#LocalPhoto Challenge

My Instagram Problems:

  1. I like Instagram.
  2. I’m never sure what I “should” be posting on Instagram.
  3. I don’t wear fashionable outfits everyday.
  4. Even if I did, I don’t like taking selfies.
  5. I don’t live in New York City.
  6. My kids are cute, but are they really that cute that I can get away with an Instagram feed full of them?
  7. I don’t travel to exotic places every other week.

So, what’s a girl to do? I realized that even though I don’t live in New York, my neighborhood does have a certain charm to it. And I spend most of my days pushing a stroller, experiencing the neighborhood at walking (and picture-taking) speed. So why don’t I challenge myself to take a picture every day of something in my neighborhood that I find fun or interesting?

Bloggers are always doing “challen#localphoto challengeges”, usually in order to build their community or promote a product. I’ve always liked the idea, but I’ve never had anything to promote. But while I’m challenging myself, I thought I’d challenge you too. I have no ulterior motive — you don’t have to follow me or like my pictures or anything. I just thought it might be fun to see if anyone else would hop on board.

So Here’s What To Do

  1. Every day (for a month let’s say), take a picture of something in your neighborhood.
  2. Share it on Instagram and/or Twitter and tag it #localphoto and your #city and #state.
  3. Don’t worry about your pictures being stupid (today I took a picture of a bulldozer with a branch sticking out of it).
  4. Have fun!

p.s. If you want to follow me or see my silly pictures, I’m @lelizas79 on Instagram, and @ellee_h on Twitter. No pressure, though. 🙂

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Time in Art

The Table by Andre Derain
The Table by Andre Derain

In last Friday’s ideas-letter (which you can view here), I shared a New Yorker article about Lonni Sue Johnson, an artist with amnesia. One question the article explored was how a person with complete hippocampal damage — and therefore with only a two-minute window of memory — experiences time. Her sister, Aline, hypothesized the following:

‘Imagine living in a narrow sliver of the present,’ Aline told me. ‘How could you get a sense of continuity?’ She went on, ‘I get the feeling that as she draws each line the pencil tip leaves a trace of that hand motion. It’s multimedia, it captures her: it involves sight, sound, feel, and movement, and her artistic expertise and all these things, and as she draws line after line on the page to get a grid she gains a sense of where her gestures have been, how long it’s taken. It has a rhythm to it.’

This was so interesting to me, because it looks specifically at the act of creating as happening in time and space, and this grounds Lonni Sue in reality. She is connected to the world through her pencil and paper, and through the rhythm she creates in drawing uniform grids on that paper. This discussion of time in art reminded me of a quote from another New Yorker article I shared, about the Warburg Institute. This quote is taken from a lecture Kenneth Clark gave on Warburg’s theory of “motives” in art:

‘Motives are states of mind which have taken visible shape,’ Clark explains. ‘They are thus very similar to the subject of a lyric poem or a piece of music; with this difference that the poem or musical composition can develop in time, whereas the visual motive has to compress all conflicting or amplifying associations into a single symbol. This intense concentration seems to explain why recurring motives are so few and so tenaciously held.’

This quote struck me when I read it because it explained the power of a great painting (or drawing or sculpture) as existing in its ability to express a whole story — with all its nuances, its “conflicting or amplifying associations” — in one picture, in one moment. It has to contain the past, present, and future of its subject in one timeless pose. It vibrates with this motion that it holds within itself. Like Keats’ urn, it expresses an eternal present, analogous maybe to the way God sees the world.

Two different perspectives on the role that time plays in art. Both worth pondering, and both helpful in digging up truth and seeing the world a bit differently than before.

Between Magic and Logos

This is my follow-up post to the March 13th ideas-letter, which you can find here.

I’ve chosen to focus on Adam Gopnik’s piece about the Warburg Institute in The New Yorker. My favorite line from this article came when he touched on Aby Warburg’s travels in the American Southwest:

But his experience of the ‘indigenous’ deepened and universalized his instincts about the role of images across cultures. The Hopi were really not that far from Renaissance Florentines. They, too, ‘stand on middle ground between magic and logos, and their instrument of orientation is the symbol,’ [Warburg] wrote.

When I read that, specifically about standing between magic and logos, I smiled and thought, “Ah, me too.” (Though I might prefer the word “mystery” to “magic”.)

In my day-to-day life I am a pretty practical person. I am rational about money, for instance, and I don’t consider myself overly emotional or dramatic (though my husband may beg to differ). Also, I appreciate the advances science and mathematics have made in explaining how things work, and I am always amazed at the precision that has been achieved. However, when I retreat into my mind and start musing on the meaning of life and the universe, I can’t help but think in terms of mystery and metaphor, as opposed to cold, hard science. I take the scientific conclusions and ponder them in light of each other and in light of my Christianity and I enjoy trying to fit them all together into a unified theory of “what it all means”. Sometimes I feel guilty about this and wonder if it is just a product of a weak mind. But when I read that quote, I was relieved to remember that I am not alone in the way I see the world, and also grateful to Warburg for putting it so well.

I’ve written before about how I see philosophy and art as two sides of the same coin; two different but equally valid ways of explaining the phenomena of our existence. I think this quote provides another helpful lens through which to view that seeming dichotomy. It is my contention that there is one reality and therefore one truth (the universe). While there are many different ways of approaching and making sense of that truth, they all must ultimately be reconcilable with one another*, or better yet, fit together like pieces of a mosaic.

The whole article was in a way an embodiment of the classic struggle between rationality and irrationality, realism and idealism, magic and logos. Warburg was a mystic, while Gombrich (his successor) was a materialist:

Gombrich’s great work involved mapping the methods of the sciences, their search for new knowledge through self-correcting experiment, onto the history of painting. Art, he thought, progresses rationally, as science does. He had a horror of romantic irrationalism of all kinds; it was, he thought, at the heart of the Nazism that had destroyed Germany’s intellectual heritage and sent a generation of European scholars, himself included, into exile.

and,

For Gombrich, the continuities of art were not the result of engrams stuck in the mind. They were traditions near at hand, hypotheses attempting to solve problems, rather than recurrent images haunting the collective unconscious.

Even the legal battle in which the institute found itself represents a struggle between the practical needs of the University of London and the “impracticality” of the library. As usual, a balance must be struck between the two extremes. So let us stand on middle ground.

Further Reading:

  • Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography by E.H. Gombrich
  • Another Part of the Wood by Kenneth Clark
  • The Nude by Kenneth Clark
  • The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity by Aby Warburg
  • The Age of Insight by Eric Kandel

— Also, Cornell University Library gives you a closer look at Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas.

*After re-reading this, I realized it might sound like I’m defending relativism. I am not. I think there are viewpoints that contradict each other, and in these cases, one must be right and the other wrong (or both wrong in a different way, I suppose). What I meant was, if two people with different perspectives come to the same truth (or different parts of the same truth), they are both right, and their ideas — though seemingly unrelated or opposed — can be made to fit together.

 

I’m Baaaack

My activity on this blog has been a little (okay, a lot) touch and go. This was fine for a while, because I just wanted it as a resource, as I place I could go to try to collect my thoughts. Except for the half-written posts still in my drafts folder, I feel okay about it. But I feel like I’m entering a new stage, one in which I have a better idea of who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to get there. So I’m instituting a new plan.

I recently started a curated email newsletter (or ideas-letter, as I am so fondly calling it) that I send out every Friday. It’s where I share articles that I thought were interesting or thought-provoking, usually in a philosophical or artistic way. Sometimes I will provide some commentary, but in order to keep it readable it’s mostly presented as “here’s this thing I liked, and here’s a little information about it so you can decide if you want to go read it.” This has been an enjoyable, low-maintenance way for me to engage with others while keeping myself informed and educated. But of course, I inevitably find myself mulling over the ideas contained in the articles I share, and then ultimately doing nothing with them.

So I am adding a step. My plan is to start writing a weekly blog post (on Wednesdays, maybe?) in which I expand upon one or more of the ideas contained in the previous Friday’s email. I see many advantages to this, and hopefully it will help me stick to a writing routine. I’ll see if this blogging thing is really for me.

Latest Newsletter: Writing, Morals, and Brain-Hacking

Hello, everyone! Here’s my roundup of interestingness from the week:

On Writing
I’m bookmarking this one. My favorite thing from Brain Pickings in a while, it’s a look at a collection of Ursula K. Le Guin’s speeches, essays, and reviews. In the post, Ms. Popova focuses on Le Guin’s musings on Where Great Ideas Come From and the “Secret” of Great Writing, and she pulls out some really great quotes that I no doubt will continue to revisit. Here’s one of my favorites:

All these kinds of patterning — sound, syntax, images, ideas, feelings — have to work together; and they all have to be there in some degree. The inception of the work, that mysterious stage, is perhaps their coming together: when in the author’s mind a feeling begins to connect itself to an image that will express it, and that image leads to an idea, until now half-formed, that begins to find words for itself, and the words lead to other words that make new images, perhaps of people, characters of a story, who are doing things that express the underlying feelings and ideas that are now resonating with each other.

Now I’m not a story writer, but I do consider myself an idea writer (and would like to be able to call myself an essayist someday), and I think Le Guin’s words apply to me and my kind as much as they apply to fiction writers. And they probably apply similarly to artists of any kind. So go, be inspired.

On Morals
Writing in the New York Times, professor of philosophy Justin P. McBrayer explains Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts. Whether or not you agree with him, I think it’s worth reading, and I think he raises some valid points concerning issues that will have no small effect on the future of thought in our country.

On Brain-Hacking
Sorry for using the h-word; I sort of hate it myself. But I feel like I had no choice. First, there’s this piece from Aeon Magazine that discusses brain plasticity and the development of drugs that are able to “reawaken” the brain’s ability to learn in the way we did when we were children.

Second, I’ve been hearing a lot lately about nootropics, a sort of “brain energy drink”. Kevin Roose at Fusion wrote this piece discussing his own experience with them. Right now, I will remain a cautious observer, but maybe somewhere down the line we’ll all be using them. Still, I can’t help but think of “Flowers for Algernon” and I will let others be the guinea pigs for now.

***

I send out my newsletter every Friday. Check out the “My Ideas-Letter” tab above to look at the past issues, and please go to tinyletter.com/lauraehs if you are interested in subscribing. Thank you!

Thoughts on art, Part 2 – Poetry

 

Another old notebook entry. From August 17, 2013:

I used to think poetry was just sub-par philosophy. But I am beginning to know better. The goal of philosophy is to convey the truth in the most clear and distinct way, logically and rationally. One must choose one’s words very carefully so as to make exactly the right distinctions and not confuse terms or concepts. The poet must also choose just the right words so as to both convey/evoke the truth and to form aesthetically pleasing (or at least powerful) phrasing. And not only this, but I think that the conveying of truth is principally done through the aesthetics of the words, sounds, and images rather than through the literal meanings of the words themselves, as is the case in philosophy. Whereas in philosophy each word should have only one precise definition so as to avoid equivocation and misunderstanding, sometimes in poetry it is these double-meanings or a word’s relation to the other words that give a line a richer meaning.

Since I am a philosopher and a left-brainer by nature, I think I will always read poetry through these eyes. I don’t think I will ever understand people who have a mostly poetic/artistic understanding of the world. However, I think I should try harder to appreciate poetry and maybe try to express myself through that medium as it will most likely broaden my perception and experience and understanding of the world.

I think the best poets are also (good) philosophers, just aesthetically-minded ones. Choosing words: very important. Why haven’t I thought of this before? Forcing myself to express myself through poetry might help me be a better conversationalist. I don’t force myself to find the right words very often. My powers of description have waned…I should try to get them back. I may have been led astray when being taught about poetry in high school. I was told the “what’s” but not the “why’s.” That’s such a cliche, but it’s true. I know poets use metaphors and similes, etc., but I never had a real understanding of why that was such a common characteristic of poetry. I am beginning to understand.

Sorry for the ramblings into which my notebook entries inevitably devolve. Hopefully something I said in here was worthwhile. We’ll see…

Thoughts on Art, Part 1

Part of my mind has been on poetry lately, trying to understand what makes good poetry, etc. I have never been particularly drawn to poetry — reading it or writing it — but since so many (intelligent) people are and because it is such an important part of culture, I’ve always wanted to be better at it. I have recently taken up learning poems by heart, so as to improve my memory and vocabulary, and hopefully to gain a deeper understanding of particular poems and poetry in general. Maybe I will comment on some of these poems in upcoming blog posts.

But today, since my mind has been on the question of what and why art is, I went back and found an old notebook where I had ruminated on these questions. I decided to post a couple entries here, just to lay a foundation for how I tend to think about these questions and maybe to be able to trace some evolution in my thought. This one is from a few years ago, and already it seems a bit simplistic and the thought of a younger mind. But I think there are some things worth holding on to, as well. This is what I wrote:

It seems that people are considered to be true artists who have something inside them that needs to get out, and they let it out in a visual or creative way.

Art imitates nature. The sciences try to understand and explain what nature does and how it does it. But it seems that contemporary art does not merely imitate nature anymore. Contemporary artists are really philosophers of sorts who see something in nature and need to point it out. That seems like the goal, anyway. According to my Leibnizian theory, we all are reflections of the universe. But artists and philosophers aren’t content to passively and minimally reflect the universe, they feel the need to examine it and share what they find with their fellow humans. They just do it in different ways. The way I see it (because I am more of a philosopher than an artist) is that an artist has a vague idea that can’t really be put into words, but they understand their ideas through conceptual images. They can express themselves through images better than through words. Maybe they even think that the feelings they feel or the truths they encounter are too complex to be put into words. But philosophers, on the other hand, don’t understand how one or a few images could capture an entire truth. The things they encounter about the world are too complex to not be put into words. But I have a feeling that they both think their way is the better way and that the other cannot possibly understand as much as they do. But these are speculations on my part.

I suppose that puts poets and novelists (and “poetic essayists”) in the middle, maybe in the best position. The problem with art is that if you don’t get it, you don’t get it, and the artist could have something really profound to say, but if it’s too hard to get, then people won’t get it. The good thing about art is that it is quick to observe and it has a universal language. The problem with philosophy is that it is too long and complex and tedious for a lot of people to grasp. The good thing about philosophy is that it’s all there for people to figure out if they want to put in the time. But maybe that’s how artists feel. I don’t know. But a good novel is somewhere in between. It has an interesting story, but it also speaks to the reader and shows him something about himself, humanity, and the world.

But I don’t want to be left out of the art world. I would like to see if I can come to either understand artists’ messages through their art or learn to express my own ideas through art. I feel like at this point I could go either way. I have ideas, but I’m not sure how best to express them. But my ideas are of a more philosophical nature. It seems like a lot of art is of more of a sociological or political nature.

………

I ended this rant with a slanting and dramatic Je ne sais pas.   .   . and then, “I think it’s time to go to bed.”