile.
     
  • There’s been some sort of disaster: ‘wasted country... dead reeds ... shuffling through the ash ...What sort of disaster might it be?

    The disaster could be natural (fire or plague) or it could be the result of human action (war, environmental collapse, nuclear or chemical mishap) or non-human action (alien invasion, revolt of nature, malignant supernatural presence).
     
  • They’re on a journey with everything they own. Where are they going? Where have they come from?

    We don't have enough information to answer this question, but we can surmise that they are moving to a better place (food, shelter, other people) or to escape imminent danger.
     
  • The road is mentioned three times in these few lines. It is also the title of the book. What does it symbolise?

    The road may symbolise the nature of the journey they must take, possibly parallel with an interior journey or path to wisdom/self-knowledge. In this sense the road could be like some of the epic journeys of classical literature (Homer's Odyssey) or a pilgrimage, a path of enlightenment.
     
  • Can you spot any poetic devices in this short passage? What effect do they have?

    McCarthy sets up an interesting rhythm in the passage, mixing longer sentences with short staccato phrases. It gives the sense that there is no time for lengthy observations: the characters are taking in only what is essential in their environment and assessing its risk. There are also repeated references to metallic, grey objects and images: a "chrome motorcycle mirror," a "grey serpentine river," "gunmetal light," and "ash." All is lifeless and menacing.
     
  • What other stylistic language choices does McCarthy make and why? Why might he not punctuate speech?

    The author may not punctuate speech to help indicate that the regular rules have broken down or that the two characters don't have time for such niceties. The choppy rhythm and lack of punctuated speech also help to propel the reader breathlessly through the passage—just as the man and boy are being propelled forward.
     
  • What features give us a sense of where we are? How does McCarthy create a post-apocalyptic world? Would the impact be the same if he were to remove the man and the boy? Look carefully at the imagery, for example the grey ‘serpentine of the river’ and ‘the gunmetal light’. What is it about the choice of metaphor that creates a sense of danger? What does the serpentine symbolise? Think biblical perhaps. What effect will biblical and religious imagery, themes and symbols have in this genre of writing?

    We have some sense of where we are because McCarthy establishes a "place" for his characters. It is in ruins, but the descriptions leave the impression that it wasn't always like this—the boy and the man have known another reality and are aware that nature is dead. As mentioned above, the grey and metallic imagery conjures up pictures of lifelessness and mechanical—perhaps armed—threat.

    If the rest of the narrative is indeed post-apocalyptic the serpent may call up references to the symbol of the demonic. The story then takes on another dimension, as it is not just a story about a particular disaster or threat, but becomes embedded in an epic struggle between good and evil. Such interpretations are always a challenge, because it can become tempting to read too much into an author's appropriation of symbolism and myth—he or she might draw upon symbols from an earlier tradition while reinterpreting it in a new or limited way (just as William Blake does in a number of his poems, or as W.B. Yeats does in "The Second Coming").
     
  • What’s the prose style like? Are the sentences long or short? Are they rhythmic or choppy or stark? What impact does this have? Is the language complex or simple? Often the more dramatic or dark a piece is, the more simple and stripped back the prose. Why might this be? What would be the effect of more flowing, colourful and detailed prose?

    I'll repeat what I wrote above: The author may not punctuate speech to help indicate that the regular rules have broken down or that the two characters don't have time for such niceties. The choppy rhythm and lack of punctuated speech also help to propel the reader breathlessly through the passage—just as the man and boy are being propelled forward. Writing lengthier and detailed descriptions would give the reader the impression that the man and boy had all the time in the world to take in the sights and find just the right words to describe them. The sense of threat in their environment doesn't give them that luxury.
     
  • How does it all make you feel?

    This opening passage is off-putting and disorienting: nothing is as it should be in the world. We catch the characters on the run and are not allowed to ease gently into the story. There is no background or back story to orient us and the dialogue between the characters—which might tell us something about them—is as brief as it could be.

    It makes me feel like I'm on the run with them... and I want to know more.

Project 3, Exercise 2: poetic devices

Rhyme — Words that sound alike, usually at line endings

The Day is done and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
"The Day is Done," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Rhythm — A metered structure of syllables, consonants, breathing, or pauses

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
"A Visit from St. Nicholas," by Clement Clarke Moore

Repetition — Intentional repetition for reinforcement and effect

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
"Ash Wednesday," by T.S. Eliot

Alliteration — Two or more words in a line of poetry that begin with the same initial sound

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Assonance — Repeating vowel sounds without repeating consonants. In poetry, often used as an alternative to rhyme

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.   
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost

Consonance — Repeating consonants without repeating vowels. Consonance gives melody to verse

’Twas later when the summer went
Than when the Cricket came—
And yet we knew that gentle Clock
Meant nought but Going Home—
’Twas sooner when the Cricket went
Than when the Winter came
Yet that pathetic Pendulum
Keeps esoteric Time.
"'Twas Later When the Summer Went," by Emily Dickinson

Onomatopoeia — A word that imitates the sound made by the thing being described

It’s a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
"Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio," by Carl Sandburg

Personification — Ascribing human qualities to an object

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
"Loveliest of Trees," by A.H. Houseman

Simile — A figure of speech in which an image is evoked by likening one thing to another

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
"What Happens to a Dream Deferred?" by Langston Hughes

Metaphor — To describe something by giving it the identity of something else

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.

"Phenomenal Woman," by Maya Angelou

Imagery — Use of devices such as simile and metaphor to create images in the reader’s mind

His body was tubular
And tapered
And smoke-blue,
And as he passed the wharf
He turned,
And snapped at a flat-fish
That was dead and floating.
And I saw the flash of a white throat,
And a double row of white teeth,
And eyes of metallic grey,
Hard and narrow and slit.
Then out of the harbour,
With that three-cornered fin
Shearing without a bubble the water
Lithely,
Leisurely,
He swam—That strange fish,
Tubular, tapered, smoke-blue,
Part vulture, part wolf,
Part neither—for his blood was cold.
"The Shark," by Edwin John Pratt

 

 

 

Project 2, Exercise 2: archetypes

Archetypes

The word archetype, "original pattern from which copies are made", first entered into English usage in the 1540s[1] and derives from the Latin noun archetypum, latinisation of the Greek noun ἀρχέτυπον (archetupon), whose adjective form is ἀρχέτυπος (archetupos), which means "first-molded",[2] which is a compound of ἀρχή archē, "beginning, origin",[3] and τύπος tupos, which can mean, amongst other things, "pattern," "model," or "type."[4]

Usage of archetypes in specific pieces of writing is a holistic approach, which can help the writing win universal acceptance. This is because readers can relate to and identify with the characters and situation, both socially and culturally. By deploying common archetypes contextually, a writer aims to impart realism[5] to his work. According to many literary critics, archetypes have a standard and recurring depiction in a particular human culture and/or the whole human race that ultimately lays concrete pillars and can shape the whole structure in a literary work.

[material downloaded from Wikipedia article "Archetype," 15 October 2016]

 

Character archetypes, their roles in a narrative and examples:

  • the hero: is generally virtuous, admirable and has the power to save or put things to right (example: Odysseus; Hercules)
  • the anti-hero: is not the antagonist to the hero, sharing many of the hero's characteristics but with flaws (example: characters played by Clint Eastwood in virtually every one of his roles; the title character in the book/movie Shane)
  • the artist: imagines, dreams and creates things that do not exist (example: the classical figure Achilles and a very long list thereafter)
  • the Christ figure: is a hero who suffers for heroism, sometimes to the point of offering/sacrificing his/her life for the person rescued (example:  most obviously the character Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but also Simon in The Lord of the Flies, Neo in The Matrix Trilogy, Dr. Who, others)
  • the trickster / joker: a useful character who can change the direction of the plot by introducing the unexpected or capricious (example: Loki in Norse mythology)
  • the fool: takes shelter behind humour and/or simple-mindedness to speak truth in situations when no one else would dare (example: Fool in King Lear)
  • the sage: a figure who can be consulted to provide insight or wisdom not possessed to others (example: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings)
  • the king / the queen: the figure who holds ultimate power or authority, for good or for ill (example: Neptune in mythology; Mufasa in The Lion King; the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland)
  • the villain: usually the antagonist, helps drive the plot by opposing the hero or by making it necessary for a hero to arise (example: see any Bond movie... Goldfinger, Hugo Drax, Le Chiffre, Rosa Klebb, Scaramanga, Dr. No...)
  • the maiden: represents virtue, youth and/or innocence that usually need to be protected (example: Athena, Rapunzel, Snow White)
  • the crone / witch: an older woman who has some kind of power, whether of knowledge/experience or magic; could be good or evil, depending upon the story (example: the witches in The Wizard of Oz)
  • the hunter: one who pursues and thereby helps to drive the narrative (example: Diana / Artemis of Greco-Roman mythology)
  • the patriarch: the father-figure, with all the potential for love, protection, wisdom or control that that might entail (example: Zeus in mythology; Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • the matriarch: the mother-figure, with all the potential for love, protection, wisdom or control that that might entail (example: Hera of mythology)
  • the teacher / mentor: one who guides and imparts knowledge, wisdom or know-how that enables the hero or others in the narrative (example: Yoda in Star Wars)
  • the rich man / woman: has the power to reward, inspire envy and/or demonstrate the advantages and dangers of wealth and privilege (example: Croesus in Greek history / mythology)
  • the mastermind / architect: one who plans and builds and/or has practical wisdom that can be applied to problems (example: Sherlock Holmes)
  • the rebel: one who bucks the established order, whether for good or for ill (example: Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator; Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451)

  • the traitor: a disguised antagonist who undermines the hero or others (example: Fredo Corleone in The Godfather, Part II; Peter Pettigrew in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

  • the beauty: one whose attractive appearance can mirror inward virtue or demonstrate the deceptive nature of outward form (example: Helen of Troy; Sleeping Beauty)
  • the orphan: the child alone in the world, vulnerable without love or resources (example: Dickens' character, Oliver Twist)
  • the coward: in contrast to the hero, demonstrates the less-admirable side of being human (example: the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz; Count Rugen in The Princess Bride; Ichabod Crane in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)
  • the innocent / ingenue: sometimes a demonstration of vulnerability that must be protected, but can also be a warning about the dangers of failing to learn and mature (example: Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol; Ophelia in Hamlet)

 

Archetype versus stereotype

The tidiest description I found of the difference between the two "types" runs as follows: "Although both archetype and stereotype draw from a "type" of person to create character, the difference is that the archetype will use the template as a starting place, and the stereotype uses it as the end point." ["Archetype versus Sterotype," consulted online 15 October 2016]

Following this line of thinking, the archetype draws upon shared cultural or mythical knowledge that the reader already has to help move character and plot development along. There should be a sense of recognition about the function of the character in the story but that function could play out in many different ways -- or may even play against type. To be a true stereotype, however, the character can never be anything but a stock set of exaggerated and fixed attributes that will also spark recognition but will not allow for exploration, novelty or growth.

Project 1, Exercise 2

Write a list of everything you’ve read or written or seen or heard in the last 24 hours.

List compiled 25/06/2016

Read:

  • Black and White magazine
  • The Aylmer Bulletin (local newspaper)
  • Websites and other social media: The Perth Kilt Run; FaceBook; Instagram; Twitter
  • News items: Brexit reporting and analysis; the European Cup; the rise of Donald Trump in the US elections; death of Bill Cunningham

Written:

  • not much at all

Seen and heard:

  • Websites
  • travel to Perth, Ontario and conversations in the car
  • a stroll around Perth: Kilt Run; performers; runners; booths; wait staff; restaurant and pub patrons; families and couples in the park
  • tail end of a documentary on Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • deck at the back of our house; trees; animals; wind

1. How many stories are contained within your list? This could be anything from notes in your diary to the afternoon play on Radio 4, from a friend recounting a funny tale to the latest news online.

There are multiple stories in every one of the examples from the news media and on social media; stories told in the car; the documentary. And although I couldn't overhear them, the people at the events and in the public spaces would be telling each other stories, too. In other words, a great many stories were being told to me or around me in a single day.

2. How much of what you’ve read (or written or seen or heard) would you consider to be ‘art’? What makes writing art? How do you, personally, define a creative and artistic piece of writing? Make some notes in your writing diary. You might find it useful to refer back to the discussion at the start of Part One. That was about the visual arts, but many of the same points apply to word-related arts too.

There are many possible applications of the term "art" to the stories being told around me, because it is indeed an art to tell a story well, whether in person or via some other medium. If we return to my understanding of art at the end of Part 1, though, few or none of the examples listed above could be considered "art."

In Part 1 I wrote, borrowing from Grayson Perry's eight-part test, that the decision that a particular piece was "art" involved "a cluster of judgements that take in the creator, the created object/event, the venue and the audience(s)". The examples above might contain one or two elements from that list, but none can be said to compile all the elements necessary for a judgement of "art." At the same time, there is nothing to say that one or more of the activities above could not be judged later as art, given a change of context. For example, the documentary on Gabriel Garcia Marquez or some of the images or videos on social media might one day be considered art, given the right change of time, place and viewing audience.

Exercise 2: Developing your research skills

Katie Paterson Vatnajökull (the sound of) 

This piece is a site-specific installation in Iceland. It makes available a continuous feed of amplified sound from the Vatnajökull glacier via telephone. An audio loop is available as a sample on the artist's website and appears to consist mainly of ice cracking and the running of meltwater.

Unlike Longplayer, another audio installation, there is a greater sense of distance between the source of the sound and the listener. This is not just because of the physical distancye between Iceland and wherever the listener might be in the world, but because the source of the sound does not seem as obvious. In the case of Longplayer the video gives the listener something to look at and a sense of being "present" at something recognizable as a performance, even if the musical notes may someday be sounded by computer rather than musicians. With Vatnajökull, on the other hand, we do not have the same sense of immediacy or agency: what does the installation look like and how was it done? Is there really a continuous feed of sound from the glacier 24/7, or are we listening to a very long audio loop that repeats? Is there really an installation at all? Put another way, is there really a "there" there or are we being tricked?

Nevertheless, we can be fairly confident that Katie Paterson is playing fair with her audience because she has shown such great care in researching and producing her other pieces. Whether it is Future Library or Fossil Necklace, Paterson has painstakingly worked to create objects and happenings that are rooted in specific places and times. If anything, her work is often preoccupied with an interest in very long stretches of time and cosmic dimensions, such as can be seen in Ancient Darkness TV and All the Dead Stars.

On the face of it, Vatnajökull is largely about place, being named for a large, well-known ice cap. It is the source for Iceland's famous glacier lagoon visited by many thousands of tourists each year and, even without having visited the site, most people could conjure up something like it in their imaginations supported by the sound of moving ice and water droplets alone.

On reflection, however, Vatnajökull is also very much about the passage of time. Even though Katie Paterson's use of text in the piece is very limited and provides few interpretive clues, glaciers are all about time. The formation of an ice sheet takes many hundreds of years and I remember the tour guide at Jökulsárlón telling me that the pure glacial ice she handed me to taste was over 1,000 years old. While it was still in my mouth, it dawned on me that Vikings were roaming Iceland when the snow fell that created the icy diamond! But the constant dripping and cracking we hear in Paterson's piece reminds us that the ancient ice sheet is melting at an ever-increasing pace because of global warming. And, as we look forward, we can imagine a time when there may be no Vatnajökull at all -- along with the related climactic, economic and social impacts that we really don't understand yet.

In this way, there is both a strong, ancient character to the work blended with a warning about the fragility of all natural things that are subject to the passing of time and the effects of human activity.  

Jökulsárlón at the foot of Vatnajökull (taken Septermber 23, 2015)

Jökulsárlón at the foot of Vatnajökull (taken Septermber 23, 2015)

Exercise 2: Interpreting video art

I found Sam Taylor-Wood's Still Life unappealing when I first started watching the time lapse video of rotting fruit. The fruit sits on a plate on a table against a dull, neutral background and gradually does what any living thing does when it dies: it decays. The camera stays in a fixed position during the shoot, meaning that the only movement to register in the frame is that of the subject itself.

Surprisingly, it does move. And this is what sets it apart from the "still life" tradition of painting that Taylor-Wood references both in the way she presents the fruit and in the title she gives the work. While still life paintings often hint symbolically and statically at decay, the artist uses time and technology to show the process at work. A plastic pen lying on the table belongs to the contemporary world and does not change during the video: its material has no life in it, or on it (as far as we can see). 

The movement in the video also suggests that even in the face of death there is "still life" present: spores and insects live on the host and change its shape while consuming it. There are ebbs and flows of mini "circles of life" taking place on and within the dead fruit. 

The key to seeing all this is the ability to play with time photographically, which allows us to remain attentive through a process for which we wouldn't usually have the patience or interest. Taylor-Wood might be saying to us, "Slow down: you're missing a lot of life." 

The same attentiveness to the passing of time and uncomfortable detail is present in a number of Taylor-Wood's other video works, such as A Little Death (2002; a time-lapse of a rotting rabbit's corpse), Pieta (2001; a real-time observation of a couple mirroring the pose of Michelangelo's sculpture), and Hysteria (1997; a video of a woman who seems to move gradually from joyous laughter to hysterics... and back again?).

The subject matter of Taylor-Wood's Still Life (and other works) does not always appeal to me but I can appreciate the way she uses time in her pieces. 

Exercise 2: What is art?

What is art?

This is obviously a tough one, but I think that almost anything that is a human creation or the result of a creative effort could be called art. But perhaps it takes more than that: perhaps there has to be some kind of intent on the part of the creator. I'm not sure about this, though—if enough people judge the result to be "art," does the one who performed or created it have to have intended it to be seen that way? How self-conscious do you have to be?

How do we know it is art?

I'm not sure about this, either. As I mentioned above, perhaps all creative work has the potential to be art. Grayson Perry's lecture ("Democracy has bad taste") suggests that quality in art is arrived at by a tribe. Could the same hold true for judging whether or not something is art at all?

Who decides what is art?

I'm not sure there can be an ultimate answer to this, but the judgement of the tribe or guild might be one place to start. The challenge with any guild, though, is that can become a closed shop—once it decides who is worthy it can then close the door to new people, ideas or approaches.

Does intent matter when judging what is art? Is reception the key? Is it enough if I decide that my work is art, regardless of what everyone else thinks?

If the simple fact that an item appears in a gallery makes it art, all we have done is hand over judgement to the gallery owner. Perhaps that is a good place to begin, but he or she is just one possible source of validation. Would others then be swayed by the gallery, rather than thinking about the value of the work itself?

Duchamp's statement about wanting "to put art back in the service of the mind" makes me wonder what he is opposing. Does he think that art has been in the service of the emotions? of sentiment? of fashion? of settled opinion? Perhaps he viewed his art as an opportunity to provoke thought. If that's the case, he must have seen Fountain as a success: it is not immediately clear why the artist views this piece as art, how he can offer it as his own work, and what the viewer is supposed to take away from it. The viewer can either reject the piece outright or be forced to think about questions of meaning.