Sunday, October 25, 2009

childish behavior.

i recently read a short article by paul duncum regarding the nature of childhood in contemporary issues in art education, a collection of essays edited by yvonne gaudelius and peg speirs. in "children never were what they were: perspectives on childhood," duncum actually discusses the child almost not at all, instead focusing on the adult definition of childhood. this seemed like a peculiar angle to approach this topic from, and ultimately he ended up illuminating more about the nature of adults than of children.

an interesting question he did raise compared the imagery our culture creates (and propagates) of children and its multiple audiences. images of children created by children as compared to images of children created by adults (and furthermore, for a child audience or an adult audience) are vastly different. consider historically, the egyptian representation of children as tiny versions of adults with thin elongated limbs (because it was thought to be more beautiful, seen here in akhenaten and nefertiti):
alternatively, consider now how children are depicted in shows geared toward adults, versus how children are depicted in shows geared toward children, especially in interactions/situations with adults as well. when the lovely ms. jean marie blogged about modern family, a new abc sitcom examining various family formats and dynamics, my curiosity got the best of me and i watched the first few episodes. they do a fair job of staying true to contemporary child behavior, actually. they still have the prima donna teenage daughter, the misfit middle child, the dennis the menace younger brother, and even a "wise beyond his years" son, ever the voice of reason. the characters are reasonable, though, not over-simplified parodies of humanity: consider then in comparison, iCarly, a nickelodeon kids show about a 14 year-old girl who lives with her wacky older brother and runs a wildly popular web show from her house. here, the youth are essentially tiny adults. there are no parents in the picture (they are conveniently overseas somehow), carly is the creator and host of a web show, and the three friends have a weirdly casual relationship with the school principal. the show has many subtle ways of elevating the "children" (really teenagers) to an adult/independent status, to appeal to the child's sensibility of mimicking adult behavior (as christine marme thompson discussed in her article that i posted about a few weeks ago). this show is also aimed at an even younger audience (think 9-12 year olds) than the characters in it, furthering the disparity between child and adult behavior. duncum's point seemed to be that our adult definition of childhood is really a manifestation of our own need to assert our adulthood, and that the childhood innocence is virtually non-existent. based on the promotional strategies for toys, television shows, and products for children that are all about appearing/acting more grown-up, i'd say that this definition has to be only part of the equation. clearly the folks in the marketing departments have a pretty clear grasp on what children want out of childhood, for better or worse.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

my inner nerd is showing.

so i can't believe it took me this long to post work by the exceptional scott c here! he is an artist/illustrator-type whose claim to fame (aside from being tremendously prolific) is smart, witty work riddled with pop-culture references/tributes. see below two from his "the spidermans" series ("costume spidermans" and "open mike spidermans"), followed by two from his "E.T. fun times" series (first "logicking" with his star trek buddies followed by "jumping" with the dukes).

these are part of his "great showdowns" collection (and there are many more to be seen on his blog - can you identify the films he's selected?) below this is scott's poster design that 100% warrants a "click to enlarge" for an annual show in l.a. called "crazy 4 cult" that is entirely dedicated to art based on cult films. you should really click it - it gets huge and incredible.

all of these works were part of recent group/solo shows scott participated in at venues like gallery 1988, and gallery nucleus, AND he has exhibited across the country and abroad, AND has been published countless times. did i mention he also writes/illustrates a daily comic over at double fine action comics? so basically, he's amazing. and, he's highly respected as an artist, even though naysayers (BUT NOT ME NO WAY I LOVE HIM) might point out that his work is built on content/characters that are not his own and is narrowly aimed at the twelve-year old boy demographic. clearly, with all the positive acclaim he's getting, those naysayers are wrong. but he does occupy an interesting place in this art vs. visual culture fake-battle. where/how would you classify scott's work, other than AWESOME?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

robin rhode and the age-old question.

at the maryland art education association (maea) conference on friday, i was introduced to the work of robin rhode thanks to teresa roberts, who did a wonderful session on rhode's work as it can be applied to classroom art-making experiences involving flipbooks, stop motion animation, performance, and serial photography.

rhode's work frequently includes references to pop and material culture. the top image is part of a serial called "he got game," titled after the spike lee movie from 1998. the bottom, entitled "untitled, dream houses" (which you can click to enlarge!) shows rhode struggling to collect all manner of discarded physical belongings. he discusses his work as it relates to contemporary culture in the below video from the wexner art center:

coldplay's strawberry swing music video by the art collective shynola uses a similar technique and even touches on some similar themes, but music videos in and of themselves are often considered pieces of visual culture, rather than works of art:

NOTE: the "official" and higher-resolution version is infinitely more awesome, but has been blocked from being embedded. if you'd like to view that one, click here. this one'll get the point across, but man, the fancy version is unbelievable.

what makes one of these art versus culture? if visual culture is informing rhode's work, and rhode's artwork is (presumably) informing shynola's piece of visual culture, then... IT'S LIKE THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

transience, visual culture, and jim & pam.

one aspect of visual culture that keeps popping in those who resist its incorporation into curriculum is its transience: the fact that, as we live visual culture, its difficult to discern at a given moment the crap from the classic, for lack of a more refined turn of phrase. what determines what snippets of culture become legendary icons and what becomes a weird hiccup in the collective conscience lasting until something new and shiny comes along?

take for example the "jk wedding entrance" video that swept the internet like wild fire over the summer, only to fade out of the public interest. this week it was revived and directly referenced in jim and pam's wedding on the most recent episode of "the office:"

this silly (and a little awesome) video, song, and moment will be forever immortalized as an icon of this time, even though it is so seemingly so inconsequential. it's always interesting to meet someone who knows about/shares enthusiasm for some oddly specific piece of pop culture trivia, like an instant connection between you is formed through common appreciation. that feeling of, "wait, you watch/read/listen to/know about/love this TOO?!" is inexplicably gratifying. and the office pulled together millions of viewers in that way with their inclusion of theat wedding dance.

pop-culture for everyone.

in my internet-snooping, i found a few other organizations that i am jealous i don't work for:

americana: the journal of american pop culture is my new favorite thing. the present issue gives the academic treatment to csi and finding nemo, among others. i can't lie, i long to attend a large university perhaps only for the opportunity to enroll in classes like "philosophy and star trek" or "the simpsons: sitcom as political and social satire," so this journal had my loyalty almost immediately. it's only published semi-annually, but you can peruse their past issues on their site back ten-plus years, so there's plenty of material.

popmatters is a similar online pop culture journal, with more emphasis on the 'pop' and less on the 'culture.' they have features that hold their own against the more academic "americana" journal, but they exist alongside reviews, regular columns, and a section called "moving citations" that keeps an eye on relevant articles/links floating around on the internet as they are published.

the national association of comics art educators (who go by NACAE and pronounce it 'nay-say', apparently) are a group of, well, teachers that really dig teaching about making comics. there website requires some rooting around and a discerning eye, but there are quite a few solid ideas on their site that can be adjusted for use in a variety of contexts. i am wary of mentioning the available prompts, exercises, and lesson plans due to their propensity for misuse, but the site actually contains some interesting ideas to digest and incorporate in teaching practice (rather than simply regurgitating mindlessly). ultimately, a lot of the content boils down to strategies for teaching students to communicate in various visual/non-traditional ways.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


i was alerted (by the effervescent katie morris) to this article by christine marme thompson, collected in the book "when we were young: new perspectives on the art of the child" by jonathan fineberg. i found a .pdf online, you can read the full text by clicking the link below! that is neat.

in "the ket aesthetic: visual culture in childhood," thompson discusses the allure of visual culture for children being more about accessibility (visually stimulating content outside of reading/interpretation skills that young kids may not be equipped with) and more interestingly, about adopting a culture outside that of the adult world. thompson points out that "ket," originally a term for "an assortment of useless articles" and now a british slang term adopted by the nation's youth for small candies bought with weekly allowance, serves as a nice metaphor for children's culture that is separate but dependent on adult practice. the creation of this culture is appealing to youth because it is their own: the appeal of saccharine sweets or outlandish television shows can be traced to their independence from adult culture.

also interesting to me was the idea that adult resistance to visual culture content, particularly i schools where it is often deemed inappropriate or devoid of educational value may be from the simultaneous desire of children to establish their own reality outside the adult world and the adult effort to self-validate by seeing our children/students doing worthwhile, relevant things.

she goes on to discuss the value of toys/characters as a springboard for children to create/observe with hyper-specificity as they attempt to differentiate between multiple characters within a single universe (her example were the carefully noted minute differences in character design when children render the homogeneous teenage mutant ninja turtles). she also acknowledges, with a sort of "whether you like it or not" tone, that no matter how much the education world insists that visual culture is worthless, distracting, etc., etc., it is a HUGE force in the lives of children, and that by trying to ignore/marginalize its presence in schools is foolish.

i like this woman.

the one alarming statistic that she did throw into the mix was that 3/4 of all toys sold in the united states are "licensed" to a particular media character/program. it's a little strange to me that the appreciation and integration of visual culture excites me, but the thought of pedantic derivative toys (nothing handmade, nothing original, nothing imaginative) flooding the collective childhood of america makes me cringe. but man, does it.